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When more of a good thing is too much

One of the most interesting things I heard the Ohio Counseling Association conference a couple of years back was something in the presentation on qualities of an effective counselor. The official title of the break-out session was: “Beyond Techniques: Understanding How Counselor Characteristics Impact Counseling Impact.” This was presented by Scott Hall PhD, LPCC-SC-S and Michelle Flaum, EdD, PCC-S.

My favorite part of it was a Character Identity Inventory that looked at Cardinal Values, which are the values we strive to live out as counselors (and as human beings). These Cardinal Values have what the good doctors call Shadow Values. There are under-developed Shadow Values, which is what we commonly think of when we think about good/bad. Then there are over-developed Shadow Values, which totally made me think of the internet.

For example (and this is the version that made me think of the internet), Honesty is a Cardinal Value. Dishonesty is the underdeveloped Shadow Value. But the overdeveloped Shadow Value is Bluntness, Without Tact.

How many times have you watched Facebook go up in flames because someone is saying something extreme and hurtful and defending it by saying, “I’m just being honest!”

I am really intrigued by the idea of overdeveloped Cardinal Virtues because I think they may be the hardest to change. Moderation can be hard anywhere but on the internet sometimes it seems like rigidity reigns only sometimes it’s disguised as being truly free-thinking, truly brave, truly committed to a cause.

So how can we tell where we are on the continuum?

We can ask ourselves, “How does practicing the virtue help or harm you and your relationships?” And then sometimes we just need to get quit typing and come to bed already instead of trying to fix everyone else who lives in our computer.

Why we need editors

construct-insideOf course we need copyeditors, even with spellcheck and grammar check and all the fancy whizbang add-ons to our word processing software but if you are a writer, you need an editor — someone to help you with content and flow and direction. You will need them even if you’ve gotten this far without them. You won’t get better unless you have one.

I know this for myself and I know this for other writers, too, because when I was wearing my professional editor hat (for various publications) I wasn’t just the person writing unfinished essays that I thought were already perfect; I was also receiving unfinished essays the authors already thought were perfect. I’m here to tell you that I am always wrong when I think my piece is just dandy and so were most of the writers submitting to me and you probably are, too.

If you are doing a lot of writing — even publishing a lot of writing – and you are not getting good edits, you should find someone to step in. You can pay someone or join a writing group or find a friend with a keenly critical eye but you should get someone to help you be a better writer because I’ll tell you, I think it hurts a lot of great writers to write a long time without some objective help.

Ok, I know there are geniuses among us (I am most certainly NOT one) and I also know that there are regular people who can dash off something brilliant once in a great while (I have had this happen — but it is a rare thing and I cherish it!) but most of us need help. We need new eyes, we need to rewrite — we need editors.

A good editor is a blessed thing. Someone who can see the structure hiding in your prose and help you tease it out is no small miracle. A good editor makes you a better writer. A good editor makes you read your final draft and marvel at its form and movement. A good editor will push and prod you to say what you think you’ve said but actually kept tucked somewhere up behind your brain. They will ask questions that the reader will ask. They will force you to state what you think is obvious but is really obscure.

A good editor’s suggestions may frustrate you or even make you cry but if they’re good, you can trust them. How will you know that you can trust them? Because after you are done being frustrated and after you’ve wiped away your tears you will realize they are right. You will look at the piece and wonder how in the world you ever thought it could be written any other way. You will realize that what you dismissed as “dumb suggestions” are actually a chance for you to answer your readers’ questions before they’ve even asked them.

Because I really want to bring home what a good editor can do for you, I got permission from Brain Child Mag to share the pdf of an essay I pitched to them with their edits. I believe that Tracy Mayor and Stephanie Wilkinson did the edits on this one. You can download the original essay I submitted here, then the marked up copy here (both in pdf format), and finally go read the finished piece, Textured (you can print the final essay from their web site if you want to do a side by side).

