Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Last semester, I was wheedled into talking to a group of students in a course that I don’t normally teach, Intro. to Creative Writing. They were students at various levels and from a variety of majors, united only by a shared desire to be published someday, and my assignment was to talk about my own publishing career. At some point I said a bit about a book I have coming out in the spring.
“It’s called Easy Burdens,” I told them. “Or, that’s what I wanted to call it, but it ended up being called The Easy Burden of Pleasing God.”
The students murmured polite agreement that my title choice was better, but one bearded young man in a crocheted slouch hat was outraged.
“I don’t understand,” he ranted. “Why’d you let them call it by anything else?!”
“Well, they’re the marketing experts, not me. Besides, you have to understand that publishing a book is a group undertaking. Not like the writing itself, when you’re pretty much on your own. It’s like making a movie. Lots of people get involved in what it takes to get the book into readers’ hands, and each one is an expert in some part of that process.”
“That was my attitude in the beginning too,” I admitted. “ I had to grow up and get a lot humbler.”
“I’ll never grow up,” he said. I called him Peter Pan, and we all laughed.
This semester, I’m overseeing a publishing practicum in which students undertake real world publishing projects. Remembering the exchange as I was making my syllabus for the practicum, I listed humility as one of the learning outcomes. (It being a Christian university, it’s okay to have spiritual as well as academic course objectives.)
For the first day of class—actually my only physical meeting with the students, since they learn exclusively by doing in this practicum—I invited a student who’d previously taken the practicum to show off the group-authored discussion guide for a new release that she’d helped write and to talk about a little about her interaction with a real publishing house.
“It was wonderful!” she gushed. “It made me know, this is what I want to do for a career.”
“Did you learn anything in the process that you think might help these students?” I asked.
“You pretty much have to do what they say,” she said right off. “I mean, they’re the ones publishing it, so what they say goes. You might have some really cool idea of how you want it to be, but they might not agree. And they will tell you so. And you have to fix it. It’s humbling.”
Sad to say, Peter Pan’s not in the practicum. He’ll have to learn humility from his own personal publishing experiences, just like the rest of us.