Meet the Instructor – Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr for Academic Editing

Ruth at the redneck wedding

Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr has worked in Canadian publishing for 27 years, most recently as Director of University of Ottawa Press and Managing Editor of the Canadian Journal of Development Studies. She received her PhD in English/Canadian Studies in 2014 from the University of Ottawa where she teaches essay writing to first-year students. She also runs her own writing, editing, and translation business and chairs the Ottawa–Gatineau branch of Editors Canada.

She is presently editing a special section for the Journal of Scholarly Publishing on the future of university presses in Canada and expanding her thesis, The Downfall of the Ryerson Press, into a book about the impact of the sale of the Press on Canadian cultural policy.

Ruth has a quirky sense of humour, as you can see in the articles she has posted on the branch’s blog: “Ways to be More Productive,” “What’s on your Bulletin Board?” and “Time Management: or, Tricking Yourself into Working at Home.”

In the publish or perish world of academia, knowing how to edit academic writing, either your own or a client’s, provides a huge advantage. Accordingly, Academic Editing is designed for academics, academics in training, and those who edit them. The course takes you from peer review (a form of developmental editing) to proofreading, with a special stop at editing references and bibliographies. This seminar is specifically geared to disciplines in the Social Sciences and Humanities.

She’ll be offering this morning seminar on Thursday, Feb 11, 2016. To sign up, go to Registration closes on February 5, 2016.

Ways to be more productive: Notes from Dr. Travis Bradbury by Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” —William Penn

Further to my posts about time management and  “What’s on your Bulletin Board”, while on LinkedIn, I stumbled across a new source of inspiration about productivity that I am now GOING to put on my bulletin board (whenever I get around to it). Dr. Travis Bradbury is an expert in emotional intelligence and, presumably, is a Very Productive Person. I love VPPs. As Douglas Adams said about deadlines, I love the whooshing sound VPPs make as they go by.

And yet, I want to be a VPP myself. I am certain this stems from the fact that I have not yet mastered number 4 on the list (see below). I have come to the horrific realization that my worst fault is a fear of boredom, which leads me to take on all sorts of things that I shouldn’t, although sometimes it also leads me to take on things that are actually important, like filling out paperwork to get Syrian refugees into the country. However, the six things on this list are probably my six top faults, using “fear of boredom” as the single organizing principle:

  1. Never touch things twice: Touching things twice is a huge time-waster. Don’t save an email or a phone call to deal with later. As soon as something gets your attention, you should act on it, delegate it, or delete it.
  2. Eat the frog: Do the least appetizing, most dreaded item on your to-do list first. If you let your frogs sit, you waste your day dreading them. If you eat them right away, then you’re freed up to tackle the stuff that excites and inspires you.
  3. The tyranny of the urgent: Little things that have to be done right now get in the way of what really matters. This creates a huge problem, as urgent actions often have little impact. The key here is to delete or delegate.
  4. No is a powerful word: Saying no to a new commitment honours your existing commitments, giving you the opportunity to fulfill them successfully and efficiently.
  5. Check e-mail on a schedule: Take advantage of features that prioritize messages by sender. Set alerts for your most important contacts.
  6. Avoid multitasking: Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Never touching things twice means only touching one thing at a time.

By the way, the frog-eating image comes to us courtesy of Mark Twain who said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” So true. Writers are full of great ideas, aren’t they? Especially about procrastination. Dorothy Parker once said that she missed a deadline because “someone else was using the pencil.”

Another thing you can stick on your bulletin board is a replica of a little present my Dad made for my Grandma. Or perhaps it was the other way around since he was the one with “a lot on his plate” (my favourite platitude from Days of Our Lives, and one that I should use more often in saying NO). Grandma cut out a cardboard circle and wrote “TUIT” on it. When my Dad asked what it was, my Grandma said, “It’s a round tuit of course. You desperately need one.”

So now you know that I come by sarcasm honestly; it is in the DNA, just like procrastination.

See for the original article by Dr. Travis Bradbury.

Time Management: Or, Tricking Yourself into Working at Home by Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr

In one of the seminars that I hosted last year, one of the participants was most concerned not with editorial questions, per se, but with the issue of how to manage one’s time as a freelancer. This got me thinking about how I get things done, or perhaps if I get things done in my busy life of editing, research, and teaching.