You can see how the piece remained itself but was refined through their questions and suggestions. You can see how the structure was tightened and became more focused. I’ll tell you that I did cry after I got the edits because I thought I already nailed it but I took some time away from it and I called a wonderful writer friend and then I sat down and rewrote it. It’s ok to fuss and flutter and whine when you get feedback and you’re tired and grumpy and sick to death of the piece you thought was done already (as long as you don’t whine to the editor) and it’s fine to have some back and forth to clarify (I think between this first go-through and the final I did ask some questions about their questions) but if you trust your editor (and I implicitly trust the editors of Brain Child) then eventually you need to sit with what they’re asking and figure out how to answer it.

Now here I have to give a shout out for the best editor I’ve ever had, my friend Rebecca Steinitz. I’ve been fortunate to have her eyes for a number of different projects and she is always always always right when she gives me feedback. Always. She can slice through my meandering and find a point I didn’t even know I had. She can eyeball a piece and immediately see what’s superfluous. She does not sugarcoat her feedback but she is always kind. And being a writer herself she knows that writing is its own special kind of hell so she will appreciate the work you put into a piece even as she hands it back and tells you to do it over.

If you don’t have a Becca in your life or can’t afford to hire her but want to become a better writer, I highly encourage you to find a great crit group (and I know how hard that is to come by but keep trying!) or start submitting your work to places where you will have an editor. It’s all fine and dandy to cash those paychecks from, say, Demand Studios or Examiner.com but if you want to be a better writer you can’t stay there. (I’d even argue that sticking around too long someplace where you’re not edited will eventually hurt you by making you lazy and trite.) You may not get paid at Literary Mama but you will get a committed editor and a nice clip, which may help you more in the long run.

Because we all of us — every last one — need an editor.

Note: This post did not have an editor. It would be much better if it did.

Open Adoption Interview Project

field-insideHeather, whose continued commitment to connecting the open adoption blogosphere inspires me, arranged this blog-wide interview project a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping for a blog that would be new to me and happily I was introduced to the beautiful Heart Cries, by Rebekah who is mom to 9-month old Ty. It was a treat to read and get to know Rebekah whoses values and experiences are in some ways very different from mine but whose love for and commitment to her son and his story certainly resonate with me in many, many ways. I left my first visit feeling like we had a lot more in common than you might think at first glance! I hope that you enjoy meeting her as much as I have and that you go and check out her wonderful blog!

1. How did your struggles with infertility impact your relationship with God? I know you’ve written a lot about this (beautifully, I might add) but I’m wondering if you can look back in hindsight and see how it illuminated some aspect of your personal relationship that you carry with you now in your present day?

Infertility rocked my world. When it came to God, everything I thought I believed was stripped down and challenged. Every emotion I thought I had experienced was intensified. Every unasked question I was, previously, too respectful to ask, I screamed. I pounded the door of heaven and shouted why a million times over. I begged God to remove the desire to mother from my heart. I did everything the church had taught me to do. I wept, I prayed, I repented. Yet, God remained silent.

It was the silence that overhauled my heart to unrecognizable.

Now looking back I see what God was doing. He took me through the process of removal. I had filled my life with pretenses and had inaccurate absolutes about how God functioned in the lives of those that called him Lord. My faith was peeled back to naked and re-cloaked with truth. An intimate understanding of who my Father is emerged and one ringing truth birthed from my months of war-worthy, inner turmoil – God is faithful…even when I lack all faith. It’s such a simple, no-nonsense claim, but it resonates deep in my heart.

2. How did being witness to your son’s first mom’s loss change you as a mother and as a Christian? (If it did?)

There aren’t enough words to express the bleeding my heart has felt through this process. I thought I knew what Rebekah would feel the day she handed me her son. I thought I had prepared myself for the pain. I had bathed our relationship in prayer and knew that God had woven our lives together for a unique purpose, but that was not bulwark enough. Rebekah and I were both ill prepared for what we experienced. Those first few days were horrendously difficult. My arms held another woman’s baby; another woman’s son. His eyes searched for hers, not mine. I could not separate my heart from hers and when I looked at Tyrus, I could only see Rebekah’s pain. I was not prepared for the crimes I felt. I was a fake and a thief. Knowing that my dream came at the expense of Rebekah was almost too much to bear. I remember asking her at one point, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

Our wide-open relationship made the transition harder, but I would never change it. Looking back, I know how important it was for me to see, hear, and read Rebekah’s loss. I needed to experience the reality of adoption for me and for Tyrus. In the coming years, I will be able to answer many of his questions with heartfelt conviction.

