For my senior writing project in college all of the writing majors were assigned small groups that would meet every other week for intensive peer critiques of our final project. We would meet at a local coffee and bagel shop by school, only critique with pens that were in "non-threatening" colors, and pour over the work our fellow students presented us. The content of these bi-weekly meetings was nothing new considering that for the duration of our time in the program our writing assignments were continually subjected to multiple revisions. I learned a lot of things in those years but the one that has really taken shape in my life since college is that a writer's work is never complete.
Going into my classes I thought very differently. And I honestly don't think I grasped this concept until recently. Like so many young adults I thought my writing was unique, compelling, and pretty much perfect. All it took was a freshman composition professor telling me I was a good writer and I knew it that I was destined for greatness.
Ten years, and quite a few humbling experiences later, and I think differently. I still love writing. I still feel that God has given me a mind that best understands him when I write about it. But I've learned that writing is hard work. It doesn't come easy. It's a discipline. And it should make me humble.
You might wonder how writing is an exercise in humility when so much of writing is for public consumption. How can it be humble to have your work out there for all to see? I'm not saying I'm a humble person, or that writers are humble people. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that is often very far from the truth. But the truth is that to be a good writer, to really grow in your craft, requires hard work and a lot of outside input. What I didn't understand in all of those writing groups in college is that they were designed to make me better, but they were also designed to show me that I'm really not that great. There will always be a better writer. There will always be something I can change, clarify, or even write better. Good writing should never be done in isolation. Anyone can think they are the next John Piper if they edit their own stuff. What is the real test is if we submit ourselves to editors (whether they are friends or online magazine editors) and take their feedback and seek to grow from it. Editors exist to make our work better, serve people, and help us clarify our thoughts. They also exist to help us think of ourselves rightly, as broken people writing to broken people (Romans 12:3).
I wish I had seen the pride in my life back in college that kept me from really embracing criticism of my writing. I didn't like to be picked apart and pushed in my writing. I thought I had it all together, clinging to the words of that first-year comp teacher. To my shame I wasted a lot of helpful feedback at the altar of my own glory. I'm not going to say that I now have it all together and like to hear critiques of my writing. I don't. But as I write more, and am exposed to more editors, I'm thankful for the help. If anything it's an exercise in humbling myself before God, recognizing that he alone gives gifts and takes them away.