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 got my start in journalism over 30 years ago, working in the newsroom of my local radio station, but I somehow ended up in editing. I live in Ottawa, and my work is varied. I write, edit, and teach for the federal government, NGOs, and academic organizations.
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
Do they have to be famous? If not, then George Gissing. He’s my favourite author. He was a feminist before the word gained currency, and he wrote in a much sparser prose than his contemporaries. In reality, I don’t edit fiction because then it would be work and would take the joy out of reading for me, I think. I’d be curious to hear what fiction editors think of my theory. Can you turn a personal passion into a rewarding career without ruining things?
What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
I don’t have a favourite punctuation mark, but I think that em dashes are overused. Often, a colon, a comma, or parentheses will suffice. My favourite word is heuristics. I love how it means a shortcut for thinking, and the very word itself is a shortcut to thinking about a shortcut to thinking. But as a plain language editor, I can’t use it. So it’s just my own guilty pleasure.
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
Stockholm. Not that it’s a hotbed of publishing, but I just love the city. I’ve been there four times in the last five years. I would work remotely for my current clients. I’m currently studying Swedish.
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
No. I can’t imagine not working with words (and numbers and images). Maybe this is because I don’t want to get good at doing something else? Or can’t?
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
I found that writing jobs were harder to come by and required a lot of hustle to get. Editing seemed steadier and saner. The career counselling questionnaire I filled out in high school told me I should be a journalist, so that’s what I did. I didn’t know you could earn money working with words in other ways. But I wouldn’t trade my journalism education and experience for anything. I think that background has made me a better editor. For one thing, writing for radio made the transition to plain language fairly easy.
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
In life, my motto is, “Quit yer yappin’ and make it happen.” In work, my motto is, “Be reasonable.” I don’t like it when editors are pedantic about everything. I can be flexible when the situation requires. As long as you’re consistent and correct, I’m good.
This article was copy edited by Sreyoshi Bose Datta.