Paula WagemakerPaula Wagemaker has been involved in the publishing programme since 1994 – the second year the course was run. These days she tutors editing for the online course from her home in Central Otago, where she also works as a freelance editor.
An interview in a recent issue of the Listener with Ian Leslie, the author of Curious: The Desire to Know & Why Your Future Depends on It (published 2014), clarified for me why editing has been my career of choice for almost four decades. It’s because, to use Leslie’s term, I am epistemically curious – I love learning for learning’s sake.

Editing feeds this predilection of mine, which I have long referred to in more prosaic terminology – information junkie. During my years in this profession, I’ve edited books on many topics and therefore worked with authors of widely varying interests. In essence, I’ve had an ongoing paid (albeit rarely handsomely) education.

I’ve traversed New Zealand’s subantarctic islands, waded through its wetlands and mangrove swamps, hiked through its national and forest parks. I’ve gazed at our night sky and learned the common and scientific names of our fresh and saltwater fishes. I’ve experienced the travels, travails and triumphs of those who colonised this land (both Māori and European) and had keenly brought home to me the futility of war. I’ve fossicked for gold, hunted for game, shared life on high country sheep stations, drooled over books on art and artists, built up an appetite setting out recipes in cookbooks, learned how to grow just about anything in home gardens, and found out which colours and clothing styles suit me best.

I’ve learned accountancy, plumbing, carpentry, yoga, physical fitness, animal husbandry, beekeeping, sheep shearing, building restoration. There’ve been books and journal articles on business management, leadership, education, linguistics, genetics, research methodologies, psychology, psychiatry, sociology writing, editing, publishing … the list goes on.

Beyond our shores, I’ve learned, through working with overseas publishers and organizations, about environmentally sustainable activity in diverse countries, how children worldwide are using digital technologies in their everyday lives, and what young people from different cultures see as their civic responsibilities in today’s world. I’ve edited so many research reports from across the globe that I think I could become a statistician, despite being hopeless at maths.

And I’ve had the privilege of working with (and gaining the friendship) of many authors both here and abroad. The collaborative conversations (for me, the essence of the editing process) I have with authors about their ideas and how they express them often challenges my thinking and understanding of the world. These conversations are most evident when I work with authors for whom English is not a first language because I so often need to dig down with them into their words to identify their intended meaning and then rework that meaning into clearly expressed English.

This type of editing is the most difficult that I do, but it too furthers my learning, not only of subject matter and about people from other places but also of the craft of editing. That’s another reason why editing has held my interest for so long. Every text I work on teaches me something more about the technical and interpersonal skills of this craft, such that it, too, has become a lifelong learning experience.

How lucky can one information junkie be!

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