Eleanor Rees: On the Freelancer Routine

By Natasha |

We asked Eleanor Rees, one of our favourite editors, to tell us about her freelancer routine and to give us her tips on how to increase productivity.

I’ve been a freelance editor for 14 years. After graduating I became a desk editor for a general publisher. I went freelance a few years later because I wanted more independence and less office routine. I like the variety of freelance life – there’s always something new, especially in digital – but it’s equally rewarding when authors come back to me over the years with their next book and then their next.

My working day is usually a period of calm in between the chaos of getting kids off to school and the chaos after they come home. I love being able to concentrate completely on a book, whether I’m doing a word-by-word copy-edit or the big-picture analysis of a structural edit.

Freelancers can’t afford the luxury of procrastination: it chips away at both sides of your work–life balance. If you can work more efficiently, you’re giving yourself a gift of extra free time. Ultimately, if you’re freelance it’s probably because you prefer your own work habits to anyone else’s. But for me, this is what helps:

1. I’m ruthless about demarcating work from the rest of life. Because I work at home I have to make the positive decision to ignore the housework. I use Leechblock to control internet browsing so I don’t get sidetracked, and I don’t answer the phone unless it’s urgent. This means I can also do the opposite and relax when I’m not working instead of always mentally chasing a deadline. However…

2. Productivity isn’t just about pages per hour. It’s important not to get stuck at the desk, either mentally or physically: humans didn’t evolve to sit at keyboards all day, and trying to concentrate too long can be counter-productive, whereas insights sometimes surface after a break.

3. Grazing at intervals through the day is much better for general alertness than having a big lunch and then needing a siesta.

4. Breaking down projects into stages makes them more manageable, especially when overlapping two or three jobs, but these goals have to be realistic. I know it’ll take me time to think myself into each new book, to hear the author’s voice fully, so I don’t expect to edit the first 50 pages of a manuscript even half as quickly as the last 50.

5. Radio 3 on in the next room is a fine accompaniment to editing. Test Match Special is even better… especially if it’s turned down just low enough that I can’t hear England’s score.

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