It is true that working from home has many distractions. Five of my distractions have fur and two are just hairy. (Translation: five cats, a husband, and a teenage son.) There’s also the laundry, the dishes, the infernal ringing of the phone, etc. etc. But I manage to get things done somehow. I did, after all, manage to squeeze a PhD out over the past several years.

I once collaborated on a project with a young, unattached man who said he just sits down to edit and starts his timer to keep track of his hours. As soon as I sit down to edit, the gray cat comes to show me how cute she is by rolling around in front of me and pushing on the space bar. If she moves off, the tortoiseshell baby moves in and lays down on my mouse-moving arm for a nap. Keeping track of my hours has never worked for me, so my editorial estimates are all project based and done by word count. Sometimes this goes very wrong… all words are not created equal!

One method for big projects, like writing a book, is to form a project-oriented support group and meet once a week or so for breakfast. Every week you are accountable to your group for some progress, at least a smidgen, on your project. I modified this method once and teamed up with my friend Trish who similarly has more to do than she can handle. We nagged and goaded each other for a couple of days and both got a tremendous amount done. Somehow this was more motivating than being nagged by my husband to “bill something, for heaven’s sake!”

Although I am haunted by my friend Gillian’s story of finding a ten-year-old To Do list only to discover that she hadn’t done ANY of the things on it, my favourite motivational method by far is the To Do list. My standard To Do list covers a month at a time, one page, double column.

First I sort the items by type: Reading, Writing, Editing, Household/Gardening (not that I garden), Friends/Appointments, Knitting/Crocheting/Sewing, Phone/Correspondence, Miscellaneous, and Regular Gigs. This helps me to remember what I need to do and to set goals for the month – read four novels, finish a baby quilt, editorial deadlines, remember to pick the rhubarb, etc.

Then I ditch those categories and sort the items into weekly lists. This helps me to figure out exactly WHEN a task has the best chance of getting done, considering all the other To Dos. Actually, I’ve had to conclude that every week is two days short of the number of days required to do everything, but it seems I can’t change that.

Since it is intimidating to look at a whole month of To Dos at once, my latest strategy is to list daily To Dos in my Day-Timer. I do this by hand, as it is so satisfying to cross them out. But the trick is not to pick too many, or nothing will get done. I’ve decided that ten is the right number. It just isn’t satisfying to write down ONE thing, especially if it is so big that it might not get done by the end of the day. If you are tackling a big project, then break it down into its component parts.

On good days, the list looks like this: 1. Find dog fabric for Diane; 2. Edit OLBI; 3. Write Post doc application; 4. Read Royal Commission report, etc. But even the most unproductive days look good on paper if you’ve been able to cross off ten things: 1. Pee; 2. Feed cats; 3. Eat breakfast; 4. Sudoku; 5. Brush teeth, etc. Actually, there have been periods (usually post-partum) where I was happy if I managed just to brush my teeth…

Whatever method of self-motivation you choose, make sure also to take advantage of your high-energy times. I used to have those. I miss them. Good luck!

What’s on Your Bulletin Board? by Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr

More than two decades ago, the company I worked for, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, brought in a motivational speaker for the staff. I was so taken with Grace Cirocco’s presentation that I wrote up her “ten steps for achieving your potential” and added my own notes to them. For the past 20 years, that list has held a prominent place on my bulletin board, right over my desk so that I can keep these rules in sight.

I just recently found out that Grace has also written a book called Take the Step — The Bridge Will Be There, which is perfect for anyone changing careers (transitioning from government to self-employed anyone?).

Her influence from just that one little seminar on January 10, 1994, has been so pervasive that I thought I would share the list with you. (I keep an electronic copy in case I need to print a new one. The original has about 50 holes in it from being moved around the bulletin board.)

I invite all of you to share a blog about what’s on your bulletin board.

