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Brendan O’Brien

The Aging Editor

image of aging editor holding a laptop

A few months ago, some editors shared articles on Facebook about editing and aging. I didn’t read them properly, but I saw some of the comments.

I recently turned 59 and have been a professional editor for more than three decades. I’m getting quite close to an age at which many people retire. What has changed, and what will change?

cartoon image of an aging male editor holding a laptop computer
vectorkif © 123RF.com

Comments I saw were along the lines of yes, we lose a portion of our editing competencies as we get older, but we compensate by deploying the knowledge and wisdom we have gained along the way. As aging editors, we work smarter—not harder, faster or more accurately.

Personally, I’m not admitting to losing anything apart from an overly prescriptive outlook instilled during my early in-house years. Do I miss more and make more mistakes now than I did back then? I don’t think so.

Editing is unforgiving and humbling. Errors are more haunting and worrisome than they would be in many other jobs. We freelancers don’t necessarily have work relationships that sweeten the pill, or the sense of being part of a team. We’re alone in a big, bad world, where everyone makes mistakes, but ours are particularly evident. It takes its toll. Maybe this is what’s harder to handle as we age?

In my first blog post here, I described myself as “a reluctant editor, resenting the daily grind of juggling deadlines and helping authors to express themselves more clearly.” No doubt it’s easier to keep doing it if you love it.

For me, it’s been a demanding year. Work–life balance has been hard to achieve. I sometimes think in terms of an energy bank from which I make withdrawals when I work. I’ve found that being overdrawn causes problems, including physical symptoms. Worry about these, coupled with fretting over deadlines, can exacerbate the symptoms and lead to further energy deficits. ”You’ll have to work out a better plan,” my wife said to me. She’s right.

As we get older, we need to think more about wellness and wholeness…

As we get older, we need to think more about wellness and wholeness: wellness, as I see it, being good health and freedom from illness; wholeness being the realization of a significant part of one’s potential. Apart from depleted energy, what concerns me is a nagging feeling that I need to do more to fulfil my creative potential. Time is not unlimited.

How to achieve this? A shorter working week, activities that energize instead of exhausting. I do have a healthy lifestyle, generally speaking, which provides a solid enough base.

So, I don’t need much: just good health, some sunshine, close relationships, and enough money to enjoy those things. And a creative outlet. And a better plan.

To misquote Bob Marley slightly:
Every day the bucket goes to the well;
one day the bottom will drop out.

Moral: Take especially good care of your bottom.

