Thursday, May 15, 2008

Boldness and Good Boundaries

Yesterday on the phone with my friend, teacher, and fellow novelist Laurel Goldman I had one of those ping-moments of realization.

Rattling on about my work consulting with writers, I realized all in an instant why I prefer working with people one-to-one rather than leading a long-term close-knit weekly group. I'd always thought that my reluctance to run such a group had to do with the extreme regularity of it.

Now I know that that's the smaller part of my objection. I prefer the one-to-one irregular contacts better because I don't have to witness the immediate unhappiness that critical feedback can bring. I typically hear from the person again only after she or he has decided what to do or not do with my feedback, and has gotten past any anger or disappointment.

That period of disconnection allows me to be as fully forthcoming with my thoughts as I need to be in order to be useful.

This is true of me because my boundaries (my sense of separateness from other people)haven't been strong enough long enough for me to tell every critical thought I've had without a significant possibility of holding back, consciously or unconsciously, in a mistaken effort to protect both of us.

For a person who is paid to give feedback on writing to withhold a response to the work is malpractice. It's cheating the other person.

For me, this little distance lets me keep my balance better, allows me to be bolder and freer, more objective and better at doing this kind of work.

After all, doctors don't usually treat their own family members. Lawyers don't go home with clients to whom they've had to deliver some hard-to-take information; if they did, and witnessed any resulting unhappiness, they might be tempted to soft-pedal in a way that ultimately hurts the client.

So for the time being I structure this little distance. Maybe one day my sense of separateness will let me do it differently, or maybe not.

In any event, I'm glad to have figured out this connection between boundaries and being as fully outspoken as I need to be.

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Elaine said...

Writers are so sensitive--it makes perfect sense that you don't want to be too close to the pain your clients may experience upon receiving your critiques, helpful though they may be. I'm glad you figured out what works for you. I'm moving into the arena of coaching other writers and expect to encounter some of the same issues. Thanks for sharing, Peggy.

Peggy Payne said...

Good luck with your own work in this area, Elaine.

On the boundaries matter, I found one book enormously helpful. The title: Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend.

It's a Christian book but has a far wider audience, has sold just under a million copies in hardback alone.

The strength of it is that it shows appropriate self-protection as a moral act. I found that profoundly persuasive.

Elaine said...

How interesting, Peggy. I LOVE Cloud & Townsend. Their How People Grow is one of my favorite books. I didn't know about their Boundaries book but will definitely check it out.

Thanks for the good wishes. When too many people in my writers' group started turning to me for help with their writing, I figured it was a sign that I should start charging for my services!

Peggy Payne said...

I'm glad to find out about their other books.

And I got into consulting to writers in a similar way: getting many phone calls every week from people who wanted to know how to become a freelance writer. Now I charge by the minute for those phone calls, and it's my "day job."