This is the new year

It’s extra hard for me to come back after the holiday break this year. My deadlines were mostly wrapped up before Christmas, the rest were wrapped up before New Year’s, and potential clients also took time off for the holidays instead of sorting through résumés. It was blissfully easy to sleep all I wanted… or stay up late reading.

So when the first work week of the year was slow, I spent it plotting all the various systems I’d use to clean my house and keep it shipshape. Really this time. (Tried the KonMari method? I’m skeptical. How can books be clutter? And it doesn’t appear to mesh well with the homesteading projects I’m also looking into, because anything is possible in the new year.) And I’ve started working on some of those major cleaning projects, too. You should see my office now.

Please send work, is what I’m saying, really. I’m convinced that I do my best, most meticulous editing when I’m putting off housework. If you’ve been thinking about contacting me about a project, do it now and you will have my undivided attention, plus the benefit of (almost) all the time in the world to look up arcane details or find style decisions for intricate references.

Editor’s tools: Spell-check

I’m editing some ELA modules on Common Core language standards, so right now I’m hyperaware of details like sentence structure, active/passive voice, and spelling. Let me tell you why I rely on spell-check as an editor.

One of my goals for a text is to make sure that all words are spelled correctly. I’m smart, I can spell, I’m good at English, right? I’m a trained editor, a careful reader, and I know when to double-check word spellings. So, for a long time, I assumed I didn’t need to use a spell-checker.

However, when a group of colleagues were discussing and swapping editorial checklists, I noticed that running spell-check was a task that appeared frequently. Huh, I thought.

Out of scientific curiosity, I started running spell-check on texts after I finished editing them, especially long ones… and wow, was I embarrassed at some of the howlers it caught. I mistype studnet and exmaple all the time, for example, and my eyes just skim over those, but there were typos and spelling errors in the original documents that I’d missed, too. How does that happen? Check out all the scrambled words in the brain teaser below, a chunk of text that’s crossed my Facebook news feed a few times with an unlikely statistic about the number of brilliant people who can read it:

The last line of the scrambled text says, “This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole.” According to BrainHQ, this is mostly true, but the patterns in the scramble are easier than other possible choices to unscramble, such as the maintained double in according. Your brain might not catch the variation accordnig, either, but a spell-checker will. I mistype that all. the. time. And porblem — I’d probably catch porbelm, as in the image above, because the and the are too far apart, but the first three letters still blur together.

Spell-check won’t pick up correctly spelled but misused homophones, of course. It does flag quite a few names and terms (for example, metacognitively and postassessment are two words I added to Word’s dictionary), and it does come up with some grammar suggestions that are hilariously wrong. That’s why I, the human running the test, review each suggestion and decide how to handle it. I’d rather click Ignore a bunch of times and catch one real error than skip the test and have a PE come back and tell me that something was missed.

So, important as it is to read carefully and fix typos and misspellings, I always run spell-check after I’ve read through a text. A++ recommended.

When I wanted to be a journalist

In June 2014, I sent in a résumé for a full-time copy editing position. (Obviously, I didn’t get it. I think it was for the Grand Rapids Press.) This post was in Drafts because I wanted to tell a story about that.

As a college student, about halfway through my stint at the Ferris State Torch, I decided I really wanted to find a copy editing job in a newsroom after graduation. But given the local job market (even in 2004), I was basically waiting for one or two positions to open up. It didn’t happen, I started in an entirely different field instead, then I got into educational publishing when I moved to Baltimore in 2006. Besides, I thought, copy editors work a late shift. I was in my 20s and I didn’t want to give up my evenings and weekends. And the Torch was a weekly paper. I was intimidated by the idea of editing for a daily. And so on and so forth.

The 10 years since then have been the latest part of a seismic shift in journalism, with mass layoffs and budget cuts and dwindling advertising income and more multimedia online content rather than a single daily or weekly print issue. I’ve been through plenty of personal changes over the last 10 years, too, and I’ve done a lot of the things that intimidated me before. I’ve worked a full-time second shift. I worked in journalism again for almost two years. I’ve burned through my 20s and my early 30s, stayed married, had babies, and found that my introverted self is happier chillin’ at home most of the time (even if I don’t have coworkers to blame for not cleaning the microwave). I’ve sent out so many résumés and been successful enough as a freelancer that I can see a résumé as a marketing document; not all my hopes and dreams ride on it. I can do the things that scare me, that intimidate me, and I’ve found that I survive, whether or not I succeed.

