Interview by Erin Parker; copy edited by Meagan Kus
On Saturday, September 17, Editors BC will present Ruth Wilson and her full-day workshop, “Advanced Proofreading,” which teaches participants how to take their proofreading skills to the next level, navigating the “process, policies, and even politics” of a manuscript with ease.
Erin Parker, co-chair of Editors BC’s professional development committee, recently picked Ruth’s brain about the wonderful world of proofreading, the work she’s done on Editors Canada’s certification committee, and the books she took on vacation this summer.
Hi Ruth! I hope you’ve had a wonderful summer. Thanks for making the time to chat today.
In March you presented a terrific “Art of the Query” seminar for Editors BC, and we’re thrilled that you’ll be kicking off our new season of professional development in September! Your upcoming workshop is on advanced proofreading. What appeals to you most about this part of the editing process?
There is something very satisfying to me about the linear process of proofreading: checking for typos is one thing, but doing all the cross-checks on myriad elements appeals to my left-brained nature. I like the logic of applying a checklist to a complicated proofreading job.
This workshop is intended for proofreaders who already have some experience. What types of skills distinguish an advanced proofreader from a novice one?
Experience gives proofreaders an edge because they’ve probably learned from their past mistakes! They know where typos like to lurk and take the time to be extra diligent with certain elements. But more than that, they apply good judgment, understanding when to “sit on their hands” and not assume the role of copy editor after the fact. Judging what to mark and what not to mark is a focus of my workshop. It can be tough for proofreaders to not mark something they would change if they were the editor—but experienced proofreaders know where to draw the line.
When you were learning the ropes, was there a particular course, mentor, or project that helped you become a better proofreader?
There were few courses available when I was starting out, so most of my learning came from practice, practice, practice. I read whatever I could about proofreading skills, and of course, I learned from a lot of beginner mistakes I made!
Your workshop is open to all experienced proofreaders looking to improve their skills, but editors studying for this November’s certification exam may find it especially helpful. Could you tell us about the work you’ve done on the certification program for Editors Canada, Ruth?
I was involved with developing the certification program from early on. I participated on the committee that set the first trial tests; I was a member of the certification committee for several years, including serving as chair; I participated in and led a few of the test-setting retreats; and I was the marking analyst for the tests for… I can’t remember how many years!
Now, for a change of pace, did you read any interesting books during your summer vacation that you’d recommend?
I’ve just reread (for the second time) Gone With the Wind. That felt decadent because I rarely give myself the time to reread books anymore. I first read it when I was about 15, and I couldn’t put it down. I read it again about 15 years ago, and that time had greater appreciation for Mitchell’s social history along with the storyline. This time I’m enjoying all of that and more—what a wonderful writer Mitchell was, with lines like “She spoke in the soft slurring voice of the coastal Georgian, liquid of vowels, kind to consonants…” I wish I could write like that!
I also read Helen Macdonald’s remarkable memoir H is for Hawk and Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling. A more serious work was Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, which had been on my must-read list for years. There’s more, but you only have so much space!
Fair enough. Thanks for the great interview today, Ruth! We’ll see you at Advanced Proofreading on September 17.
For more about Ruth, please also see her March conversation with us.
Erin Parker is a professional bookworm and full-time freelance editor of trade fiction and non-fiction for adults and young readers. She holds a PhD in English literature from the University of Toronto and has worked in publishing since 2013.
Meagan Kus is a freelance copy editor and proofreader with an 18-year background in arts administration.