How I Became an Editor

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. 😉


12 thoughts on “How I Became an Editor

  1. I LOVE this. I can so relate to your journey! I curse the high school guidance counselor that didn’t help me realize that I could go somewhere with my nerdy, grammar-nazi writing skills. I thought law or business management would be more promising (and for a while, I had it in my head to be the first female president–right up there with unicorn breeder). But you are so, so right. Fate has a funny way of helping us, or making us wallow in the pit of despair, to bring us to a place where we find that thing we love, that thing we’re good at. Thank you so much for sharing. Gives me hope that someday I’ll find an editorial home too 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Summer! I’m glad you enjoyed it, and that my crazy, wandering path gives you hope. I think if something’s meant to be, it will. You may have to forge your own way to get to it, but it’ll be worth every step when you get there. 😉

  2. First … where can I become a unicorn breeder? Anyway, I studied fine art in college, I wanted to be an illustrator and thought it would give me a different perspective. My painting teacher liked to lecture about how illustration (because I stupidly let him know my life goals) was NOT art. I disliked him … he never seemed to have much faith in me … so yeah … fine arts. Bleck.
    Everyone has a road to travel. My hubs was very straight, clear, easy. Mine? Slightly twisted, but much more fun (and by fun I mean a roller coaster of emotions). Sounds like your journey has brought you right where you should be. And all who know you rejoice! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    • Right? Wouldn’t unicorn breeder be like the best thing ever? Haha!

      And I had a very similar experience to yours, with a painting instructor I stupidly told my animation goals too. She openly mocked me in front of the entire class during our final critique. It was awful and I never wanted to do art again. Took me years to overcome that. At some point, I’ll write about it, I think, and how elitism in the arts does nothing but hurt.

      On a happier note, I do definitely feel like I’m where I belong. Sometimes I wish I had found it earlier, but then I think that maybe I wasn’t ready back then. Maybe I needed a few more stars to align before I was at a place to not only have the confidence in myself, but the maturity to accept it. It’s been an interesting path, for sure. But I think everyone’s story is interesting in its own way. That’s the basis for storytelling, after all. 😉

  3. That’s so cool! It’s kind of encouraging that you didn’t become an editor right away. I think that most of us expect to have our profession picked out right away, but in reality, it takes lots of twists and turns to finally get to where we want to be. Great post 🙂

    • Thanks, Ryanne!

      Yes, there is a lot of pressure on young people to choose a path and stick with it for the rest of their life. But that’s really not the way it happens. Life hands you so many different scenarios and opportunities that you never know where exactly you’ll end up. A college degree is definitely important, but I think there are a lot of people who don’t end up using what they trained in. I viewed it as a stepping stone, a way to bridge the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be. And I still ended up left of center! So you just never know. Keep your options open and fate will eventually point you in the right direction. 🙂

  4. That’s pretty neat that it looks like I was one of your first clients. Summer 2012 was definitely a turning point in the Orthogonal Universe project.

    I was lucky in that the first path I chose turned out to be the one I stuck with. I certainly know that’s not how it often plays out. A part of my job is to advise students, and so I’m frequently the one helping others figure out where they want to go.

    Sometimes those twists and turns can give you a unique perspective that is very beneficial to your chosen career. I sometimes wonder if I missed out on that. I -almost- went to work for the government as a professional code breaker. (Looking for sequences, of all things). I was offered my current position only a few days before I was about to head to D.C., and took it because teaching is what I really wanted to do. But it would’ve been neat to have had that experience to take into the classroom.

    • Yep, you were definitely one of the first. And for that, I’ll be forever grateful. 😉

      What a cool job opportunity! That’s another one of those mysterious sounding professions that I would have absolutely no idea how someone lands. And you almost had it! Lol. That in itself is pretty awesome. And the parallel between that position and certain themes in the Orthogonal Universe is not lost on me. But it does indeed seem like teaching is your passion. You may have been lucky enough to have found it quickly, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less true. 🙂

      • I felt bad turning the interview opportunity down – in part because I had already cleared the initial security checks. I’ve been told each investigation can cost upward of $100,000. But even after all that, there was no guarantee I’d get the job. I had a friend get to the next stage and fail the polygraph. I wasn’t going to turn down a sure thing for a potential thing, especially in the poor economy (this was May 2010).

        Isn’t it funny to think what would be different if any one event didn’t take place? That was the Ori’s lesson to Mara after she caught her reflection 😉 It’s one of my favorite sequences in the story, and I think I have most of the problems corrected now. I’m almost done; I have four comments to go.

      • Indeed! I love that about your work–all the philosophical musings that make me pause and think. I’ve often thought about what my life would be like if I’d done things differently. It’s fun to imagine, but only if you’re coming at it from a place of bemusement and not one of regret. Thankfully, I don’t regret the choices I made (well, except for the horrible ex maybe) so I can enjoy the what if’s.

        And yay! I look forward to seeing all the changes. 🙂

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