Time to switch off


If there’s one thing I’ve found, after all these years of being a freelance genealogist and editorial type, it’s that sometimes it can be monumentally difficult to switch off.

For example, this afternoon I was in the travel agent’s in town, and while waiting for the lovely man to do his thing (yes, I really do want to pay for three pieces of luggage) I ended up looking at brochures. But not any old brochures – brochures for cruise companies I’ve worked with. It crossed my mind to ask for a few for my bookshelves. But I resisted. Why would I want the brochures when I have all the information on my shelves already? And those bookshelves are groaning as it is!

It was the editorial equivalent of finding treasure … oooh shinies!

cool stuff

Switching off is hard to do, especially if your specialism is all around you.

Now it wouldn’t be so bad if my subject was civil engineering (cue memories of working in the library and cataloguing the civil engineering books at they came through my section), but when it’s heritage, history and the ferry/cruise business, it’s all around you.

Obviously I don’t only work on these subjects, but a typical summer’s day, when I’m not working, can go something like this:

best breakfast

Nip out for some shopping at our local Lidl (they do the best cinnamon rolls for breakfast). It overlooks the harbour and the ferry is just leaving – I think of all the other ferries that have tootled over to Orkney from the mainland. I also marvel at the things I’ve learned about their maintenance and the vessel’s history. I then mentally slap myself for being a nerd.

ferry to Orkney


I come home and check social media, then end up popping over to Ebay to look at old photo albums. I kid myself that it’s ‘for research purposes only’ and CPD, as historical clues abound within the half-rotten, foxed pages of a Victorian photo album.

Victorian photo albums

I check Facebook and notice that it’s cruise season and a big old ship is docking at Scrabster, along with a few hundred tourists eager to soak up the north Highland atmosphere. I immediately wonder which cruise ship it is – if I’ve written about it, or the company, I might be tempted to go and have a look; if I know nothing of the ship, I might be tempted to go and have a look. Again, I’ve hit nerd territory.


Deciding I really need to relax I’ll pop on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and if I’m alone in the house I’ll often put my feet up with a cuppa and watch a historical documentary or a ghost hunters/forensic programme. I’ve been interested, and knowledgeable, in the supernatural for as long as I’ve walked this earth, and over the last few years I’ve taken any forensic courses I could find. But I’ve never edited a book on them yet, so I’m in safe territory. As soon as I hit the historical stuff though my brain kicks in – either triggering memories of old work, work I’m doing or work I hope to do in the future.

watching tv

And there’s the odd moment, such as when my daughter and I were watching Reign (which I really must get back into). As we looked at the gorgeous frocks, laughing at how they were quite fantastical (although very pretty), and how some things really didn’t fit in with the time period, she noticed a zip. ‘Erm … they didn’t have zips back in the times of Mary Queen of Scots did they?’ ‘Nope’ *chuckle* (she’s not a historian for nothing).

clothing zip

After watching some quality programmes I might watch Bargain Hunt (or another antiques programme) then decide enough is enough and read for a little while. Stopping mid sentence when I spot an error or a misused word. *and breathe, nobody’s perfect and I’m trying to relax*


I’ll pop onto Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn to see what’s happening in the world, check my emails (again), and watch a YouTube video on marketing that’s pinged into my Messenger box.

Andrew and Pete


Finally, if I’m having a really good day I’ll pop onto Newspapers.com, or Ancestry, or FindMyPast and do a little research on a side project I’m writing. I say ‘writing’ but I haven’t got that far yet as I keep researching and reading up on the era. I need to just stop the damn research already and get on with it!

just write

Now, I’m sure this is the same for all freelances, but I never realised quite how much my job would take over my existence. I envy those who can switch off and perhaps sit on a beach with a novel without reading the landscape around them and wondering what the earthworks on that hill over there were, or looking at a building and seeing its history unfold before their eyes.

historical scene

I love history, both on land and sea, but being able to switch off is a gift. One that I haven’t been given yet.

If any of you have tips and tricks (apart from blindfolds, locking yourself away for a while, or visiting a sensory deprivation tank) be sure to let me know.



3 Comments on “Time to switch off

  1. As a fellow editor and nerd, I’d say many of your interests and pursuits are perfectly fine, even typical. You enjoy them, and you know well enough that you need to switch off that judgy voice in your head. Don’t know how to switch it off? Go inward and figure out who it is: your mother or father? a snobby teacher? random other people? Tell it to please be quiet. Let your own self shine through and direct your thoughts and actions. Distract yourself with something out of those familiar, noisy boxes: Cook a fabulous meal that shows off your creativity. Make something with your hands. Spend more time in nature. Take a walk and admire the gardens. Lose yourself in a novel (I recommend Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series), one so compelling and well written that the occasional infelicity doesn’t faze you. Try a new activity that challenges you a little. Spend time around small children. Play.
    If this has become a serious problem, perhaps work on self-awareness about which thoughts are truly interfering; and, given your nerd tendencies, mentally rate them 1–5 in level of unwelcomeness (yes, I *had* to change that hyphen in the range to an en dash). Focus on the 4–5 ones, take deep breaths, and shift focus: from the 12 Step program (hyphenated or not? I’m not looking it up! I looked it up; no hyphen), “First things first.” Which means completing the [possibly pleasant] task at hand and switching off the distraction. Connect with your surroundings rather than that inner urge. Step away from the dead brochures and the Victorian photo album.
    As we all need to do, grow a thicker skin about other people’s typos and misused words, send kind thoughts to the writer or editor, and imagine them racing toward a deadline with not enough time to catch every mistake, or so many errors in a manuscript that a few slipped through [nod to Adrienne Montgomerie @sciEditor’s recent column].
    It’s okay to nerd out about zippers in Elizabethan gowns and other anachronisms or inaccuracies, your genealogy, or the mental archaeology of your surroundings, because you live in a place with a rich history. That attention to detail is part of what makes you a terrific editor. You be you! We appreciate you in all of your complex, nerdy glory.

  2. Lovely article, Sara, with so much that rings true (though my specialisms over the years have been a little different from yours). And I love your illustrations too! (Sorry I can’t tell you how to switch off.)

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