Editor: Taryn Aldrich Company: Freelance # of years in editing: 10+ years.
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
I always assumed my job would involve writing in some capacity; it came easily to me and was my favorite pastime as a child. My college transcripts are a mishmash of languages, psychology, family studies—all writing-intensive disciplines. When I decided to pursue a master’s degree in professional writing, I knew the skills would be useful no matter where my career took me.
The professional writing program covered academic/business editing, technical writing, intercultural communication, and other topics. I started freelancing casually about a year in. I also tutored writing at my university, which gave me a chance to review work from students as well as faculty. There was no shortage of practice.
I discovered that I loved editing and decided to advertise my services online—initially via eBay of all places. I wasn’t being overly choosy about projects at that point; I just wanted more experience. I got supremely lucky with a few early clients who referred generously. My initial contacts also happened to be non-native English speakers, and I had so much fun reviewing their work. It really set the tone for my career.
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
I focus on academic editing. Most of my work involves language editing in the humanities and social sciences. This niche is a natural extension of my interests and background. Before moving into full-time editing, I returned to graduate school to study psychology and later landed in higher ed—first teaching psych courses and then managing/tutoring in a college writing center with a fairly large international student population.
Academic editing is perfect for me. I get to learn about cutting-edge research and help authors share their expertise, but from behind the scenes. (My years in grad school taught me that I prefer reading empirical studies to conducting them.) I especially enjoy language editing because it gives international scholars a chance to reach a wider audience than they might otherwise. This job is a privilege. I try not to take it for granted.
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
My days are determined by deadlines. I mostly edit journal articles, dissertations, and other research-based pieces (e.g., blogs or feature-length articles). Many projects involve quick turnarounds—a week to 10 days is typical, although I return work sooner if I can.
I’m most productive in the morning and early afternoon. I’m usually at my desk (or on my couch) by 8 am to check email and wrap up work from the day before. I tend to complete initial edits on a project over a day or two and then finalize everything the next morning with fresh eyes. Most of my clients are abroad, and I like to get an early start so we can bounce ideas around in real time if need be.
My workdays are usually split in half: I put the finishing touches on the prior day’s work early and jump into new projects in the afternoon. I also leave myself some room to fit in rush jobs as needed. Papers related to COVID-19 have filled a sizable chunk of my schedule since March and tend to be time-sensitive.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
I’m cheating here—I have two. The first is learning. If I could somehow be paid to take college courses and just learn, I would. Editing fits the bill nicely; I learn interesting things all the time. There’s tons of variety in terms of material, and no two days are the same.
My second favorite thing about editing is my clients. They impress me every single day. They’re doing really valuable work, and I’m fortunate to be able to collaborate with them.
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
Work/life balance. It’s a work in progress. I’ve started to be more selective about the projects I take on, especially from new-to-me clients, and I try not to overbook. Since last fall, I’ve started to maintain office hours and pencil in time for exercise and general wellness. I take a real (non-working) lunch break now. I’m also trying to be more deliberate about stretching and taking walks during the day. It’s far too easy for me to dive into a project and not look up for 4 hours. Plus, my editorial assistants (see: cats) are terrible at reminding me to stand up and move around.
What are you currently working on?
A nice assortment: several journal articles, a dissertation, and a blog. I have a grant application and an academic book proposal on deck to be revised. There’s some research/writing work in the wings, too, which I’m still mapping out with colleagues.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
Stay connected! There are many benefits to working for yourself, but it can be isolating. Spend time talking to and learning from other editors: hang out in social media groups, join a professional organization, listen to editing-adjacent podcasts, and so on.
Realize that you’ll probably always have questions and need to look things up. Seek out opportunities to expand your skill set over time. For me, that meant taking on more projects involving writing and research. While I would never recommend accepting a project you’re uncomfortable with or clearly unqualified for, I do think it’s good to branch out; the more you can offer, the less stressful the slow times will be.
Familiarize yourself with the business side of things. Plan for taxes, consider hiring an accountant if your financial situation is complicated, and don’t undervalue yourself (charge what you’re worth!). Keep up with marketing and invest in professional development if you can.
Finally, and most importantly, be kind—to clients, to colleagues, and especially to yourself. There’s more than enough work to go around. While missteps are inevitable, they shouldn’t derail you as long as you hold yourself accountable.