By late 2020 I had worked through the first covid lockdown in frontline health and was looking for a change. I wanted to work online for a part-time retirement income – into my 70s and beyond. And I wanted to write.

I chose the Proofreading and Editing course after I casually mentioned my quest to a friend who said she had enjoyed the course. (I noticed her eyes lit up.) I enrolled expecting the course content to be cosy and familiar.

In the beginning, I qualified as a journalist through the post-graduate course at Canterbury University with former paratrooper Brian Priestley at the helm. I worked as a daily newspaper reporter for the then Evening Post, as a screen sub for the then New Zealand Press Association (NZPA) and as a sub-editor for The Listener when Helen Paske was editor. I worked briefly as a public relations writer for Network Communications and as a report writer for several government agencies.

This career ended abruptly when several family members died and I no longer wanted the cut and thrust of journalism as my daily bread.

After traveling and regrouping I returned to New Zealand and while couch surfing at a friend’s flat I saw an advertisement seeking a co-ordinator for an activity centre supporting people with mental health challenges. There was funding for art, craft, cooking ingredients and outings.

This job was fun. We cooked and made art and craft together as a sing-along group. We went out to cafes around Wellington – to bowling alleys, movies and mini golf courses. I continued to work in diverse community support roles for several decades and I scribbled poems and short stories on scraps of paper that got lost.

Decades later, the Proofreading and Editing course has reconnected me with creative writing and I am writing a long serial poem with a friend. We take turns to contribute. I found a new part-time job at a food rescue outfit and I am meeting interesting people there. A young traveller with a History degree (like me) has offered great low-key networking suggestions for supporting local undergraduate students in exchange for testimonials. I will follow this up and arm myself with endorsements before I approach selected online agencies for paid undergraduate academic proofreading work online. I am studying the main style guides: APA, MLA and Chicago.

My core learning from the course was that news journalism is a specialised form of publishing: Life was simple with a house style book, a chief sub to sign off the copy and reporters who wrote fast and tight to meet available space and hard deadlines – ‘just the facts ma’am’. There was no individual ‘voice’ – no style beyond the house style – and no grammar debate unless, perhaps, with an established feature writer who had earned the right to protest.

On the course I read the recurring editorial comment – ‘Don’t change things unnecessarily’ – many times – before new learning about voice, style and context overrode my conditioning about brevity. I noticed that when I proofread practice documents on the internet, the same message recurred: ‘You have made unnecessary changes.’ I learned a new level of detachment. OK. I get it. Long sentences are OK.

I learned to attune to an assignment before marking up. I volunteered on the Gutenberg Project and learned how to lean into long sentences. I read them aloud. I varied my reading by going back and forth in time and between several new genres and I will continue with this energising new habit.

I learned that grammar is the art and science of context. Editors and proofreaders are guided by context, voice and style to reach a consistent presentation of the work. This discipline is more complex and subtle than marking up a news story with a hard deadline approaching and a chief sub waiting to finalise the copy.

Right now, I prefer proofreading to editing when it comes to seeking a small income. I also acknowledge how grey that distinction can be and how necessary it is to clarify with clients what they want done. Ideally, my part-time retirement income will be a parallel line – separate from substantive editing – separate from my scribbled poems and short stories. But who knows how my quest for work will unfold – I’m open to a different outcome.

Thank you again Dick Ward and all Institute staff for a magical and life-altering year. If I complete a first draft of short stories and can find all the scraps of paper, I may enrol for one of the NZIBS writing courses.

I am reading The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago by Carol Fisher Saller, a long-serving Chicago copy editor. The book’s dedication underlines my core learning experience on the course –

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.

H. G. Wells

Jeanette McCracken

Jeanette McCracken

BA, Dip Journ, Dip Edit

Contact Details

Email: [email protected]

Ph: 027 682 6064

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