SD/PEN Member Profile: Akiko Tamano

Word Shaper Editorial Services
Copyediting and line editing

Akiko Tamano

How do you describe what you do to someone you’ve just met at a networking function?

I’m an editor because words matter—they shape how we think and feel and act. Choosing the right words is vital to helping us connect with each other and to the ideas and stories we need to hear. I help people choose the right words.

Please give us a little background on you. 

From the moment I learned my ABCs, I was captivated by the written word. I wasn’t a terribly discriminating reader, though, in my early years—one of my most vivid childhood memories is riding in the car just after I’d discovered the joys of reading, delightedly sounding out the names on the street signs. And when I was six, my mother found me poring over the word problems in a math textbook. Fortunately, as I got older, my literary tastes improved, and I grew up immersed in a world of stories. While I continued to be an avid reader as an adult, I took a long detour away from my early love of books. I majored in biology in college, then spent more than two decades working as an IT systems administrator. During that time, I earned a certificate in technical writing from San Diego State University and had some limited opportunities to write and edit technical documentation, such as user guides and operating procedures. But deep down, I longed for work that was more aligned with my passion for language and story. So when I was laid off from my IT job in 2015, I jumped at the chance to change course. After exploring my options, I enrolled in the UCSD Extension copyediting certificate program and found that I loved editing. I established my freelance business, Word Shaper Editorial Services, in 2016, working with both fiction and nonfiction clients. It felt like coming home.

What kinds of projects do you particularly enjoy working on and why?

The projects I enjoy most involve not just mechanical edits but deep line editing. I love working with the sounds and rhythms and shapes of language to bring out its musicality. Often it’s those subtle tweaks that make the difference between writing that plods along and writing that sings. More specifically, some of my most satisfying experiences have been working with first-time authors who self-published their novels. It takes vulnerability for someone to entrust their story—a story they’ve poured so much of themselves into—to an editor, and to be given that trust is an honor. I can think of nothing more rewarding for an editor than helping writers realize their dream of becoming published authors. I also enjoy working with small, mission-driven businesses—call me hopelessly idealistic—but I find it deeply fulfilling to collaborate with people who are doing their part to make the world a better place.

What accomplishment are you most proud of professionally?

I served for a time as copyeditor for a pastor who had some learning disabilities that resulted in his writing getting rather garbled. His messages were deep and insightful, but he just needed help untangling the words, and I worked to clarify his meaning while retaining his own marvelous voice. He once said that when he read my edits, he would think, “That’s what I wanted to say.” That meant a lot to me—I would like all my clients to feel that way, that I’ve enhanced their message and brought out the best in their writing.

What do you enjoy most about being a member of SD/PEN?

What I appreciate most about being a part of the SD/PEN community is the personal contact with like-minded editors. Nothing can replace the camaraderie of being face to face with people who share so many of the same concerns and challenges.

What do you like to do to get away from editing and refill the well?

I love to read and try to start the day with a little reading if at all possible. I’m partial to literary fiction but also relish a good mystery, and lately I’ve been delving into books on spirituality, ecology, and sustainability. Other favorite pastimes include playing with and training my border collie, Emma—I’m an advocate of gentle, positive dog training methods—and singing with my church choir. And daily yoga and meditation help me manage stress and keep me grounded. 

Tell us about a book you recently read that you would recommend.

If I could press one book into the hands of everyone I meet, it would be Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, an exquisite collection of essays about the natural world and our place in it. As both a botanist and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer brings both Western scientific knowledge and Indigenous wisdom to her understanding of nature and humanity. Her writing is gorgeous, and she offers her insights and perspectives with warmth, kindness, and generosity.

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