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 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.
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 work for a smallish legal publisher in Toronto as an acquisitions editor. I actually only recently started this particular job; before that, I was the production manager for the same company. I’ve been an editor for about nine years.
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
It looks like J.K. Rowling could use some editing, couldn’t she? But I wouldn’t want to be the one doing it; I’d want it to be done by the hosts of that podcast Witch, Please.
I’ve never edited fiction, but I’ve read enough of it that I’d be comfortable making some feminist editorial suggestions to J.R.R. Tolkien.
What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
This isn’t really a punctuation mark, but I love when “etc.” is written “&c.” Does an ampersand count as punctuation? Can we say “&c.” is two-thirds punctuation? Let’s google it. I’ll google. [Pause to google.] The Internet isn’t sure. That’s okay; you don’t always need to know everything. Anyway, I learned about it from reading too much Jane Austen, and now I use it in work emails, hoping people will pick it up, and that it will be resuscitated in modern times. So far, no luck.
Strictly speaking, I’m learning to love the comma lately. It’s so humble and so hard to pin down. No one really knows how to use it properly. What I mean is, it’s hard to copy edit a whole text and be consistent about enforcing, for example, commas or no commas around non-restrictive clauses, especially when the phrases are short and embedded in complex sentences. I’ve even started using comma splices sometimes—only informally, of course, and never professionally!
I have some favourite words—fastidious is one. Another Jane Austen influence.
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
Is this a fantasy question? Can we have other conditions in place, such as all my favourite people live there, too? I’ll just say in the middle of a giant park full of many different species of birds and wildlife that itself is in the middle of a big city.
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
Only right before my career started. After I finished my master’s degree in English literature and hadn’t yet begun my first editing job, I really questioned my career choice, because I had no idea whether I’d be able to find work or not. But since I’ve actually been employed as an editor, nope—not so far.
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
It certainly seemed like a logical career choice for someone who read grammar books and collected dictionaries when she was in high school.
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
I might have already said it when I said, “You don’t always need to know everything.”
When I worked in production, we often repeated the phrase “Nobody’s gonna notice,” to end a grammar debate that had gone too far down the rabbit hole (see above, under comma usage in thorny non-restrictive clauses). Now, don’t forget: I was overseeing the copy editing of textbooks. With literary fiction, you don’t necessarily want this to be your motto.
Lately, with all that’s going on with the Black Lives Matter movement at last capturing the world’s attention, I keep telling myself that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” as I educate myself and try to make changes in my personal and my professional life. Not that change isn’t urgent, but it has to be sustained change.
So, I have three mottos—life is complicated.
This article was copy edited by Jennifer D. Foster.