We each have talents.
Stuff we’re really good at, subjects at which we excelled at school. Subjects we didn’t have to study because their content was hugely interesting to us.
We all have weaknesses.
I, for example, find mathematics a foreign language. I tried and I try, but the language is elusive and alien. I admire those who understand the language of maths: I envy their skill.
My skill is the English language and how it fits together. Its rhythms and nuances, its rules and etymology.
It is therefore highly offensive when a workmate’s partner loses her job and immediately assumes she is qualified to undertake mine. I wouldn’t dream of offering my services to someone whose profession I have never studied and at which I had never practised. I am offended that colleagues offer their own or their spouse’s/friend’s/ex-lover’s proofreading prowess. These colleagues have been teachers, artists, receptionists, designers, academics: all were well qualified in their professions; none had a passing acquaintance with my job. Without exception, these people said and say they always spot mistakes in books.
Copy-editing and proofreading are not all about spelling mistakes. You need to spot repetitions, make sure a foreign word is spelled correctly, find the name that spells out the acronym for readers who might not know, ensure continuity, that verb tenses match throughout, that you have an agreed rule for bullet-point punctuation, whether you use percent or per cent or %, that the use of en rules differs from the use of hyphens and when to close the text around en rules – and when to leave spaces either side, that text is all one size, how to spot plagiarism, when to delete ‘actually’ and ‘self-evidently’ (almost always), that i.e. and e.g. have different meanings and rules of usage, that ‘England’ and ‘the UK’ are different, when to use single quotes or no quotes, when to use come and go or bring and take, when to capitalise words, when to use the singular (the government is), when to break the rules, that a reference is correct in the language in which it was published (regardless of whether it is incorrect or correct), and many more factors.
It’s interesting to me that I have spent my writing life (age four onwards) correcting other’s written mistakes. I have a flair for the intricacies of language that I consider to come from excessive reading.
My working life – I am a copy-editor and proofreader – began in 1981. There were no computers back then. If you got it wrong, you had to re-do it. There was no such thing as highlight all and change point size. We knew how to calculate. We knew that decimate meant one in ten from the word decimation, which derives from Latin and means ‘removal of a tenth’; that practice and practise are noun and verb, that loose is not related to lose; that disinterested and uninterested have different meanings.
I am happy working with words. I have a passion for them that far exceeds spotting spelling mistakes.
Please don’t presume anyone can copy-edit and proofread.