Read Part I of my interesting development as a professional writer, editor and proofreader here.
Just to recap, I almost failed English at high school and yep, now I’m an editor and proofreader by trade. Life is funny!
I had a good break after high school. I’d done pretty well in my final exams and got a decent grade and basically could do anything I wanted at university. I originally enrolled in Medical Science as I thought a life in a lab might be fun, but I wasn’t 100% sure. Yet, I wasn’t ready to study after such an exhausting few years at school, so I travelled, worked and thought about the ‘career’ before me for a year before diving in to more study.
That year I worked in regional Western Australia (such a glorious place), the Cook Islands, and I travelled around Malaysia, Italy and Spain. I read heaps, watched many films, went to as many art galleries as possible, started to write a lot of poetry, lyrics and short stories. Many people around me were teachers or studying to be teachers, so the idea of becoming an Art and English high school teacher, playing much more to my strengths, started to appear to be a perfect fit than science and lab work.
After all my traipsing, I took to university pretty well. Distinction average. (Only one fail – due to an administration error, dammit!). But, I did lose marks in every assignment for poor grammar. It wasn’t enough for me to worry about too much – or so I thought – so I never learned it for myself to improve my grades. I really loved university life – philosophy, writing, coffee, criticising art, learning about art movements, coffee, discourse, more sophisticated notions of intertextuality, writing my own tragedy and more coffee etc etc. I wanted to do uni forever! I reached the education subjects and loved them too – educational psychology, teaching for various backgrounds and the like. But something panged in me at that point eight months from graduating, and I was beginning to feel ‘unready’ to teach at high school when I was just 21. So I ditched the education part of my degree, finished with a BA and aimed to get a job in an art gallery or an arts magazine, hoping to return to the education degree after a bit more life experience.
Ha! Easy done?
I was turned down for every single job I applied for and only had one interview, which I was unsuccessful in. I moved to a bigger city. So many nos (I still feel a bit bruised). No, No, No. No, thank you. No. Goodbye.
But I did pick up a job in an educational organisation. It was a university college that dedicated themselves to the pastoral care of students living on campus. It wasn’t on my short list of places to work but lo-and-behold, it became the best first real job (after waitressing for 12 years)! Such nice people, I got free lunch everyday – and they let me coordinate a few art exhibitions. I was winning, really.
Remember how I said I never learnt grammar at high school? (I was actually in the first grade that was denied the privilege). Well, this is where it really came to bear. I was the Executive Assistant to the Headmaster of the College. This made me write minutes, reports, newsletters, invites, event plans and correspondence galore. I wrote non-stop daily. My boss was very patient with me, but he ended up “reviewing” just about everything I drafted for him. It wasn’t as if I was being disrespectful to the English language and littering the business reports with ‘lol’, ‘u’ and other text message language. I was writing well, but undermining everything with no awareness of apostrophes and other grammar matters. I remember his handwritten notes so well as it came to me as three parts care, and two parts a punch in the guts.
How embarrassment. I had a degree in English, Text and Writing and he had to “fix” my writing. I was mortified at first but knew he was right; I could tell he wasn’t scolding me for it, and that he genuinely was concerned for my future. Over time, from his double-edged mark-ups, I began to comprehend the very basics of grammar offered from his gentle comments written on my drafts. He must have spent so much time on his careful words of encouragement and corrections. What a great boss.
Like my high school English teacher in year 11 and 12, I am so thankful to this man (and his wife who was equally supportive). Maybe they shouldn’t have hired me in the first place. Maybe they should have fired me for constantly writing grammar booboos when it was a key component of my role. But they didn’t – they patiently and respectfully helped me and I will be forever grateful.
Sure, I could have looked it all up on my own to learn these grammar things but I am quite the pragmatist at times, and it was in the too hard basket to learn on my own. Maybe it’s the same for you, too.
Again, this is another idea that I bring to my work now. People and their stories are important. We all have different backgrounds that have brought us different skills and knowledge and we should all be proud of what we can offer. It’s nice to pass on what you know with no ego, just because you can and it’s helpful. Like my great boss.
So that job was another key milestone in my development of becoming an editor and proofreader. People, in this development of mine, have been incredibly important in the journey. Not rules. Not textbooks. Not rote learning. Patient, respectful people who take the time to impart something they have to offer.
I try to carry this as well. I think the monks will be pleased with this approach, don’t you?
Copyright: Alex Christopher, 2014