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Your Words Matter

How you say things, the words you use matter, not just in your writing, but in everyday speech. In the way you talk about yourself and your book and the way you respond to people. The words we choose leave an impression on how much people should pay attention.

This seems especially problematic for women who have been taught by society to lay low, not to brag, and to be humble. For that reason many of us discredit ourselves. We are “just a mom,” we’ve written, “a thing,” and we make self-deprecating jokes instead of accepting well-deserved and hard-earned praise.

Despite my work to make changes, I found myself in this position just recently. After introducing myself to a colleague she mentioned having heard my name a lot. I could have, and should have, thanked and her and allowed myself to be flattered. I didn’t.

Instead I responded with, “haha, hopefully good things.” And I kicked myself all the way home.

BookEnds has worked hard to make our name heard “a lot”. Besides the blog and our social media accounts, we’ve built an agency that has a name to hear.

Why do we do this? I am proud of the agency I’ve built and the reputation that goes along with it, just as authors should be proud of the book they’ve written. It’s not a thing, it’s a whole entire book! Very few people, despite what your Twitter feed looks like, can actually do that.

Changing the words I use hasn’t been easy, as evidenced by that recent exchange. As with many things in my life, it is a constant work in progress. But owning the power of sharing who I am and who I am proud to have become is worth the effort.

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18 comments

  1. This strikes a chord. My go-to phrase is, “I’ve been lucky”, which, while it might be partly true, isn’t the full story. I’m determined to replace it with something like, “The harder I work, the longer I persevere and the more willing I am to learn, the luckier I get.”

  2. Perfect, and timely for me, too. Thank so much! And don’t worry, you’ll accept the praise better next time :). You rock.

  3. Thank you, Jessica. Please don’t ever stop fighting that particular battle.

    Back in the 60’s (and earlier) a woman who put her credentials and expertise forward was scorned for speaking inappropriately and told to be ‘more of a lady’.
    This is an old fight that still rears up at times. I keep hoping it will die a well-deserved death, but sometimes we, as women, don’t even realize the extent of the conditioning we’ve received. It has been so subtle and is so ingrained.

  4. Totally agree, and find myself doing the same thing– including the kick in the ass all the way home. I’m going to change that!

  5. You are such an inspiring agent. I am gratiful to have found your site and I am sure many many other writers are as well.
    Your words ring true as it is hard for women to accept compliments as we don’t want to seem narcissistic.
    I am learning to say thank you and nothing more when someone compliments me. Sometimes mistakes happen where I fall in the low-confidence and defuse what they say to make it not important but one moment at a time. I am always learning.

  6. Yes, you and most people have much in their lives to be proud of, and should acknowledge them. And you’re right, it is too easy to compare yourself to all your multi-published Facebook and Twitter friends, and event attendees, and say ‘I’ve only had one magazine article, or one picture book published, or ‘just a couple of books’.

    The one that gets me is when instead of saying ‘I am a writer’, people say ‘I’m an aspiring author’. You can aspire to anything. I’m an aspiring musician, but it will never happen because I don’t practice.

    What we say is influenced by the way we have been brought up. Even when visiting a doctor and having been asked how they are, English people who are really sick respond with ‘Mustn’t complain’, ‘Not too bad’, ‘Could be worse’…

    1. Thank you Peter, the whole “aspiring” thing is one of my pet peeves too.

      It’s bad enough when it comes up in conversation, but I have seen people write this in job applications of all places!

      You see, I am not eating lunch at a restaurant headed by an “aspiring chef”, I’m not getting my hair done by an “aspiring hairdresser”. If you’re applying for any kind of job, you had better stopped aspiring years ago and gotten a decent education instead. And if you haven’t: Instant reject.

  7. Oh, you are so right! Just last week, a fellow author who is a man asked me about my new book, and since I didn’t consider him my target audience (cozy-reading females), I downplayed it a bit, then bristled at the words I heard coming out of my mouth. Two days later, an older woman I know (gray-haired lady, voracious reader) asked about my novel, and I bubbled over with enthusiasm. Made me realize I need to “own” my success and be consistently proud of my work. Thanks for sharing your own epiphany moment!

  8. I’ve had a moment like that.

    It wasn’t actually about achievements but something completely different, where I put myself down. but I ended up feeling like I’d rubbed myself up the wrong way! And I was truly angry at myself for being brought up to act self-depreciating, even self INCRIMINATING to the point where I’m LYING ( about failings ) to make others feel comfortable. And to be portraying ‘I’m a crappy person’ when I don’t feel that way – I’m not.

    Certain situations ( and people ) make me vulnerable to presenting myself as lesser than I am. I’ve been careful since that moment ( which I deeply regretted because this person AGREED with me LOL ) , because it’s something from childhood that I didn’t realise I hadn’t shaken off, so I surprised myself by acting that way. These behaviors ARE remnants of the nineteen 50’s and lingering habits of the nineteenth century and it goes on and on, like someone said.

    Women suffer this more than men I feel. A lot more . I think, Jessica, you will never do that quite so badly again if in doing it you REALLY got under your own skin.

  9. I’m probably a nerd but what I’d do ( since it’s a business and important you feel you’re not painting a blemish on it with self depreciation ) I’d role play and get someone to say the things that trigger this response. That way you will , instead of having an unconscious verbal reaction – hopefully be able to recognise you’re at risk of downplaying yourself and you’ll have one of the ‘lines’ that will end up as automatic as the unfavourable response.

    P,S, ( I was going to edit out ‘I probably sound like a nerd’ but left it in to show how often we do it lol. Sigh. Role playing helpful with this stuff so … why pre-empt a good idea with a mark of Low Status. It’s like we have to ask forgiveness for being good at things or having good ideas.

  10. Yep, this is something I need to work on. I’ve always “stepped into the shadows”. I think in part it also comes down to personality – but I am sure I can retrain myself. Maybe.

  11. This happened to me recently at a conference. A few people recognized me and said they’d been wanting to meet me. Inside I was soaring but outside? I got nervous, chuckled, and acted surprised even though this year has been nothing but working towards growing. Thanks for the post!

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