I've been thinking. (Did you smell the smoke?) No, seriously. I've been thinking. Which is always an interesting proposition and sometimes leads to some deep thoughts. Or just-below-the-surface thoughts, which is deep enough. Anyway. I recently saw this post on Author Rachel Hollis's Facebook page, and it made me say, "Right on!" Then I shared it to my own Facebook page (because I'm a pirate that way) and went about my day. But people kept "liking" the post, and I kept receiving notifications related to the post, which would make me think about it all over again. And her point about the word, "just," brought to mind several experiences I've had since publishing books. Let's discuss, shall we, the Masters of Minimization.
No, I'm not referring to people who are really good at hiding program windows on their computers and keeping them out of sight. I'm talking about certain acquaintances of mine--and probably yours, too--who really enjoy downplaying the hard work you put into the things that you do. Perhaps in an effort to justify their own perceived shortcomings; perhaps to convince themselves that what you've accomplished is easily attainable for them, too; or perhaps simply to be a small jerkface of a person who doesn't want anyone to feel good. Take your pick. Or maybe all three.
But they're a lot more creative about it than using the word "just" in their efforts to minimize your hard work. Because they don't want to come off like a-holes. As a matter of fact, sometimes what they say initially sounds downright flattering... until you think about it a little more. Then, if you're like me, hours later, you say, "Hey! I think that might have been an insult. Noooo... I'm sure I'm being overly sensitive. But wait... Yep, they really did mean it that way! Huh. Well. Lah-dee-dah."
"Examples!" you say. "We must have examples, so we can judge for ourselves if you're a paranoid lunatic."
Okay. Here's one of the most egregious examples I've experienced. I'll give you the CliffsNotes version.
A freelance writer once told me that I wrote my novels from an"ivory tower," since I had a husband and lived in a two-income household and didn't rely on my books to put food on the table and a roof over my head and clothes on my kids' backs. At the time, I was incensed. Now, I laugh about it. Because if this is what living in an ivory tower entails, it's one of the most overrated existences... EVER.
Here's what I typically envision when I hear "ivory tower."
Pretty! Even better, remote! Far away from douchey people who make assumptions about one's life during jealous fits based not even remotely on facts.
Let me tell you what my "ivory tower" actually entails. And I'm going to be painfully honest here so you can get an accurate picture, not so you can pity me or so I can say, "Woe is me!" These are just the facts, and they're part of life, and I'm sure you have a similar story to tell, because we're all in this adulting thing together, and unless you're independently wealthy (and if you are, good for you!), adulting generally stinks. So here goes...
With my full-time day job (which I am very thankful to have, I'd like to state right away), I am the primary breadwinner of my household. I work forty-plus hours a week outside of my home at a job that--while very nice--isn't exactly what I imagined myself doing when I thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Join the club, right? My husband works upwards of sixty hours per week at a job that he's also thankful to have but that is very physical and exhausting. In order to pay the bills and support our family, we suck it up on a daily basis and get it done. Because that's what you do. Like many Americans, we carry considerable debt, with that debt dating back to the first years of our marriage, when we had a baby, and I was going to college and holding down a part-time job. We have plenty of money to pay our bills (most months, as long as nobody gets sick or hurt or needs a tux... ahem... college kid... or has car trouble or any of the other 5,000 unexpected, yet very possible, things that can go wrong on any given day), but if we were to miss just one paycheck, we'd be in deep doo doo. That's called "living paycheck to paycheck," folks, and it'll keep you up at night if you think too much about it.
At the time this person claimed I was sitting in my cozy tower, penning my silly books, I had just given birth to a baby who was quite an unexpected addition to our family, the result of my body and my birth control getting their wires crossed with the anti-seizure medication I was promised wouldn't have any interactions with said birth control. (Side note: in case you're worried, more permanent measures have since been taken to ensure no future Browns emerge from this household. We get that the world is overpopulated.) Babies are grand. I'd already had two of them I loved very much. And I loved the new one very much. Still... things did not seem all that ivory tower-ish to me.
Fast forward five years, and not much has changed. Am I living and dying by my writing? Nope. I've made other arrangements to ensure that isn't the case. A responsible parent doesn't let her children starve for her "art." But it's actually a huge frustration that I don't make enough money doing what I love to support my family with it. If that makes my writing a luxury, so be it. Let's be really, really, really clear here. I'm not raking in the royalties. But those royalties, however paltry, ARE a factor in my family's income. They give us a little more breathing room and make those unexpected dead car batteries a little less stressful. They mean my husband nor I have to seek a part-time weekend job outside the house.
My publication journey and current aggressive schedule haven't "just" happened. I don't have two books handed to me every year to publish. I birth them, from concept to publication. And with the exception of a few tasks, like cover art, I do it all (with the support, of course, of friends, family, and a great community of like-minded writers). I get up at 4:30 a.m. daily to carve out two hours of uninterrupted writing time before I get the kids up for school.
Probably the worst thing you can say or imply when someone's worked hard at something is that the person has had their success handed to them. Especially when that success is as modest as mine. I mean... throw me a bone and give me credit for the couple hundred books I sell every year.
Here are a few of my other favorite minimizing statements:
- "If I had the time, I could write a book."
Or eleven. Or thirteen. But who's counting?
- "I could write as fast as you do if I weren't such a perfectionist."
Haha. Oh, boy. Ask my husband my perfectionism level. Try being fast AND picky. It's fun.
- "I'd have a more aggressive publishing schedule, but I'm really involved with my kids."
Wow. Yeah, I'm lucky I don't give a crap about my offspring. Clears up a lot of time in my day.
- "It's nice that you have a such a fun hobby that you love."
Gosh, yes. What are your hobbies so I can condescend to you about them? That's neat.
What's the takeaway here? We--all of us--need to learn to keep our envy-fueled comments to ourselves. Because we never know what someone else goes through every single day, behind the scenes, in order to present his or her public face to the world. Don't be a master of minimization. Nobody likes you.
When you buy my books, you're not only getting hours of entertainment, you're supporting a worthy cause. My ivory tower desperately needs repainting!