I've rather been away from the world of lexicography recently, with most of my work coming in more general ELT materials - either writing, researching or editing on various different projects. So when the chance came up recently to work on a dictionary project, I jumped at it, despite having an already rather full schedule. And I'm so glad I did, it's been just fantastic rediscovering my first love! All those words ... pure, unadulterated words!
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy writing and it's great to have the variety and challenge of working on so many different projects, but after the messiness of writing with its unclear, changing or sometimes non-existent briefs, with different people and interests pulling in different directions, over-optimistic and shrinking deadlines, and wildly varying fees and rates, it's lovely to be back to the reassuring certainties and rules of lexicography!
There's nothing quite like a 50+ page style guide to set you off on the right track, then come those nice, straightforward lists of words to compile along with how long each list should take and a solid hourly rate. It's so nice to know where you stand, working away and ticking each word off as you go.
Then there's the joy of analysing all those corpus lines, teasing out sense distinctions, watching patterns appear, jotting down lists of collocates, and picking out that perfect example. There's the variation as you work your way through a particularly tricky word with lots of senses all apparently overlapping and refusing to untangle themselves, then you get a run of easy-peasy single sensers that you whizz through ... tick, tick, tick!
Way back when I was doing my MA at Birmingham University and contemplating a career in dictionaries, one of my tutors advised me that lexicography was no job for grown-ups. And I have to concede that the 'drudgery' of compiling day in day out, year on year is probably not something I'd go back to. But it certainly provides a very welcome break from starring at a blank screen worrying about where to start with a unit or perhaps worse still, scrolling through pages of material and realizing it really doesn't work and you're going to have to start again! So for the moment, for a few hours a week at least ...