Some thoughts about edits

typewriter-insideNow that the piece is done and out there, I am thinking about the edits. And about the letters the piece is getting and how some of what I meant to say maybe didn’t get said although I’m mostly happy with it. Well, actually I am absolutely happy with it.
There were a lot of style edits in the piece (they changed all of my “I would” to “I’d”, for example) and those are par for the course because most magazines want their writers to sound like they fit in the rest of the magazine. So Brain Child made me sound smarter, Salon made me sound more casual, and Parenting made me sound like a Parenting robot. I don’t take issue with this — if I wasn’t willing to sound like the magazine I was targeting, I wouldn’t target it. If there comes a time where I don’t get edited that way, I’ll know I’ve hit the big time where it’s expressly my voice they’re wanting. I haven’t hit that yet (I may never) and that’s fine. I’m content right now to it being my voice through their stylistic filters. It certainly doesn’t change what I’m trying to say — it just makes it sound more cohesive when held up against their other articles/essays.

The big changes were adding more information to the piece. Some of this was practical (for example, the addition to “Per US Law” to the line about Madison’s amended birth certificate) and some of it was more in depth (for example, the first meeting with Jessica at the restaurant). The original essay was around 1500 words and this is at least 1000 words more and most of that is background.

The hardest thing to contend with within the edits was the ideas that people have around adoption. The editor (who was incredibly patient and thorough and kind) wanted to know why Jessica chose adoption. I couldn’t tell her that. For one, I would be afraid of misrepresenting Jessica. For two, I think that that part is Jessica’s story to tell. For three, I don’t think there’s anyway to effectively tell it without getting into a whole different essay. It’s a big piece to be missing there and I can see through some of the letters that other additions to the piece confused people or led them to think wrongly about who Jessica is and so I better understand why the editors wanted more about Jessica’s decision.

The big thing, it looks like, is the mention that the family reunion/wedding happened at a country club. It is very very very interesting to me that at least one reader immediately tied that (I think, his letter is confusing) to Jessica’s race. And then someone else assumes that Jessica’s wealthy parents must have bullied her into the adoption. The only thing that anyone can really know from reading the essay and seeing the mention of the country club is that we were at a country club. That’s it. But unfortunately, that doesn’t stop people from making those wrong assumptions. As the writer, I think that placing the event somewhere else would have helped but there you go — we weren’t someplace else. Probably I should have chosen another anecdote to end but I really do have those pictures (snap, snap, snap — three pics of Madison and Jessica in the sandtrap) and they really do sum it up for me. (I wish I could share them on my photo blog but it’s enough that Jessica gave me permission to share so much already.)

This is the challenge in writing memoir — how do I cast the truth in a way to reveal a more personal truth? Inclusion of the country club — while true — may have detracted from the more personal truth. But the irony is that I chose that in part to combat stereotypes about women who make adoption plans. I knew that it would strike people as inconsistent but I hoped that it would do a small part to illustrate the complexity of any adoption story. How many of us have personal stories that are consistent?

What the editor asked directly was, “She was sort of young but still, why adoption?” When Jessica and I discussed this I said, “They want to be able to sum it up so it’s a story they can neatly tell themselves.” I know this because this is just what I wanted to do. I wanted Jessica to have a Reason. It would have been easier for me if Jessica had a clear reason that I could say, “Here is her reason and I deem it good.” (I pretty much say this in the essay.) But I only had Jessica’s word on it. (Only, I say, like it’s the least important piece of it!) This is one of the things we discussed when we talked about the essay.

Comments 15

  1. I enjoyed the article (read it at Salon). I didn’t think that leaving out the reasons for J’s decision was confusing or strange. Like you said, that’s not your part of the story to tell.

    It was interesting to read about the guilt surrounding Madison’s adoption. It seems that no matter how your child comes into your life, there are way too many opportunities for guilt. Lord knows I struggle with it daily.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow. I’ve got to go read the letters. Just goes to show you that assumptions can be dangerous because the truth is always very complex, and we can never know anything unless we, you know, KNOW.

    I think this version reads really, really well. It wasn’t so much an edit (to me) as an expansion, but of course I would have called them edits too. My point is you didn’t lose anything in the edit, to my mind. They were the right edits, methinks.

    You should be really proud of this. It does sound like you. I promise.