Grace Cirocco’s Ten Steps for Achieving Your Potential 

  1. Should — “Don’t let anyone should on you,” says Grace. — Make three lists; one for things you have to do, one for things you want to do, and one for things you should do. Then throw out the last list. If you don’t have to do it and you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. (I actually learned this formula from Vogue Patterns magazine in an article about how to make more time for sewing.)
  1. Acknowledge and complete the past — Don’t let little things remain unresolved; they suck away your energy like mosquitoes always coming back for more blood. An old Scots tradition was to finish up everything before the New Year. House cleaning, repairs, mending, fixing relationships, etc. — everything was to be tidied up before January 1st so the New Year would be a clean slate. (For example, for about 2 years my photo of my father had a cracked glass that I had kept meaning to replace “when I got around to it.” Finally, after Grace’s seminar, I fixed it. Cost: $1.69 and a trip to the hardware store. Result: Tons of guilt gone.)
  1. Trust and use your intuition — Women are said to have intuition but men have it too; theirs has not been acknowledged, however, and may be a little rusty. Intuition helps, for example, in avoiding assault. If your guts tell you that the person you are with is making you uncomfortable, listen to your feelings, don’t just be polite.
  1. Touch is a human requirement — 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 for maintenance, 12 for growth.
  1. Choice — Don’t be a victim to your own responses to people and events. Choose your own response.
  1. Reject perfectionism and strive for excellence. Perfectionism takes more time than it is worth.
  1. Limit the amount of TV you watch — It sucks the little grey cells out of your brain. (P.S. I don’t think this applies to Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, or Call the Midwife!)
  1. Exercise — Exercise releases endorphins that keep you positive and help you deal with stress. Walking is the best exercise, as it also gets you outside.
  1. Have realistic expectations — Don’t catastrophize when things don’t go as expected.
  1. Sharpen the saw — Upgrade your skills; learning is a life-long pursuit. Don’t turn off your brain when they hand you the sheepskin. “We are human becomings not just human beings,” says Grace.

Why I Chose Editing (or Editing Chose Me) by Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr, Vice-chair EAC-NCR

This past February, I celebrated my 26th anniversary as a professional editor. But I had been working up to “professional” for several years before I started in the business, first as the poetry editor on our high school yearbook and next as production manager on the Glendon College student newspaper. Back then, everyone assumed that I would become a teacher, because they couldn’t imagine what else one would do with a degree in English. But I was very shy, and didn’t even consider teaching, even though it was the dominant profession in my family. I loved books, and wanted to make them.

I had followed up my MA in English with a brigade organized by Canadian Action for Nicaragua (CAN). We spent four weeks picking coffee and learning about the Sandinista revolution, the Contras trying to undermine it, and the dictator preceding them. When I got back to Toronto in January 1989, it was time to look for a job.

A newspaper ad for a job in publishing caught my attention. The applications didn’t go to the publisher, but to a headhunting agency. I soon met Mr. Tembe, who coached me through the entire hiring process for my first “real” job. He was a great booster. When I had no confidence in myself, he took on the role of cheerleader, even phoning me on the morning of my interview just to tell me I could do it. The fact that I remember his name 26 years later is testimony to his cheerful encouragement.

I was very unsure of myself because there was an editing test involved. I couldn’t spell. I probably had dyslexia. My mother had even bought me a phonetic dictionary because, really, who can look up a word they have no idea how to spell in the first place? I did the test, certain that I would NOT get the job.

When the test was marked, Marta Tomins, the woman who would be my boss if I succeeded, called me in. “I’ve never hired anyone who couldn’t spell before,” she said, “but then I’ve never had anyone score so highly on the logic part of the test either.” She took a chance and hired me, even though she had to keep coaching me along, because I didn’t know such basic things as “a comma never appears before a parenthesis.” I wasn’t the best speller, but I was a quick study; making mistakes is, after all, one of the best ways to learn.

And so I began as a production editor at Prentice-Hall Canada (now Pearson) working on college and university textbooks. Like most of my colleagues, I had a degree in English. Some of them had even gotten partway through a PhD before quitting. I now like to brag to my students – yes, I finally became a teacher when I worked my way through a PhD in English and did NOT quit – that I am one of the only people who has actually read textbooks cover to cover. The crowning achievement certainly is having my name on the cover of a textbook, as the author of the second Canadian edition of A Writer’s Workshop: Crafting Sentences, Building Paragraphs, Designing Essays, published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Spelling is no longer an issue, though logic is still the stronger trait, but editing – especially when you read textbooks, and now academic journals, cover to cover – is one of the best professions in which to practice life-long learning.