The Writing Feedback that Changed My Life

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I’ve had the opportunity to work with several great editors in my career. People who appreciated the value of a perfectly turned phrase, who explained when it was better to use a long dash or a semicolon, who taught me to write the language of my readers rather than the jargon of the businessmen and women I interviewed.

But as much as I learned from these wordsmiths, the greatest lesson I ever learned from an editor had nothing to do with sentence structure or the Associated Press Stylebook.

It was about pride.

See, I’ve been a writer for a few decades, and there was a time—many years ago—that I thought I was pretty darn good. So good, in fact, that I had a terrible time accepting constructive criticism or feedback from my editors.

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I really don’t know where I got off thinking like this. I honestly don’t. Maybe it had something to do with being a straight-A student all through school and an honors student in college. Perhaps there’s something about excelling academically that makes one prone to thinking one knows everything when one enters the real world (ahem).

Whatever the case, I didn’t receive feedback or correction very well in my early days as a newspaper reporter. I would argue and insist I was right and resist making changes that were probably very good.

I’m fairly certain I didn’t do this in a loud, noticeable way, but it did happen.

It was pride, and it was ugly.

At my second newspaper job, I had an editor who was tough but fair. As I recall, she had been raised by a godly mom and gone to a faith-based college. But although she was well-versed in matters of religion, I don’t think she was what one would consider an evangelical Christian.

She knew I was, however.

And one day she called me out on my attitude. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but the basic gist of it was that, even though I said I was a Christian, I wasn’t acting like one in how I received feedback.

I was devastated.

Ashamed.

Embarrassed.

Humiliated.

I’m pretty sure I felt every emotion you could possibly feel in such a situation except for one, and that was anger.

I wasn’t angry because she was right.

That evening, I went home and cried my eyes out.

I also determined in my heart to change.

I returned to work the next day and apologized to my editor. And from then on, I literally forced myself to stop arguing about feedback. At first, I almost had to put my hand over my mouth to keep the defensive words from pouring out. But with God’s help, I persevered. And the more I responded correctly, the easier it got.

That long-ago encounter was a turning point—in my journalism career and in my life.

God used my editor to expose a huge blind spot in my mind and heart. The experience hurt badly, but it also was a gift—one that clearly paved the way for future assignments.

For example, my next job involved a significant amount of collaborative writing. If I had still been insisting on my own way and not able to take criticism, this task would have been extremely difficult. It actually turned out to be one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had, but it would have been a disaster if God hadn’t seen fit to humble me at the newspaper.

The pride wasn’t gone, of course. I still had a lot to learn—lessons that went far deeper and took much longer. It’s an ongoing growth process, even now.

But it was a beginning. And to this day, I am grateful to the editor who—for whatever reason—wasn’t willing to let me get away with being a hypocrite.

The thing about pride is this: It’s easy to spot in someone else, but practically impossible to identify in yourself.

Yes, God resists the proud. But when He reveals pride in His children, we do well to look at it as the gracious gift of a loving Father—the only One who knows exactly what we need to become all that He designed us to be.

Lois Flowers

Note: This is the fourth post in my “Faith, Fear & The Life of a Writer” series. If you missed an earlier installment, you can catch up here, here and here. I’m planning something a little different next week (on Election Day), but watch for more from the writing series in the coming weeks.

Also: I’m linking up this week with Katie M. Reid at #RaRaLinkup, Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory, Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart, Lyli Dunbar at ThoughtProvokingThursday, Crystal Storms at #HeartEncouragementThursday, Crystal Twaddell at FreshMarketFriday and Dawn Klinge at Grace & Truth.



32 Responses to The Writing Feedback that Changed My Life

  1. Lois, such a great post. Thank you for being so open and transparent about pride.

    I’m praising God for how your words lead, minister, and teach so many of us readers. Thank you.

  2. Julie says:

    Lois- I love your honesty here in the post! As writers, we all deal with some form of pride.
    Great post!
    #FreshMarketFriday
    Julie

  3. Thank you for this convicting honesty, Lois! I know pride is a huge issue I battle all the time in my blogging. I have to constantly ask myself if pride is WHY I’m doing it and check myself when the answer is “yes.” Thanks for reminding me to run a self-check on this again today. Blessings to you…stopping by from Grace & Truth.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Ugh … I have to ask myself those questions too, Elizabeth. I also find that the Holy Spirit is faithful to remind me when I start to veer off course … there’s a whole ‘nuther blog post just waiting to be written about that!! So glad you stopped by today, my friend!

  4. Meghan says:

    I loved reading this, Lois. I am in a place where I am learning to let go and let God instead of death-gripping everything that I thought was supposed to be “so so.”

    I also enjoyed reading all the feedback here from everyone. I feel like I truly learn so much from you all. What a blessing this is!!!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Yeah, I can relate to that “death-gripping” business, Meghan … it reminds me of what Corrie Ten Boom once said: “I’ve learned that we must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it tightly, it hurts when the Father pries my fingers loose and takes it from me!” I’m glad you enjoyed reading the feedback too. The struggle looks different for everyone, doesn’t it? 🙂

  5. I can relate to not wanting criticism. For me, it is more about my feelings being hurt than thinking I had been right. Yikes. Love your honesty!

  6. Yes Lois!
    What a gift your editor gave you. Hard but tremendous.

    I’ve found when I’m proud about something like my writing, it’s often because I’m caught up in proving myself through it instead of submitting to the Lord for Him to make it worthy and useful. It was a big, tough choice for me to start clamping my hand over my mouth like you said when I first sought help to let the Lord refine a manuscript through other’s criticisms!

