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.
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.
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.
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.