I’ve had some requests recently for the story of how I became an editor. Which means I have to pull on my big girl shorts and do that thing I don’t like to — talk about myself. Blerg. (Yes, that’s a word. At least, in the House of Whipkey. ;P ) Those who have lingered around these parts for a while know that I do tend to make my posts personal, relying on self-deprecation and personal experience to impart advice, tips, and (I’d like to think) humor. But rarely do I actually talk about just me, as in my life story. Making what’s about to happen the perfect example of what I said not to do in my post about exposition a few weeks ago.
I’m not one to leave a request hanging though, so **deep breath** here goes:
How I Became an Editor
When someone sets out to become an editor, there’s a very clear path they usually take — love books, realize they’re kind of a nerd for grammar, excel in English classes, graduate with an English degree, move to New York, become someone’s coffee gofer for a bunch of years, and then poof! Editor status. Yeah, that’s not the path I took. My journey to editor-land looks more like the one taken by an ADD squirrel in the middle of nut season. In fact, I never set out to become an editor at all. Editing was always on my radar, but it was one of those mystical, unattainable jobs — like astronaut, or unicorn breeder. I never actually saw myself becoming one. I just didn’t understand how to get there, what series of life choices ended with that shiny prize. And so, I set my sights on a different career altogether.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself though. If we go back to the very beginning of the story, you’ll see that I was always destined to find my way into editing. One of my first memories as a kid (like young, before I could read, kid) is taking every single picture book I owned and stacking them on the floor. I’d then sit next to that massive pile taller than I was, and read them one at a time. Except, as I just noted, I couldn’t read yet. So I would look at the pictures and make up my own version of the story. Now, some of you might be thinking that sounds like a writer more than an editor (and a massive red flag for OCD). But the thing is, I didn’t actually create new stories. I took what I knew of the existing one (because my parents were awesome and read to us a lot) and then changed accordingly. Which, in case you haven’t put two and two together yet, is one of the main things an editor does.
Reading remained one of my favorite activities as I grew up, often becoming the highlight of a lazy summer day. (When you live an hour away from civilization and the nearest neighbor kid is like two miles away, there’s not much else to keep you entertained.) I also dabbled in writing and drawing. I actually thought I’d be a writer, until I turned eleven and saw this:
And, like the proverbial spotlight from heaven, complete with angels singing, I found my calling. (Or so I thought.) From that point on, I was dead-set on the fact I wanted to be an animator. I taught myself everything I could about traditional animation, (via various Disney books) and even spent cold winter evenings out on the back porch with a light table my dad built for me, drawing away.
I kept that dream alive for a long time, intending to go to Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts) for college and then, eventually, work for Disney. But, by the time I got to college-age, I chickened out. And then, shortly thereafter, the traditional 2D animation industry died. So I bounced around a couple of Junior Colleges for a while before finally transferring to a State University. What did I pursue there? English. I tried their art program for about a semester, but fine arts and I are like oil and water. They don’t like me because I’m too “commercial”, and I don’t like them because they’re pretentious and close-minded. But that’s a story for another time.
During my obsession with animation, I kept writing. (In fact, the majority of my current 300 + plot bunnies originally started life as animated movies.) I decided that if I couldn’t pursue art (which had been made abundantly clear by some horrible experiences with art professors), I’d fall back on my second love and become a writer. I loved my classes, and did well for a couple semesters. I started writing more frequently and finally felt like maybe I’d found a career path.
Enter the worst romantic mistake I ever made.
You know that ex that makes you shudder with revulsion and embarrassment when you think about them? Yeah, I happened to find mine right as I was trying to figure out my writing style. His lack of support and pretentious condescension (he’d already graduated with an English degree and thought he was better than, well, the world) resulted in my giving up. On everything. I quit writing, I quit school, and I ended up working in the mall. Yes, the mall. It was a dark time in my life.
Fast forward about 3 years. I’d dumped his sorry ass, moved back home with my parents, and was floundering around for some direction. I worked on repairing the psychological damage that relationship had caused and picked up all the things I’d let go, but never forgotten about — writing, drawing, martial arts. Happiness returned, but I was still a twenty-four-year-old living with my parents. And that scared me. I refused to be thirty and living at home. So I started reconsidering applying to Cal Arts, breathing life into my original dream again. The animation industry had changed completely, though. 2D animation didn’t really exist anymore. 3D was all the rage. And I wasn’t (and am still not) that good at 3D.
Which brings us to career epiphany #2 — video games need animators too. I was playing Bioware‘s Jade Empire and watching the beautiful load screens rotate between levels, when I realized: “they must need artists for video games. Maybe I could do that.” (Don’t ask where I thought video games came from before that moment. Apparently, they just magically appeared out of thin air.) After a bit of research, I stumbled on Westwood College Online and their Game Art and Design degree program. Hallelujah! Direction. I enrolled, and three years later, walked away with a degree in video games. Still intending to pursue animation, mind you.
Overpriced piece of paper in hand, I started investigating my job options. I even attended the Game Developer’s Conference, where all the game industry professionals gather to trade notes. (Unlike the other gaming cons, you don’t see any costumes, just nerds in business suits.) I found myself gravitating toward the lectures/classes on writing more than the ones on animation though. Which led me to the idea of becoming a game writer. I’d been writing during all this flailing, so game writing seemed like a natural progression, combining two of my loves into one. All right, I thought, I’ve found my niche. I’ll apply to Bioware (which had taken over Disney’s exalted place as the ideal company to work for) and finally start my career.
Once again, fear kicked in and I chickened out. Instead, I opted to move (with my fiance, because during my flailing, I managed to meet the most amazing guy ever) to Portland to spend about a year near my sister. (Yes, I just said that move was supposed to be temporary. Clearly, I got stuck, because that was four years ago now and we’re still here.) Since Portland doesn’t have any game companies that I’m aware of (at least, they didn’t back then) I decided to pursue my own thing, going into freelance art instead. (Are you starting to wonder when we’ll get to the editing? Don’t worry, we’re almost there!)
I joined Deviantart in 2011, and started Nightwolf A.D.E. (which stands for art, design, and editing). Overwhelmed by the level of artistic talent on the site, I ended up frequenting the literature forums, and eventually realized I could try my hand at freelance editing. (I’d done a lot of editing over the years in writing groups, or as favors for friends, so I knew I was at least moderately talented at it.) I scored my first client in the summer of 2012, and, not three months later, stumbled on a call in the job postings about a new press looking for editors. And voilà! I became an editor.
So there you have it — my long and winding journey to becoming a professional editor. Was it something I always wanted to do? Yes, I think so. Though it was never at the forefront of my thoughts the way other careers were. (Remember, I viewed it as elusive and impossible to achieve). Did I set out to do it? No. It found me. But I do firmly believe in the idea of fate, and that everything happens for a reason. My path may not be the straightforward, traditional one, but that doesn’t mean I’m not exactly where I’m supposed to be. If I hadn’t chickened out of going to Cal Arts all those years ago, I wouldn’t have tested the waters of being a writer and published three short stories. If I hadn’t moved home when I was twenty-four, I wouldn’t have met my loving husband, or gotten my degree. If I hadn’t let fear drive me to Portland instead of Edmonton, I wouldn’t have joined Deviantart. And if I’d stayed focused solely on art, I never would have found REUTS and my true love of editing.
So, I suppose, the point I’m trying to make is that you don’t have to follow the beaten path to become an editor. If you love it, (and have what it takes), then you’ll find a way. Or, like me, it will find you.