Recently during an event a publisher said, “We do a lot of our reading outside of work hours, most of it actually, there just isn’t time during the day.”
I was struck by her words, -the simple matter-of-fact nature of the delivery - because they were so true, and something that I myself have just accepted. It’s 8:14am as I write this, my daughter is banging her stacking cups around - having still not quite mastered the technique of building a tower with them - and there is a mug of hot chocolate beside me. Despite the picture I have just painted, I am not a morning person. Especially not after a late night spent reading, editing and doing the organising tasks that require quiet emails and a sleeping baby.
I realise that it’s become ingrained in me, this incessant need to be working, to be switched on. From my very first internship where I took manuscripts to my evening job to read, I learned that it was normal, accepted, and encouraged. Being an assistant meant being on before your boss was in the office and often hours after they left. How else would you be able to hand in a task set at 5pm and due at 10am the next morning?
Even with a small baby, and a pandemic to contend with, that little voice in the back of my head that tells me to make sure I haven’t missed any emails, despite it being Sunday afternoon, hasn’t quietened down. Historically I have seen colleagues turn up for work when not fully well, due to the general belief that productivity or level of commitment to the job was intrinsically linked to the amount of time you spent in the office. I’d taken to asking myself: “Yes but can I still send emails? Can I still type?” to test if I deserved to spare myself the commute and eight hours in the office. For many editors, internal meetings can take over much of their week, meaning that they have to condense their edits, reading, and other work into the time they have left around their Zoom calls.
Now we work from home, it can be harder than ever to separate out our work-life from our home-life: when you live where you work, how do you delineate that boundary? And, for many people, work can provide a distraction from the monotony of the pandemic. However, it’s more important than ever to make sure we switch off, or run the risk of burning out entirely.
As an agency, we have Winter Fridays - encouraging us to log off at lunchtime and set away from our screens - which is something which publishers in the US as well as in the UK have also rolled out during the pandemic. I would also encourage staff members of all levels to communicate with their colleagues, managers, or authors, when deadlines are unrealistic - and urge managers to listen to any junior colleagues expressing this.
If someone is routinely unable to complete their work in work hours, that must be a sign that their workload is untenable. In an industry like ours, thinking time is also intensely important: whether mulling a book jacket, or unpicking a knotty editorial question. Being able to switch off in the evening and read for pleasure, go on a long walk, or catch up with friends gives us that valuable headspace to be able to come back fresh to our desks with a creative answer to solve a problem, or simply with the energy to attack the day’s to-do list.
Silé Edwards is an agent at Mushens Entertainment, and a winner of the 2021 LBF Trailblazer Awards. You can find her on Twitter at @sileloquies.