Interview with Pat Kozak - Presenter SCBWI Collaboration Conference Calgary Oct. 1

Pat Kozak will be presenting at the SCBWI Canada West Calgary Conference Collaboration on October 1st, 2011.

I had a chance to catch up with her and ask her some burning questions I had about comma splices, sour ju jubes, and the elusive world of editing. I *cough* edited the editor's interview ...

How does one become an editor? Did you stay behind at recess and pour over Strunk and White? What tools did you use to learn your craft and develop your talent?

I’m sure some kids — perhaps those who studied Strunk and White at recess — know they want to be editors while they are still in school. I assume these dedicated individuals go on to take the appropriate formal training then dive straight into an editing career. However, I don’t know anyone who has done this, and it certainly wasn’t the case with me. I didn’t become an editor until my own kids had left high school.

Most editors I know became editors by editing. That may sound trite, but it’s true for many of us. We come from diverse professional backgrounds and often start editing because someone in the workplace asks us to check a piece of writing. Once we find out how much fun editing is, and that we are actually pretty good at it, we start wondering whether we could become “real” editors.

The way we learn our craft depends on what sort of editing we are considering, e.g., scientific, corporate, literary, etc.  But, we all need to brush up on grammar, punctuation, and the current writing styles in our chosen fields. Once we feel confident about those basics, we take courses and also ask experienced editors about editing methods and processes. Then we practise, practise, practise, and network, network, network. Finally, we get work as editors. But we never stop learning our craft or developing our talent.

I came to editing via my second career as a professional writer. I regularly edited annual reports and newsletter articles but I did not get hooked until I started copy editing one of the small magazines I wrote for. Then I decided I wanted to edit fiction and creative non-fiction. I was lucky enough to get a contract with a local publisher to edit biographies. I considered this my apprenticeship because I edited under the direction of a series editor. I was also freelancing during this period and found it suited me very well. By the time the publisher disappeared from the scene (publishing is a tough business) I was considering retirement, so freelancing was the obvious and, as it turns out, perfect choice for me.

If any of you have a hankering to join the editing ranks, I encourage you to give it a try. It is a demanding but rewarding occupation, and you meet really great people — writers.

The Editor’s Association of Canada now offers a certification program.  

The theme of the conference is collaboration; can editing truly be a collaborative endeavour? By the time a writer gets published I'm thinking they'd agree to anything the editor suggests.

From the viewpoint of a freelance editor, editing is definitely a collaborative process. (This may not always be the case with in-house editors because the publishing house could be looking for particular content or want the book written in their house style.)

I feel my role is to help writers reach their writing goals, whether that is to explain their ideas more clearly, express their thoughts more creatively, or be consistent in their chosen style. I give feedback, suggestions, and examples. I do not dictate or manipulate. It’s not my book!

How has attending conferences contributed to your development as an editor and your professional career? Why is it important for the aspiring editor to attend conferences?

Attending lectures, presentations, and workshops offered by the Calgary Association of Freelance Editors and the Editor’s Association of Canada has contributed to my development as an editor by introducing me to different aspects of editing and related fields. Editing, like writing, is a solitary occupation, so it’s important to get away from your desk and talk shop once in a while. Even if you think you already know all there is to know about the subjects under discussion, not only will you learn something, you will come away from a conference feeling pumped by all the creative energy.

I've never met a comma I didn't splice. What's your favourite punctuation mark and why? What punctuation makes your eyes hurt and keeps you up at night? 

During the first month of a journalism course, I had a paper downgraded from A to A- for the sin of creating a comma splice. That incident did not give me nightmares about semi-colons or commas, but it gave me a greater respect for punctuation in general. My favourite punctuation mark is any mark that has been used correctly.

Some see dead people, you must see grammatical errors everywhere you look - how do you stop yourself from taking out a sharpie and correcting them?

Yes, I do see errors everywhere. For the first few years of my editing life it took a great deal of self control not to do a Lynne Truss — especially at restaurants. But these days, even menus are safe from me. I don’t know why; perhaps I have just mellowed.  However, if a waiter inadvertently left a sharpie at my table, he might discover that it’s had been changed to its, and that desert had become dessert.

While I joke about punctuation and grammar, editing is about more than that. If a writer has a good editor it can take their story to a whole different level. What elements does an editor bring to a piece that a writer can't?

In my opinion, there are only two things writers cannot bring to their own writing; a fresh pair of eyes and a different perspective. That is what we provide.

I've been open on my blog about my disturbing addiction to sour ju jubes. Is there a sweet treat that you like that makes your editing hours sing?

There is not a treat in sight at my desk. But if the copy sings, so does my heart.

Nice save Pat! 

Pat Kozak will be presenting at the Collaboration Conference October 1st, 2011. 

Registration is now open and you need to register by August 25th . Contact Pamela for more information or check the SCBWI West Canada web site.  


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