FFF 08: Freelance, part 2

Please start with Freelance, part 1. [I bent the purpose of this month by writing a nonfiction piece over two days. I decided it’s okay because I’m still writing.]

I opened a third, unrelated document and tried to comment inside it, which worked fine. It wasn’t just my Word program, then. Just to cover all the bases, however, I shut down Word completely and then restarted it; still not allowed to comment on either of the Not Quite There documents. I shut down my entire computer and rebooted; still no dice. I looked up several work-arounds on the official Microsoft Office Suite forums and scoured the Microsoft Word help pages for something that I could do that would allow me to comment on the document that the editor had directed. I looked through tens of pages of unofficial forums and help pages. Nothing.

Finally, an hour and a half after first accepting the assignment and opening both documents, I wrote back to the editor.

I’m very sorry; I have spent the last hour and change trying unsuccessfully to make comments on either of the documents you sent me. At first I thought it was just the document you directed not to comment on, but then I discovered it was both. I can make comments on/in other Word docs just fine; I only seem to be having trouble with the two you provided.

I have looked up how to make comments in Word forums and the Office Suite help website. (I know how to use track changes and comment, but I wanted to be sure.) I shut down Word and reopened the document fresh. I even completely restarted my computer, all to no avail. I am not trying to change anything in the documents, just make comments. Am I missing something obvious somewhere? Please help!

My apologies.

I explained exactly how much effort I’d already gone to in order to skip the part when the helper asks me if my computer is plugged in and stupid stuff like that. The editor wrote back, in part:

Basically, we lock the documents we send except for the PR Prep document which allows comments only. Go to Words Review tab, and click Add Comment (or New Comment, depending on version). Do not try to turn on Track Changes, as it’s grayed out. The Sourcing document is for reference only and is read-only.

Along with her obviously less-than-satifactory answer, she attached several not-quite-related documents, including the house style guide and a document called “Major uses of the Comma”. I already had all of the documents she sent me, but I knew at that moment that it would be fruitless to try to explain my problem any further. I supposed I was on my own.

I wracked my brain for a way to enable ‘Add Comment’ and came up with nothing short of hacking the file and rewriting it from the inside out, but I wasn’t going to go to all that trouble for a proofreading gig that I wasn’t even getting paid for. Finally, I had a thought.

Maybe the document would work on a different computer. My Apple computer is old and dies a little more everyday, and its system hasn’t been upgraded in more than a couple years. I booted up my best friend’s PC desktop computer, which he lent to be indefinitely for the purpose of playing video game RPGs. He had Apache OpenOffice, a free, open source Word-style program. I loaded all of the relevant documents from my computer onto a flash drive and moved everything over to his computer, where the program wouldn’t allow me to save in the original *.docx format. Luckily, I could create a new *.doc file, wherein I was finally able to make comments, as I had been trying to do all along.

Tired of messing with this unpaid proofreading—did I mention it was unpaid?—I decided to just open the read-only document on my Apple computer and the new “comments only” document on my friend’s computer so that I wouldn’t be forced to share the screen between two documents that were purportedly exactly the same thing.

…Except, as I immediately noticed upon careful inspection, they weren’t exactly the same thing. They weren’t significantly different, it’s true, but I didn’t know which document I was supposed to be proofreading. Which was the publisher’s “final” manuscript, the read-only document or the one that allowed comments? What the fuck, right?

I sent another email to the editor in charge of my proofreading trial to ask with which of the two documents I should work. She wrote back in part, “I’ve never come across this before… They should be the same.” Then, she told me to focus my proofreading on the comments-allowed document. I wanted to know why she sent me the read-only manuscript in the first place, then, but I wasn’t going to ask. I had already spent more than three days in the back-and-forth clarification, and I had only a week to proofread 300 pages, a little less than 50 pages a day every day right up until the deadline.

Fifty pages may not seem like a lot, and maybe it isn’t if I’m reading for pleasure, but when I’m reading specifically to find errors, it’s nearly more than I can handle. It’s not like I was getting paid, after all. When did other proofreaders find the time to read through an entire manuscript properly in only a week? I guessed I was going to find out.

I opened the modified comments-allowed document and hunkered down for some serious editing proofreading. I’m still trying to decide if jumping through all these hoops is worth it.

This post is part of Flash Fiction February.

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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