Thursday, May 12, 2011

Coping on the Job, Editorially and Otherwise

Every job involves some bit of repetition. Some jobs, like trash collecting and assembly-line work, consist almost entirely of repetition. Other jobs, like, oh, President of the United States, involve little repetition: Every day is something new.

For copy editors, that repetition is the continual correction of common grammar and usage errors and style choices.

There are, to be sure, shining moments in a copy editor's life when the art of editing shines through the science of it. It might be a headline that manages to be both witty and SEO-friendly, or the perfect pun that lightens the mood without getting in the way, or the metaphor that reveals in two sentences what would otherwise take two paragraphs to explain. Those sparkling moments happen occasionally, but the bulk of a copy editor's efforts are spent on those common, niggling errors, on the reptition.*

Lately, this repetition has been getting under my skin. (If you've been following my A to Z of Editorial Peeves series, you already know some of the things that I'm tired of fixing.)

My biggest gripe is wordiness, and (at least with what I'm working on now) it's the most common problem. Why are you writing with participial phrases when simple present tense is clearer and more succinct? Why are you making use of things instead of just using them? And why oh why do you favor long, nested strings of prepositional phrases instead of single-word adjectives?

And if I have to change one more utilize . . .

It seems like every time I open a new file, I make the same edits I made in the previous file, and the one before that, and the one before that.

But I'm not going to spend this time griping about all the problems I have to fix over and over again — I have a 27-part weekly series just for that. What I'm interested in is how other people — specifically you, dear reader, whether you're an editor or a garbage collector — deal with the dull drudgery if repeating the same task again and again and again.

Do you look to social media for commiseration, sharing your pain with Twitter and Facebook (I do that) or throwing the worst offenses into the blogosphere, like Shit My Students Write? Do you shout profanities — either literally or online in comments sections (not mine, please)? Do you take a more passive-aggressive approach and sabotage your coworkers? Do you take two smoke breaks an hour?

How do you calm the creative side of your mind long enough to get the auto-pilot stuff finished? How do you keep from going crazy?

Comments are open. Please help before I punch a hole in my cubicle wall.

* The truth of this statement is dependent on the skills of the writer, of course. If you're working with a good writer, copy editing can be like polishing a gold statue. If the writer stinks, it's more like regrouting a shower.