We are on a mission to get to know our talent better. This week we caught up with Senior Editor Catherine V., a master of linguistics with a passion for learning new things.
Q: What initially attracted you to the editing profession?
A: Anxiety. Fussiness. Being an officious swot in school and impatient for my peers to catch up. Terminal bookworminess. Reveling in intellectual superiority over one’s foes in online troll-baiting incidents. And the idea of a more perfect union (perfection being a thing we never achieve, but should always strive toward with every jot and tittle).
Being crazy about communication, how it works, how it doesn’t, and why that happens. Loving learning and wanting to help others do so by removing all impediments.
Watching too much TV and reading too many books, torn between loving the punchiest one-liner and the sweeping monologue that leaves naught unscathed. Loving how Jane Austen and Joss Whedon always knew the right turn of phrase. And hating how my favorite ‘ship in the fandom is so laden with distractingly ill-written purple prose.
To be less theoretical, I worked with the indomitable Professor Anne Greene, Director of Writing Programs at Wesleyan University, during my academic years in her office and summer sessions at the annual Writers Conference.
Before I landed the best, luckiest student-worker job ever, I met a wonderful English teacher, Ms. Eva Jane Johnston, in a Tennessee high school when my mom moved us there (over my fervid objections)—when I wasn’t hiding in the library or suffering through night classes to skip a year, I was striving to crack her stone-carved scowl into an approving smile with my essays.
And before her, my mother was always there … reading me to sleep with Tolkien before I could read him myself, writing the open-ended and irrefutable “My daughter can read ANYTHING she WANTS” note to my elementary school when they implemented an approved-reading list, and demonstrating how a smart, hard-working person deals with people who’d rather be the opposite in the workplace and elsewhere.
In other words, strong women led the way.
Q: Which subject matter topics do you enjoy editing the most?
A: All of them, in succession. Honestly, the thing I most enjoy about editing, particularly through a platform like WriterAccess or as a consultant in general, is the VARIETY.
I love going from proofing and formatting a blog post on the Book of Ruth to reviewing a product page on the latest Japanese adult toy. I love helping an entrepreneur who’s all fired up about a venture master the pitch presentation on which hangs the dream. I even like helping really over-invested marketing professionals, who’ve drunk so much of the Kool-Aid their lips are blue, to take their buzzword-laden frenzy and turn it into accessible, persuasive, meaningful content.
So what do I enjoy the most? Helping people with ideas communicate with people who want to learn.
What you didn’t ask is “what would I like to see more of?” I’d love if WA got more entertainment content—reviews of books, movies & TV, music, arts, theater performances, et cetera. Also, it wouldn’t kill CNN to loop us in; I’m seeing at least one error per article these days.
Q: What do you believe to be the most common misconception regarding editing/editors?
A: That we spend our days with white-out and red pens in our pockets to correct the world whilst tsking and adjusting our spectacles, and our nights arguing online with strangers about the actual meaning of ‘irony’. That we care more about how something is said than what is said. That we worship little golden idols of Strunk and White in our closets.
Most of which is true to some degree, of course.
But we’re also peacekeepers between speakers and listeners. We want to make sure the travails of the journey don’t prevent one from arriving at the destination. We’re cutters and polishers of rough stones into gems. We’re megaphones and fiber optic cables. We’re Sherpas and snake-charmers. And sometimes we’re sexy librarians, here to help you find what you’re looking for.
Q: How has technology altered the way editors approach their work?
A: Like automation initially threatens manufacturing jobs, technology has dealt editors a blow from which we’re still reeling a bit. Some people are convinced software can replace native or fluent speakers and trained, experienced editors (which I think has made us a bit defensive).
In our high-speed media consuming world, who has time to be perfect when good enough will do? When a typo in a Tweet can derail your message and co-opt the news cycle? When an audience looking for reliable information in a sea of misinformation spots three typos per day, and begins to question your fact-checking alongside your spell-checking? When it’s ever harder to tell phishing scam posts apart from people?
Good enough doesn’t always do enough good. We all have time to do a little better.
On the other hand, the sea change of technology has been a blessing as well. With the volume of content whizzing ’round the world, typewriter ribbon and steno pools wouldn’t be able to keep up! The ‘information age’ has been especially transformative for women in ways I couldn’t fully enumerate in a hundred pages, but I’m glad to see it.
Given how much time I spend staring at screens, I’m also happy to have the companionship of Microsoft’s spelling and grammar assistant paperclip and the Grammarly plugin’s little pop-up messages. And they don’t die of neglect if you fail to feed them a steady supply of errors, which is nice, too.
Q: Besides editing, what else takes up your time professionally?
A: Professional development, which I loosely interpret as covering whatever I want to be learning about at the moment. Language and linguistics study. Volunteering in my community, which to my mind includes both the county where I now physically reside and the Internet, on Wikipedia, IMDb, and the like. Some writing, too—but being an editor has made me feel nothing I do is ever ready to be seen by human eyes.
Q: What does your current workspace look like?
