Not many people would think the roles of baker, musician and editor are all connected. But for Harlow Carpenter, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, life is all about connecting passions in a way that makes life work as a whole—from what you do to make a living, to who you are inside and out.
Perfecting the skills you continually practice—in Harlow’s case, editing—is an obvious must-do.
So how does one get from prep cook and baker to orchestral trumpet player to project editor for an educational institution? You look at what you enjoy and try to make a living out of it, kind of like conducting your own life orchestra.
Harlow, you previously worked as a baker but had gone to school for music and you have done work for various musical arts organizations. So what led to your decision to shift your job focus to professional editor?
I have a double bachelor's degree in performance and musicology, which is a field that involves quite a bit of writing. But editing has been a part of my life since I was pretty young: My father was a copyeditor for medical journals and I was sort of an intern at times, formatting tables, et cetera.
I'm out of the restaurant business and I still perform in musicals and orchestras quite often. I wouldn’t say I switched careers; I'm simply incorporating all the skills I enjoy using into a unified way of keeping a roof over my head. The Professional Sequence in Editing helped me fill some of the gaps in my editing knowledge that might otherwise have been filled by a more traditional English or journalism degree.
Why did you choose UC Berkeley Extension?
I love school and I missed having homework—I'm totally serious. Also, a friend of mine was a few semesters into the sequence and she greatly enjoyed it. UC Berkeley also has a certain cachet, of course.
I also didn't have any sort of official training in editing before, and though I believe my work speaks for itself, it's always good to have a credential to point to as well.
What was your favorite part about taking our online courses?
The best part about the Extension classes was being able to connect with people of different ages and backgrounds who lived all over the world. Everyone came in with a different perspective on the ways editing can be put to use, so the discussion was always lively.
I made several lasting friendships and learned about other professional development opportunities (like a cookbook-editing correspondence course!) that I could pursue if I wanted.
Additionally, as someone who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, I was glad to have a captive audience of dozens of editors to whom I could introduce the topics of gender and respectful, accurate ways to talk about others.
It was after you began the Editing sequence in 2015 [Harlow completed the program in 2017] that you started working at Academy of Art University. There you have held various positions in editing, starting with captioning editor and now project lead. What do those jobs entail?
A captioning editor at the Academy of Art University transcribes audio and formats captions for use in educational media, like slideshows and videos. It is an entry-level position in the Online Education department, where I still work as an editorial project lead. Now my role is similar to that of a textbook editor—in the dual sense of both "editing textbooks" and "doing all the things you think an editor does."
I assist course authors with writing or updating the online courses in all departments, from acting to illustration to sculpture. I mostly do copyediting and line editing, but I'll do some developmental editing as needed, depending on the strengths and needs of the author.
At one point in time, you were also doing freelance editing work. Do you still?
I don't do very much freelancing anymore because of my full-time job at the Academy. When I do get the chance, I copyedit newsletters and press materials for musical organizations such as the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir. I'm also in charge of editing the musical collateral (album covers, liner notes, et cetera) for Waxsimile Productions, a Los Angeles–based record label that my wife founded with her father.
As for the courses in the Professional Sequence in Editing, they improved my proofreading and editing skills, allowing me to offer an even higher level of service to clients and my full-time employer. One of the biggest lessons I've learned—and one that I was able to employ immediately as an editor at the Academy of Art University—is the importance of making editorial decisions early on so that they can be applied consistently throughout the production cycle of a course. Often, I'm working on the same course for months or even years, and I'm getting better and better at recognizing stylistic minutiae that will come back to haunt me if I don't iron them out right from the start. Nailing down what gets set off in commas and what gets put in parentheses from day one will prevent a lot of going back and redoing things later, which would be a headache for me and my colleagues.
It all comes back to perfecting those skills. The in-house style guide is just one instrument in Harlow’s orchestra.