Editor for Life: Janice Dyer, Freelance Editor and Certified Professional Editor

Interview conducted by Keith Goddard.

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.

Portrait of Janice Dyer

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’ve been working as a freelance editor for over 20 years out of my home office in Mississauga, Ontario. My university degree is in psychology, and I have a master’s degree in social welfare policy. When Editors Canada brought in the certification program, I became one of the organization’s first Certified Professional Editors—something I am still so proud of.

I do all kinds of editing, from developmental and structural, to stylistic, copy editing, and proofreading. I work mostly in the fields of education and health care, though I’ve worked on lots of other material as well (most memorably, a book for the Royal Ontario Museum about Japanese prints and paintings from the 1600s that explored issues of gender and sexuality—fascinating!). I edit high school and university textbooks, elementary school teaching materials, teacher guides, online courses and modules, research reports, website material—pretty much anything that’s non-fiction, although psychology and sociology textbooks are my favourites.

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

I’m not sure how to answer this one. The first people that come to mind are some of my favourite authors, like Margaret Laurence, John Irving, or Margaret Atwood, but I don’t edit fiction so that would be challenging! I’m endlessly fascinated by human behaviour and how our brains work, so any non-fiction author who writes about these topics would be a joy to edit. 

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

Exclamation marks and em-dashes are particular favourites of mine. I love showing emotion in my writing, and exclamation marks are so helpful for that.

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

Anywhere warm and by the ocean. I can picture myself on a balcony or veranda, looking out over the water, working on my laptop. Heaven! 

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

Never. I’m incredibly lucky to have found my passion early on in my career and I’ve never looked back! I love the freedom and flexibility of freelance editing. When my kids were young, being at home to see them when they came home from school made all the difference. Now that my parents are older, I have the flexibility to take them to appointments and meet them often for breakfast. And the freedom to have long lunches with friends is another wonderful perk of freelancing.

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

Editing absolutely chose me. I have always been an avid reader, and editing seemed like a natural extension. I began my career as an educational researcher for the former Etobicoke Board of Education. During my time at the board I “fell” into the role of department editor, realizing I was good at it, and I loved doing it. When we started Canadianizing and revising an American assessment program for students, I knew I had found my passion. Then amalgamation happened. My two kids were very young, and I couldn’t imagine commuting downtown every day to a high-stress job. I took a course at George Brown College—How to Survive and Thrive as a Freelance Editor—and it totally resonated with me. Two of the amazing teachers, Rachelle Redford and Krysia Lear, helped confirm that editing was what I wanted to do with my life. I took some editing courses through Editors Canada, and the rest is history! I began by working mostly with boards of education, since that was my background. Through word of mouth and recommendations, I began working for a variety of other clients as well, including educational publishers, non-profits, and other organizations. 

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

I have two mottos. The first is from a greeting card:

“Life is brief and very fragile. Do that which makes you happy.”

In terms of my career, I have a faded sheet of notepaper by my desk with something that I copied out many years ago. I read it periodically as it perfectly sums up my goal as an editor:

“Perfection is not the goal of editing. Accuracy, yes. Clarity, of course. And in the world of most editors, something even further from perfection: sufficient for the day. Better than it was. But not flawless.”

(If anyone knows where I got this quote, please let me know!)

Keith Goddard is a Toronto-based editor with a background in education and music. He is the editor-in-chief of BoldFace.

This article was copy edited by Piu Chowdhury.

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