CONTENT NOTE: Potty-mouth.

Two-frame cartoon. First frame, bespectacled editor, in this case an author, is on her knees on the floor, her head in her hands. She says to curly-haired editor, who's at her desk, "I'M SO SORRY THE REFERENCES ARE SUCH A MESS! I completely ran out of fucks by the time I got to the back matter!" Second frame: Curly-haired editor goes to comfort bespectacled editor, saying, "It'll be OK. I'll lend you some of mine."

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I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of my billable time fact checking and editing references. Depending on the project schedule, I often wouldn’t mind that kind of work, which could be kind of meditative—I’d put on my favourite music and get ’er done. But under time pressure, the task could be frustrating, especially if I knew that basically nobody would be reading the back matter. And why, I wondered, was reference formatting so hard for authors to get right?

And then I wrote my dissertation. I found myself experiencing what I’ve now dubbed fuck depletion—I was so thoroughly spent from dealing with the substantive issues in the main body of the text and revising to implement the suggestions of my four committee members that when I got to the references and appendices, I’d just run out of steam. It wasn’t that I didn’t think formatting references was important, but by that point I didn’t even have the cognitive capacity to do the detailed, mechanical work of deleting errant periods, sentence-casing journal articles, and title-casing reports. I could have looked at the references a million times and simply wouldn’t have noticed the problems.

Although I’ve written book-length works before, I’d never reached this level of burnout. Luckily I’d hired an editor I knew I could trust completely. (And I was very apologetic about the state of the back matter.)

This experience has prompted me to reframe the role of editor as that of fuck reserve.

I’ve talked a lot about references, which will no doubt prompt some readers to suggest citation managers and tools like Edifix. But my concept of a fuck reserve applies to the whole manuscript, not just the back matter. Sometimes I’ll notice that the author’s attention to detail waxes and wanes as the text progresses, dipping a bit at Chapter 6 and picking back up in Chapter 9. If an author was candid with me about when their fucks ran out, I could assess whether they could pay me for my fuck reserve or if only their fucks would do (say, because of their specialized knowledge) and they’d have to take some time for their fucks to recharge. I’d also have to consider the reader’s fucks: how much would they care? Are they reading the text linearly, in which case their fucks may flag in step with the author’s?

I’d like to think that I’ve always been an empathetic editor, but going through fuck depletion first-hand and desperately and unsuccessfully willing myself to recover those fucks on a tight deadline have given me a new, swearily amusing way to approach the editorial relationship with a bit more compassion.

4 thoughts on “Spent”

    1. Thank you! I’m both baffled and honoured. I loved Karen Virag so much; she was a remarkable editor and human.

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