by Stan Carey
New Year’s resolutions can be more trouble than they’re worth, fostering feelings of guilt and disappointment when our initial idealism wanes. But if we treat them as gentle suggestions or reminders and don’t get too caught up in expectations of transformation, they can nudge us helpfully towards improving our professional and inner lives. Here are five resolutions for editors and proofreaders.
1. I will reflect on my work habits
Everyone’s unique body clock influences the hours they work best, their levels of cognitive stamina, and so on. Based on your clock, see if you can adjust your day to maximise your efficiency and enjoyment of work. Start the night before – most of us can do something to improve our sleep hygiene. Whatever your routine, regular work breaks are vital. When you’re deep in the long grass of a job, it can take discipline to interrupt the flow, but it’s usually a good idea. Whether it’s a few minutes for stretches or a ramble outside to blow away cobwebs, you’ll return refreshed and energised. Ergonomics matter too: Are your desk, screen, and other office items optimally positioned for health and ease? Would a standing desk suit you? Ask around or look at photos online to get a sense of alternative possibilities for arranging your space and tools. Small adjustments can make a surprising difference.
2. I will back up my work frequently
This is a simple habit to instil, yet it could save you immeasurable time and aggravation. While you work on a document, condition yourself not just to save it but to back it up regularly, such as whenever you finish a section or just before you step away from the screen. It will soon become automatic, and you’ll enjoy peace of mind instead of potentially facing the pit-of-your-stomach horror of losing hours or days of work – maybe with a deadline looming. Since no technology is 100% trustworthy, think of backups as an extra layer of security. Some people back up to the cloud; others prefer a physical option like a thumb drive. Each has pros and cons, so choose a system that works for you.
3. I will create mnemonics for recurring confusables
Even editors and proofreaders need to double-check the meaning or spelling of a word sometimes. Tricky pairs and phrases are style-guide perennials, whether it’s defuse and diffuse, militate and mitigate, or just deserts, to name a few. It’s never a bad idea to look them up, but you can save yourself time and frustration by devising mnemonics for any confusables that continually (or is it continuously?) make you hesitate. These memory aids can be especially effective – and fun – if you create them yourself. To distinguish discreet and discrete, for example, I think of the adjacent e’s in discreet sharing a secret discreetly, and the t in discrete keeping the e’s discrete.
4. I will look up the etymology of more words
‘The closer the look one takes at a word, the greater the distance from which it looks back,’ wrote Karl Kraus. Unless word lore is our pet passion, though, we don’t normally pause to peer into a word’s past – it’s enough to contend with its use in the present. But delving into etymology deepens our love for the great gift that language is. It develops our appreciation for the marvellously patchwork nature of English, with its vocabulary stitched from so many sources – not forgetting, of course, that one of the main reasons for this is colonialism. A word’s biography can also give us a better feel for its contemporary usage and connotations, or for its suitability in a historical context: nice and silly, for instance, have undergone dramatic semantic shifts over the centuries. Just beware of the etymological fallacy: the misconception that a word’s earlier or original meaning is necessarily truer.
5. I will adopt (or at least accept) one usage I dislike
Because language is so personal, so tied to our sense of identity, it’s natural to develop pet peeves. For the same reason, we may find fault with certain usages as a way of finding fault with certain people or groups of people. We should keep in mind that different brains work differently, that not everyone has access to the same levels or types of education, that English is not everyone’s first language, and that standards of linguistic acceptability and formality vary across time and place. We owe it to our clients not to let our personal preferences affect our dispassionate judgement of what their writing needs. Peeves can be a habit more than anything else – and as habits they can be changed. As an antidote, try using a disliked word or idiom. It may come to feel normal, even useful, surprisingly quickly. At the very least it should feel less objectionable when you next encounter it. Renouncing peeves is good for your blood pressure too, replacing frowns and gritted teeth with placid acceptance of linguistic variety. And better health is always worth aspiring to.
Stan Carey is a freelance copyeditor, proofreader, and writer based in the west of Ireland. You can find him at https://stancarey.com and at @email@example.com on Mastodon.
The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of AFEPI Ireland.