The Lure of Editing: Finding One's Career Path


After several years of substitute teaching and part-time, contract work, I sat down and asked, "If I could be paid for doing something I love, what would it be?" I recalled a Peanuts strip I had placed in my high school locker. Snoopy--he of the "It was a dark and stormy night ..." school of writing--explains that he has everything he needs to become a world-famous author writing a bestseller every night after dinner: a ream of typing paper and the delusion of talent.

I still subscribe to that sentiment; however, reality led me to explore the possibility of editing. I searched the Internet and found a kindred spirit in California who shares my love and respect for language and happens to operate an editing service. He encouraged me to apply as a writer/editor. In the autumn of 1999, I received an e-mail from one of his managing editors asking if I would be interested in editing a piece on evolution. Thus began a friendship and profitable business association as a freelance editor.

The projects assigned to me tended to be small and infrequent at the beginning. After several successful submissions, my manager began to offer me first option on the more advanced science projects. Editing became a supplemental rather than a substantial source of income, but it helped to put food on the table. As Stephen King claims, that alone is sufficient to call oneself a professional. The focus was science--genetics, evolution, histology--but soon opportunities to edit business articles and topics outside biology arrived--geriatric crime, the effects of exercise, spam on the Internet, management succession, and alternative medicine. While building a reputation for quality work, I was building my confidence and my repertoire.

Editing comes naturally to me. I come from a long line of schoolteachers and have a strong background in English, history, and languages. University science (I hold a degree in genetics as well as in education) developed my vocabulary, clarity, and imagination. I remember one particular project--a report on a study of fish behaviour--that required some stylistic and copy editing. I was not responsible for the statistical component of the project (statistics is definitely not my forte), but I did notice a substantial error in the data that affected the client's conclusions. I reported this to the client and saved him from much embarrassment.

Not too long after I began to freelance, I looked upon editing as a possible career option. Still supplementing my freelance income with teaching, tutoring, and other odd jobs, I had very little time for career development. Yet I remained determined to pursue editing further. In January 2001, I established my own company, Gray Wolf Editing Services, and joined the Editors' Association of Canada. I advertised my strengths and experience in science editing and soon began to receive inquiries.

Early in the spring, I was contracted by a professor at the University of Western Ontario to do the production editing for a collection of medical students' second-year bioethics projects. After the initial proofreading and substantive editing, the bulk of this particular job turned out to be formatting. Creating headers and footers, page numbering, indexing, referencing--these were, for the most part, new to me. Another interesting project was a photo-journal, which brought an entirely new set of challenges. Only recently has it gone to the printer in its final form. I must say now that it was close to a labour of love.

I felt a great deal of pride in presenting the students' work in the best possible form. Small changes cannot be measured by size alone. I corrected the chapter and verse of a Biblical quotation, I researched and found the original source of a quote, and I called up the students for necessary citations. Contacting students is never easy. During summer break or work co-ops, it is near impossible. But it was worth the effort. The projects were imaginative, provocative, personal, and, at times, controversial. I realized, with this project, that I had truly attained my goal of being paid for work I loved to do.

A review of my business development would be incomplete if I did not mention the aspect of independence. Shortly after I graduated in 1994, teaching jobs were rare. I started up two businesses--as an independent cosmetic dealer and as a retailer of handmade Native jewellery. The work itself was not as rewarding as the feeling of self-reliance and control over my day-to-day schedule. These enterprises lasted less than a year; the income was not worth the effort. It wasn't so much that I came through these experiences unscathed, but that I came through changed. I had tasted independence and I liked it! Freelance editing has also provided me with the opportunity to exert my independence.

I'm at a crossroad in my life at the moment. If the opportunity for full-time teaching presents itself, I would seriously consider accepting it. I love teaching. Yet the lure of editing is strong. I look forward to networking further, seeking out untapped markets, getting my name more widely known in the field, and creating a more clearly defined business plan. Getting paid for what I love to do? I cannot think of a more worthy undertaking.

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