This post is part of Editing After Academia, a series that spotlights editors who have found fulfilling careers outside academia.
In the middle of an interview for a tenure-track job, Eden Kaiser (edeneditorial.com) realized she was in the wrong profession. Throughout her PhD program in Linguistics, no one had explained to her that she could expect–much less find–a meaningful career outside academia. So, she figured out her own path through a series of jobs: an au pair in Buenos Aires, selling shoes at a running store, washing dishes at a coffee shop, selling burgers and fries at a restaurant, subbing as a teacher in two school districts–at one point, she was juggling at least five at once, all the while surfing on her sister’s couch.
That path, she says, was necessary for figuring out what she wanted.
She first encountered editing work through an organization that taught English to pre-college students. From there, she transitioned to a university role as a writing teacher for international first-year students[h1] .
“In that moment, I realized what I wanted to do was to help people get better at writing,” she reflected in our interview, “It was a very long and very twisted journey to get to this point. But I never would have gotten there straight out of graduation.”
In our interview, Eden discusses how to embrace uncertainty in one’s career journey.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
When academia isn’t The Only One
During the whole interview process for a tenure-track job, I didn’t exactly experience imposter syndrome–that’s always there–but a feeling more like, “Why am I going through all this effort when I don’t really want to be doing this?”
Needless to say, I did not get the job, which I think is a good thing. It did what it needed to do: it made me question my path.
I’m glad that I came to editing in this way, because now I’ve tried many things and I’ve narrowed down my field of what’s possible and what I do enjoy doing. If I jumped right into it after grad school, I would have regretted not trying other options.
On writing and publishing without the threat of perishing
I get to be academia-adjacent, so I get the advantage of feeling like I’m still in touch with the academic world and the process of producing knowledge, but I don’t have to be the one producing that knowledge. I hated that part of academia. I hated the “publish or perish” pressure that all the faculty and graduate students felt.
As a grad student, I felt pressured to produce work that I didn’t fully understand or fully believe or fully research. I felt like I was publishing just for the sake of getting it out there. I hated the feeling of my work being unfinished or not fully ready to share with the world.
Now I get to be the one who helps make work more polished. I like being able to work through that writing and publishing process in a more deliberate way than I had. I have clients who believe strongly in their work, and they want to pursue it with all their heart, and I’m like, “More power to you! Let me help you!”
The details matter
Even just basic proofreading matters. It matters to have a person go through that extra step for you. It’s about asking yourself, “What is my relationship to my work?” Before it goes out into the world, I want to be deliberate about making sure that piece of writing is what it needs to be.
I find that I’m extremely detail-oriented and I revel in those details. The heart of my work is in those details that many people miss–especially my clients who are more focused on the big ideas. I love being that person who cares about the details and can fill in gaps.
When an editor is also a book coach
I do some book coaching as well. It usually involves holding the author’s hand and occasionally sending them nice but pushy emails. We meet to share how it’s going. Mostly, it’s “How’s your personal life?” because the personal stuff affects your writing output. It’s kind of like being a therapist. There’s so much pent-up anxiety around the writing process that sometimes you just need someone to be your cheerleader.
No check-ins with your boss
One of the hard facts of being a freelancer is that you have to do everything for yourself. You have to pay for everything. No one is ever going to tell you how to develop your business, or whether you need to take more classes. There are no yearly check-ins with your boss. There’s no external structure.
You need to figure out your own structure. I stay accountable by meeting regularly with a mastermind group of other freelance editors. About twice a month, we talk about our business and then share goals that we want to accomplish for our next meeting. Those meetings keep me on task: I could sit here and do the same thing I’ve always been doing, or I can try to develop my business. Having the mastermind group has forced me to make those goals official.
You decide how and when to grow your business
You always have to be thinking about what you want in your business. When you work on your own, you forget that you’re running a legitimate operation. You need to treat it as a real business and real businesses have real goals. And it’s okay to be business minded. When you remind yourself of that, you begin to approach your business differently and with more concrete ideas.
You can try editing at any time
If it turns out you try editing and you’re unsure about it, you can always circle back to it later and try it again. There’s no moment in time when you have to declare, “This is what I want to be for the rest of my life!” Most people I know take very circuitous routes with their careers.
Eden Kaiser has a PhD in linguistics and 15 years of experience teaching academic writing and other subjects to English language learners. In 2018, she started her own editing business (Eden Editorial) and has loved the work immensely because it allows her to read and learn new things every day while utilizing her gift of precision in language. Eden especially likes working with clients at the copyediting stage, for both long and short pieces, as it plays to her strength of being able to evaluate both the big picture and minute details at the same time. Eden has worked to develop her expertise in the use of conscious language (sometimes called DEI editing or sensitivity reading) and is also currently expanding her skills into the fiction editing realm. She lives in Northfield, Minnesota on Dakota tribal lands.