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Am I a Real Editor? How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Written by Holly Sawchuk; copy edited by Taisha Garby

When I was 12, I started at a new school. I was thrilled to learn they had a student newspaper, and even more thrilled to land the not-at-all-hotly-contested role of managing editor. Just the word editor felt like magic to me.

Fast forward a few decades—through several new cities and several career changes—and I had that same feeling again when I found SFU’s Editing Certificate. Was this the next step on my career path, the thing I was really meant to do? I dove into the classes with brain-on-fire energy.

Since then, editing has been a happy side interest. I have a different day job and, like many other new or part-time editors, I have a bit of imposter syndrome. Am I really an editor?

What would make me feel like I could stop saying “I’m sort of an editor” or “I edit a little”? It’s hard to build your confidence when doing something new, and it helps to know that even members of our Editors BC executive feel those insecurities sometimes.

What makes an editor?

So, what makes you a real editor? Is it the number of years you’ve been doing it? Having a full-time salaried position? The seriousness of the materials you edit? The number of clients you have?

Since joining Editors Canada, I’ve learned that there isn’t one single path, and there isn’t an end point where you’ve made it and earned the title. I’ve met people with all different backgrounds and skill sets, and there’s room for all of us.

The world definitely isn’t going to run out of writing for us to edit!

Four steps to take now

If you feel the same way I do, what can you do to feel more like a real editor? Here are four steps you can take right now:

1. Know that everything counts

Even if your editing jobs are small (or unpaid), they count. They’re real work. Every time I edit—even if it’s as short as an artist’s statement or a website bio—I remind myself that I’m learning, I’m practicing, and I’m helping someone present their best self. Think of how grateful your clients (or friends or family) are for your skillful help.

2. Join Editors Canada

The best way to take the mystery out of a profession is to meet more people who do it. I joined Editors Canada this summer and it’s been such a positive step for me.

At the monthly meetings of the BC branch, everyone has been welcoming and supportive. I’ve had the chance to chat with editors from around the province in the Zoom breakout portion of the meetings. The variety of work they do is inspiring—science fiction, cookbooks, grant applications, scientific articles—and I’ve been reminded of how many opportunities there are for editors.

From students to new editors to people with 30 years of experience, everyone is welcome and has something unique to contribute to the discussion.

3. Keep learning

Opportunities to learn are everywhere, particularly right now in our Zoom-oriented world. Whether it’s webinars or TED talks or online classes, I feel an immediate boost in energy when I’m learning something new. It’s that back-to-school feeling but in small doses and on a flexible schedule.

At the monthly meetings this past fall, we had presentations on effective document design and marketing an editing business. What could be better than free seminars from local experts who are willing to answer your questions?

Editors Canada also has an extensive library of reasonably priced webinars that can be accessed by members and non-members.

For more in-depth learning, why not try a multi-evening course? In October, about 25 of us took Introduction to Children’s Book Editing with editor and author Paula Ayer. Paula kept the Zoom format fresh by giving us interactive group exercises and leaving lots of time for questions at the end of each session.

I’m looking forward to the next course, Breaking into Instructional Design: A Course for Editors Seeking New Opportunities and Challenges, taught by our own BC branch chair, Liz Warwick.

4. Find a little inspiration

Back at that student newspaper long ago, the teacher gave 12-year-old me a pen with the paper’s name and EDITOR’S PEN etched onto it. I can still feel the pride and sense of possibility that I had when I held it.

It seems a bit silly. It was just a pen. But think about things that spark that feeling for you—that the world is wide and you’re headed in an exciting direction. It could be a beautiful piece of artwork, a warm email from someone who appreciated your work, or that old 80s song that always pumps you up.

Surround yourself with things that energize you and put you into that confident, happy headspace. You’ll stand a little straighter and feel ready to take the next steps towards your goals.

I’m an editor

None of us are imposters. We may all be at different places in our editing careers, but we share a passion for words and a desire to improve our skills.

I recently joined an online event with writer and anthropologist Wade Davis who talked about the creative challenge of being the architect of your own life. He said that a career isn’t a coat you put on. It grows organically as you take steps forward and explore new opportunities. And that’s what we’re all doing.

When all else fails, just say it to someone: “I’m an editor.” They’re not going to tell you you’re not. And you’ll start a conversation about something you love. You never know what opportunities you might find.


Holly Sawchuk is a freelance editor in Vancouver and a graduate of SFU’s Editing program. She loves coffee, connecting with creative people, and getting lost in all the ideas in the Opinion section of the Saturday paper. Holly spends her free time reading about writing and writing about reading.

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 Simon Fraser University. Previously she worked at Greystone Books where she reviewed incoming submissions for quality and suitability.

Image by Kevin McAllister

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