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A teachable spirit will improve your writing

| by Ken Walker

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 a blog 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. Although I qualified for substantive book editing and evaluations, I didn’t make the cut for article reviews. The reason: I flunked that part of the screening test.

Divine chastening

Initially, I thought, “Who cares? I’m more interested in editing books than articles anyway.” That was when God took me to the woodshed and 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 (which in many cases is 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. Balderdash. 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.

Approaching your writing in a similar vein will help you improve as well.

Ken Walker

An experienced freelancer, Ken Walker devotes much of his time to ghosting, co-authoring and editing books and blogs. He edits material for several contributors to Biblical Leadership. A member of the Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network), he has co-authored, edited or contributed to more than 60 books. You can see samples of his work or ask about his services by going to or by e-mailing

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