Sunday, August 10, 2008


My brothers both work mostly on movie crews, in the construction grip/metal shop/special effects team sort of capacity. This can lead to exceptionally brutal working hours at the peak of a big movie job, like sixteen-hour shifts that sort of cycle evilly round the clock (a 2pm call one day, working through the next morning, then an 8pm call, etc. etc.). After one job like this, J. described himself as living like a wild animal. Eat, drink, strip off filthy clothes and heap in pile on floor, fall into bed, roll out of bed the next morning and off to work again.

I have had times, too, where work has led me to live like a wild animal. (A more bookish wild animal, admittedly!) Work stress in general erodes humanity and then leads to the necessity for frustrating downtime - but I am happy to report that the status round here returned to fully human on or about August 1, and that I have had a useful week of work.

Today I have guiltily taken the day off from novel-writing in order to try and make some serious headway with the index for Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century. I need to get the proofread pages and a complete index back to the publisher by the end of the day on Wednesday the 20th, but the schedule's a little tighter than that makes it sound, for the very happy reason that I have a Secret Weapon poised for action in a Croatian seaside grotto! The mission: to check my draft index and eradicate error - but it is poor etiquette for me to demand super-fast turnaround, which means I need to get the draft done as soon as possible and fired off into the ether...

(Prime directive: Write a little bit of novel every day, come hell or high water. Contradictory sub-directive: Index! And since in fact indexing is a fiddly little enjoyable crossword-puzzlish type of job, of a kind my brain is very well suited to and which does not take any willpower to apply myself to, it did not take very much self-persuading for me to decide to switch over for the day, though it would be good if I could eke out a paragraph or two of novel before I go to bed tonight.)

The typesetters have done a beautiful job with the layout, and I caught only a handful of errors as I proofread (though I was delighted to find an actual missing word in one of the quotations!). The goal, of course, is to have already combed through the text so many times that one does not find any errors at all, but it is good for the morale to find a few (each one gives a nice gotcha! boost) but not so many as to call into question the validity of the error-locating protocol as it has been previously applied....

The title page (and chapter headers have a similar layout):

Indexing is a slightly insane task. The initial mark-up really needs to be done by the author, and because my handwriting is not fully human, I need to do the initial transcription and organization of information myself as well. It is an interesting mixture of labelling, intellectual categorization and storytelling; once I send the thing off next week, I'll post a sample letter of the alphabet to give you a sense of how it all comes together. Last time I did an index (the only other one I've done, though it seems to me that one day I might write a novel with an index - hmmm, earlier today I was thinking that I would never write another novel, but the conviction has dissipated, that is strange!), I seem to remember cramming terms and page numbers onto a single sheet of paper (is that possible?!?), but this time I have made singularly lavish use of post-it notes.

I am thinking that once I finish the mark-up, tonight or tomorrow, I will go back through and detach the post-its one by one and stick 'em onto a big piece of paper in more-or-less alphabetical ordering, and then type it all up into a real draft...


  1. Well, that's tantalizing! I'd definitely like to see what you do with that unfinished quotation from Burgess --

  2. Jenny, that handwriting! Wow.

    Really, though, I wanted to pop in to say that this sense of the balance of errors strikes me as exactly right. I am cross-checking my own collation of editions of Dalloway and found 2 right off the bat: one too many for comfort. I'll have to go through the text once more, I think... sigh...

    All best,..

  3. Enid Stubin, an assistant professor of English now, wrote about her ". . . stint at Sydney Wolfe Cohen Associates, the pre-eminent indexing service in New York City" in her essay "My Time in the Indexing Trade," the reading of which apparently moved Sydney Wolfe Cohen to comment on the indexing trade.