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Virginia Durksen

Myth: It Takes a Certain Personality to Become an Editor


Any profession draws certain personality types to it more readily than others. But just as there’s no single lawyer or doctor or teacher type, there’s more than one editor type. Editors come in all sorts.

Editors can be achievers, caretakers, managers, control freaks, idea generators, intellectuals, entrepreneurs — and are often a bit of everything rolled into one all-seeing, all-knowing package. In our dreams, at least. My point is that really good editors play to their personal strengths and work to overcome their areas of weakness.

happy_editorThat’s what makes us so interesting (wouldn’t you agree?). We live in the twilight zone between reading and writing, between culture and business, between the tiniest details and the biggest picture. Perhaps as a class we have earned our stereotype as fastidious, detail-driven copy-editing word mavens. But we more than make up for it by being as varied and eccentric as our counterparts in any other profession.

If we have one overwhelming fault, it’s that we’re far too humble about our vital role in quality control for the information economy. Three cheers and hurrah for all sorts of editors.

When we first formed the Alberta Editor’s Association in the early 1990s, my colleague Anita Jenkins and I helped plan a party for the editors. Of course we bought enough wine, red and white, for the evening’s festivities. That supply lasted for nearly two years, so greatly had we overestimated our colleagues’ capacity for polite drink. I doubt that scotch would have been a better choice. Perhaps pots and pots of herbal tea? Vats of coffee? We have been discovering and appreciating our local diversity for several decades now. With beverages of many sorts.

Then, when our group joined the editors from Ontario and Quebec, we discovered a whole new cultural divide. Some freelance editors, we learned, make an entire living working just for book publishers. Like many editors in our province, editors right across Canada also made a living working for government. As one of my learned colleagues is fond of saying, «Editing for government can’t be done. But there’s good money to be made trying.»

The oil and gas industry in Alberta is still the main employer of opportunity for many editors. One employer I work with has an in-house editing team of more than 20 editors. Their senior editors are mentors who build on their longtime experience in book publishing to fine-tune new editors who produce volumes of regulatory reports every month.

Even my experience of working with educational materials is sideways to the traditional publisher of textbooks. My favourite client writes, designs, illustrates, animates and produces online and print resources for teachers and students. But her clients are agricultural producers who love the idea of programming Smart Boards to let students discover bugs and invent creatures of their own imagination. The bugs have parts for munching and parts for pollinating — parts that devour and damage as they chew their way through crops and parts that pollinate and help increase the yield.

I’m thinking of asking my client to create a similar animation for building the perfect editor. Part marketer, part educator, part speller, part cat.


Instead of volunteering to proofread the newsletter, volunteer to do marketing for the organization.

Recommended Reading

  • Editors on Editing: An inside view of what editors really do, edited by Gerald Gross
  • 419, by Will Ferguson [a novel about a copy editor]
  • The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hiraide [another novel about a copy editor]


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4 Comments on “Myth: It Takes a Certain Personality to Become an Editor”

  • Anita Jenkins


    Part cat? Well I never…

    In Canada there are also the reviseurs of French publications, who further increase the diversity of our profession.

    • Rosemary Shipton


      And part mad, those book editors who work for publishers – long, intense hours and no «good money to be made»!

      • Virginia.Durksen


        My favourite keynote speakers at editors’ conferences are the publishers who tell us about how it’s impossible to make money in publishing and therefore editors must be paid a pittance. I remember one of them drove a very expensive car. Publishing, it seemed, had worked out quite well for him. Maybe the long hours for little pay is another myth that needs busting, but I’m not the one to do it.

    • Virginia.Durksen


      What is it with editors and cats, I wonder? Cats, tea and commas, as far as we can see. It’s a good thing there are a few editors who have other tendencies.

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