This month FOCUS introduces Joanna Dolan, a professional editor and the owner of Righting Writing. Her business is a quiet gem that, in only four years, has achieved an international clientele and reputation for quality, reliable, and timely work.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Edinburgh, and the family moved to Armidale when I was about 18 months old. My father took up a lectureship in mediaeval history at UNE. I’ve been part of this area for so long now that I feel I am a local. I lived away from Armidale in my late teens and returned to Australia in my early 20s and quickly wound my way back to the Northern Tablelands and raised a family here. I have a background in banking, adult education, and public relations, plus an eclectic mix of interesting sideroads.
What does Righting Writing do?
Being flippant, the simple answer is I right your writing – but it is so much more than basic proofreading. I try to understand the voice of the writer and what they are trying to achieve. I don’t only look at grammar, but at consistency, meaning, flow and individuality. So, the reader is taken on the journey the writer intended.
What led you to start Righting Writing?
I was brought up as a reader, and it gave me a passion for the written word and an appreciation of its power when done well. I’d noticed that the quality (in terms of language) of different forms of printed media had dropped over the years and saw an opportunity to change direction.
Righting Writing officially started in 2014 as Write Right; however, a marketing acquaintance, who shall remain nameless, pointed out that it was a great name and was surprised it was available. Turns out it wasn’t, which led me to Righting Writing. It’s a good thing: Write Right perhaps implies that I am a “grammar nazi”. Righting Writing not only has a rhythm to it, but it implies flow and energy and even a sense of the future. It’s a much more accurate description of what I do, so it turned out to be a winner, and I’m very happy with it.
What is the difference between a proofreader and a professional editor?
A proofreader looks for typos and basic grammar issues. An editor looks at the structure of the entire piece and more complex grammar issues, such as “subject verb agreement” – that seems to be of particular importance for ESL (English as a second language) writers!
Editors look for flow and maintaining the writer’s voice, while employing the “Five Cs of editing” (clear, concise, correct, consistent and comprehensive). In larger works, if the author starts Chapter 1 with a character called Jack, and then in Chapter 5 he becomes John, an editor needs to pick that up. In some works it’s good for me to create a family tree or similar to ensure consistency throughout.
What kind of editing work do you do?
Most of my work is for international students, writing their thesis in any subject area, although I have done, and continue to do plenty of Australian ones. While I often complain about the international work for its complexity, I really do enjoy the challenge. And I love learning new things as I go along. For example, I edited a thesis on Muslim Schools in Northern Nigeria; it was fascinating and illuminating. Most of the work I do is non-disclosure and I’m not allowed talk about it, but I edit fiction, non-fiction, academic work, marketing materials – all of which feeds my passion for odd facts.
You have an international business; how did that happen?
I responded to an ad on a freelancer website thinking it might be a scam, but it turned out to be one of my larger sources of business. The other part came about through my participation in a local networking group – BNI All Seasons. I joined within six weeks of starting the business thinking, “Why not?” and it has turned out to have supported my business’ growth, particularly the international side of it. I hadn’t really understood the international potential, but that’s where about 75% of my work comes from.
What’s next for Righting Writing?
Good English editors, especially those who are able to support ESL writers, is a growth opportunity for me and the industry as a whole.
The death of my eldest daughter, Kate, in 2010 changed my focus, and I started to spend more time working on skin cancer (particularly melanoma) awareness and prevention – and it also made me aware that family history is more than family trees and dates of birth. It’s important to weave into that your medical and life history.
I guess the combination of having historians for parents, my passion for the written word, and learning more about our family (medical) history has led me to the process of extending Righting Writing’s mission into helping people discover and write their own stories for personal pleasure and for future generations. I’m very excited about this next phase.
What inspires you?
A well-written story!