Tools of the Trade

It’s great being a freelance editor. All I need is my laptop, and I’m set.

And while this is perhaps technically true, there are a few other things which make my life so much better, easier and more productive.


Reference books


Behold my (not very big) reference shelf, currently awaiting the arrival of my copy of CMOS 17. Reference materials are vital for any editor. When I first started doing this, I, like many people, thought I knew loads about punctuation and grammar. Ha. Ha ha ha ha. Not a single working day goes by when I don’t have to look something up. This doesn’t mean I’m a terrible editor; it just means that there is an awful lot to know, the “right” style choice varies greatly depending on what you’re working on, and even if you think you know something, it never hurts to double-check.

Truth be told, I sometimes forget I have these books – I have online subscriptions to the resources I use the most – but I like having them. Sometimes it’s easier to leaf through a book than try to hit on the right search term. Plus they make my office look all professional.


Book books


If someone had told me when I was younger that I would one day have a job where fiction books were a legitimate business expense, I’d have been in awe. It might seem like a ridiculous, frivolous perk, but I firmly believe that in order to be a good editor, you have to do a lot of reading. You have to keep up with what’s happening in your genre(s), you have to look at what’s selling and why, find out what readers want, and make sure you’re helping your clients get that right. You can absorb an awful lot of knowledge about story craft and style just by reading good writing. And you can spot an awful lot of problems to watch out for by reading writing that’s perhaps less good.




I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again: Facebook is a vital part of my business. Away from the cat memes and endless pictures of children in their school uniforms (yes, I did it too) is a huge source of knowledge, networking and support. It’s how I connect with editing colleagues and potential clients all over the world, through editors and writers groups. It’s a place to ask questions, to answer them, and to make meaningful connections with people who can help your business and enrich your life with their awesomeness.



I bought this from Lidl for about three pounds, and it genuinely has revolutionized my working life. I’ve recently started using my own version of the Pomodoro Technique, and it’s made such a difference to my productivity. I used to work in chunks of about an hour, and then stop for a bit, count how many words I’d done, go and get a drink, maybe spend a little time on Facebook and Twitter and eventually get going again. I’ve discovered that taking properly timed breaks and working in shorter chunks means I get a whole lot more done. Last night, I put the figures for my last manuscript into my project tracker, and I can see the day on which I started working in 30-minute blocks instead of 60, because my productivity jumped up by about 1,000 words per hour. Which is nice. I confess, though, that I’ve had to stop using this actual timer and switch to the one on my laptop. It’s a little stressful, editing when you feel as though you’re sitting next to a ticking bomb.


Soft play


I imagine many of my fellow work-at-home mums breathed a huge sigh of relief last week when they packed their kids back off to school. School holidays are hard work at the best of times, but when you also have deadlines to contend with, they can feel like a slog of gargantuan proportions. I normally avoid soft play like the plague, but when it’s raining, and they’re bored, and you have a million things to do that just aren’t getting done, soft play is a lifesaver. My local one has free wi-fi and semi-decent coffee, so I can sit down and get some work done in… well, not peace, exactly, but without constant demands for my attention. I don’t tend to do much actual editing at soft play – too much risk of my flow being interrupted by an eight-year-old distraught because someone called her a baby, or a six-year-old with yet another inexplicable rope burn – but it’s a great chance to tackle some of those admin, marketing and training tasks I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t got to yet.




Needs no explanation.

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