Monday, September 08, 2008

Zen and the Art of Looking Things Up in the Chicago Manual of Style

I've been spending a lot of quality time with good ol' CMS 15 this week, feeling the zen of its glowing orange cover and rebuilding my love-hate relationship with section 7.90, Hyphenation Guide for Compounds, Combining Forms, and Prefixes for Those Who Care about Such Things.

I'll tell you a secret about being an editor: It's not about knowing how to spell and punctuate everything. It's about knowing when to look it up.

I didn't memorize the dictionary; I have multiple dictionaries on hand. That's because (1) I'm an editor, not a spelling bee champ, and (2) just when you think you know what one says, a publisher asks you to use a different one, and lo and behold, further confirmation that English is a ridiculously nonstandardized language. That's why editing will always be as much art as science and how a surprisingly right-brained and not-detail-obsessed person like me can (I like to think) still be pretty good at it.

Every time I work for a different publisher, I have to retrain my brain a little bit. Each has its own style guide, ideas about whether the dictionary or CMS should take precedence, and house-specific exceptions to CMS, not to mention that each project can have its own exceptions even to the house rules. The last week's rush project had me looking things up on all fronts—probably more than really necessary, but I get a little paranoid when working for someone I haven't worked with much; call it that old freelance insecurity again. But occasionally verifying what I think is right is good for me.

What I really need to work on is starting out strong with my projects. I apparently work better under pressure, but I'd be so much more productive if I could knock off the procrastination so I'm not under the gun by the time I get into The Zone—the kind of focus where I lose track of time as the pages fly by.

Unfortunately, access to The Zone is somewhat inhibited by the presence of The Child.

Another semi-rush project up next. Bring me The Zone and the zen!

How about you? Are you a procrastinator—recovering or proud? What helps you get in your Zone?


pmfh said...

Long live footnotes!

Down with those wretched inline (Jones, 1978) references! *yak*

We denounce the use of endnotes as well as all other forms of inconvenient and source-disguising method in references!


Amy said...

Procrastinator? Oh, yeah. Unfortunately, my Zone is limited to 8:30-10pm, after the kids are in bed. Sometimes Saturday mornings. So I am forced into The Zone, I don't have a choice!

pmfh said...

And, I haven't seen The Zone but a handful of hours in the last several months.

I miss you, Zone! :<

On the other hand, I've realized I generally liked what I do, and I'm alright with not being rich & famous as long as I can take care of the fam and not wade through red ink...