Remoulding Identities, Rewriting Narratives
Identity. Defined and conditioned most strongly by external worlds, yet entirely our own. Questioned and labelled unhesitatingly by family, friends, strangers, yet intrinsically of, by and for the self.
* * *
I write for a living. Nope, not true. I rewrite every now and then, if I’m paid to. Most often, I edit. Fact.
I don’t only look up spellings and get rid of red squiggly lines in Word. (Sometimes I’m responsible for creating them.) I put a different identity’s words, ideas, hopes, scholarly discourse, discoveries, problems and solutions into a patchwork sack, shake it about and upturn it for the contents to magically emerge interwoven stronger. (There’s more art and science to it than that, I promise. If you’ve worked with an editor, you already know that; if you haven’t but need to, let’s chat.) Strong enough to face the world, to belong to the self they choose.
I edit because it allows me to re-examine my own identities. To question and label my belongingness in a world where every day that I think I’ve figured it all out, that I know who I am, where I belong, what I want to do or not do, another identity thinks it is perfectly within their rights to question mine. Sometimes, respectfully and welcoming reciprocation; other times, not.
I edit because I love the seesaw of the process. One that allows conversations to be had, relationships to be built and communities to grow, author–editor–publisher and everyone in-between. Supportive adda, lifelong bonds and reliable collectives: the backbone of humanity.
I am an independent editor who fell into the profession in 2004 in the clichéd accidental way that the traditional publishing industry wears as a badge of honour. (That it was in the booming outsourced sector in India which continues to struggle with unjustified backlash from within, quite often from the very systems that created it, would be a much later revelation and is an interleaf for another time and place.)
An editor who intended to work full-time in-house, after moving from India to the UK, but who registered as a sole trader in mid-2013, landed a first project a month later, joined the then Society for Editors and Proofreaders (now the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, CIEP) soon after, got paid in full before the end of the year, did a couple of courses to check whether they’d been fooling everyone for a decade (apparently not), and upgraded to Advanced Professional Member in April 2015. Oh and met some smashing good people in a new country that was going to take their several decades’ old identity and turn it upside down.
One identity morphed into another effortlessly (not quite, but that’s for another day too!), without social media announcements or acknowledgement of support. Perhaps, it is why, despite several years working for myself, I continue to identify as the new kid on the block, headless chicken extraordinaire, reluctant marketer (that was nearly typed as meerkat – you see why the work I do is important?!), quietly confident learner, preferably introvert and successfully unplanned business owner among other life roles.
* * *
Belonging, The Good Immigrant and the Self
Belonging is a formidable thing. Wanting to belong even more so. My constant longing to belong is in perfect equilibrium with my astonishingly stubborn yearning for change, for otherhoods.
I duelled the socially conditioned desire for full-time employment and the attractively risky need to be my own boss for a good few years before allowing myself to accept the loss of identity.
Books have been my go-to in times of grief, happiness, exploration. Every few years when I find I’m slipping, I resolve to read more. For me. Not for work. Not because someone said I must. Not because a list lists a title. Just for me. Something I’ve done all my life, but which seems to alarmingly go out the window with increasing frequency every passing adult year.
The Good Immigrant, a collection of life-stories – essays reflecting on race, identity and belonging – by a bunch of courageous writers identifying as Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic in the UK. A title edited by Nikesh Shukla and published by Unbound. Honest. Movingly honest. Surprisingly powerful. Surprising because I have to admit to being increasingly desensitised to closest-to-the-heart issues. Perhaps, it’s a defence mechanism as I age; perhaps, something else. I take comfort in being aware and working on keeping my feet on the ground. (Getting involved with the CIEP’s Anti-Racism Working Group has allowed me to do so in meaningful ways.)
Not sure why I came to this read so late. I wasn’t imperceptive to any of the issues written about before I came to live in the UK. Like I’ve not been imperceptive to those that consumed me in India. Yet, it’s taken close to a decade to admit to myself that my identities can be as rooted or rootless as I choose them to be. Even if the constant need to defend them remains, regardless of which side of the border I stand. That, somehow, feels empowering. A little bit like the voices in this book.
