The most mind-numbing job I ever had was in an insurance company filing papers—carts full of policies to put in numerical order, hour after hour, 1064952, 2586027, 1943902, 1064951. The only thing that kept me awake was the occasional paper cut. I’m sure they’re still looking for some of the policies I misfiled in my stupor.
Every writer or editor is faced with a mindless task now and then: alphabetizing, renumbering, abbreviating, spelling out. When it comes to word processing, people sometimes ask “Can’t your computer do that?” and thank goodness, most often it can—but this means I’m all the more impatient and bored when it can’t.
Ironically, these simple but mindless tasks are the ones that most easily get me into trouble. If a find-and-replace operation has to be done one by one, the repetitive boredom can send me miles away mentally. Before I realize it, I’ve spelled out something that should have stayed abbreviated, or I’ve clicked Find Next a couple of times when I should have clicked Replace—or did I? And how far back do I need to go to check my work?
When you’re faced with a tedious writing or editing task, here are some ways to cope.1
2. For terrific MS Word tips, see our recent interview with Word guru Jack Lyon as well as Lyon’s Editorium website and Allen Wyatt’s WordTips site.
Photo: Work Conditions: Ingersoll Watch Company, c. 1900, by William M. Vander Weyde, accession no. 1974:0056:0246, courtesy George Eastman House
Editor’s Corner posts at Shop Talk reflect the opinions of its authors and not necessarily those of The Chicago Manual of Style or the University of Chicago Press.
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Carol Saller’s books include The Subversive Copy Editor and the young adult novel Eddie’s War. You can find Carol online at Twitter (@SubvCopyEd) and at Writer, Editor, Helper.
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