They always say write what you know.
And what I know best is not my few successes, but my endless failures.
Oh, I’m a failer. I fail! Over and over. Stick around long enough and you’ll get to see it!
Or just wait a few seconds.
And I’ve been doing this editing thing for the better part of 20 years, managing book edits, and failing at it big time. All the time.
I miss things every day. I miss deadlines. I forget to call. I don’t follow up. I miss the point and end up frustrating people. Or worse, convincing them to try something that doesn’t work, overwhelm them, or even shut them down.
And worst of all, I miss the point. Again and again. For instance…
I’m not qualified. Honestly, I’ve never felt qualified for this. I just love books and especially writers, learning from them, and listening, asking them questions, and walking with them.
It’s what I love. I don’t love eliminating mistakes, correcting oversights, and condensing. I do it as best I can, but I fail at it.
And today I wonder if I accepted that failure more, if the work could become more, and maybe the books themselves too.
Maybe not—maybe writers don’t want such realness and honesty. Maybe they only want to see I’m extremely skilled and competent. It’s just extremely humbling how often I’m anything but. And when I inevitably mess up, I think there may be a higher purpose in that…maybe even a useful one.
Wendell Berry says it may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work. Practically speaking, if editing is my real work maybe it’s a good sign I don’t actually know how to do it.
But I think maybe my real work is being a good failer and demonstrating that very humbling reality as best I can.
Some part of me loves this idea–could be the lazy me. Or it’s the idea of rejecting that perfectionistic standard people have about professional editors. (Do I need to mention I was a pastor’s kid?)
Excellence is an important goal. But only grace can comfort us.
Can we really love people well without showing grace?
Ask your average writer what book they first loved. I’ve mentioned mine before: Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I loved the passion of Meg Murray. She was a misfit, but that made her special, and her keen observation set her apart. I couldn’t have expressed it when I first read it as an 11-year-old, but it gave me hope knowing that the very thing that made her feel like a fool, like a failure, like a misunderstood misfit, was what made her the chosen hero.
She just had to let it out. Let it show.
We like to think of our heroes, even Jesus, as strong and capable and standing victorious on the mountaintop with the wind blowing in their hair. Why do we think that’s what a hero is when all the stories we’ve ever loved show that’s not a hero at all?
In their failure, they made us feel known, seen, heard, understood, comforted. Loved.
Everyone wants to be chosen. Isn’t it in our weakness, in our wounds and our struggles, that we most need to feel that?
I even fail at this. Which means I can probably trust this is what every writer needs, what every person needs: someone to listen and ask them the simple questions that draw them out and make them feel comfortable and accepted. And I do this every day, and it brings me something too, the very thing I’m looking for. It begins manifesting in my own life, this comfort and acceptance. This assurance of grace.
I don’t know why I got so lucky, and a lot of people think they have the greatest job in the world. And maybe they do. Maybe if they get to do this and embrace their failure for a higher purpose too, I can believe it.
Oh, and I still fail to do it, or even want to daily. I just know every day brings the choice: will you fill your own needs today or fill others? And who among us doesn’t realize which is the best choice?
Yeah, still that horrible fear of not having our specialness seen, loved, chosen, it makes us all choose the selfish way sometimes.
But don’t we also find hope knowing that the failure that makes us feel unworthy is actually irrelevant?
Is this another way to show what sacrificial love means?
We’re afraid and incompetent and selfish and lost–and still worthy of deep, real love!
We can fail to write well. We can fail to write for others. And yet success is what every finished book eventually reveals, even as they’re written and edited by total failures.
Maybe what we need most is also what everyone needs most: grace.
Maybe it’s even okay we forget this over and over. Maybe we’re always going to fail to remember it and maybe that’s why we have to read it and reread it and fail at writing it so many times before we can truly live this way consistently.
I don’t know. Maybe we all just need people willing to risk failing us, willing to risk us failing them.
The struggling, disillusioned, the weary and weak, we all need to see that failure doesn’t matter. Grace is irrespective of failure. I want to start showing that more so my writers can write freer, and maybe (hopefully) start living freer, to show others how to be freer too.
It could be only in finding failure no longer matters that we find our greatest success.
And if so, maybe we don’t even have to worry about failing to remember that.
For the higher purpose,