[March 22, 2018: At the request of one commenter, that person’s comments (and only that person’s comments) on this post have been removed.]
[Further clarification from Carol Saller: As an editor over sixty in frequent conversation with many other older editors, I consider it appropriate to ask these questions. I ask them of myself. I don’t presume to question anyone else’s skills. Readers may note that I have changed the title originally posted (“Are You Too Old to Copyedit?”), and I apologize for the distress it caused some readers. ]
How does a professional copyeditor know when it’s time to retire? Freelancers especially may be tempted to sail on past the age at which in-house editors are encouraged to put down the red pencil. But in either case, how long is too long? Here are some questions to consider.
1. Are my editing skills slipping?
An editor of any age can have failures that lead to self-doubt. But it may be harder for older editors (like me) to dismiss failures as anomalies. How accurate is your own assessment? Do you merely imagine that lapses are happening more often?
♦ Suggestions: Test yourself on grammar, usage, and style (e.g., at ACES or CMOS Online). Monitor client complaints in a log to help determine whether problems are really more frequent or not. If you find the results reassuring, forge on! If you don’t, ask yourself question 2:
2. Are my powers deteriorating, or are my skills out of date?
Eyesight and memory may be affected by age, but don’t be quick to blame aging when clients find fault with your work. Older copyeditors are likely to have trained so long ago that their skills could use some brushing up. When was the last time you took a class, read an editing blog, or challenged yourself by learning new word-processing techniques? Are you keeping up with changes in language usage and style? Are you comfortable with social media?
♦ Suggestion: Editors of all ages can benefit from a few minutes a day reading language and editing blogs and participating in an editors’ group online, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, the Forum at The Chicago Manual of Style Online, or anywhere else editors in your field hang out. You’ll quickly get ideas on how to refresh your skills and which areas need it the most. (For a list of links to some good blogs, see the “Profession-Related Reading” page at KOK Edit.)
3. If I decide to give up copyediting, what are some alternatives?
Copyediting and proofreading at the superficial level (catching errors in spelling, punctuation, consistency, etc.) require a sharp mind and unwavering focus, and mature editors might feel slippage in that area. But the same editors might feel more confidence than ever in their editorial judgment, their ability to evaluate a document and advise the writer, their ability to coach young editors or writers, or their business acumen after years of freelancing experience.
♦ Suggestion: Consider shifting your energies to related fields of editing or publishing. Move into developmental editing or business consulting. An investment in further training might be well worth the time and expense. Rethinking your career to capitalize on your strengths might not only launch you from uncertainty to confidence but add years to your working life.
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Editor’s Corner posts are the opinion of Carol Fisher Saller, editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A and author of The Subversive Copy Editor, now in its 2nd edition. Find Carol on Facebook and Twitter @SubvCopyEd).
Top photo: Jean Le Tavernier, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition