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Natalia Iwanek

Ask an Award Winner: An Interview with Donna L. Dawson

Photo of Donna L. Dawson
Photo of Donna L. Dawson

The Editors Canada student relations committee recently completed a series of interviews with Editors Canada award winners. Each month, we’ll bring you the highlights of our interviews in the hopes that those featured may inspire student editors beginning their careers, as well as editors who are already established.

Donna L. Dawson is the winner of the 2019 Lee d’Anjou Volunteer of the Year Award.

Natalia Iwanek: What inspired you to become an editor?

Donna L. Dawson: It wasn’t so much an inspiration but learning that editing was a thing and that I could do it. In the early 1990s, I was working as an administrator for a research group compiling a worldwide theatre encyclopedia. Part of my job was inputting the general editor’s changes to articles we’d gathered from contributors around the world. I’d barely been aware of this type of editing; I certainly didn’t know it was a job. But after a while I felt I could do what he’d done to improve the articles. I also cleaned up articles we received as hard copy as I typed them into the computer — I didn’t know that was copy editing. As we got busier, I took on additional basic editorial work. Later, the publisher in the U.K. sent us the copy editor’s pages to answer queries, and we reviewed the first proofs, and what she had done all seemed to make sense to me. When I lost my job because of lack of funding, I joined Editors Canada, took many seminars, edited a few students’ theses (the project was housed in a university theatre department) and decided to freelance.

NI: Who has been one of your biggest influences in the editing world?

DLD: The copy editor for the theatre encyclopedia, Christine Firth. We became friends and she gave me a tremendous amount of advice when I launched my career, all of which transferred well even though she is in England.

NI: What is your favourite editing-related resource?

DLD: I use the Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage by Margery Fee and Janice McAlpine all the time. I also use the little Le Mot Juste: A Dictionary of Classical and Foreign Words and Phrases (by John Buchanan-Brown) a lot — I find looking there faster to get to a reliable answer than the internet. Acronym Finder might be the website I use the most.

NI: What advice would you give to Student Affiliate editors?

DLD: I’ve never worked in-house so can offer no advice in that realm. If you plan to freelance, don’t quit your day job until you have a number of clients, rather obviously. And, know that most of your new clients will be referrals from existing clients, former colleagues, people who used to work for your clients and other people you know. Build marketing efforts around this fact: let people know you are freelancing and help them understand what you do.

Watch for more interviews with award-winning editors each month.

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Previous post from Natalia Iwanek: Making the Shift from Student to Freelance Editor

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Natalia Iwanek

Natalia Iwanek is a Toronto-based freelance copy editor, proofreader, and writer. She is a Student Affiliate of Editors Canada, who has recently made the transition to freelance editing.

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