The roof’s leaking, the cat’s at the vet’s, global events are going from bad to worse, and – as if all that wasn’t enough to deal with – you’ve run out of milk for your coffee. You’d think focusing on work would be difficult, and it’s true that this is sometimes the case.
But you might actually find that concentrating on work is just what you need when things around you seem difficult or troubling.
Following the recent American election, Helen Angove, a US colleague, posted this in an online forum:
“…it has been unexpectedly calming and heartening both to work on something that needs real concentration and to work on a document that clearly demonstrates this client’s commitment to honesty, integrity and inclusivity. Proofreading as therapy. Who knew?”
I’ve heard this same view expressed on other occasions. Editing and proofreading can calm the mind and create a feeling of well-being, even in the face of worrying situations.
Art, writing, music and craft activities have long been known to offer similar benefits. Like editing and proofreading, they require brain power and focus. Sometimes they’re complex, sometimes they’re repetitive, and sometimes they call for creative problem solving. And there’s usually a sense of what the end product will be – ideally, something that will bring a feeling of satisfaction and achievement.
As an editor, I need a great deal of focus when I’m editing the work of non-native-English authors, whether it’s a journal article on library search behaviour or a report on vocational education in Central Asia. It can be challenging at times, but there’s nothing quite like getting down to the nitty-gritty of a sentence or paragraph and crafting a clearer version. It’s something I really enjoy, and I find it satisfying to look back at the material I’ve edited and see the results of my efforts.
I also enjoy the mechanical aspects of work, such as formatting references. Applying a set of rules to a list of sources requires concentration and attention to detail: a comma here, italics there…you get the picture. Yes, it can be repetitive, and there’s very little creativity involved, but perhaps that’s one of the attractions! And the feeling of satisfaction when I’ve created a lovely neat list is wonderful.
Using the right tools for the job – macros, PerfectIt or ‘find and replace’ routines – engages the problem-solving part of the brain. Again, there’s something satisfying about making changes throughout a document and knowing that I’ve achieved order and consistency.
These are personal observations, and they relate mainly to the work itself. I haven’t even mentioned the pleasure of building relationships with clients and colleagues, the satisfaction of feeling part of a team or a process, or the thrill of receiving positive feedback. Plus, of course, the tangible benefit of getting paid at the end of it all.
And I admit that there are some days when work isn’t such a positive experience – when the technology misbehaves, when deadlines start to press, or when tiredness or illness strikes.
On the whole, though, editing is a positive pursuit. First and foremost, it’s my profession, and the way I make my living, but if it can also enhance my well-being, so much the better!
I love my work. Every day I spend my time editing non-fiction and academic texts on subjects such as business, education, management and economics. But in my spare time, there’s nothing I like more than getting engrossed in a really good novel.
I live in an area with a very strong literary heritage: the Brontë sisters lived in nearby Haworth. A recent event at the Old School Rooms in Haworth gave me a chance to hear how two contemporary novelists, Tracy Chevalier and Maggie O’Farrell, feel a connection with Charlotte Brontë’s most famous work, Jane Eyre.
As well as discussing aspects of the novel, including the strong central character and the use of first-person narration, Tracy and Maggie reflected on the nuts and bolts of writing, both in relation to Charlotte Brontë and from their own experiences.
For me, one of the most interesting parts of the discussion focused on how the Brontës developed their novels. The sisters would sit together at a table to write, and would take it in turns to walk around the table reading parts of their work aloud. Maggie O’Farrell wondered about the editorial interaction between the sisters. How far did they collaborate during this process? To what extent did they ‘borrow’ from each other’s personal experiences for their own individual writing?
Part of Charlotte’s working method involved writing out short sections of text on individual pieces of paper and revising them before copying them onto the manuscript. Tracy Chevalier wondered just how many changes were made before the final version was produced. If only Track Changes had been available in 19th-century Haworth!
As I sit in my office editing a journal article on knowledge organisations or a lengthy report on education policy in Central Asia, I can draw inspiration from Charlotte’s writing process and her desire to hone each and every sentence to perfection.
When it comes to writing and editing, some things never change.