10.14.2010

Getting Another Opinion

Having been a children’s book editor for over twenty-five years, one of the things I’ve said most often to authors is that the business of evaluating a book (indeed, art of any kind) is highly subjective, there are going to be many varying opinions of their work and so it makes sense that they would submit their work to several different places—or to have critique sessions with several different editors or agents—in order to gain the best possible feedback for their work. I warn them that for as many different editors and agents who see their work, an artist will be obtaining as many different points of view and interpretations of their work and, indeed, some of the interpretations and ideas about their work will be diametrically opposed. The feedback, when taken all together, might at first seem overwhelming, confusing, and unclear—with so many different opinions about how best to revise or recraft a project, it can often feel as though everyone’s opinion, no matter how reputable and professional, is canceling out everyone else’s opinion, thereby leaving the author without any clear direction or decision.
     Though it may not always seem so at first, this business of submitting work for critique and evaluation is a crucial and ultimately enlightening process for an artist. What starts to happen through this process is that the author will ultimately find that one person’s interpretation and suggestion resonates with them on a level far deeper than reason. One person’s grasp of and response to an author’s work will seem right to the author. The suggestions offered will make a kind of sense that’s hard to quantify, but that will make the author feel the person is really getting their work and understanding what it is they’re trying to say. That the person is really getting them. And so it will be those suggestions and ideas that the author will feel excited to think about, the revision process will become much clearer, and the author will feel confident their work is going to get stronger.
     About a month ago, I decided it was high time to see an orthopedic surgeon to determine what was causing my lower back pain. X-rays. MRI. The surgeon I saw—who performed an excellent surgery on my lower back in the past—brought his knowledge of my medical history, his remarkable surgical prowess, and an impeccable pedigree to bear on his assessment and he prescribed a very serious surgery that would render me pain free. I trusted his evaluation (after all, he knew my back intimately!), I was excited that I could undergo a process that would ease my pain, and I signed up. It felt extreme, but I didn’t think I had much of a choice. And, besides, he’s the pro, right? He would know. And then, through the urging of several friends, I decided to go for a second opinion. Honestly, I fully expected the second surgeon to look at everything and completely agree with the first doctor’s prescription and I’d be good to go.
     I was wrong.
     Bringing remarkable surgical prowess and an impeccable pedigree to his assessment, the second doctor’s opinion was pretty much diametrically opposed to the first, and a non-surgical course of action was prescribed. I became excited that I could undergo a process that would ease my pain without having to undergo such a serious surgery after all and I decided to think twice about having the surgery. But…something about what the doctor was suggesting didn’t put me wholly at ease. That, combined with the fact that if I was going to have surgery, I needed to have it this month (due to a whole host of insurance issues as well as upcoming business commitments), I was uneasy about having to decide between two such extreme positions. And so I went for a third opinion. I fully expected the third surgeon to look at everything and completely agree with either the first doctor’s prescription or the second doctor’s prescription.
     I was wrong.
     Bringing remarkable surgical prowess and an impeccable pedigree to his assessment, the third doctor offered an entirely new option to me—a surgery that’s a good deal less severe than the one first prescribed and that seems necessary because of some compression on nerves which would probably not be eased by a non-surgical course of treatment. We talked about my weight, we talked about my neurological health, we talked about my age and what my spine was already doing to try to heal and strengthen itself in light of what the X-rays and MRI were showing. And I knew. This was the doctor. This was the course of treatment. Though he didn’t know me and my medical history and though he was prescribing surgery (all surgery, no matter how minor, is a serious step to take), the way in which he came to his conclusions and the suggestions he was making made sense to me. His course of action feels right. And so, I will be following his course of treatment and feel confident that I’m in the right state of mind and body to come through it stronger, healthier, and wholly prepared to get back to my life.
     Here’s the thing, though, that woke me up at 4:30 this morning and prompted this post. I could not have made a decision as to how best to proceed without having heard and considered several opinions. The fact that the opinions were so varied is extraordinary to me and for a short while, it rendered me a complete wreck. Who’s right? What do I do? I’ve learned through this process, though, that in order to reach that place in which I am most emotionally and psychologically comfortable to be willing to undergo a course of treatment that will make me feel better, I needed to have myself examined and interpreted by more than one person. I needed to get feedback, and then more feedback, and then more again, until something I heard resonated with me on a level far deeper than reason. Until something I heard felt right to me and gave me the tools, both emotional and tangible, to proceed. I am going to be undergoing a physical revision in about a week and I feel great about the course on which this revision is going to take me because I have found someone to help me get there who gave me a critique and is offering solutions that I feel will make me stronger.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC

11 comments:

  1. True, true, true!!! For books, for medical stuff, for all the arts, for everything. I will be thinking about you and your back. Take Care.

    k

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  2. Just like publishing is subjective, so is medical "science". There's so much they don't know yet and each one brings a different set of experiences and leanings to the table. I'm glad you found the right one for you. Hope it all goes smoothly and you wind up pain free.

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  3. Okay, that's a really visceral metaphor! Surgery as revision, revision as surgery...And of course it's true. The same processes of decision making and evaluation apply regardless of the decisions and evaluations required. At a methodological level, there's no difference between literary, medical, mechanical, personal, or political decisions.

    I realized a long time ago that a basic unity underlies all human experience (and a lot of other things); but examples like this still blindside me from time to time.

    Take it easy and get better. Life improves across the board once you find the right medical treatment. (Trust me. It will.)

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  4. Fabulously written. BRAVO! Getting the proper medical treatments are sometimes a full-time job. So glad you found the right doctor, I will be thinking of you and praying for a speedy recovery for you next week.

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  5. I love the way your mind makes connections in this way, Emma. As writers, we should strive for the same skill in our work, strive for a way to communicate an idea, dilemma, or emotion to our readers on a visceral level.

    I wish you all the best with your new doctor!

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  6. Emma, I totally agree with your revision/surgery analogy - I started to write more but it turned incredibly graphic and in poor taste! I hope all goes well with your surgery and recuperation. I'm sending you healing thoughts.

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  7. Thank you for this sensitive and well thought-out commentary on process.
    I am so glad I found it, read it and have taken in its, your, wisdom.

    Deborah N. L.

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  8. A riveting piece! So glad you found the right surgeon and are in good hands. I'll be sending healing thoughts your way.

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  9. Safe healing to you, Emma, and thank you for the analogy to the work of writing. The parallels between writing and life are strange and powerful.

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  10. Thanks more than I can say for these lovely responses. It's a journey we're all on in way or another -- and it feels so good to know one's not alone.

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  11. Chiming in late, but just had to say how much I related to your situation. Years ago, my daughter and I "shopped around" for the best medical solution to a serious health matter she was dealing with. After exploring many options, we jumped for joy when we knew we had found the best option for her situation. Perseverance paid off. This applies to so many things in life, including our craft. Thanks for sharing, Emma. May you heal thoroughly and enjoy good health for a very long time.

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