Interview conducted by Jennifer D. Foster
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.
Emily, please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do, and how long you’ve been an editor.
I think I’ve been an editor since I took red crayon to a classmate’s paper in first grade (true story!), but I’ve been at it professionally for about a decade now. I work mainly on corporate materials, and I’ve developed a reputation as the go-to person for web content (despite not getting online until I was in university, a decade after the World Wide Web was born).
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
I can’t imagine editing a famous author—at least not once they were famous. I just can’t picture myself saying, “C’mon, Margaret [Atwood], that’s a weak sentence,” or “I think you need to develop this character more, Alice [Munro].” But I would love to work with Susan Musgrave, my favourite poet, just to get a sense of her process and a glimpse inside her wonderfully weird mind. I would probably be far too much of a fangirl to be any kind of decent editor to her, though.
What: What is your favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
I don’t really have a favourite. I am definitely Team Oxford Comma, and I would really like to see the snark mark (.~) put into regular use. I don’t really have a favourite word, either—although I am entirely too fond of the four-letter variety for an educated person (and the mom of an impressionable toddler!).
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
It’s never really mattered to me where I edited, as long as the chair was comfy and the lighting was good. I’m grateful that, as a freelancer, I can work pretty much wherever I want (and whenever I want—I am not a morning person!), and thank goodness for laptops and Wi-Fi, too!
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
Every time I think of the money I could be making as a lawyer (my alternate career choice), I must admit to a small pang of regret. But then I think of all the money I’d have to spend on therapy because I’d be so stressed out and hate my job, and it’s pretty much a wash. I don’t think anyone goes into editing for the money, and it’s certainly easy to feel undervalued and unappreciated, but the work makes up for it more often than not. Even when I wasn’t technically an editor, I was editing, so the only real career choice I made was to put it on my business card and charge people money, and I’ve never questioned whether that was right: it absolutely was!
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask, why did editing choose you?
As I said, even when I wasn’t technically an editor, I was editing. I picked out typos in reading material and corrected people’s grammar—an annoying habit I have since (mostly) dropped—and reviewed my friends’ essays and my coworkers’ reports (at their request). I’ve always been an avid reader, but more than that, I’ve just always loved words. And I love the precision of putting just the right words in just the right order with just the right marks. There’s something beautiful about it, and how could you not choose to do something you think is beautiful?
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
Leave it in better shape than you got it—that applies to things other than manuscripts, too!
Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto-based freelance editor and writer, specializing in book and custom publishing, magazines, and marketing and communications.
This article was copy edited by Ana Trask.