Editor for Life: Debbie Innes, Copy Editor and Proofreader

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 copy editor and proofreader Debbie Innes at her desk.

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 am a freelance copy editor and proofreader based in Toronto. My business name is Debbie the Editor.

My editing career began more than 10 years ago when I was a communications specialist at the Law Society of Ontario—the regulatory body that oversees lawyers and paralegals in Ontario. There was a need for an editor in our department and I showed an interest. Encouraged by my bosses, I took several editing courses to learn and improve my skills. I went on to edit the Law Society’s annual report, quarterly magazine, website content, brochures for the public, and government reports, as well as news releases and marketing materials. I worked there for 10 years until our department was restructured in 2017 and a number of us were let go.

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

It’s hard to choose just one. I must name some of the Black feminist authors who, through their writing and activism, explained to me (or maybe confirmed for me) what I was experiencing as a Black girl and woman. I was adopted transracially and grew up in Sudbury. I had questions about identity and belonging and much more. Once I went to university, these writers provided answers and a vocabulary that I didn’t have but desperately needed. These “phenomenal” women, as Maya Angelou put it in her poem, include Maya Angelou herself, Dionne Brand, Sylvia D. Hamilton, Patricia Hill Collins, Roxane Gay, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker… .

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

One of my favourite words is intersectional. Another favourite is joy.

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

New York. If I could work in-house as a copy editor, and make enough money to live comfortably and see lots of musical theatre, I’d absolutely move to New York.

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

I haven’t questioned my choice to be a copy editor and proofreader. I love editing—and learning new things from the content I’m reading. What I do question is whether freelancing is for me. Granted, I only started in 2019. I had a few legal organizations as clients while I worked part-time. Then 2020 happened. During the pandemic, while I was very fortunate to gain some exciting new clients and begin to edit books (non-fiction and children’s books), I realized that I like going into an office and interacting with colleagues. I also like a steady paycheque. And so, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a full-time, in-house position (once it’s okay to be back in the office).

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

Editing feels very natural to me—like I tap into an ability that was always there and just needed to be honed. It doesn’t feel like work. My father used to correct our grammar when we were growing up, and I was always interested in what he was saying. I also relished doing word games and quizzes in Reader’s Digest, and those brain teasers where you had to spot the differences between two pictures that, at first glance, looked identical. So, I would agree that editing chose me. I then chose it when I raised my hand at the Law Society and started taking courses and workshops and seminars and webinars (which I continue to do), and networked and learned about the profession. Once I did that, I was off!

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

Correctness, accuracy, consistency, and completeness. 😉

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

This article was copy edited by Małgosia Halliop.

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