    Thanks for sharing about this here- you’ll have me thinking on this one for a bit to root out some of my own pride too.

    Have a great week, friend!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Bethany, it’s been so interesting to read the comments and see the things that drive and feed pride in each one of us, and what it looks like when that pride is expressed. It’s definitely not one-size-fits-all, or even most. What is encouraging, though, is that once we are made aware of how it works for each of us, it can really become an area of God-driven growth–not to mention another huge opportunity to rely on Him! I know what you mean about others’ critiques of our work … it’s almost like criticizing a beloved family member, isn’t it? I’m glad it becomes easier over time … especially once you can see how helpful it can be! So glad to get your thoughts about this lovely topic, my friend!

  7. Liz says:

    Oh, Lois! So much of this hits too close to home for me. I, too, was a high achiever in school; maybe there is something to that theory! It seems I waffle back and forth between prideful thinking and abysmal insecurity. I’ve got lots to work on, friend! Blessings!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      You and me both, Liz. By the way, I’ve been thinking of you this week … I hope you enjoyed every minute of the World Series, including (of course) the outcome!! (Last year, Ben Zobrist was helping my Royals win it all; this year, it’s the Cubs.) 🙂

  8. Linda Stoll says:

    Fascinating, Lois.

    I’m trying to figure out what it is besides pride that keeps us from going there. Is insecurity in the mix? Fear? Embarrassment?

    Pondering it all.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I’m guessing maybe some of all three, Linda? This has certainly been an interesting topic to process, write about and discuss here. It all makes me even more grateful that my editor did what she did, as badly as it hurt at the time.

  9. Sandra J says:

    Lois, Thanks so much for sharing this beautiful, vulnerable post. As always, I am blessed by your words and your wisdom. God’s gifts often come in unexpected packages! Blessings!

  10. Debby says:

    It is so very hard to see in ourselves, isn’t it Lois. What she did isn’t easy but it was good. We could all benefit, after the tears, from people to share caring truth in our lives. Thanks for sharing from your life lessons.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Yes, Debby … it was good, what she did. It is a blessing when someone cares enough to confront our obvious shortcomings, even though it might take us awhile to realize it! 🙂

  11. Kristi Woods says:

    Love this, Lois. Pride is pesky and often well-hidden. I’m in the crowd with you that understands it firsthand. You were one wise gal to pay attention to your editor’s words.

  12. Trudy says:

    Thank you for sharing so vulnerably and honestly, Lois. It’s scary how subtle pride can be. God will reveal it to us in one way or another though, won’t He? It must have been painful the way He showed you. May He root out all pride in our hearts! Blessings and hugs to you!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Amen, Trudy! The rooting is ongoing, at least for me anyway. 🙂 But God wouldn’t do it if He didn’t love us and desire the best for us, would He? Thank you for your sweet encouragement this week, my friend!

  13. One of the best experiences I ever had was the chance to be the editor-in-chief of my college magazine, under the direction of a professor/advisor. In that role, I learned that editing is GOOD, and that for a piece of writing to be the best it can be, sometimes it has to be reworked, finessed and sometimes someone else really does know best. These are great lessons!

  14. Lois,
    What a beautiful and honest post you’ve written! I found myself relating with so much of what you wrote, just with a different angle. I feel as if I’m open for feedback on my writing but I get defensive when someone gives me feedback on my work methods {which in my mind, means it’s really about my personality!} so when a boss told me I was unapproachable and I needed to work on it, I was crushed. Of course she was right but I was resentful.

    I greatly admire your response to your editor and how you resolved to change and although this is something I’m still working on, I know this is what I need to do! I love the wisdom and experience you offer here and I happen to think you are a fabulous writer with top-notch skills, my friend! Thank you for this heart-gripping post and being brave enough to share your heart to encourage others! xo

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Oh, Valerie … I know what you mean about mentally turning constructive criticism into an attack on your personality! It’s hard to be objective when you are the subject of someone else’s feedback, isn’t it? It definitely is a growth process, as you said–one that I am still working on too! I appreciate your kind words about this post … I wrote it several months ago and kept waiting until the time seemed right to post it. 🙂

  15. Ahhh, Lois. That pride thing. This has been something God has had to work on and uncover in my life as well. It is painful when He reveals it—whether it’s through another pointing it out, or God allowing me to see it in what He chooses not to do on my behalf. It’s humbling . . . which is a good thing. I’ve learned that pride will always come back, seeking a place in my heart. I’m learning to recognize it in my thought processes and in my reactions to things like constructive criticism.

    Hard stuff, my friend. I’m thankful for God’s patience with me as He works in my heart and life.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I think I’ve been on a similar journey with pride, Jeanne. The initial wake-up call I wrote about was just the beginning. Ironically, phase two (if you want to call it that) came during the wilderness years, though I didn’t really realize it until those years were mostly past! Now, as you wrote, it’s an awareness that this ugly thing is always prowling nearby, waiting for an opportunity to retake territory in my heart, that forces me to guard my mind against it more diligently. Hard? Absolutely! And there’s more to be written about this, for sure. I’m so thankful for understanding friends who get where I’m coming from because they’re there too! 🙂

  16. Whoa! I recently heard someone say that a writer should “go vulnerable or go home.” You’re not goin’ home any time soon, Lois! These words pierce my own prideful heart. Thanks for this exhortation to turn our gifts over to the God who made us and to live in a community of “mutual editing and comma tweaking.”

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Michele, seeing your comment warmed my heart on a day when I was feeling a little more exposed than usual. 🙂 And I love that phrase you heard: “Go vulnerable or go home.” Thank you for your encouragement this week!

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