Editor for Life: Paul Ling, Owner, Perfect English 101

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 Five Ws: 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.

Paul Ling

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 live west of Toronto, and I returned to Ontario a few years back, after some 20-odd years working abroad, from Australia to the Middle East, the Far East, the Caribbean, and Europe. Since I used to be a clinical professor, and I’d trained in various surgical specialties, editing insinuated itself into my life because fellow students, and even teachers and professors, would always ask me to check over their work. I suppose there’s a great similarity between dissecting treatises and dissecting tissues; in the end, one gains a reputation for being meticulous and fanatically determined to get the task done thoroughly.

In addition to editing scientific texts—and not just medical texts, either—I do a great deal of work editing business communications, such as letters, business plans, and résumés, since I used to work in private industry as an entrepreneur.

English-French translation, among other modern languages, is another area of work for which I receive many requests. My editing avocation has been going strong for over 25 years, and I retired from clinical practice about five years ago to concentrate on editing full-time [at Perfect English 101].

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

Just one? I’m tempted to mention the work of René Descartes, since his oeuvre provides a fertile nexus of intellectual areas that fascinate me: mathematics, existential philosophy, and so on. Of course, I’d have to edit his work in the original French. Along those lines, Sir Isaac Newton also comes to mind. Even editing musical scores, such as those of Ennio Morricone or Ludwig van Beethoven, would be attractive. Of course, they wouldn’t tolerate their work being edited.

I’d like to edit also the works of some famous contemporary graphic novelists, since the medium and genre are coming to mainstream acceptance in the English-speaking world, finally! As I am a graphic novelist myself, editing the work of the greats, like Frank Miller, Stan Drake, Leonard Starr, Edgar P. Jacobs, and Xavier Dorison, would be a treat.

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

Ha, ha! I love the use of French « guillemets » since I’m an avowed Francophile. Les guillemets français are an elegant and erudite way to highlight and delineate exotic specimens of language. Of course, their application is useful when done sparingly but devastating if overused!

Favourite word? Well, a close friend of mine taught me a mild Czech expletive: sakra. In primary school, someone once mentioned that pejoratives don’t count if one uses someone else’s language. I’m sticking with that posture.

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

Since I work strictly freelance, all I need is an internet connection and my favourite laptop. And I find that my laptop favours Mediterranean climates, with lots of sunshine, and an unhurried way of life (I can provide my own internal pressure). So I’d choose southern France, Spain, Australia, or even Singapore. I’m still discerning how to be in all those places simultaneously.

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

In my previous career, yes. Even though I loved being a doctor most of the time, I had days when I’d seriously contemplate doing something else with more flexibility and less intense pressure; I used to call those days “weekdays.” C’était un processus « en semaine » ! But since retiring from clinical practice and university teaching, I’ve had no time to waste looking back. Editing is my oyster, and I can take it anywhere…literally!

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

Well, as I alluded to earlier, editing sneaked up on me; even in grade school, I had a reputation as a meticulous and conscientious scholar. So classmates and teachers alike would ask me to verify their work, in both language syntax and structural idea critiques. It got to the point where teachers and professors would sometimes ask me to check their work as a final step before delivering their lessons or submitting their assignments. Finally, a colleague asked me to edit an entire specialist clinical textbook, and I started to suspect that there was a new career beckoning.

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

My philosophy draws upon universally self-evident truths, so I like to use a universal language to express these postulates. Since editing refines the ultimate weapon, which is knowledge, I often state that cognitio et sapientia vis sunt (knowledge and wisdom are power); ergo semper paratus (therefore, we always need to be ready)!


Indu Singh is a Toronto-based writer and editor. She is the vice-chair of Editors Toronto.

This article was copy edited by Mario Salazar-Davalos.

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