Have you ever had the feeling, on a quiet stretch of motorway, that even though you are wide awake and in the moment, you’ve just driven the last five miles without really noticing anything?
Well, that’s how my last month or so of editing has been. In one eye, and out the other. And it’s been glorious. No clashing deadlines. No nightmare authors. No haunting emails, where I’m left wondering if the person loved my work, hated it or was just distracted while typing. No projects that made me want to scream with frustration or expire with boredom. It’s just work, after all, and life has found other ways of making itself interesting.
One thing I have always known, and the thing that probably contributes to my success as a freelance editor and sometimes project manager, is that in general I thrive on an impending sense of doom. I am drawn to the dark side. I have always been attracted to the bad-boy projects that threaten to steal my soul and sell it on eBay … the projects with totally insane deadlines, the in-house editors who think it’s OK to send me 50 emails a day and then have a chat about it all on Skype later that evening, the books that must be hewn into publishable form like some great granite monolith, while I am armed only with a small nail file.
Like so many other freelancers of all types (not just editors) I absolutely get off on the rush of having too much to do, the feeling that it can never possibly be done on time, the late nights that must be worked to be in with a chance of hitting the deadline, the buzz of having projects converge on a timeline so that things get EVEN WORSE … and then somehow it does all get done, and I can succumb to a moment of calm that is instantaneously obliterated by stress when the emails stop coming … I wonder if I will ever work again, then say yes to three projects in the space of an hour in utter relief … and so the cycle begins all over again.
I know I am not the only editor of this disposition. Social media is full of us comparing silly deadlines and late nights. There is a lot of very genteel chest-beating about all this masochistic work behaviour (I have certainly done it myself). As I said, there is something about this characteristic that makes us good at what we do – we are driven, we care, and often we are reluctant to stop until something is pretty near perfect. But an important part of surviving in the long term as a freelance editor has to be – I think – about controlling these urges. I love, love, love it when an editor is happy to admit that they generally do five hours or so of hard editing work per day, and that’s it.
Crises of the editorial kind can make us feel alive, skilled and valued … but equally they can crush us entirely and leave us wrung out and exhausted; possibly even feeling used (crises don’t come cheap, and it can so easily be the freelancer’s budget that takes the hit). When there is no impending sense of doom, I have in the past felt a little lost. But right now I am content, and calm, and have enjoyed something of an epiphany. I’ve got work lined up for a while; the projects on my desk are interesting, well written and have eminently sensible deadlines and budgets. My current clients respect my time, and often choose me for what I can bring to the project as a distinct person; I am not simply an editing machine. This is how I want my working life to continue to develop: the trick is to get good at managing the non-crisis times, be present in them and try to cultivate more of them. To resist the lure of that dark side.
Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She considers advanced Jedi training to be a valid form of editorial CPD.
I’ve been wanting to write a Star Wars-themed editing post for a while. My IT department is in a state of high anticipation about the forthcoming film, and wanders about the house in his Darth Vader/Storm trooper lounge pants, slurping tea from a mug featuring Kylo Ren that glows when it gets hot. Every time I pick up the family iPad, it seems to have been left on a webpage devoted to enthusiastic discussions about likely plot developments. I can’t so much as walk to the kitchen without falling over a pair of three-foot-high Jedi (yes, I did check how to pluralise that) battling it out with plastic lightsabers. Let’s just say it’s on my mind.