A: I’ve learned a lot about ergonomics in the last decade or so—and I’ve learned enough about myself to know that even if standing desks and yoga-ball chairs sound like good ideas, I’m probably never going to try them. Conventional wisdom dictates your mattress should be something you really invest in because you’ll be spending a third of your life on it. But I live at my desk, in a sort of 180+ degree shell of convenience.
I have gum and a beverage at hand and eye-drops and a lamp within arm’s reach. I have no fewer than four document clips & stands I can reference without turning my head, and a set of WA metrics & cheat-sheets Post-It-ed beside the monitor. There’s a small fan on one side, a hoodie on the back of the chair, and a gel-cushion on the seat designed for long-haul truckers. I have a wacky-looking vertical mouse, a low-profile keyboard, and a footrest on the floor.
There’s a pillow for my pug, so she can rest and still see me, and I can see her and know when it’s time for a walk. Yeah, she has her own fan, too, and a jar of cookies, which I do not—I may be self-employed, but she’s the boss of me. This is where I work and this is where I relax, so it’s worth having everything you need and as much of what you want as is practical.
(Frankly, enough of my workspace is digital, it’s worth mentioning that my browser and OS are equipped with plugins and apps that make life easier, like Grammarly and f.lux, and shortcuts and bookmarks to the documents and reference materials I need at a click’s notice.)
Q: How do you stay on top of new editing trends and practices?
A: Grammar Girl. English Stack Exchange. Other places editors and writers commune online. Sometimes I even peruse books on actual paper (gross dead trees, yeah, I know). I hit a phrase and go, “No, no, that’s not right, this needs a hyphen.” Then a second later, I second guess… and Google the pants off that bad boy. When they have GoogleBrain chips to implant, sign me up.
But I know I can do better, keeping the professional continuing education up to date. It’s a resolution best chipped away at one calorie at a time, with occasionally immoderate binges.
Q: Based on your experience, what is the most common writing mistake?
A: The knee-jerk answer is poor punctuation—my most pernicious editorial peeves are in a three-way tie between misuse of apostrophes (I am [sic] to death of those greengrocer’s!), semicolons (I am literally [Yes] a card-carrying member of the Semicolon Appreciation Society; it’s in my wallet at this very moment.), and dashes. The last is possibly a nose ahead of the others. Yes, there are three dashes—hyphen, en-dash, and em-dash—and all three perform entirely distinct tasks. To confuse them is synonymous with confusing commas, apostrophes, and quotation marks just ‘cuz they look sorta alike-ish.
However, there is a more profound answer.
I feel the most common writing mistake is not reading enough. (And, no, I don’t just mean self-proofing before you submit. Though, go nuts—do that too.) I may grumble when I see a participle a-dangle or piece of punctuation gone astray, but it truly worries me when I see a word-choice error where a near-homophone takes the place of the correct word. It seems to me these come from watching and hearing more of our stories enacted for us than reading them ourselves. I think your ears are far more easily fooled into thinking that taunt is taut, statue is statute, then/than, or should of is should’ve. Your eyes don’t make these mistakes so readily. Your brain doesn’t get these confused when translating paper and ink into ideas unless it’s really messing with you.
Now, I’m not against TV. I don’t happen to own one, but that’s because I live on my computer and I’m too cheap to pay for cable. 50% of my screen is almost always occupied by VLC or a window streaming something entertaining. I’m just saying, read Margaret Atwood before watching The Handmaid’s Tale. Don’t be the guy leaving the theater at the end of Fellowship, loudly grousing to your friend about having not been told you’d have to wait to learn what happens to Frodo and Sam. Sure, wikiwander the wilds of YouTube for hours longer than you intended, but when you want to learn more about an op-ed or whatever has caught your interest, don’t scroll down to the comments. Open a new tab and put those SEO skills to good use. Read all about it.
Typos happen—we’ve all put the remote in the microwave or our keys in the fridge at some point—but you can’t misspell words you don’t know because the baseline vocabulary of television is set at the lowest common denominator.
So, that’s my answer. Read. Because there’s more punctuation to see in books than movies. Because you’ll become a better writer if you consider your audience and your client before you hurry to submit and consider your current PayPal balance instead. Because you’ll really embarrass yourself if you write about anybody’s ‘taunt, quavering’ bits in your secret fanfic epic’s latest update. Because nobody gives Pulitzer’s to a greengrocer [still sic]. Because you won’t win a Twitter battle or comment-thread showdown if your very fine riposte is compromised by a there/their/they’re error. Because your brain deserves a balanced diet and regular exercise in addition to its delicious, sugary, processed entertainment. Because I said so, and so’d your mom.
Senior Editor Catherine V. (Cat) joined WriterAccess in 2014 and has completed over 500 orders. Her varied background includes writing and editing everything from emails to business proposals for staffing, engineering, and architecture firms. Not only has she mastered the English language, Cat has also studied Italian, Spanish, Farsi, and Latin.
Catherine has a B.A. in English and a Masters in Linguistics.