Ingredients sit next to a slow cooker

Don’t Lift the Lid! Slow Cookers and Editing


Don’t Lift the Lid! Slow Cookers and Editing

Lifting the lid on a slow cooker, even for a second, supposedly adds thirty minutes to cooking time. In much the same way, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of time lost when an interruption takes editors out of their editing groove.

If I’m editing a manuscript and have to stop to address a completely different matter, this shifting of gears takes my mind off the project and interrupts my flow. When you have forty or more hours ahead of you on a book edit, little bits of time lost can add up quickly and affect your ability to hit your deadlines.

Most editors have to play a kind of scheduling Tetris to ensure they hit their deadlines and get their clients their edited manuscripts. Delays on one job can easily affect every other job on the schedule, so it’s no wonder editors are so serious about keeping their work moving.

Managing interruptions is therefore a vital editing skill.

Interruptions can include emergency requests for quick-turn assignments, personal and professional emails, phone calls, and face-to-face interactions with coworkers or family.

The extent to which an editor is affected by an interruption depends on the following:

  • Nature of the interruption. Answering a quick question will obviously affect the job you’re working on less than needing to completely break to spend an hour proofing an emergency job. For such an emergency request, there might be research involved, or you might have to wait for more information from that client (and trying to work on one job while keeping an eye out for information needed for an emergency request is less than ideal, because it splits your thoughts).
  • Where you are in the editing process. An interruption might be easier to process if the work you’re doing is more mechanical (invoicing or answering emails or cleaning up your style sheet) than if you’re in the midst of hard-core, concentration-intensive editing.
  • Your state of mind. The more pressure you’re under to hit a deadline on your current job and the more concentration required by that job, the more likely you are to have trouble recovering from an interruption. Stress from outside sources (a pandemic affecting lives the world over comes to mind) will also likely have an outsize effect on how you handle interruptions.


Interruptions are inevitable

Interruptions, of course, are inevitable, especially for work-at-homers whose offices are no longer the quiet places they were before the COVID-19 crisis prevented family members from heading off to school or places of employment.

While interruptions are unavoidable, they can be minimized by policing yourself (refraining from answering the phone or checking email and social media) and by communicating with those in your vicinity so they understand why you need quiet time and when it’s okay to break into that time.

(Corporate clients are most likely to have emergency requests, and because corporate clients often pay higher fees, they enable editors to perform the lower-paying manuscript work that may be the editor’s true love. Editors, therefore, often need to accept emergency requests to keep paying their bills.)


Breaks are not interruptions

Interruptions can negatively affect your work, but breaks are a whole different ball game. After a ten-minute break at the top of the hour, you’re more likely to concentrate better than if you’d worked straight through.

While an interruption can break your flow and make you feel like you’re not making the progress you want to make, little breaks can refresh you and enable you to work longer and more effectively. 

These breaks can also have physical benefits if you use them to stretch, move around a bit, or even do a few arm curls. I don’t adhere to it as well as I should, but the 20/20/20 rule, in which every 20 minutes you focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds, can do wonders for eye strain.


Low and slow

As with a slow cooker meal, editing is usually best when done low and slow. This, however, isn’t always possible. If something drops on your desk and it’s needed in an hour, you might have to take that baby out of the slow cooker and throw it in the microwave.

With this kind of triage editing, prioritization is everything, because you might not have time to address every aspect of the work. In these cases you have to identify the most important aspects of the work, ensure those are correct, and only then address less prioritized matters, if time allows.

But I’ll always prefer the slow cooker to the microwave, and whenever possible, I’ll be taking it low and slow.


Lots of ingredients

As I continue to stretch the comparison, I’ll add that slow cookers are so effective because they (like editors) meld ingredients (skills) over consistent heat (effort and concentration). 

For clients, the editor (slow cooker) they need is a complicated combination of specialty (developmental editor, line editor, copy editor, proofreader) and bona fides (certifications, client list, books published, referrals, fact-checking cred, familiarity with style guides, ability to work with tech tools, and knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and spelling).



Slow cookers are all about preparation. That’s the magic: assemble all your ingredients, set the slow cooker, and let it do its thing for the next eight hours. 

Preparation is just as important for enabling editors to edit, and preparation can take many forms:

  • Workspace: A dedicated workspace with plenty of room to operate, multiple monitors, and ergonomic accommodations makes for happy, healthy editors.
  • References: Whether accessing dictionaries, style guides, and other resources online or through your personal library, quick access to the references you need is essential.
  • Prework: Creating invoices, setting up your style sheet, and formatting your document all allow editors to get on with the business of editing their documents. 


The flavors meld

Editors spend long hours on any given job. While interruptions can’t be avoided entirely, they can often be minimized or dealt with effectively, leading to a meal (edited manuscript) that will have clients drooling.

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