Author Ava Pennington
Author Ava Pennington

I recently submitted thirty-one devotions for a national ministry’s monthly devotional for their supporters. The batch I submitted last year had been well received, and I hoped for a similar reaction.

This time, the editor’s response was not quite what I expected. She complimented the writing style and general content, but the majority of my submissions were missing one required point set forth in their writer’s guidelines.

She wrote to tell me she had corrected a portion of the batch, and apologetically asked if I wanted her to continue correcting the remaining devotionals or if I wanted to complete the edits myself.

As I read her email, I realized there wasn’t one thing wrong with this picture, there were several…

First, I should have paid more attention to the writers’ guidelines. Having had my work enthusiastically received last year caused me to become overconfident. I relied on past experience and failed to confirm that my work met her requirements before I submitted it this time.

Second, she was apologetic when she informed me of my error. This editor was considering the purchase of work that did not meet her standards, and had gone so far as to make many of the corrections herself, rather than ask me to do it.

Her reluctance to hold me accountable surprised me. Then she said something that amazed me even more. Her reluctance stemmed from her experience that many writers take offense at the slightest bit of constructive criticism. They have responded to her with statements such as “Take it or leave it” or “God gave me these words so I’m not going to change them.”

I made the required corrections. She accepted the work and (cliché alert!) all’s well that ends well. However, this whole exchange caused me to think about other areas of my life.

How do I respond to constructive criticism from those around me? Do they see me as someone who arrogantly thinks she is always right or as someone who has a teachable spirit?

What about God’s instructions to me? Having read and studied the Bible for the past thirty years, have I become so familiar with God’s Word that I am overconfident about obeying what it says? Do I take God’s forgiveness so much for granted that my failure to obey His commands barely registers on my radar? Worse, do I rely on familiarity as a substitute for reading and studying on a daily basis?

What about you? When it comes to instructions – God’s or an editor’s (and no, they’re not the same!) – are you careful to read and follow, or do you presume that your past experience is a good enough guide?

When others offer you constructive criticism, how teachable is your spirit?

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  1. Paulette

    Thanks, Ava, great lesson. Especially for those of us over “30”.

  2. sharon Sherman


    Very astute. I find myself dealing with that a lot. The first clues are my negative thoughts. If I am at all angry or if I find I don’t like someone, I have to stop and look at myself to determine the true nature of the response.


  3. Mary

    I deal with this on a daily basis with the work I do and the attorney I work for.. Oh, how I pray for a teaching spirit, daily. I feel when I start getting on the defensive, I have to step back, listen and really re-evaluate myself. being a working mother, at times with my children I have to step back and breath. Thank you, Ava. I truly enjoy your writings.

  4. Ava Pennington

    Thanks, Paulette!
    Mary – I like your idea of taking a step back and taking a breath before responding.
    Sharon – Good insight. Many times my negative reaction stems as much from who is speaking as it is from what they are saying.

  5. Laura Christianson

    I used to work for a magazine editor who phoned me on a regular basis to vent about other writers who freaked out when he changed one word of their copy.

    Writers who are in love with their words shouldn’t be writing professionally, in my opinion. Criticism (constructive or not) is part of the job. Yes, it hurts to have someone critique your writing and speaking, but I’ve discovered that if I listen and give myself time to chew on the criticism given to me, the person who offered the suggestion is almost always right.

    Their criticism strengthens my writing/speaking; I become more cognizant of that particular foible, and I vow not to repeat the same mistake.

    Twitter & Facebook: @bloggingbistro

  6. Ava Pennington

    Laura – I find it difficult to understand how some view their work as absolutely perfect. I firmly subscribe to the belief that the only sacred words are those in the Bible. Everything else is open to improvement! 🙂

  7. Beth K. Vogt

    Loved your comment about an editor not being equal to God! LOL!
    I live on both sides of the editor’s desk–I’m both a writer receiving editorial feedback and an editor giving writers feedback.
    I’ve learned to be careful in both how I receive feedback–and in how I give it. It’s the whole “speak the truth in love” principle, coupled with a desire to accentuate a writer’s voice, not deflate or overwhelm it.

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