Those early days of ache have taught me two lasting principles: Rebekah and I equally share the blessing of being Ty’s mother and our children truly do not belong to us, they are the Lord’s.

3. What has surprised you most about mothering?

The ease of it. For me, motherhood has not been forced or fabricated in an unnatural fashion. It came with a gentle confidence I did not know I possessed.

4. What has surprised you most about adoption?

I can’t think of any surprises when it comes to Ty, specifically, but the process of adopting Ty was horribly unpredictable. Just when we thought we were approved or “all set,” another shocker was thrown our way. From agency to insurance issues, we have had many obstacles to tackle. It feels good to have the process behind us.

5. What has surprised you most about open adoption?

We originally embraced open adoption out of duty. We felt we owed it to our baby and his mother. What I have discovered in the process, however, is that Rebekah is not just an extension of Ty…she’s an extension of me…and our family. I didn’t realize how deeply I would fall in love with her, while falling in love with my son. There is something so uniquely incredible about two mothers loving the same boy. Apart from Ben, there is no one else on this planet that would sit through hours of boring video in effort to catch a small smile or faint hiccup. She revels in Ty’s new discoveries and phases of change. I love that we laugh, cry, and dream of Ty’s future, together.

6. How has writing your blog shaped your perception of your experiences? (This is something I’m interested in — how writing our stories helps us make sense of them.)

I’m a writer. Pounding out my thoughts, fears, and frustrations during this process has helped me navigate the highs and lows of adoption. Blogging kept me accountable to the rawness of what I was feeling. If I simply kept a bed-side journal, I wouldn’t have explored the depths of darkness that I walked or questioned the hidden stirrings. Knowing that my inner wrestling was public, made me dig past the surface and really illuminate the fullness of what I was experiencing. Working through the questions and concerns in a methodical manner gave me an inner, real life, confidence. I only wish I had started writing sooner, it would have made my infertility struggle more bearable.

7. How has reading other people’s blogs changed you or inspired you?

I stumbled across my first adoption blog when I did a web search of agencies. I’ll never forget the experience. My heart wept as I read one barren blog after another. For the first time in my life, I felt completely understood. I had found a community of women just like me. It was exhilarating and liberating at the same time. So many of the bloggers here have become my sisters; my friends. They challenge me to look outside my box of understanding and encourage me to love more. I find great value in reading through every facet of adoption. I drink in other perspectives and covet input from adoptees and first moms. My world view has expanded in so many ways. From Kenyan orphanages to faithful foster families, God is using fellow bloggers to stir my heart.

8. Can you share more of your writing goals with us?

Earlier this year, our pastor was talking about vision and he said something that hasn’t left my memory. He said, “If the goals you have laid out for yourself are easily accomplished on your own, your vision isn’t large enough.” That day, I began praying for God to widen my view and set dreams afire in my heart. When I dream, I dream big. More than anything, I want God to use me for his kingdom, in whatever way he deems best. I hope his best includes writing. I am first interested in writing Ty’s story, but would also like to write Rebekah’s. My interests are not exclusive to adoption. One of my lifetime dreams has always been to write children’s books. When I look at interracial families, like my sister’s, I know there’s a place for the stories I want to tell.

It’s apparently official!

My essay, “Someone Else’s Shoes: How On-Blog Discourse Changed a Real Life Adoption” will appear in Mothering and Blogging: Practice and Theory to be published by Demeter Press spring 2009. This is a cleaned up and enlarged version of the presentation I gave on Shannon’s panel at the Philly adoption conference. All the edits are done and I just turned in my short bio but I kinda won’t believe it ’til I see it. (I’m superstitious about happy things!)

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