the essence of writing.... Professional writers rewrite their
sentences over and over and then rewrite what they have
—William Zinsser, On Writing Well:
The Classic Guide to
When I was a fourth-year psychology student at the University of
British Columbia, a professor returned one of my assignments
with copy edits scratched all over the first two pages. At
first I couldn't figure out what he had done. These weren't the
usual comments about flawed reasoning, unsubstantiated
assertions, and nonsensical conclusions. They were changes to my
words and sentences: deletions, rearrangements, substitutions. I
had to read them several times to get his point, but then the
light went on. These pages
of my thoughts and my arguments
were vastly improved—someone
might actually want to read them!
That, unbelievably, was the only time in my nineteen years of
formal education that a teacher showed me how small changes and
corrections could make my writing more pleasurable to read.
It had an impact, and ever since, in one form or another, I have
been editing my own and others' work. I like it better than the
writing itself. Editing is the stage when your writing really
becomes good, when you can start to look forward to showing it
to someone, when you can sit back and ask yourself—rhetorically
and with pride—"Wow, did I write that?"
I went on to use and
improve my writing and editing skills in a variety of milieux:
as a lawyer, where I gained a bit of a reputation for dumping
legalese for real English; as a volunteer for parents in public
education, where I was appreciated for my translations of
edubabble; and as a contract writer and editor for nonprofits
and ministries in the education sphere, where my knack for
rephrasing without rewriting was often met with a dumbfounded
"How do you do that?"
And through the
latter part of all this I
wrote—mainly short stories, articles, poetry—while
attending the world's best writers' group, the Kyle Centre
Creative Writers' Workshop in Port Moody, B.C., led by
Kernaghan and attended by a talented, eclectic, and ever-changing bunch of published and unpublished writers. I credit
this group for my editing career—without them it would not have
happened. And after twenty-two years as a student, I moved to the head of the table and now lead one of three groups formed by popular demand. I am so fortunate.
love this work and I love getting better at it. I read style
and usage guides for fun, and my personal library of books on
writing and editing threatens to absorb my profit. Before the pandemic, I would ride
public transit an hour and a half into the big city to spend a
sunny Saturday at a course on punctuation. Now I'll do it happily on Zoom. And, most fun of all,
I will share my opinions on the minutest of minutia with anyone.