But I still remember being 9 years old and touring the Saginaw News offices with my mom. I remember walking into the Torch office at 18 and taking that editing test. I remember proudly pinning up my business cards and press passes from covering big campus events at 23. I remember watching the Grand Rapids Press jobs page the following year (if I sent a résumé for anything, I didn’t get a callback), and setting up a job alert when I was searching again in 2010. So when I saw my onetime dream job show up in 2014, I had to send in my materials, even if getting the job would mean I’d have to trade my yoga pants and all that dorky business admin stuff I like for a commute and a regular paycheck. I owed it to Past Me to give it a shot.

A consequence of that seismic shift and all the layoffs? There’s a longer line of tremendously qualified editors for every job opening. Dreams or no, I didn’t spend 10 those years building journalism experience, and I’m sure there were stronger candidates. No callback this time, either.

As it turns out, that was pretty okay. I’m happy where I am, yoga pants and all. Dear Past Me: Everything turns out in the end—or, at least, it does for the next 10 years. You make it. Keep dreaming. It’s gonna be just fine.

When I wanted to specialize in “weird projects”

I had “Weird projects a specialty” in my profile for a few months (in 2012), and maybe overthought it a bit. I took it out. Nobody thinks their own projects are weird, I thought.

But I’ve said for years that what I really wanted to have was an interesting résumé, full of strange things that made for good stories later on. Weird stuff.

In high school, I worked at a bee farm. Mostly I stuck labels on plastic bears by hand (boxes of 396, 99 to a row), occasionally helped grab honeycomb frames from the hives and later pour harvested honey from big 55-gallon drums into jars, and went on a few deliveries in the ambulance/delivery truck and stocked honey in local grocery stores. Tip: Honey is sticky but washes right off with hot water and a little dish soap. Also, if your honey crystalizes, you can just heat it up and still use it; honey never goes bad. At the end of the year I worked at the bee farm, I even entered the Michigan Honey Queen pageant. (It was a tremendously educational experience.) For my talent, I did a modified Victor Borge bit about phonetic punctuation, but I’d never seen or heard Victor Borge do it. And there was an essay you had to read — I started mine out with something like “you’ve probably heard a few times today that melissa means ‘honey bee’ in Greek” and a bunch of other common facts, which probably would have gone over better if my turn to read had been later in the program (I went third).

The day job I had before I started freelancing was Caption Editor. I applied in the first place because the job title had “editor” in it, but it turned out that I was creating closed captions for cooking shows and DIY shows. I played the video of a final or nearly final TV show, listened to what the people were saying or what noises were happening in the show, and typed it all into a caption. Easy to explain, hard to accomplish. It takes hours to do this for a half-hour show (which actually runs 22 minutes minus the commercials). I started with cooking shows, and that year I did some of my best cooking. I’d be there watching and listening over and over and over to get the words exactly right, and obviously my brain is engaging with what’s being said, so I’m learning knife skills (I still cut onions the way Roger Mooking showed on Everyday Exotic) and thinking about the taste balance of a dish (I put nutmeg in spaghetti sauce whenever I can) and going straight home to try something a chef had spent six minutes talking about enthusiastically (I made my first clafouti for exactly this reason). That didn’t happen as much for the DIY shows because I’m not as good at building stuff as I am at cooking. I captioned a lot of House Hunters, though, which is a very formulaic show that is still addictive as all hell. HGTV has embraced this and made branded bingo cards (PDF).

When my past self stuck these stories in a draft post, I threw in a link to How Not to Be Invisible by Walt Kania at The Freelancery, and today I discovered his post said a few of the same things Brandy said at the start of Project: Mic Drop: Be you, and let your people come to you. And I had said it myself in the strange language of mission statements back in 2012.

Embracing the weird is not a new idea. And in fact, I’ve found, it’s pretty easy to be your authentic self when you’re the only one home, dancing in your kitchen, let’s say, completely hypothetically. It’s harder to keep dancing when your husband and kids get home and catch you. But in this completely hypothetical situation, I announced that I was having a kitchen dance party and kept going. The kids joined in, I put on the Frozen soundtrack so they could sing too, we had a blast, and now Margaret requests dance parties every so often. It’s good — it was good to be seen that way, to be the mom who has kitchen dance parties (not at all influenced by the midnight margaritas scene in Practical Magic, I assure you), and to tell a story about it.

So, hi. I’m Rachel Lee Cherry, the copy editor who did a Victor Borge bit at a honey queen pageant when I was 18 and who used to write the closed captions for cooking shows and who started having dance parties with my kids because I got busted belting out “House Party” while unloading the dishwasher. I’m perfectly capable of being very normal and editing lesson plans aligned to Common Core ELA standards, but if you’ve got a novel set in a universe where the protagonist can travel through time with a special essential oil and falls in love with a sarcastic 13th-century alchemist, and you need it copyedited? I’m in. With bells on.