“The PhD is largely a process of self-education”: Science editor and fiction writer Andy Park

This post is part of Editing After Academia, a series that spotlights editors who have found fulfilling careers outside academia. 

Andy Park had been a professor of forest ecology for 17 years before deciding to begin training as an editor. He figured freelance editing would help his transition into retirement, but it also opened space for a new passion: editing and writing fiction. 

While he had decades of experience marking undergraduate work, writing and publishing papers, and reviewing his colleagues’ writing, he also knew he needed more training to hone both his editing skills and his writing craft for creating fiction.

Andy’s transition into editing has also paralleled his transition into writing fiction. In the following interview, he shares some of his favorite craft books and tips for training oneself for a new field of expertise.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

From professor to editor

I’m at the opposite end of the career arc from graduate students. Retirement’s been on my mind for four or five years now, so I started casting around and thinking about what to do. I actually got in touch with a few editors at Editors Canada, and one of them was kind enough to write back and recommended that I get in touch with editing groups and associations. I wanted to get a feeling for whether freelance editors could have a paid living wage. 

The PhD is largely a process of self-education. I trained by myself in terms of writing and editing skills, like most PhD students do. It can’t replace the need for more training, but the experience was very useful because you get a feel for what’s working in a piece of writing.

From marking to editing: Banishing the necessary evil

Marking papers grows tiring really fast. I thought, if I could remove the marking and the element of judgment and just say, “You know, I’m just trying to help you make this thing better.” That would be so great, because professors really hate marking! It’s a necessary evil.

Editing is a lot more about the relationship. With my best clients, there’s been a relationship there and we can build on and arrive at a mutual understanding on what the project is about. It’s a closer relationship than what you establish with most students, unless they’re graduate students. There’s always that element of judgment involved in grading, whereas I hope my clients know I’m not judging them as an editor. Instead, we’re arriving at suggestions from my experience and perspective.

From science to fiction

I was walking around Montreal during a holiday period when I was visiting friends, and an idea for a story just popped into my head, like de novo, you know, like Athena springing out of the head of Zeus.

I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I’m in the field of conservation, and I was starting to get a bit cynical about the capacity of research in general to respond to the problem of climate denial or the needs of forest protection. I started thinking, if facts and research don’t really matter as much as people would like to think, what can anybody do? I’ve always been an avid reader of fiction, and so I started thinking about this idea about environmentally-based fiction. Over the last five years or so I’ve put myself through intensive self-training in fiction writing.

As a potential writer and editor of fiction, you kind of need to know what people want. As an editor, I completed the two-year editing program at Simon Fraser University. Thisprogram taught me technical, legal, and client-relation skills that are essential to an editor. As a fiction writer, my self-training has consisted of attending writing workshops and consuming a vast number of craft books, which have become a bit of an unhealthy addiction, because after a while all the craft books just start melding together.

It’s a long grind. After writing two drafts of my novel, I hired a professional editor to do a manuscript evaluation for me. I’m now pitching into the third draft. I’ve developed confidence through my own writing, and I also read voraciously in a wide variety of genres, so I feel I can be helpful to a person writing a work of fiction.

On craft books

I like craft books that have actionable advice and examples drawn from published works. I don’t like craft books that rabbit on for chapters and chapters about finding your inner voice, how this is the story of my life, etcetera. I’m all about actionable advice.

Andy’s recommended craft books:

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