  3. Oh, I’m *delighted* that you shared those thoughts with us, exactly what I was hoping for!

    I’m glad you included the mention of the adoption being bi-racial.

    You wrote: “Also when I thought about it more, I realized that likely Madison’s race DID play into my entitlement issues because it was another way I deeply feared failing her.”
    A perfect example of this (later in your relationship w. Madison, though, not in the very beginning which is what you’re referring to in the essay, I know) is the fact that you wrote repeateadly about her hair and how to care about a Black girl’s hair and how you felt people in you life were “not getting” this issue’s importance. (I don’t know if I’ve commented before on this, but I think you’re perfectly right in your focus on this very imp. issue)

  4. Again, thanks for being so damn honest about all of this. Also, thanks for admitting that even your words get changed to fit the style. As someone who isn’t a professional writer, I never thought of that. But as an academic writer, I often get asked to change my tone and in not a very nice way that makes me feel very dumb. So thanks for that too.

    ps: You are soooo way smart that it amazes me.

  5. I read the article last night and the letters this morning, so I couldn’t understand where country club was coming from and had to reread. You really had to stretch to assume that was all what J’s family was about.

    Of course the one woman who was so anti-open adoption made me want to throttle her.

    But the positive letters far outweigh the negative ones! A very well received piece, as it should have been. Beautifully written, and it was great to get the inside scoop on the writing of it.

  6. Wow, the article was just wonderful. As familiar as I am with your story, I still found myself crying as I read it. Well done!

    The letters are bizarre. The disconnect is so insane–people just believe what they want no matter what. And the whole “blood is better” thing?PU-LEASE. I think about my father and how goddamned little that “blood” thing mattered to him.

  7. Wonderful article Dawn. It was great to read about it all over again from a different angle. New things revealed, a different way of expressing something.

    Most of the letters are full of well-deserved sincere praise. A few are whacky. But the main thing is they read you and wee engaged. Yay!

  8. Dawn, the article was just beautiful. Thanks for sharing, and thanks to Jessica for being so open as well. I shared the article with my parents, who are in their own struggles with understanding open adoption. They were as moved as I was.

  9. I think it was lovely, and is bound to touch many people deeply. It’s not only a story about broken hearts, but about open hearts … open to fear, pain, unchartared territory, and, most of all, open to love. That openness to love, shown by all of you, but especially Jessica and yourself, just shines through this piece and actually through your whole story.

  10. Dawn:

    I’ve never been in a position to have to deal with reader mail. Gulp. I didn’t wade through all of them, but man, what I did see was amazing in how effortlessly the points were missed. People carry with them their own assumptions and biases, I guess; this is just another example of that. I have a friend contemplating domestic adoption and linked to your essay. Truly, madly, deeply wonderful writing, Dawn.

  11. first of all, congrats on having this published! Must be strange having it ‘out there’ (where everybody can put their disconnected and baggage-filled comments up along with it. ugh.)

    i do think that even though i have been following your story on here, the article was interesting in that it summed up a whole bunch of things you’ve been talking about.

    thank you again for sharing your honest, complicated, messy, and beautiful thoughts with us all.

  12. WOW I can’t believe what people can extrapolate so I’ll share my extrapolations.. I saw the country club and thought “Dawn is trying to show J is not some stereotype ghetto mama.” I didn’t mean that in a BAD way, like you were trying to show that in a …token…? way, just, that you were giving info to bust what a LOT of people would think “young poor oppressed likely welfare mother” when they hear a young black woman is giving her child up. I’m sorry but it’s true, people think that! What I got from the reunion was a sense, and likely because I’d read here first, that you were trying to show how J’s family was NOT into the whole adoption thing, were scared of it, would have preferred she chosen to parent her child, but were coming to an acceptance. I felt the reunion part was more about YOU being accepted by J’s family! I LOVED how you recognized the reality that Madison has parents who created her, and parents who are raising her, and they ARE ALL part of her life. (Well, okay, not her bio-dad, but, whatever. J’s family). Very nice, if one has to sum up all your emotional angst and drama about the adoption in a 2500 word article, to do it how it was done. Just my nosey two cents.

  13. Excellent article. I could relate to a good bit of it. When you left the hospital with Madison, it read like what happened between my husband and I when we left with Dylan in the rental van. I am glad you put that out there because I know other adoptive parents who could not relate to us feeling like that.

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