Editor for Life: Berna Ozunal, Examinations Editor at Medical Council of Canada

Interview conducted by Alicja Minda.

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.

Photo of Berna Ozunal

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 in Toronto, and I’ve been editing for over 20 years. I moved to Toronto after university, and among other jobs, I worked at a law firm as a document reviewer, helping put together mile-long affidavits for massive litigations. I was also taking criminology and law clerk-type courses at the time. This all led to my first editing job as a research editor at a publisher of law books and other legal materials.

I then moved into advertising and design, where I worked for the next 15 years or so on many different accounts and materials. I liked the variety. One hour I’d be working on an airline website, the next on a brand book for a hotel, the next on a billboard for a charity. The industry is full of very creative and enterprising people, and I loved that. I worked at some highly regarded Canadian agencies, like TAXI and Critical Mass, and I’m very happy I had those experiences.

Now I’m doing a few different things, but my full-time role is with the Medical Council of Canada where I work as an examinations editor. I love it because I feel the work is important, and I work with an incredibly helpful, dedicated, and knowledgeable group of people. I learn so much every day.

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

Probably Jack Kerouac. Like many, I read his books as a teenager. It’s said that Kerouac taped rolls of paper together to form a very long scroll that he would feed through his typewriter. He’d then write in these all-night sessions while using various substances. The result was some exuberant, deliberately punctuation- and structure-free prose that I enjoyed in my youth. But now, I think it could benefit from some light editorial intervention.

As an example, Kerouac was known for inventing words, and this is another way his writing was lively and expressive. There is one word in particular I remember, and the fact that I remember this is telling: basketbally—he described something as being basketbally—it may have been in On the Road… I would have a conversation with him about that one.

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

The em dash is my favourite punctuation mark. I use it way too often in my everyday writing.

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

I love Canada, and I am grateful and proud to be Canadian. Outside of Toronto, I wouldn’t mind working in Tofino, or Banff, or Ottawa, or Québec City, or on the East Coast. There are so many places to choose from in Canada.

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

I think editing suits me perfectly. I don’t think I’ve ever questioned it except maybe on a few occasions when I’ve found myself in a workplace where the value of editing was not understood. Because of this editors were treated like a pit crew on a racetrack. In this type of workplace you’re mostly doing triage editing.

Involving editors in the early stages of a project can really help minimize any grief on the backend. But when you’re called in at the very end, there’s usually very little time. You’re just making these last-minute mechanical repairs on something that could have been so much better. It’s natural to question your career choice in these circumstances.

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

I think, like with a lot of editors, editing chose me. I fell into it, then I fell for it. My degree in philosophy and communication studies now makes sense (it was a bit peculiar at the time and definitely not “practical”). I worked in the university library for four years while I was a student. I loved reading from an early age, and I was always pretty ambitious in what I read and how much I read. I’ve always appreciated books as objects in themselves (their design, typeface—all of it). I think this all points to someone who could very well become an editor.

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

This is not a motto, but I like this quote by Dostoevsky: “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” I think it applies to all communication. I think, particularly in 2020, we’ve seen how critical it is to use language thoughtfully and respectfully in public discourse, and how important clear and factual communication is for all of us.

This is what editors are working on every day. So, I think that’s something to feel good about.

Alicja Minda is a freelance journalist, editor, and researcher based in Toronto. She is the editor-in-chief of BoldFace.

This article was copy edited by Michael Iaboni.

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