Editor: Aileen Brenner Houston Company: SRS (Naval Postgraduate School) # of years in editing: 17 years
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
I got my first copyediting gig at age 15, for the local newspaper in my hometown. I trained with my high school and college yearbook staffs, and worked for the writing center at my undergraduate institution. I was an editorial assistant for a legal magazine in DC after college, and became a freelance editor after marrying my husband, who was enlisted in the Army. I landed a gig with a graduate school writing center and thesis office at one of our duty stations, and have been able to stay with this job remotely for several years. I also created, and now manage, the thesis office's plagiarism-prevention program, and freelance edit for the MLA, as well as for a graduate school homeland security program.
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
My focus is academic writing and other research-based nonfiction. This developed naturally from my work with a graduate school writing center and thesis office, and from my current graduate school coursework in rhetoric and writing.
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
Because I work a full-time job, freelance edit on the side, and complete graduate coursework online, my days start early: the first two hours are typically dedicated to organizing my schoolwork or freelance projects so I can dive right in after work. For my full-time job, my day is split between editorial reviews of student theses, analysis of plagiarism reports, correspondence with students and faculty, and creative projects such as video tutorials, presentations, and lessons. I spend my lunch break at the gym, take the dogs for a walk at 4 or 5, then launch right into freelance and schoolwork (this requires snacks) until I crash.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
My childhood dream was to be a fiction writer. It became abundantly clear, however, in my undergraduate creative writing program that I'd never write the great American novel. During my creative writing workshops, I discovered that what I lacked in original ideas I made up for in helping other writers clarify, define, and grow their ideas. I love editing because it gives strong ideas and great minds a chance to be better understood and more effective.
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
My biggest challenge is brain strain. Because I spend so much of my day editing or otherwise engaging in academic writing, the density can get overwhelming. I work through this by giving my brain downtime with physical activity, and watching really, really bad TV that allows me to completely turn my brain off for 30 to 60 minutes a day.
What are you currently working on?
While enjoying some much-needed time off from my day job, I'm taking a winter-term graduate course called Approaches to Teaching Grammar, for which I'm developing a podcast about the Oxford comma; it's been a delightful course! I also have a freelance project coming up soon for MLA books for which I'm particularly excited.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
Read as much as you can. Style books and guides, but also web articles and blogs. Join editing Facebook groups and read the posts and comments. Never think you know everything, and learn the difference between rules and style choices.