More on Those Top 3 Lessons from Freelance Failure

Sometimes what we call "failure" is really just that necessary struggle called "learning."

Image credit: cc license, venspired,

Whenever I speak to new freelancers or students about freelance editing as a career, I talk a little about the path I’ve taken. Editors come to their careers from many paths (see?). Mine included an early, spectacularly failed stint of full-time freelance. Feedback suggests that talking about that failure is one of the most valuable parts of the conversation.

For the edification of the freelance editing community, then, I blogged about the top three lessons I learned from that first failed attempt at full-time freelancing. You can read those lessons on

And here are a few more details and thoughts that didn’t make it into that post:

  1. A too-local focus is an unnecessary handicap. But working on paper and having to deliver that work to a neighboring town a few days a week is a nice way to a) save your eyes from all the screen time of electronic editing, b) make yourself get out of the house and maybe have lunch with colleagues, and c) rack up some business deductions.
  2. I didn’t have a clear vision for my freelance business and, consequently, the services I offered were too broad. I wasn’t selling gourmet grilled sandwiches, but I was splitting my time between editing, proofreading, and tutoring. One of these things is not like the others.
  3. Treating your freelance business like a business isn’t just about the financials. But the financials can’t be ignored. When I was in college, “pre-approved!” credit offers flooded the mail room at my dorm. I accepted a couple of the ones I was offered, ended up using them for medical expenses that weren’t covered by insurance, and then also used them for some combined living/business expenses when I started freelancing later. Kids, don’t try this at home. Or at the home office. Don’t combine your business expenses with your living expenses and don’t roll it all up in some nebula of credit. Educate yourself about the financial aspects of freelancing before you launch your business. And track everything.


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A Few Resources of a Freelance Editor

Shout-out to University of Illinois Journalism 421. These links are far more clickable than those on the paper handout. 😉

Essential, Daily Tools

Top 20 Blogs and Sites for Editors and Wordniks

  1. American Copy Editors Society
  2. An American Editor
  3. American Heritage Dictionary Tumblr
  4. Arrant Pedantry
  5. Chicago Style Q&A
  7. blog
  8. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips
  9. KOK Edit’s Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base
  10. Language Log
  11. LibroEditing blog
  12. Macmillan Dictionary blog
  13. Merriam-Webster Unabridged blog
  14. NYT After Deadline
  15. Online Etymology Dictionary
  16. OxfordWords
  17. The Proofreader’s Parlour
  18. Sentence First
  19. Wordnik blog
  20. Baltimore Sun’s You Don’t Say [with archives here and more McIntyre posts here]

Books on My Desk [i.e., in a stack by my couch]

  • The Copyeditor’s Handbook (2011) by Amy Einsohn
  • The Subversive Copy Editor (2009) by Carol Fisher Saller
  • Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009) by Bryan A. Garner
  • Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (1994)
  • Making Word 2010 Work for You (2014) by Hilary Powers
  • Effective Onscreen Editing (2010) by Geoff Hart
  • Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers (2013) by Louise Harnby


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Business cards are a tough business …

If any of the three sites I tried had been working properly, I’d have shiny new business cards in hand and ready to distribute to my fellow Vegas-bound ACES conference goers. But alas.

Here are the last of the four different designs I tried. Maybe I’ll just distribute the screen capture.

Business Card 2014 attempt #3


Business Card 2014 attempt #4



So, instead of shiny new cards, I’ll have old cards that will, appropriately I guess, have lots of editing on them. Purple pen at the ready…

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If I’m not here, I must be somewhere else!

You’ve found the blogging space of Dawn McIlvain Stahl. Sorry to disappoint, but I haven’t time to do it justice right now!

I’m a professional freelance copyeditor and writer with many interests. Exceptions: calculus, catheters, and cake. And sometimes even cake is awesome. See for the daily informative and entertaining posts I write for the copyediting community. See Light & Life Communications for examples of my content editing and proofing for monthly magazines and online. See my Google books profile for a partial list of mostly academic, book-length projects. Catch up with me on Google+ and Twitter if you’d like. Or, for a real time sink, check out my bookish, designish, randomish Pinterest boards.

Contact me today to see how I can wield my purple editing pen to enhance understanding between you and your readers.

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