Interview: Rebecca Freeman on Copy-Editing, Language Mastery, and Creative PhDs

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Time for another interview! This time, we're heading down under and meeting Rebecca Freeman. Rebecca's a freelance copy-editor and applying to study for a creative writing PhD, you can see why I'm interested in interviewing her! We spoke in depth about her experiences with other languages, the steampunk story she's planning to write for her thesis, and how she deals with creative ruts. I had a lot of fun learning about Rebecca's work, so I hope you do too. Read on...


Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Rebecca! Jumping straight in: how did you find yourself working in the field of copy-editing? Is this something you've been formally trained in?

Rebecca Freeman:
I've always had a bit of a sixth sense for spelling and punctuation, since I first learnt to write. If something's not quite right, it gives me the shudders - that probably sounds worse than it is! But I find a page of clean copy very calming. I've not had formal editing training, although I've worked at a small publisher as an assistant editor, and I've freelanced as well, which has given me the opportunity to work on many different texts and manuscripts, including romance, speculative fiction, poetry, PhD dissertations, and advertising copy. And now I've got experience in proofreading, line-editing, as well as structural and content editing. It's been so interesting.

Magic & Musings:
Where did your passion for language first come from?

Rebecca Freeman:
Both my parents were very much into reading, and our house was one full of books. My mother read to me every night when I was young. I remember wanting so badly to learn how to read myself, and apparently, I came home at the end of the first week of school and told my parents that I wasn't going back, because 'We didn't even learn to read!' Once I did learn, I just devoured books, and I also spent hours writing stories of my own. We lived on a farm and both my siblings are several years older than I am, so reading gave me new, exciting worlds to explore and staved off my loneliness.

Then when I got to high school, I studied German and ended up going to Germany on youth exchange once I'd graduated. Becoming fluent in another language was incredible, because it not only granted me the opportunity to communicate with a whole different group of people, it also taught me so much about English and the origins of words.

Once I returned home, I studied English, French, German, and Philosophy at university, all of which reinforced my love of language and piqued my curiosity about communication, argument, and logic. Later, I taught German, French, and ESL at high school, and teaching just takes everything to another level, because you get to share that language journey with so many others. I miss that a bit, now that I'm working from home... although watching my children learn and master language is a fascinating experience, too.

Magic & Musings:
Wow! That's a real skill you must have for learning languages. I'll continue struggling along with my GCSE in Spanish!

How do you go about advertising your services? Was there an initial apprehension or crisis of confidence when first telling people about your business?

Rebecca Freeman:
I advertise locally, and use word-of-mouth to find clients, although I've also had some clients find me online. I was lucky enough to do a short business course which offered a 12-month mentor program. I got some great advice and assistance, and it helped me learn about some of the pitfalls to look out for. I did feel apprehensive when I first began... I think everyone who starts their own business is worried that it will fail, but so far so good! And with every client, I learn something new and gain more experience - every job is different, and that's what keeps it interesting.

Magic & Musings:
Tell me about your plans for your PhD! Which writers inspire your fiction in particular?

Rebecca Freeman:
I'm so excited about the PhD! I'm doing my application for candidacy right now, so I'm feeling especially motivated as I lay out my plans and objectives. Creative PhDs tend to be a bit different from the more traditional research-a-topic-write-a-thesis type, with which most people are familiar. Mine will be in two parts: a novel of about 90,000 words, and an exegesis (basically a short thesis of about 30,000 words). The novel is in the steampunk genre and is set in the 1890s in Western Australia, in the town where I live. Albany was the first permanent European settlement in Western Australia, and there is some interesting history here. I'm going to focus on some of those historical aspects, such as whaling and the interaction between Indigenous Australians and the Europeans, but they'll take place in an alternative, steampunk universe.

I'm inspired by all sorts of different writers, both fiction and non-fiction. I think I used to be a bit of a snob in terms of valuing some work over others, you know, dismissing writing if it weren't 'literary' enough. But having written several stories, and now editing other writers' work, I just have a very deep respect for anyone who completes something, especially if they publish. Finishing a project is a powerful thing.

More recently I've been reading a lot of steampunk (of course!), and standouts in this genre include Paul di Fillipo and Stephen Harper Piziks. I've also just started The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato and I'm really enjoying it.

