Word manipulators and OCD

I’ve done a fair amount of freelance editing work — mostly copy editing academic textbooks and more recently editing “articles” for the smoldering slag heap known as eHow, which exists solely to cannibalize Google searches (if I were hammered I’d admit that the whole fucking enterprise should be shitcanned for the good of the Web and everyone who surfs it) — and although the pay can be solid, it’s not the kind of work most people would do even if they had the right background for it. The simple reason for this is that it is excoriatingly dull. Imagine spending a couple of weeks sifting through the text of a 1,100-page introductory criminology textbook-to-be looking for the most trivial errors, and making sure that every reference cited in every banal chapter was partnered with a reference in the badly garbled 40-page end-of-book reference list and conversely. Most people would flat-out laugh at the idea.

Understand, however, that for anal-retentive people with a verbal streak (or conversely), this kind of work is perfect. Not only does it demand that mistakes be corrected, it encourages seeking them out and even making merry of them, inwardly maligning the author in the process. If I were plastered, I’d own up to muttering “what a fucking mess of a paragraph” every ten minutes while plowing through both words and a half-gallon. After all, if your undeniably boring job is to fix people’s screw-ups — often the same mistake made on 10 or 15 or 20 different pages — it only makes sense to take undue pleasure in the process.

In the past year I have both written and edited for a particular online outfit. Although at this point I am only writing (if I were three sheets to the wind I’d admit that I was dropped as an editor for basic noncompliance with published standards, and actively sought this outcome), I was recently invited to participate in a Facebook group for editors with this company. There is a copy editor forum on the company’s own page, but because both administrative types and writers can view the content, someone got the idea to establish a private one so that people could say what they really think about both the writers and the higher-ups with impunity.

I have to admit that the page is funny. Editors post examples of some of the worst of the limitless bad writing continually burbling and gurgling through the eHow sewer main, and some of the comments are priceless. But I’m also wondering based on certain mirthless input just how prevalent clinical OCD is in copy editors. If I were wasted I’d freely peg the number at about a third, maybe 40 percent.

It’s not just the comments about the writers, assuredly a ramshackle lot, that have me thinking this way. It’s an administrative matter. Ordinarily this company pays its freelancers on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. Very few people in this group had been paid as of midnight EDT last night (or this morning), and despite some boilerplate assurances from the company that its tech folk were working with PayPal, etc., etc., people were going apeshit. Keep in mind that few of them stood to see more than $100. As of this morning, still nothing, and half of the people in this Facebook group had already announced that they were not doing one more line of editing for the company until they had been paid.

Now think about this. A company that is hardly a fly-by-night entity (although it’s rife with idiots and issues, or so the would-be tippler in me claims) is less than a day late with its payouts, and is sending out missives hourly assuring people that they would soon be paid, and in fact many people already have been paid, and a sizable fraction of this group’s members is shrilly declaring a work stoppage. If I were blotto I’d refer to them as a bunch of overreacting harpies, and in the bargain I’d note that their not working means that my work, as a writer, is going to sit there unattended. Were I to take an additional few shots, I’d note that anyone with a real editing job wouldn’t be relying on this company for sustenance in the first place, and would finish by observing that most of the editors handling my own work don’t know what the fuck they’re doing (writers with this company see editors’ comments but not their names, so it’s very likely that members of this group I belong to are responsible for some of the incompetent handiwork that has plagued my articles for this entity since my first submission in June 2010.

I guess if I weren’t a little OCD myself, it wouldn’t bother me that so many of my de facto peers are. And in all seriousness, I would bet that just as many copy editors meet the criteria for OCD as I’ve speculated. It’s an occupational asset even if it makes people insufferable in certain milieu.

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