Written by Frances Peck; copy edited by Meagan Kus
Roma Ilnyckyj is an editor at Vancouver-based Talk Science to Me. She sits on the EAC-BC executive as programs chair, which involves organizing the monthly meetings and social events.
Here, she tells EAC-BC member Frances Peck about the twisty road that led her to editing (a road that passed, interestingly, through China). She also talks about her book, her volunteer work, and her favourite editing habits and moments.
Tell us a bit about the editing you do. What sorts of projects do you work on?
I work for a science communications company, and I do mostly copy editing and proofreading. I work on research reports, some books, and also websites. Lately I’ve been working a lot on blogs—editing blog posts but also doing search engine optimization and helping out with social media.
Are writers in the sciences open to editing? I imagine some of them being prickly, not wanting to let go of their detailed methodologies and their Latin terms.
In my experience so far, and maybe I’ve just been lucky, the writers I’ve worked with haven’t been opposed to edits. I think academics and scientists actually get a bad rap for being poor communicators, especially in writing. We forget that these people are doing research because they want to discover things that will make the world better, and the majority of them want to share their research. They don’t want to spend a year on a project that nobody ever reads about.
Many of our clients have a mandate to share information freely with the public, so they are really aware of their audience. I’ve actually had some great discussions with writers about language choice. I’m thinking of one where we wrestled with anthropogenic versus man-made for climate change. One is a ridiculously complicated word and the other is gender-biased, but there’s no better way to say it!
You haven’t always been an editor, though you do have a long-time connection with all things language-related. What drew you to editing?
I got into it when I started the professional writing program at Douglas College. Intro to copy editing and proofreading was a required course, and when I took it I realized it was what I’d been looking for forever. Everything just clicked for me after taking that class. It appealed to my love of order and consistency and my appreciation for words and grammar.
Tell us about some of the other language paths you’ve gone down. You taught English in China, didn’t you?
I grew up speaking Ukrainian at home and going to Ukrainian school every Saturday (which I secretly loved), so I was always very aware of language and grammar. I minored in Chinese at university and, after my undergrad, got a scholarship to study Mandarin and Chinese culture for a year in China. Then I moved to Vancouver and did a Master’s in language education. After that I went back to China, this time as a teacher.
Rumour has it that your experience in China led to a book. Tell us a little about that.
Yes, it’s true. The book is called Learning Chinese: Linguistic, Sociocultural, and Narrative Perspectives. It came from my work in grad school, where I was part of a research team looking at the process of learning Chinese. The book had six authors. Five of us wrote memoirs of our time learning Chinese, and then we analyzed the memoirs from three perspectives. I think the book isn’t even in print now, but writing it was really fun.
So you’ve worked with language as a writer and a teacher and an editor. Do those roles feel very different to you, or is each one a natural continuation of, or companion to, the other?
That is actually something I’ve thought a lot about. I see the first two as leading me into the third. I wanted to work with language and grammar, so I got into teaching, but that wasn’t quite right for me. Then I decided to pursue technical writing, which I liked, but again it wasn’t a hundred percent right. Then I got into editing and it clicked. But I see those three roles as three different ways of doing the same core function, which is sharing information.
You’re also chair of EAC-BC’s Programs Committee. Why add that to an already full list of commitments?
Hanging out with people who get what I do and why I do it is super satisfying and important. I also feel like I soak up knowledge just by spending time with experienced editors and getting to know people who do different kinds of editing. So I wanted to get more involved in a more formal way. Getting to plan the meetings is fun! I’ve never belonged to a professional organization before, and I’ve become such an advocate for them. I think everyone should join one.
Now a few rapid-fire questions. Your earliest memory of loving language?
When I was five or six, I was reading a bilingual Ukrainian-English book with my mom. There was this poem that in Ukrainian was called “baking little bread” but in English was called “baking buns with butter.” I remember being so upset that the translation didn’t match. My mom said, “Well, when you’re older, maybe you can become a translator and make sure things like that don’t happen.”
Your favourite thing about editing?
Reading things I wouldn’t normally read. Since I’ve starting editing, I’ve read about public relations disasters, biobaking, proteomics, water-use policy, polyamory, and tantric philosophy. I’ve learned so much I can hardly believe it.
Your pet peeve?
The expression “you guys.” I hate it!
Anything unusual or personal on your desk?
I know a lot of editors prefer complete silence when they work, but I really enjoy working with music on. I’m always adding to my collection of editing music. Someday I should come up with a list of best music to edit to and share it with EAC.
Your best moment as an editor?
I know this is cheesy, but I honestly am so proud of being an editor. I love telling people what I do and explaining what my job is and dispelling myths about editors being uptight sticklers for grammar walking around with a red pen. I love that.
Frances Peck, a partner with West Coast Editorial Associates, has been an EAC member and volunteer for nearly 20 years.
Meagan Kus is a freelance copy editor and proofreader with an 18-year background in arts administration.
Image provided by Roma Ilnyckyj.