Go read it, if you haven’t. If you have, pass it on. Maybe someone somewhere will find their place.
I did mine (with a ton of help). Editor. Independent.
* * *
Old Story, New Cover
So, what if anything have I discovered on the way?
- Paper to screen: editing media have changed since my first day at work when all I had were vast piles of paper, a blue pen, a red pen, physical resources and lots of talented colleagues to consult and learn from. Nearly 20 years later, it’s all same-same but different! The working life of an editor is on a thriving digital planet.
- Learn, unlearn, relearn: whether you decide to go into business consciously or find yourself there from circumstance, whether you train first, plan CPD and pick projects with care, or jump straight in and learn on the job, the learning cycle is constant. A bit like life. Read the brief when there is one; don’t panic if there isn’t one. Embracing changing opportunities makes it fun.
- Q&As or FAQs: acknowledge that you can’t know everything, but learn when to ask for advice and practise where to seek resources. Assume nothing, question everything: there is no such thing as a silly query; only ones not asked that remain unanswered. Also, with experience comes the confidence to answer others’ questions generously. Paying it forward is still underrated.
- Specialise or not maybe: for the longest time I was taking on any project that sounded interesting, was at an agreeable fee and that I could meet the deadline for. If I’m honest, I let fears (of missing out, of no work, of vanishing skills, of stagnation – long list!) decide for me. Today, I’ve made a happy choice. Staying calm and exploring your choices with abandon is worthwhile.
- Mindset and business craft: acknowledge (errors and what works or doesn’t), adapt (upskill/reskill), act (with generosity) – made-up steps to growing in self-employment. It’s taken me ages to let myself belong as a business. To specialise and launch a first website after eight years of trading feels like I’m doing it all backwards. I have a long way to go, but changing mindset doesn’t happen overnight nor honing business craft. Both are lifelong works-in-progress just as is not living in fear of making mistakes. Beaver away on yours at your pace. You’ll know when it feels right.
* * *
I don’t yet know what form or shape this space of mine on the worldwide web will take. Whether it will be consistent. Whether it will answer your questions or lend you the support you seek. Or whether it will fizzle out before I’ve given it the chance to explore its own identity like it has me. (Editor’s unfailing response: It depends.)
Like the many life roles and identities I’ve acquired, learnt from, cast aside, hold on to and yearn for, I hope this too will challenge, question, stand up for/against, nurture and share alike. But most importantly, that my interleaves will give you space to find your own. (Oh! And that books will be involved every so often.)
Independent editor. Business owner. Sensitively editing academic and non-fiction writing. Because your ideas are important.
* * *
Thank you to
- My clients, for trusting in me, for continuing to collaborate and for lifelong learning
- Malini Devadas, and the EditBoost community, for helping me find confidence in owning my business, for clarifying my why and for teaching me to believe
- Sophie Playle for The Visible Editor and Louise Harnby for Branding for Business Growth, courses that helped me un-entangle thoughts on the who, what, why of my business and give it form in this site
- Anne Gillion, for advice and a first edit of my n-th webcopy (all errors mine, as I continue to fiddle)
- Edibubble, my local editing CPD mastermind group that bore the brunt of my perpetually-in-progress website
- Norfolk East, my CIEP home group, and Cloud Club West, the CIEP’s international local group, for community and wisdom
- Rhian Tarling, designer and owner of TD Creative, for creating my logo and this website from a contradictory, possibly gibberish, brief, but more importantly for teaching me to trust
- Raghurajan Maraparambil, for headshot photographs and more
- Family and friends, last but not least, for giving me space to do my thing.
And that concludes my award-winning speech. I mean the sort I will need to give if I win an award or some such. But that’s a bit far-fetched and I’d prefer to get back to work, so you’d better get back to writing.