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Origin stories: What inspired you to become an editor?

lightbulbLast month, many of you shared stories of the people and events that made you realize editing was undoubtedly the career for you. For some, it was the obvious choice after a lifetime of spelling bees and voracious reading. Others realized their calling after feeling unfulfilled in a completely different industry, and decided on a career change. Read some of those stories from EAC members below, and share your own in the comments section.

By Maria Jelinek

I was unhappy as a career counsellor, but one aspect I enjoyed was editing resumés and cover letters for clients. I took some time off when I had two young children. Then I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer and faced every complication thrown my way. As my surgeon commented, “Whatever could go wrong did go wrong.” I beat the odds and waited for the revelation that so many other cancer survivors were experiencing. Why hadn’t anything hit me?

As soon as I was well enough I attended an EAC weekend seminar, Introduction to Copy Editing, where my passion for editing was solidified. I was going to do what it took to become an editor. Although it wasn’t the instant fireworks-explosion kind of revelation I had anticipated, I soon realized that it is possible to truly love your career.


By Jennifer D. Foster

I’ve had a love of words ever since I can remember. I was a voracious reader in Grade 1; when classmates were taking out one library book each week, I’d have three read while waiting to check out, then take out six more. By age nine, I was rising an hour earlier than necessary to devour my Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew books, poring over, admiring, and pondering the word choices and the authors’ ability to construct believable worlds. My favourite school subject was always English. I was enthralled with weekly assignments in our spelling workbooks in Grade 6! In Grade 7, I fell in love with learning punctuation and the parts of speech and deconstructing sentences. In high school I lived for writing essays; the Canadian Oxford Dictionary became my “Bible.” Not much has changed since then, except now I get paid to immerse myself in reading, grammar, and my love of words each day.


By Michelle Schriver

In the ‘80s, girls were encouraged to do two things: study sciences and wear power suits with linebacker shoulder pads. As an impressionable teen, I ate it up, enrolling in all available science classes and attending those classes in suit blazers requiring a large berth.

During senior year, I applied to study engineering at university. When my English teacher, Mr. Brown, learned of my plans, he expressed concern because, he said, I was a talented English student. I shrugged him off and ran away to join the circus anyway—not realizing I’d be playing the part of the bearded lady.

It’s true: As a woman in engineering, I was an odd sight. But the real problem was that—except for throwing booze-fuelled parties—I was a terrible engineer. Mr. Brown was right.

I may be late to this party, but I’m an editor now—post-university, post-engineering, post-kids. Here’s to home!


By Tilman Lewis

I’d chased a classical music dream for too long, tried to do good work in community-living support, and put in some years as a stay-at-home dad. It was time to head to work again, but none of those fields beckoned me back.

I sat on the front stoop watching my girls run around the co-op, and flipped open a copy of Editing Canadian English, which I’d grabbed on a whim from the bookshelves that lined my parents’ living room. From page 1 of the spelling charts, I was hooked. Colour vs. color was no surprise, but what layers of intricacy hid beneath! It was like prying up a rock at the beach, and a thousand shiny creatures come prancing out.

Someone pointed me to an EAC proofreading workshop. When the instructor, Riça Night, pulled out galleys and blues, a world fell into place that I knew would be my home.


By Catharine Chen

Several years ago, I was a writer in a creative writing MFA program. During those busy few years, I always put a lot of time into critiquing fellow students’ writing, analyzing each piece a few times, then articulating my thoughts and suggestions in written comments and verbal impressions. Not everyone was so thorough—in fact, this was misplaced effort on my part, considering I had a thesis to write. But I really enjoyed trying to see inside a piece and understand what it was, determining what it might need, and discussing those discoveries with the author to get a firmer grasp on what the author wanted it to be. Manuscripts felt like puzzles to be solved. The positive feedback I got from classmates about my critiques hinted that I had some aptitude for it, too. I realized that I found editing as fulfilling as writing, if not more.


By Ruth Chernia

In 1980, I was hired at Wilfrid Laurier University Press to take care of journals and mailings. I was hired because I could type and had worked at a university before. Once I started working there, I realized that working in publishing was my ideal career and set out to learn everything. A small press was the perfect place to do that. I had the opportunity to write jacket copy, watch the designers and typesetters, learn how to proofread, and even do a little editing. Thanks to Harold Remus, managing editor at the time, and to Stan Skinner at Centennial College, where I learned even more.


By Jean Compton

I should have known that editing was my calling about 35 years ago when, at my first summer job, I was in a heated debate with my boss as to whether a number of was singular or plural. Not knowing about editors, I ended up phoning a high school and asking an English teacher (she probably still wonders at this strange call).

Although I started off in the lab, I quickly fell into the communications role at a biotech company.

Eight years ago, I stumbled across the EAC website. There, the “if this describes you” list made me exclaim (actually out loud), “There are other people like me. They’re called editors!”

Still, it wasn’t until two years ago, when my employer reorganized and cast me adrift after nearly 30 years, that I had the incentive I needed to join EAC, take some courses, and call myself an editor.

This article was copy edited by Jeny Nussey.


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