My Second Beginning as an Editor

by Karen Kemlo

Published at 2014-04-14

I call my decision to change careers in mid-life my “second beginning.” I realize it’s an oxymoron, but for me it defines the place where I now am. It’s also about coming full circle and being a late bloomer. I grew up surrounded by books and newspapers, and I was a secret writer who dreamed of having her first novel published by the age of 21. I read voraciously and critiqued everything I found. My writing career began shortly after I finished university.
My Career as a Journalist
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, I worked for several years in a public library before deciding I wanted to be a foreign correspondent, travelling the world and covering stories for the international press. I took the plunge and applied to the two-year journalism program at Ryerson, and was amazed to get in. But, having worked for several years, I was one of the oldest students in my class, and my expectations were high. I soon realized that I would not emerge fully formed and be hired by the CBC as an arts reporter or as a feature writer for the Toronto Star. It was — and still is — a tough, competitive business, and I would have to run the race like everyone else. But chasing fire trucks and getting elbowed in the face while pressing for a 20-second bite from a red-faced politician was not for me. I also didn’t want to go to Yellowknife or St. John’s to get work. Who knew I was so set in my ways?
When I finally found a job as a writer and researcher that allowed me to work from home, I was in heaven. My boss was in another country and my deadlines were weekly. I had time to work on my novel and the dream of finishing it. It wasn’t quite as exciting as what some of my friends were doing, but it was quiet and focused … well, except for the screaming baby. It’s amazing how disciplined you become when you have to be. My son was on a tight schedule of naps and feedings and so was I when it came to doing my work.
…and as a Writer for Television
I then met someone who worked in television and who hired me as a freelance researcher. It was scary at first because I had to leave the quiet, safe place that was my home office to re-enter the fray. It was a shock and a challenge, but I loved it.
Working in television was a bit like being in a parallel world. I did crime shows that recreated real murders, reality shows about people doing real jobs, and design shows about remodelling homes that real families lived in. I also worked on a program about outer space and UFOs. I interviewed survivors of crime and people who claimed they had been abducted by aliens. I met world-renowned scientists and homicide cops who had seen it all. I travelled all over North America. It was exciting, challenging, and full of high stakes, and it was a grind. 
… and as an Editor
After almost 12 years and as many shows, I found myself once again competing for smaller contracts against younger people, including my son who’s now studying journalism at Ryerson. I also found myself longing for the peace and quiet of my earlier life. Using my journalism degree as a springboard, I went back to Ryerson and began taking courses in its publishing program. Even though it’s part of the continuing education program, I’m once again the oldest in the class. But that doesn’t matter. The goal of becoming an editor suits my life now. It feels right.
For the next few months, I am completing an internship (the world’s oldest intern!?) at The Editing Company, and that feels right, too. Beth and the other editors are welcoming and supportive, and I’m learning a lot. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even finish that novel ... 
For more on how to become an editor, visit Ryerson University's Publishing Program, or sign up for the Editors' Association of Canada's upcoming conference!