Eleanor Rees: On the Freelancer Routine

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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