At least I think that’s what he meant.

~~~

Previous post from Brendan O’Brien: Valparaiso

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19 Comments on “The Aging Editor”

  • LOL, Brendan, at your closing quote. All good points. I can empathize with the importance of a good work-life balance, especially in the summer when the outdoors beckons.

    • Brendan O'Brien

      says:

      Thanks, Angela. I hope to make some progress in that regard soon. 🙂

  • Cherry-Ann Smart

    says:

    Thanks for this, Brendan. I recently took a leap of faith and left my career job for my joy job – freelance editing. I always enjoy your perspectives.

    • Brendan O'Brien

      says:

      Thanks very much, Cherry-Ann. Good luck with your freelancing!

  • Wise words Brendan! I’m staring down 50 right now, so this is timely for me.

    I actually find that being a little older has increased my confidence in my own judgment and skills. I am comfortable charging higher prices, being more selective about the type of work I do, and working on my own projects when time allows. I’ve also taken on more volunteer work (probably too much) to support various organizations using the unique skill set I’ve accidentally curated.

    I only started editing (officially, not as part of a communications job) five years ago, so I haven’t gone through a transformation like many long-time editors have. But I have certainly gone through several career transformations, and I learn more every time!

    • Brendan O'Brien

      says:

      Good for you, Michelle. It sounds like you’re in a good place. And yes, volunteer work does tend to expand. 🙂

  • Margaret F Sadler

    says:

    Thank you, Brendan. I have a decade on you and find that my seniority has brought me to three great freelance contracts that have expanded more than I would like. Now what? I enjoy them all, but they seem to swell –and not by my own doing. The academic journal that used to publish eight articles per issue published sixteen last issue; the senior editor of the quarterly magazine left and suddenly I’m in those shoes; the author of the book in production can’t stop adding one more thing.

    Perhaps there’s an analogy about swinging a pail full of water full circle.

    While my health is fine, my wholeness is off balance, and there will come a time when balance must be restored. Here’s hoping I recognize that time — before the bottom falls out of that pail.

    • Brendan O'Brien

      says:

      Thanks, Margaret. Your situation does sound a bit ominous (and, in some ways, familiar). I hope you’ll be able to trim that workload and enjoy some more leisure time.

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    Two quick thoughts:

    a. Working for hours on a computer can be brutal physically, no matter how many precautions you take to be ergonomic and how many breaks you take to stretch and drink water. In other words, it is to some extent a young person’s game.

    b. As the years went by, I lost my patience. What used to be funny or at least producing a response of «Whatever» or «C’est normale,» began to be just downright annoying. I saw this when I was teaching as well. Teachers who had loved the kids began to find them irritating.

    Just two of the hazards of this job as you get older.

    I hasten to add that it doesn’t happen to everyone. Some of my colleagues who are as old as me or older (I am 75) are continuing to love every minute of it. That’s another interesting thing about retirement. We all find our own paths.

    • Brendan O'Brien

      says:

      Thanks for those insights, Anita. Yes, we all have different paths, and they tend not to lead where we had expected them to.

  • Frances Peck

    says:

    I flinched when I read the title of this blog post. Why? A little because, at age 54, I can relate to it, but mainly because it reminded me of Carol Saller’s post «Am I Too Old to Copyedit?» on the CMOS Shop Talk blog last year: https://cmosshoptalk.com/2018/03/20/are-you-too-old-to-copyedit-3-questions-for-those-who-wonder/

    Carol’s post, like yours, Brendan, was excellent, candid and thought-provoking. It also provoked thought, if not downright ire, in some unforeseen ways. A couple of commenters accused Carol of ageism for even raising the question of whether our editing abilities and priorities might be affected by age. Read the comments from the bottom up and you’ll see what ensued.

    • Brendan O'Brien

      says:

      Thanks for this, Frances. I agree that it’s an interesting discussion (and an excellent post by Carol). I’m with you on this: I see no reason for it to be a taboo subject.

      I relate to what you say about your appetite for copyediting and proofreading being less keen now, and caring less about small points. When Eats, Shoots and Leaves came out, I thought ‘Damn! I could have written that, and made lots of money.’ Now I wouldn’t want to write something that’s highly prescriptive and beloved of peevers.

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    Another sign of aging, I guess, is my intolerance of the trend towards getting all bent and twisted when «certain» topics are discussed. Thanks for this, Frances (I think!).

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    Ah, Eats, Shoots and Leaves! An admiring client gave that book to me, and I felt insulted. As in, «Is this what they think I am/do?»

    • Brendan O'Brien

      says:

      Yes, that would make me cringe a bit too!

  • Kristen E Ebert-Wagner

    says:

    Oh, wow, Brendan. Having just turned 58 and contemplating all the same things, I really needed to hear this. «You’ll have to work out a better plan»—wise words.

    • Brendan O'Brien

      says:

      Thanks for letting me know, Kristen, and good luck with the plan, whatever it may turn out to be!

  • Doreen Kruger

    says:

    I agree, and can identify, with all this – the need not to take on too much and to take time out to appreciate the good things in life.

  • Glenda Laity

    says:

    Most interesting, Brendon. Age is but a number and experience cannot be bought or found on Google. I started my career at 63 by doing a course in proofreading and I am now 64 and have 3 British publishers giving me regular online work, so this old bat cannot be that shabby work-wise. I am in awe of all you editors with many years under the belt and your wealth of knowledge. My humble opinion is that age is an advantage in our job, especially after decades of practice. I am hoping that by 70 I may crack the nod in this elite community!

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