by Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr
Last February (2019), I celebrated my 30th anniversary as a professional editor. But I had been working up to “professional” for several years before I started in the business, first as the poetry editor on our high school yearbook and next as production manager on the Glendon College student newspaper. Back then, everyone assumed that I would become a teacher, because they couldn’t imagine what else one would do with a degree in English. But I was very shy, and didn’t even consider teaching, even though it was the dominant profession in my family. I loved books, and wanted to make them.
I had followed up my MA in English with a brigade organized by Canadian Action for Nicaragua (CAN). We spent four weeks picking coffee and learning about the Sandinista revolution, the Contras trying to undermine it, and the dictator preceding them. When I got back to Toronto in January 1989, it was time to look for a job.
A newspaper ad for a job in publishing caught my attention. The applications didn’t go to the publisher, but to a headhunting agency. I soon met Mr. Tembe, who coached me through the entire hiring process for my first “real” job. He was a great booster. When I had no confidence in myself, he took on the role of cheerleader, even phoning me on the morning of my interview just to tell me I could do it. The fact that I remember his name 30 years later is testimony to his cheerful encouragement.
I was very unsure of myself because there was an editing test involved. I couldn’t spell. I probably had dyslexia. My mother had even bought me a phonetic dictionary because, really, who can look up a word they have no idea how to spell in the first place? I did the test, certain that I would NOT get the job.
When the test was marked, Marta Tomins, the woman who would be my boss if I succeeded, called me in. “I’ve never hired anyone who couldn’t spell before,” she said, “but then I’ve never had anyone score so highly on the logic part of the test either.” She took a chance and hired me, even though she had to keep coaching me along, because I didn’t know such basic things as “a comma never appears before a parenthesis.” I wasn’t the best speller, but I was a quick study; making mistakes is, after all, one of the best ways to learn.
And so I began as a production editor at Prentice-Hall Canada (now Pearson) working on college and university textbooks. Like most of my colleagues, I had a degree in English. Some of them had even gotten partway through a PhD before quitting. I now like to brag to my students – yes, I finally became a teacher when I worked my way through a PhD in English and did NOT quit – that I am one of the only people who has actually read textbooks cover to cover. The crowning achievement in that department, certainly, is having my name on the cover of a textbook, as the author of the second Canadian edition of A Writer’s Workshop: Crafting Sentences, Building Paragraphs, Designing Essays, published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson.
Spelling is no longer an issue, though logic is still the stronger trait, but editing – especially when you read textbooks, and now academic journals, cover to cover – is one of the best professions in which to practice life-long learning.
First published on the Capital Letters blog of Editors Canada on 3 April 2015.