Your Editing Stories: A Reluctant Editor

Today we launch a new series written by . . . you! If you have a story about your editing life, send it to us and we’ll consider it for posting (guidelines below).

Gael Spivak works in communications for the Government of Canada. She specializes in plain-language writing and editing. Gael sent us her editing story.

—The Editors

By Gael Spivak

Several years ago, I was working as a communications advisor, and my colleague Alice d’Anjou mentioned that her sister and her mother were editors and that they all thought editing might interest me.

Alice’s sister Elizabeth is a well-respected editor and teacher; their mother, Lee, is considered a matriarch in the Canadian editing family. One of the founding members of the Editors’ Association of Canada (Editors Canada), Lee has done a tremendous amount of work on Canada’s professional editorial standards and the Editors Canada certification program and is so well respected that the association’s top award is named for her (Lee d’Anjou Volunteer of the Year Award).

I told Alice that I really didn’t want to be an editor. It seemed boring to me, compared to writing.

I finally met Lee d’Anjou when the whole d’Anjou clan was at Alice’s house on a long weekend. I went outside, and Lee came out soon after. She wanted to talk to me about editing.

I found out years later that Alice had purposefully sent her mom out to talk to me. She had handed her a glass of wine and said, “Take this out to Gael and talk to her. Convince her that she’s an editor.”

We were out there for some time. I remember me protesting.

Lee remembers it like this:

When we were talking in Alice’s back yard, I asked you to describe what you did at work, and after you answered me in some detail, I said, “That’s editing.” And you replied, “My job description doesn’t include that word.” And I said, “I don’t care. It is editing.”

These are some of the things I didn’t think were editing, but Lee insisted were:

  • reviewing factsheets to make them consistent
  • negotiating changes with subject-matter experts
  • revising older text, making it more suitable for consumers
  • working with a lawyer to make her disclaimer text more clear to nonlawyers

I finally said, “OK, OK—when I get a job where my job description says ‘editor,’ I will admit that I’m an editor.”

Then a funny thing happened. A year or so later, I competed for a speech-coordinating job. When I won it, Human Resources sent me the job description. Guess what the actual job title was? “Speech Coordinator and Editor.”

I had to keep my promise to Lee. So I started calling myself an editor, joined Editors Canada, and learned as much as I could. That was ten years ago.

Lee gave me excellent and firm guidance in the first few years I was editing, the sort that kept me from becoming a peever. And I paid a lot of attention to what other editors said on the member e-mail list. For many years, that list was the most valuable member service for me.

I took several editing courses and read some helpful editing books, many of which I still consult. I stay on top of changes in style and usage by reading new books and by following about sixty editing and writing blogs.

Talking with other editors is such an important aspect of professional development. So are networking and giving back to our community of editors. I do all that through the Editors’ Association of Earth Facebook groups (which I help administer) and also as an Editors Canada member.

As an Editors Canada volunteer, I’ve learned a lot about working on teams, coordinating large projects, and partnering with other organizations. I started helping out in my local branch, and then became active at the national level. I’m vice president of the association now.

Lee never told me to get involved in Editors Canada, and she never said I ought to volunteer. But when I told her recently that I am surprised by how very involved I did get, she said, “Oh, I’m not.” She claims she always knew that was going to happen.

You can find Gael Spivak online at LinkedIn; at Twitter she is @Piglita.

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Guidelines for “Your Editing Stories”

We would love to hear stories that are (1) original, written for us, (2) anecdotal, in-the-moment, unique experiences—unexpected, funny, heart-tugging, or disastrous—rather than the progress of a career—and (3) short. Please aim for about 500 words. Submit stories here.

[Note: This post was updated on 2.15.17 to include guidelines.—Eds.]

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One thought on “Your Editing Stories: A Reluctant Editor

  1. Fascinating story, Gael! The d’Anjou women are special people. I’ve known Lee for forty years, her daughters since they were children.
    Cheers, Barbara Hehner

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