During my school-aged years, I developed an affinity for the letter A, especially when followed by a little plus sign. It became an indicator of perfection. I developed an even greater distaste for a teacher’s correcting pen. Her red marks on my test papers were evidence that I was not perfect. They were an indicator of my failed attempt to recall the information correctly or solve the equation accurately.
This love (some might say obsession) for perfect grades and my aversion to correction drove me to study hard, even when I knew that I knew the material. I remember my struggles in ninth grade biology and how it fed the self-doubt that already clouded my fourteen-year-old head. The B I earned in Spanish 2 convinced me I would never be able to master a second language. My dream of being a missionary to a foreign land died in that classroom. I carried that drive for perfection through my years at the university. It might not surprise you to know I graduated from college with a 4.0, the gold cord of manga cum laude serving as my halo on graduation day.
Like the blood in my veins, the drive for perfection (and fear of correction) still hides under my skin, feeding my ambitions and propelling me forward.
When I started writing for The Glorious Table, my work was edited by a real-life editor, Harmony Harkema. My first post came back with corrected grammar and clarified phrases. In a move straight out of my 1995 Spanish 2 classroom, I decided I wasn’t capable of being a writer. Clearly my skills were lacking. I felt instant embarrassment over every blog post I had ever published. “It must all be rubbish,” I thought. A bit of an overreaction? Perhaps. But when a perfectionist is face-to-face with her imperfections, overreactions are the norm.
To a perfectionist, the red ink of an editor’s pen often feels like paper cuts across the fingers—small, sharp, stinging. They serve as a reminder of an error in judgement, a wrong move, or a failed attempt. Unlike a paper cut, which is haphazardly afflicted in a moment of haste, editing is precise, well thought out, and always serves a greater purpose.
My first reaction is to take it personally, a pointing finger at my imperfections. My emotional response grows out of the sin in my heart. I desire to be good enough to not need correction; good enough to not need a Savior.
I want the words I put on paper to be perfect. This attitude makes writing about me—about my ability to craft clever phrases and use consistent verb tenses. When writing is a ministry, it cannot be about me. The words must be about the message: the gospel of Jesus Christ. If my writing is purely about communicating God’s truth, why would I bristle against the process that brings clarity to that message? I want the message God asks me to share to be clear, beautiful, and unhindered. The editor’s role in the process is to clarify that message.
The red ink of an editor’s pen purifies my writing just as the red blood of Jesus purifies my heart. An editor removes distractions, errors, and imperfections. It clarifies uncertainty and clears confusion. Jesus’ redemption removes our guilt, our shame, and our sin-sickness. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, all of our confusion clears and our uncertainties are met with the promises of God.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:11, ESV)
While being edited isn’t always enjoyable, the end result is a clear message meant to draw others toward holiness. I need editing. And I need Jesus. My editor’s red marks are gospel, reminding me that I need Jesus. I need to let go of my pride in both areas so that I can be used by God—clean, pure, and ready for service.
I am teaming up with my editor Harmony Harkema today to give both the writer and the editor’s thoughts on the red ink. Harmony shares the editor’s point of view in her post Why the Editor’s Red Pen Means Love.