I’m coming up on my four-year freelanciversary. I am more confident about my choices—both editorial and professionally. Usually.
Copyeditors are supposed to keep style sheets. These are alphabetic lists of the stylistic choices that editors consciously make and hold to. This is how we make sure “Lady Esmereldina” is spelled correctly throughout your manuscript. But many of our choices are imbedded in a house style. For example, Chicago mandates that “1980s” doesn’t have an apostrophe. This fact is etched on my editing brain; it is not a conscious choice. And, yes, I had to look up “lockstep” to see whether it was one word. I went with Merriam-Webster (one word).
Because it is a tool of the trade, you might wonder why I totally fucking panicked when I was asked for one. It’s because I don’t have them. I write down a few words that I want to do a find and replace on to make sure they are set consistently. But my style sheet is scrawled in pencil across several pages and the rest of it is in my head.
I’m way too ADD to keep a formal style sheet. It takes my attention away from the page (very dangerous for an ADDer), it is one more document on my computer that I need to find, it slows me down, and I often can’t explain things.
How do you overcome a total organizational fail? Hurriedly type up a style sheet, reflect on the fact that you didn’t find any typos you missed while scouring the manuscript for small editorial decisions, move on with your life. Crisis averted. Today.