Editor for Life: Alana Chalmers, editorial consultant, Bell Canada

Interview conducted by Adrineh Der-Boghossian

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.

Alana Chalmers
Photo credit: James Harbeck

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’m an editorial consultant at Bell Canada and my job is a mix of editing and consulting on document design. Editing people who have to write for their job is different from editing writers and it comes with some interesting challenges. I have to be extra careful of how I give feedback and part of my job is educating the team on clear communication.

I’ve been an editor for about eight years. I live in Toronto with zero cats but two kids who sometimes pretend to be cats.

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

I’ve always edited technical texts so the idea of editing literature seems daunting. But if I had to choose, I’d edit Bill Bryson. His books have a great mix of humour and history. The fact checking alone would take months. That would be so fun.

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

I really enjoy swear words. When they’re combined to form super-swear words it’s pretty amazing (hello, shitshow and shit ton!).

When I was learning French, I didn’t really consider myself bilingual until I could casually drop a swear word in conversation. #LanguageGoals

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

In an office with a window that opens and with good coffee and lunch options nearby. I’ll need to work on a team of people who are enthusiastic about their job and who like to go out for an after-work drink from time to time. It could be anywhere in the world really. Except Antarctica obviously—what’s the coffee situation there?

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

Not really. Being an editor lets you explore so many different places. You can learn new skills like plain language and user experience design or dabble in different subjects like geography or fibre optic technology.

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

I studied translation at York University but it was tough finding work as a French-to-English translator in Toronto. I applied for a job as a medical editor because it was my favourite subject to translate and I figured I’d be okay at it.

The hiring manager (fellow editor James Harbeck) took a chance and gave me my first editing job. And I’ve been pretending to be an editor ever since.

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

Always keep learning. A translator once told me to doubt myself, meaning I should do my research. It’s okay to look things up once, twice, or every.single.goddamn.time. I don’t always know the right answer, but I do know where to look for it.

Editing—and language—is fun and there’s always some new usage to learn (“spilling the tea”) or grammar point to relearn. Editing is never boring.


Adrineh Der-Boghossian is the editor-in-chief of BoldFace.

This article was copy edited by Ambrose Li.

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