Tantalizing tedium

I’ve been chugging along with my freelance copy-editing job, trying to keep to two hours a day without stressing, so as to keep my work/life balance in order. It would be fine except for those five days I ran off to Ireland for, so I’m scrambling a bit now that my deadline is getting closer and I did a whole four hours this morning.

The material is fascinating, though, in an extremely dry and tedious way. Lemme explain.

It’s one volume in a set that will list all the mammal specimens in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in DC. So it’s 300 pages of Latin names, along with who found them, where, when, and how much there is – skin and skull, or just skin in alcohol, or a lone mandible, that sort of thing. And then sixty pages of references listing the books and journal articles they’re all mentioned in.

Thrilling stuff, eh? But scrape the surface, think about it just a tiny bit, and you’re transported to Victorian times when explorers travelled the globe, with trunks and bottles and all sorts of unsuitable garments, finding a new species of bat in China and a new type of shrew in Sumatra and documenting the details in their field journals, the precise words of which are often reproduced in this dry-as-dust tome I’m working on a hundred and more years later.

Part of my task was to check the spelling of the placenames, which was a tantalizing break in the monotony when every few lines I’d flick over to Google and find myself looking at images like these, for instance:

Google image search results showing tropical islands

An awful lot of mammal specimens were found in amazingly gorgeous islands of Southeast Asia, apparently.

The English names of the animals never even appeared, so unless I bothered to look it up – which I only did once or twice – I really had very little idea whether the specimen in question was a fieldmouse or a monkey, or something in between. I know there were some rabbits, and a lot of bats and shrews, and pikas, which are tiny cute things with big ears that Pikachu must be based on. I didn’t know a thing about zoological nomenclature – or Indonesian geography, for that matter – before I began this, but there’s nothing like diving in at the deep end to teach you something new.

In spite of all the tropical mini-breaks, at least in my imagination, it’s still been pretty mind-numbing work for the most part, but keeping my daily slot to two hours has been quite doable. The references section I’m on now is actually more interesting, as I’ve more to think about and remember and pay attention to. And in spite of the way I’m describing this, I do actually get a kick out of it all. It’s my thing.

And at the end of it all, I’m promised, they’ll pay me real money. Now there’s reason for excitement.

6 thoughts on “Tantalizing tedium

  1. Suzanna Catherine

    Wow. That sounds like quite a task!

    I always thought my dream job would be typing manuscripts of new books for a publishing house – like the edited version to send to the author for more edits. Ha.
    That way I could read new books and get paid for it at the same time.

    The closest I came to that was typing dreary leases for the Admin Dept of my City Government. It just wasn’t the same. Yours sounds so much more interesting.

    1. Maud

      When I started working as a copy editor I couldn’t read a book for pleasure any more at all. I’d find myself proofing it instead of understanding it. Now I’m more able to put on and off my editing hat at will, but it is a different process reading a book to edit it from reading it for fun. Still, editing fiction is definitely a challenge I enjoy from time to time.

    1. Maud Post author

      I have to admit it’s enormously satisfying to discover I’ve still “got it”. For quite a few years there my brain was just mush.

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