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
1. These tips are adapted from The Subversive Copy Editor, 60–62.
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Editor’s Corner posts are the opinion of Carol Fisher Saller, editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A and author of The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself). You can also find Carol on Facebook and Twitter (@SubvCopyEd).
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