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Editor for Life: Allegra Robinson, freelance editor

Interview conducted by Indu Singh.

A career as an editor is often a solo adventure, especially if you’re a freelancer. So we thought one way to better connect with fellow editors was to ask them the W5: who, what, where, when, and why. Read on for some thought-provoking, enlightening tidbits from those of us who choose to work with words to earn our keep.

Portrait of Allegra Robinson

Allegra, please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do (and where you live), and how long you’ve been an editor.

I still consider myself lucky. Although I had no publishing experience yet, in 2004 I was offered a temporary job filling in for a production editor [at Pearson]. I went on to become a production editor at Pearson and later at HarperCollins Canada. My in-house stints alternated with periods of freelancing, and I’ve been in one of those periods now for four years. I moved to Toronto in 1983 to study fashion design at Ryerson. I lasted one year in that program (it was extremely demanding, and I was extremely unsuited to it).

Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?

I wouldn’t want to edit anyone whose work I love and admire. I like to think that my favourite authors’ books emerged from their heads fully formed and perfect. Of course, I’m referring in this case to writers who are long dead. I can imagine proofreading the work of living authors such as Malcolm Gladwell or Sarah Waters. It would be thrilling. And any errors could be blamed on the many villagers it takes to produce a finished book.

What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?

I am fond of the semicolon; it comes in handy frequently. I was using the term bona fide a lot recently. But I stopped when I realized I was mispronouncing it.

Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?

I think most freelance editors could do their work anywhere in the world. I would continue to live where I do now, but—since you seem to imply a lottery-winning element—I would want enough money for a cottage in Prince Edward County, and another on the south shore of Nova Scotia.

When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?

I was already in my forties and had given up hope of a career when I discovered editing. So it didn’t seem so much a choice as a lucky accident. But my plan is to combine book editing and home editing. Last year, I joined Professional Organizers in Canada. I think the instinct to clean up is the same for both careers.

Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or should we ask: Why did editing choose you?

One evening at a dinner party, I met Becky Vogan, who told me that she taught copy editing. I had never heard of this subject, and I asked her to describe it. The rest is history.

And of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?

It’s not really related to editing: every day, I look for truth and beauty.

Indu Singh is a freelance editor and writer, based in Toronto. She specializes in memoirs, fiction, business articles, and academic works (papers and books). Indu is the member communications chair of Editors Toronto.

This article was copy edited by Afara Welch.


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