The Value of a Teachable Spirit
A member of my professional editors group recently posted a lament about a client who had quibbled with nearly everything she had marked on a chapter of the woman’s book. The editor wondered whether she should continue or bow out of the job.
That brought a quick response from another editor who told of a novelist who had done the same with all her edits and suggestions. He went to self-publish his novel and two others without professional guidance. Not surprisingly, his books are languishing in the far reaches of Amazon’s listings, since they have attracted few readers.
A Humbling Experience
The attitudes expressed by those unprofessional authors tempted me to write about why I don’t like working with what I call “amateurs.”
By amateurs, I don’t necessarily mean someone who has never been published. Instead, I refer to people who won’t admit their writing can stand improvement, and who refuse to listen to a professional who knows more than they do about the craft.
Instead, I found myself reflecting on the fact that not too long ago, I had to swallow my pride and admit that I didn’t have a teachable spirit, either.
I was awakened to that fact a little over two years ago while editing some material for a businessman in the Boston area. He had done a series of short articles on business principles that included a review of the value of a teachable spirit.
While working on this project, I applied for a listing in this editors’ group’s professional database. Later, the coordinator told me that I had qualified for substantive book editing and evaluations, but didn’t make the cut for reviewing articles. The reason: I flunked that part of the screening test.
Initially, I thought, “Who cares? I’m more interested in editing books than articles anyway.” That was when God took me to the woodshed. He pointed out that I didn’t know everything, as proven by my failure on that editing test.
Chastened, I purchased an updated Associated Press stylebook and two book editing references, and signed up for online membership in the Chicago Manual of Style. The latter is the “Bible” of book editing rules, which are far too numerous for anyone to memorize. Which is why a searchable database is of considerable value.
Ironically, after I made a conscious effort to improve my grasp of proofreading rules and book style (often the opposite of newspapers and magazines), my opportunities for book editing and ghostwriting increased.
Living and Learning
Aside from that, this conscious-raising exercise enhanced my outlook on life. Once I embraced the need to have a teachable spirit, I started learning. I had more zest for life and approached people with a “what can I learn from you?” outlook.
As a recent entrant into the Medicare system, one might think that I have “arrived” and my main lot in life is to serve as a mentor to others from atop the mountaintop. Not true. While I do want to mentor others—which I seek to do as a member of the professional editors group—I also have a lot to learn.
Whether you are a writer, speaker, CEO or assembly-line worker, I believe approaching life with a teachable spirit will also help your days go better.