1. It’s hard to make time for things you care about when you’re a mom.
When I started this about a year ago, I think I pictured myself typing daintily at a keyboard and chuckling to myself as I typed witty things and sipped tea on sunny afternoons. I think I thought that I would be able to just carve out chunks of time to do this, and that I’d be able to just “make it work”. That’s not at all what happened.
First off, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be to actually sit down and do the work. I worked full-time. I have two small kids and not a ton of childcare. I would try to occupy these children with something when I thought I could steal 30 minutes, but the moment I sat down with my laptop my kids were immediately aware that I was NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO THEM and they’d either stir up some astounding kind of trouble or would be climbing my pant leg for attention.
Also, I learned that asking for help “because it’s an emergency!” and then following that with “I have a blog due by 10 pm and I haven’t finished the book yet!” will not stir up very much sympathy. People did not volunteer to watch my children or bring me cheese and crackers. So weird!
What I learned from this is that, as a mom, my inclination is always going to be to put aside the things that make me feel happy and fulfilled so that I can care for my family–and that urge is almost always a mistake. I will always take care of them. Always. But I also have to take care of myself, and I have to be very determined to do the things that make me feel like myself. Reading and writing, I have learned, are two very non-negotiable things that make me feel like a human and individual, and I have to choose to take time for that when I can. If that means extra babyproofing, waking up early, or going to bed later now and then, then that’s a requirement and not an option.
2. It’s better to do big things with the right people.
I think it all started when I texted my sister one night and said, Hey, I have this crazy idea but you have to do it with me! And she groaned and suggested we call Holly. And this is the only way this blog could have ever become something real. Why?
I’m full of ideas, but I doubt myself constantly and get really stressed about offending people. Being a natural-born self-doubter means I don’t take a lot of chances. My sister is gung-ho and virtually always right. She’s bold and feisty and she laughs, all the time. Holly is very matter-of-fact and blunt, but she’s tactful and she’s always fair. If you need something carefully researched, she’s your person. She’s also the Queen of Sarcasm. Meetings with these two are often the highlight of my week.
If I had attempted to do this on my own, I know that I would have failed. That’s not the self-doubt talking — from just a “recipe for success” standpoint, I don’t have what it takes on my own to pull this off. I had an incredibly stressful year and a lot on my plate, but–I also had two people I knew would tell me the truth and help me figure things out. I knew that if there were problems, Holly and Erin would be there for me with thoroughly researched best practices and a plan. A plan with meeting minutes and a schedule! When I needed to take a more supporting role, they completely understood and cut back my responsibilities without judgement. And when I finally left my job, they cheered me on and supported me in taking on some more work. Always without judgment and always with the bigger picture in mind. This blog became something real because of Holly and Erin.
Because of their patience, support, and kindness, I’ve been able to develop skills I didn’t have before, and I was able to do something I’ve wanted to do for a really, really long time. I’m really proud that I didn’t give up when things got tough, and I realize that I very likely would have without being part of a team. I wish everyone had an Erin and a Holly in their lives. They should be a real-life medical prescription. Not kidding.
3. Being kind v. being right.
Speaking of personal struggles, being a reviewer was super hard for me when I didn’t love the book I was reading. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I would nearly ALWAYS choose being kind over being right, and that mindset usually pays off for me. At the very least, I feel much more comfortable in my own skin, which is important when you’re a perpetually socially inept person.
However, when you’re reviewing books you have to think about who you’re trying to serve. When you’re reading and evaluating written works from a critical standpoint, you have to be fair and you have to be honest. I’ve learned to ask myself questions like, “if I liked this trope more, would I have felt this book rated higher?” or “does this really have plot holes or are you just the wrong reader?” If I have done a balanced job of reading a book, and I am able to fairly and accurately articulate my views, then saying I liked something when I didn’t (or scrambling to find the silver lining) is a disservice to my own readers who are looking for a good read. And on the flip side, I’ve been given the opportunity to read some up-and-coming names in romance who have completely blown me away, and they deserve that full, honest credit.
So, in this case I have had to choose being respectful over being kind. It’s a losing battle to try to make everyone happy, and it makes for really boring and dishonest reviews. We have started giving authors a heads up if we believe a book’s potential review is going to be negatively impacted by poor copyediting or proofing, and that has been very helpful in terms of establishing a respectful and supportive relationship with our authors. The goal is always to appreciate the hard work and vulnerability romance authors undertake to create these books. Prioritizing respect above all else is a good, balanced focus.
I’m still hopeful this will bleed into other areas of my people-pleasing life.
4. “You gotta try new foods ‘cause they might taste good”.
With preschoolers in the house, we obviously watch some Daniel Tiger. So at dinnertime, you’ll often hear me singing “you gotta try new foods ‘cause they might taste good!”, and then you’ll hear my 4 year old moaning about me singing AGAIN. I feel for the kid, I really do — because there have been times when we’ve been handing out requests that I have had to buckle down and read things I did not think that I would like.
For example, being the Smut Reporter who just wanted everyone to get along meant that I used to struggle a lot with books featuring messy or initially unlikeable characters. OH, THE BOOKS I WAS MISSING OUT ON! I have since learned to cherish books with messy characters. Give me all the mess! People in real life are nearly always walking disasters in one way or another. Still worthy of love, and all the more satisfying when they’re able to pull everything together and ride off into the sunset.
I also rarely if ever chose books with dark themes or kinks. I have since learned that I can put my “reader goggles” on and enjoy just about anything. I just kind of empathize with people who like whatever trope or theme or characters I have in front of me and read for them. It’s not always easy and it often takes me a lot longer to finish books I don’t automatically identify with, but I’ve found I can really cultivate real enjoyment for almost anything. Erin and Holly have teased me for being the “soft” reviewer, and it’s true — but I’ve also worked really hard on reading a bigger variety and featuring authors and characters and voices I may not have reached for otherwise, much to my joy and benefit.
The Smut Report has been hands-down one of the most illuminating experiences I’ve had as an adult, and it came into my life in the best possible way. Who wouldn’t want to work with two badass women? Who wouldn’t want to read hundreds of romance novels and meet talented authors and bond with other wonderful reviewers? I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished, and I’m proud of myself for sticking with this even when it felt like I was failing in almost every area of my life and may as well just throw in the towel. So I guess the best summary I have for this experience is that I chose to do something absurd with two brilliant women and a year and countless struggles later, it makes me happy so I’m going to keep doing it.
Thanks for reading!