I am proud of my age, because it signifies a certain amount of success, a certain degree of wisdom

I have an enormous amount of respect for Joan D. Saunders, both for the amazing job she has done as an editor of the Joy Compass book and for her courage to tune out any influences that could have prevented her from creating a life she thoroughly enjoys. Watch Joan looking smashing as Greta in this short trailer from an independent movie titled Wall Street Barbie.

Julia Valentine: I would like to start by thanking you for editing the Joy Compass book and many articles that appear on the website. I love the work you have done. You are such a great editor. Everything that you touch comes out a hundred times better. It’s been confirmed by friends and family, by everyone who has seen the “before and after” versions. You have received uniform praise.

Joan D. Saunders: Thank you — that’s what I’m here for.

JV: How did you get into editing?

JDS: I love language and literature, that’s what I studied in college. I went on to study linguistics in graduate school. And then I got sidetracked. Like many women of my generation, I followed what the man in my life wanted to do with his life. I ended up moving with him and started working in office jobs. It wasn’t too bad. We moved from Miami to Milwaukee to Dallas, and ended up in San Francisco. 

In Dallas, I started making exercise a part of my life. When you’re “young young” (for me, that’s the twenties), if you make some false starts, you don’t take it seriously because you can naturally keep your weight down and stay in shape. But for me it was a given that sooner or later, it had to become part of my life. I had a good example in my dad, who exercised all of his life.

By the way, I really enjoyed what that personal trainer, Tadeo, said in his blog. I can’t always afford a personal trainer, but it’s so motivating to have that appointment to look forward to. But some trainers that I have had don’t take you seriously when you start looking older. I think their attitude is “what’s the point, she’s already over the hill.”

JV: You know what’s really interesting? Most trainers approach the workout as a chore, and Tadeo approaches it as having fun. I was so excited he agreed to write a blog. By the way, you look much younger than …

JDS: Fifty-eight! Ha! I can’t believe I’m almost sixty! I don’t feel it! Here’s what bothers me, and this, I think, is a factor of the American culture. Women, in particular, don’t like to reveal their age. I will tell anyone who asks what my age is. I’m proud of my age, because it signifies a certain amount of success, a certain degree of wisdom. I knew a woman who was so talented, had a great singing voice, we were in a show together. We were talking about age in a group of five women whose ages ranged from thirty to seventy. She would not tell anyone her age …

Anyway, as I was saying, I made exercise a part of my life in Dallas. So, when we moved to the Bay Area, I did sales for a company called 24 Hour Fitness. I was not good at selling. If someone said, “No,” I would just say, “OK!”

I did sales for a few years, and then I knew the time had come. Always, language was my love. Despite my education, I could not get my foot in the door at a publishing company. I took a job as a receptionist and switchboard operator at a well-known textbook publisher. In the meantime, I was taking copyediting courses from the University of California at Berkeley’s Continuing Education department. And on the job, I got to know editors who learned they could rely on me for the job I was doing there … some of my predecessors could not even maintain conference room logs. I sat on that switchboard for four years. The Production Editing department started giving me occasional proofreading jobs, and I did well. Then, an opening came in that department, I applied for it and I got it. After a few years, I got a job as lead copy editor with a magazine publisher in the East Bay, and later as copy chief for the PBS station in San Francisco. All along, I was doing freelance work. But the corporate environment was not my favorite — I wanted to work at home and have freedom. I had a solid base of clients. So, in May 2001, almost 25 years after graduate school, I quit my job and started freelancing full time. I have done it ever since.

When I started taking editing courses, my then-husband would say, “Why are you doing this? It is way too late for you!” And I was only in my late thirties.

JV: Why do people have the frame of mind that you need to make all the decisions in your twenties?

JDS: I don’t know. But that was his mindset, and that’s how he went through life. I had to tune him out. Although I cared for him deeply, I couldn’t see myself going through life with this negative influence. So, we split up.

JV: I have some friends who were not able to tune it out and regret it to this day.

JDS: I got the strength from my dad. You have to believe in yourself, and if you really want something, you have to go after it. Otherwise, you’ll always regret it.

JV: What about acting?

JDS: I enjoyed acting and singing and playing piano and drums in high school and college. I always harbored a secret desire to act. But I came from a pretty conservative family, and I saw the wisdom of pursuing something that I also loved, but had a better chance of making a living at. When I started freelancing full time, and I was approaching fifty, I started thinking, “Why on Earth not? Why not try it?” So I signed up for a class at the American Conservatory Theatre. I took class after class after class, and I just loved it! Then I thought, “It’s time to get auditions!” So I got some headshots and started submitting for roles. In the Bay Area, you have independent filmmakers and theater. I started getting called in for auditions and got roles. I was making a little money at it, but that was not my primary goal. It was so much fun! In acting, you have to be able to make it to an audition, sometimes at the drop of a hat, and they’re often during the day. It’s hard for people who don’t have an understanding employer to pursue it seriously. But I had that freedom. I thought, better now than later!

JV: … or never.

JDS: I came to New York last year. I signed up for an acting class. I had to get new headshots, my San Francisco pictures had too much of a laid-back look. Even though in San Francisco I had worked in theater that included musical theater, here I focus my energy on acting rather than voice because that’s where I feel I will be more successful.

JV: You have your editing, acting, exercise — what else do you have that makes you happy?

JDS: It makes me fulfilled, and takes up most of my time. I enjoy reading novels, playing the piano, television. I like to think I’m somewhat discriminating about what I watch. There’s some great stuff on television, I think it’s a mistake to dismiss it completely. And I really love music.

JV: You’ve managed to build what you wanted to have. You didn’t use the excuse of “I didn’t do it at fifteen, so it’s too late now.”

JDS: I’m going to be fifty-eight in a few days, and I can honestly say that my fifties have been the best decade of my life so far, and I expect that to continue as long as I stay healthy. And I do everything I can to stay healthy. You can’t control everything, but what I can control, I do. I love my fifties — I wouldn’t want to go back for anything. I really enjoy life, and I hope that continues.


Julia's recommendation:

If you are looking for world-class copyediting, proofreading, substantive editing or ghostwriting services, I guarantee you will be in awe of Saunders Editorial Services. Contact Joan D. Saunders at joan@saunderseditorial.com.