My name is Carol Evonne Robinson, and I’m a word nerd.I know it sounds like an introduction for a 12-step group. Let me tell you how I became a word nerd!
Reading and writing have been a part of my life since I was 3, and I’m glad to use my passion for prose in my position as chief editor for the California Energy Commission.My love for the written word began when my father, an offset feeder for what is now the Office of State Publishing, would bring home imperfect textbooks for my six siblings and me to read. From a geography textbook about South America, I would practice words like “Brazil,” “river,” and “country.” I began writing at 6 years old, not just my name and address, but stories about imaginary places and real happenings on my street in Oak Park.
Although I attended UC Davis with the intention of going to medical school to become an obstetrician-gynecologist, science and math didn’t come easily to me. But writing always had. I worked as a news reporter for the campus radio station, one of three jobs I held while carrying a full course load. Writing and airing stories about events on and off campus gave me a rush.
Five years after graduation, I became a reporter for a small newspaper in Bellingham, Washington, then a small town 90 miles north of Seattle along Interstate 5. After a year there, I worked for small papers in Northern California, closer to home.
What I learned from my 12-year stint in newspapers is that people wanted news they could understand without the jargon they didn’t. At first, I would write the way city and county government officials wrote and spoke because it sounded “official.” But my city editors taught me that readers wanted to know what was happening and how it would affect them.
Of my 16-plus years working for the State of California, I spent 12 here at the Energy Commission. When I took the writing test my soon-to-be supervisors gave, it was supposed to take an hour. After taking the test and checking my results, I saw that I had finished in a half-hour.
When I edit, I have one character flaw – I curse under my breath. I’m not patient regarding terms like “in order” or “make contact with.” I bite my lip when I see needless capitalization. When it comes to working with prose, I’m a cross between ChloeO’Brien from the TV series “24” and Academy Award-, Emmy-, Grammy-, and Tony-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg. In other words, I do not suffer fools gladly – that is, I have no patience for nonsense, in print or in person. (Your fault, Dad!) So, when you see my edits, please don’t take it personally.
One of the most influential pieces I’ve read is an essay by George Orwell – “Politics and the English Language.” He also wrote Animal Farm and 1984. The essay focuses on the use of verbose, unclear language to hide the truth rather than express it. I consider editing reports for plain language to be a mission. Although energy scientists, economists, and analysts may know what the reports communicate, regular people who read at a ninth-grade level often don’t. I enjoy what I do because my position combines my writing skills with public service.
To conclude, I’d like to think that when I retire, I will write my own book and read the 250 books in my collection. From toddler to elder, I remain a word nerd.