Dear Ed

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dearedDire Ed

I'm fairly new to this game of freelance editing and proofreading, and I need your wise counsel. I'm losing sleep and becoming very anxious about everything that I work on. I can't stop worrying that I've missed glaring errors in the copy I'm meant to be checking. In my old job, I was part of a team and we shared the responsibility if something went wrong. Now I feel like I'm the 'end of the line'. Will this anxiety pass, or does it just come with the territory? Should I quit, or harden up?


No Second Chances


Dear Second Chances

I'm so unused to receiving real letters that I wasn't sure I could put together a coherent and useful reply. So I went out to the backyard to channel my inner Ed. There, surrounded by scorched trees and alleged Hungarian capsicums that turned out to be orange versions of green capsicums, I pondered your question, thinking back to my Freelance Year 01. A popular initialism favoured by the Healthworkers', Tooth-doctors' and Fetishists' Union sprang to mind, but was swiftly dismissed as being unworthy of the lofty standards of this column.

In my early days of being a lance for hire, long before László Bíró was a household name, I spent hours going over and over jobs, afraid of missing some howler that would have me outed as a fake. I don't do that anymore, even if I still sometimes wake at 2am sweating about something I did or did not do or had yet to do or had forgotten to do or had to write down to remember to do on a client's job.

So, in a most likely futile attempt to help you avoid the 2am vapours, here are a couple of things I always do before starting a job:

1. I list the tasks involved in the order I think they should be done and put them on a checklist. I then work my way through this list, adjusting as needed. Checklists are also great if you have several jobs on the go at the same time and are splitting your time (and brain) between them. They save you from all the ise or ize? single quotes or double quotes? judgement or judgment? mental question marks that flood your brain when you pick up a job you last worked on a few days ago.

2. Learn to love your style sheet. I never used style sheets when I worked in-house. [Newsletter Ed: please hyperlink to audio of LP Hartley reading the first line of The Go-Between.] [Dear Ed: No, not the band The Go-Betweens. Just as good but different era.] I actually believed I could keep all the requirements of any one job in my head, tucked away in the mental equivalent of different-coloured cardboard boxes. Well, it doesn't work. You cannot survive without style sheets (see mental question marks, above).

There are also a couple of things I always do before finishing a job:

1. Run it through a spell checker. I know spell checkers are near useless, but the 20 minutes you spend at the end of the job clicking 'Ignore' will usually snare one really good typo that you have completely overlooked.

2. Check for double spaces. You can do this as a global search, but that's a bit risky at the end of a job, so I suggest doing the search manually.

3. If you are proofreading your own work, print it out so that it is ready for you to proofread first thing in the morning. Don't attempt to proofread at night or when you are tired or when your brain just isn't performing as well as normal. And don't proofread on screen. Yes, I know, paperless office and all that. Proofreading on screen is not as accurate as proofreading on paper. I'd quote statistics on readability if I had them, so just take it from me. If anyone disputes it, you can say, 'Ed says ...' and give them an earful. Besides which, 90 per cent of statistics are made up.

4. Don't edit when you're tired. I have colleagues who clock on at nine in the morning and log off at five at night, but I can't do that. Editing involves sharpness and precision. If you don't feel sharp or precise, don't do any work that involves detailed critical thinking.

And if all the above fail, insert a disclaimer into the imprint, stating: This book contains one deliberate error. Then sit back and wait for emails to arrive from every professional error-spotter in the known universe. They might even find errors where there are none, which is an added bonus.

Sleep tight,