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Becky Heaman

Ask an Award Winner: An Interview with Iva Cheung

Iva Cheung
Iva Cheung
Photo courtesy of Iva Cheung

The Editors Canada student relations committee 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.

This month, Becky Heaman shared the committee’s interview with Iva Cheung (Vancouver, British Columbia), who was the winner of the 2019 Karen Virag Award. Iva Cheung is well known throughout Canada as a champion of plain language, clear communications and the value of editing. (This interview has been lightly edited.)

What inspired you to become an editor?

Iva Cheung: I’m the child of Chinese immigrants, and my parents always asked me to look over their letters and documents before they sent them out. I guess that practice introduced me to an editing mindset early on. I didn’t start out intending to edit professionally — my first degrees were in physics — but I’d always enjoyed writing, editing and learning about language. I wrote for student newspapers, edited conference proceedings and launched a journal for undergraduate students in physics. After I graduated and knew I didn’t want to pursue physics any further, I turned what was a hobby into my career, getting my first formal training through the Master of Publishing program at Simon Fraser University.

What advice would you give to student affiliate editors?

IC: I know when I began editing, I tended to make decisions based on what I’d learned was correct or incorrect in terms of grammar, spelling and usage. So the advice I’d give to student affiliate editors is to keep in mind that editing is about improving communication, not unthinkingly applying rules. It can take a while to develop the judgment you need to confidently decide whether following a “rule” helps or hinders communication in a particular context, so I’d urge new editors to develop a critical curiosity about where these rules come from and what function they’re meant to serve. Accept that language constantly changes and adapt your editorial practices to serve the author, the text and the context.

What has been your biggest challenge in your editing career?

IC: As a friend of mine who manages other editors likes to say, “people are harder than words” [Tracy Torchetti, Director of Cancer Information at the Canadian Cancer Society]. The biggest challenge in editing, and especially freelance editing, is building and managing relationships with clients, authors and colleagues. Every project brings a different dynamic, and some relationships take more tact, patience and diplomacy to cultivate than others.

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

IC: No one has done more to shape my editing career than Nancy Flight, president of the Editors’ Association of Canada from 1998 to 2000. She taught the editing course in my Master of Publishing program, then mentored me throughout my six years as an in-house editor. She encouraged me to join the association and impressed upon me the importance of advocating for the profession. I learned from her that although good editing should be invisible, good editors should not.

What is your favourite editing-related resource (book, website)?

IC: One resource I’d recommend to all student affiliate editors is the Conscious Style Guide, which helps writers and editors choose respectful, affirming language that promotes equity and justice.

What effect has winning this award had on your editing career?

IC: Receiving this award was a complete surprise — and such an honour because I admired Karen Virag so much. I didn’t think I deserved to win, because I know of so many other editors who have contributed far more to raising the profile of the profession, but I’m hoping to earn the award retroactively! So I guess winning this award has motivated me to be even more of an advocate for editors.


Previous post from Becky Heaman: Ask an Award Winner: An Interview with Mary Rykov

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