Written by Janice Love; copy edited by Taisha Garby
Editors BC is a big chapter: in fact, we currently have 252 members. In this series, our volunteer writers interview some of these members to find out what editing life looks like in this spacious province.
Today, Janice interviews Błażej Szpakowicz.
Błażej (pronounced “Bwa.sey“) resides in Kamloops, BC, and owns B+ Editing Services. He has been an Editors BC member since 2017. Błażej sits on Editors Canada’s training and development committee, assisting with the webinar program. He was the July 2019 volunteer of the month.
Hello Błażej! Tell us about the editing work you do.
I’m a rather eclectic editor. About 55 percent of the editing I do is in academics, including journal articles, theses, and grant applications. These are in a range of fields, from the humanities to computer science and economics. The majority of this work is with authors who are non-native English speakers. (Błażej has his TESOL [Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages] certification.)
Editing fiction and non-fiction make up the rest of the work I do. I have edited several fantasy and historical fiction novels as well as an anthology of fantasy short stories. Memoirs and self-help books encompass my non-fiction work. Several of my regular clients have been local authors, members of the Interior Authors Group of which I am currently vice-president.
I have also done work for WordNet on behalf of Wrocław University, helping to incorporate some of the newer material in the Polish WordNet into a (hoped-for) future expansion of the English-language Princeton WordNet. Simply put, WordNet is a database of language. The nouns, verbs, and their modifiers that express a particular concept are grouped together into sets of synonyms. The lexical and semantic relations of these synsets are interconnected. This makes a useful tool for processing language and computational linguistics. The closest term I have found to describe this work is that of a lexicographer.
What led you to a career as a lexicographer and an eclectic editor?
As many editors do, I sort of fell into the profession.
When I was five years old, in 1985, I immigrated to Canada from Poland with my family. My father was a computer science professor, and so going on to university seemed a natural thing to do. After completing my B.Sc. in Computer Science, I realized my true passion was history. The idea of earning a living reading and thinking about history seemed awesome, and I completed my bachelor and master’s degrees in History at the University of Ottawa. From there I went on to complete my Ph.D. in History at Cambridge, focusing on eighteenth and nineteenth century British and Atlantic relationships (political, economic).
Though I did some work as a sessional lecturer, the combination of intense competition for academic work, the necessity of self-promotion, and the requirement to publish at a fairly prolific rate (difficult to do since I tend to be a perfectionist) quickly disenchanted me. Around 2014 or 2015, fairly soon after completing my Ph.D., I decided that I was better suited to being a writer, which I pursued in my spare time while still teaching a bit and working on WordNet. About three years ago, editing grew as a natural progression from there.
What are some of the challenges in your work?
One of the challenges in my work arises from comprehension and communication issues with clients, many of whom are non-native English speakers. Occasionally, parts of the writing I edit consist of incomprehensible portions of word salad. The platforms through which my clients and I work mean there is not much back and forth communication; since they live in such places as Austria, Japan, and China, it is not easy to call and have a conversation. So, at times, I wonder if I have done a good job with those sections I’ve been unable to fully disentangle.
As a freelance editor, I also sometimes have the challenge of doing fact checking and research in specialist areas with which I am not necessarily familiar. I have wondered if this might be an easier job for an in-house editor, who might have more support for such tasks.
Then there is the challenge of trying to thread the needle in correcting or making suggestions without changing the author’s voice. Over time I am learning to hone this much needed editorial skill.
What hobbies and interests do you pursue when you aren’t editing?
More than a hobby is my writing, which I too often do not get a chance to do. I’m most drawn to writing science fiction and fantasy, and was pleased to have a story published in a recent anthology.
Otherwise, my interests are as eclectic as my editing. I’m a film and British television geek; I enjoy the history of the English language, Japanese anime and manga (comic books), and watching professional wrestling (independent and Japanese). I have also been known to play the occasional video game.
After the time of COVID-19, I am planning and looking forward to a trip to Japan.
Many thanks to Błażej for doing this interview!
Janice Love, B.Ed., MPS, is a freelance editor working from Vernon, BC, in the beautiful Okanagan Valley. She holds an Editing Certificate from SFU and runs Love Editing, doing a mixture of business editing, plain language teaching, writing, and fiction editing for middle-grade and young adult readers. She enjoys biking on the Okanagan Rail Trail, jumping in Kalamalka Lake, and eating tree-ripened fruit.
Taisha Garby is a freelance proofreader and copy editor. She has an undergraduate degree in Classical Studies from the University of Victoria, and an Editing Certificate and a Master of Publishing from SFU. Previously she worked at Greystone Books where she reviewed incoming submissions for quality and suitability.