Interview conducted by Jennifer D. Foster
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 became interested in writing and editing when I wrote a few articles for the McGill Daily as a public relations student in Montreal. Soon after, I started my career as an editorial assistant in corporate communications for the railway and had the good fortune to work with journalists, photographers, and graphic artists who had all previously worked for major publications. Next, I moved to Toronto and worked for many years in digital and marketing communications in the oil and gas industry. Today, I live in Winnipeg and I’m learning all about the aviation industry as a technical editor.
As part of my job search in Winnipeg, I wanted to volunteer and started to work as a proofreader on The Editors’ Weekly, the official blog of Editors Canada, in 2019. In the spring of 2020, I became the managing editor. It’s been a rewarding and humbling opportunity to work with so many talented writers and editors—especially during a pandemic. They are some of the most reliable and resilient people I’ve ever met. The best emails I get are the ones from contributors who have yet another unique idea for a blog post.
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
In a fantasy world, Mavis Gallant, although that would be above my skill level, so I’d welcome the opportunity to interview her. I did meet her once at a book signing, but she was displeased with the photo of herself on the book that I handed her to sign. I would have liked another chance to talk with her.
What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
A word that often comes to mind is diaphanous. Its meaning, “permitting the free passage of light and vision,” seems to describe editing (by that I mean that good editing can illuminate and provide clarity to readers—help them visualize what’s intended), although I realize it’s often used to describe thin clothing.
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
I would split my time between New York and San Francisco—I’ve travelled frequently to those cities, and they both stimulate my senses. However, there are so many places I haven’t been to, so perhaps no fixed address would suit me just as well.
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
In the middle of the night while supporting crisis communications. I think lack of sleep had something to do with it.
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
I really wanted to be a journalist. I was inspired by the people I’d met early on in my career—the stories they told, their lifestyles—and the constant learning that journalism offered. Editing, I guess, was where the work seemed to be—especially with the proliferation of online content—and I liked it just as much. I had had recurring dreams about never being able to sift through and read all the good material out there. With editing, I can consult a growing network of publishers, editors, and writers, and figure out my next good read.
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
I’ve been on this transportation-related career track with trains, automobiles, and planes—in that order—and during my downtime, I like to cycle and run. So I guess it’s been “keep it moving.” But it’s taken me some time to embrace the motto “sleep on it.” If you have the luxury and are not working on a deadline, sleep is an elixir, and I think I’m a better person when I’ve had some.
Jennifer D. Foster (she/her), a Toronto-based freelance editor, writer, and mentor, and owner of Planet Word.
This article was copy edited by Vilma Indra Vītols.