I started editing in 1988, when I was 28, with a free Dublin newspaper that never got off the ground. A stint in London followed, working first on metallurgy journals and then on civil engineering books and journals. In these two jobs I learned a great deal about editorial and production work, often under pressure. It was invaluable training. Back in Dublin in 1991, I worked for a schoolbook publisher before going freelance in 1993. I’ve been freelancing ever since (nonfiction, working for publishers rather than authors). In 1998 my wife and I moved to the country with our two children.
I was very isolated, work-wise, for a long time. I grew lazy about attending meetings of our Irish freelancers’ association (I’ve become more involved with it again in the past few years). Since 2013 I’ve been active in the Editors’ Association of Earth and affiliated groups on Facebook. As well as being a lot of fun, this has opened my eyes. I now realize, for example, that I’m not working as professionally as I could be in terms of using tools and technology (I will rectify this when I have the time and energy).
Unlike many of my freelance colleagues, I never really thought of editing as a career and I have never loved it, although I do enjoy some of the projects. It has paid the bills, but in the back of my mind there was perhaps some notion that this would be a temporary gig, pending my real career (writing, probably, with abundant royalties). Then the years passed.
I never had a plan. I’m a good editor and have rarely been short of work, but I was constantly running to stand still. It wasn’t a “feast or famine” scenario; it was pretty much a feast all along, but not a particularly nourishing or satisfying one. On the positive side, there has been no commuting and I was able to spend a lot of time with the children as they grew up. Freelancing has trained me to think on my feet, to be flexible and resilient — good life skills.
In recent years I have marketed myself more effectively; I generally have better clients and I’m earning more than ever before. I’ll make the best of it, but to some extent I will probably always be a reluctant editor, resenting the daily grind of juggling deadlines and helping authors to express themselves more clearly. I’m sure there must be others like me: still not quite sure what we’d like to be when we grow up.
In any case, I’m in good health, things could be worse, and I’m an optimist by nature. If this were Facebook, I would finish with a smiley face.
Are you a reluctant editor? What is editing to you — a dream career or a daily grind?
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