Magic & Musings:
Now, that sounds amazing. I'll definitely be reading it!

What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively? Are there any books on writing and creativity you would recommend to others?

Rebecca Freeman:
I tend to have a lot of projects on the go at once, usually a couple of short stories and at least two novels, which seems to help. That means if I'm bored or getting stuck with one, I can move onto something different. Getting away from writing entirely can also be worthwhile; I enjoy running, hiking, and gardening, and all involve doing something quite separate from writing, but still spending a lot of time in my head. Sometimes I nut out a problem while I'm running or pulling weeds, but just having a break to think about other things is good. I really love where we live, so being outside is important to me, and probably important for my mental and physical health, too. I always feel better when I've been in the fresh air, away from the computer screen.

I remember finding On Writing (Stephen King) very helpful when I read it, probably ten years ago now. I think I was looking for some kind of instruction book to tell me how to write, but in the end, I realised that to be a writer, all you really need to do is write (and read, of course)! Having the confidence to do that took me a while to find, though.


Magic & Musings:
Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done? A specific hot drink? A relaxing album?

Rebecca Freeman:
Even though I have a study/writing space set aside, where I can close the door off to the rest of the house, I tend to do a lot of my work sitting on the floor! I'm sure this has absolutely nothing to do with how messy my study seems to get (apparently it's the dumping ground for everyone else's stuff...). But I do love having an area which is just 'mine', and I feel very at peace there (the mess notwithstanding).

On the days when all our children are out at school/kindergarten, Adam and I take our work to a park, where we drink tea and eat chocolate biscuits and write (he draws). I write by hand when I'm out of the house, and the change in pace helps, as does the act of simply writing on paper. I like being able to turn pages! If it's too rainy, we head to one of our favourite local cafes, or the library. Being away from home is good for my productivity, even if I don't necessarily write a lot when I'm out. It's a time when I'll discuss plot or character problems with Adam, and often we can work it out together.

I'm a HUGE fan of tea, and so most of the time, when I sit down to write, it'll be with an enormous mug of tea (usually Lady Grey).

Magic & Musings:
Tea certainly makes the world go round. I'm partial to a peppermint, personally.

What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in this field?

Rebecca Freeman:
For goodness' sake, take some time off now and then! The world won't fall apart if you have a nap on Sunday afternoon.

Magic & Musings:
I truly believe naps are the foundation that hold my life together. I don't know where I would be without them! So, what are your goals for the future of your copy-editing business?

Rebecca Freeman:
I'd like to continue finding clients from a variety of backgrounds - I feel so lucky that I've been able to work with clients from all over the world, with different views and stories. It's just a blast. I'd also love to get my business to a point where I could hire someone else to assist in the editing, because it would mean I'd be able to take on more interesting work. Right now, it's hard when I have to say 'no' to really wonderful stories or dissertations, just because I don't have the time.

Magic & Musings:
And time for a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?

Rebecca Freeman:
I've just finished A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston, and I loved it. Memoirs are a funny genre...too many fine details and they become boring. But this was so riveting, and much of what he says about acting applies to the creative arts in general. I was sad when I finished it!

I watched Complete Unknown a few weeks ago, and it's been in the back of my mind ever since. I love Rachel Weisz in films and I also thought the premise was great... and it made me wonder about the kinds of stories we tell about ourselves, what truths we choose to share with new people we meet.

As for music, it's not that new, but I can't get enough of Imagine Dragons' Night Visions and I've also been listening to a fair bit of Nero's Between II Worlds. For a bit of a slower pace at night, I'm fond of Vince Jones' Trustworthy Little Sweethearts. It reminds me of listening to it through headphones while I was studying as a teenager and in my 20s.

Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish?

Rebecca Freeman:
Art is amazing. How lucky we are to live in a world where it exists. And thanks so much for the opportunity to answer all these questions! It's been heaps of fun.

Magic & Musings:
How can people find our more about you and your work?

Rebecca Freeman:
If they have some work they need editing, I'd love for them to get in touch! Meeting new people and getting to know them through their writing is pretty special. I offer a range of different services, from simple feedback to detailed content editing, and I'm very flexible with payment plans (I know first-hand how hard it is to make money from your art!). People can visit me on my website or they can email me at postscriptediting@gmail.com, and they can also find me on Twitter @path_ethic.


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