But That’s Not What I Meant

When our children were young, my husband and I often struggled to make ends meet on just one income.  As much as I wanted to stay at home with our children, I felt guilty about not working and so I tried to help out by working as a free-lance writer.  I sold a lot of articles to local newspapers and magazines, but I never made much money from any of those sales.  So I was very excited when I signed a contract with a book packager to write a short fantasy novel for an educational publisher for a one-time fee of $2,100.

DSC00181The book was going to be used in high school English classes, even though it was supposed to be written at the fifth-grade reading level.   I had both a word list and a mathematical formula that determined how often the words on the list had to be used in the book, and they wanted the finished manuscript in their offices in a little over three weeks.  It wasn’t easy, but I met the deadline, mailed in my manuscript, and eagerly waited for the first check I had earned from my writing that would actually be in the four digits.

A few weeks after I had thought I would be paid, I was still waiting for my check.  I called the book packager’s office a couple of times to enquire about exactly when I would be receiving my payment, and the answer was always “soon.”  To say I was unhappy would be an understatement.  I was very worked up about the whole situation,  brooding and  fuming,  and often complaining bitterly to my husband.  Finally, he told me to just quit worrying about it.  He was sure that I would be paid eventually, and even if I wasn’t, “It’s not as if that amount of money is actually going to make a big difference.”

I was so stung by that remark that I couldn’t even reply.  I had been so proud of myself for taking on a difficult writing assignment (I had no experience using formulas for word lists or writing fantasy novels) and managing to actually write even a short book in three weeks time while watching two young children.  And although $2,100 is not much for the sale of a book, I had honestly thought it was enough to make a difference in our current household budget.  How dare he just dismiss my hard work?  But I didn’t want to have a big fight, so I just swallowed my pride and pretended that his remark hadn’t cut quite so deeply.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized how completely I had misunderstood my husband’s words.  Even though I what I had heard was that my measly little $2,100 check didn’t mean very much, what he had meant was, “Please stop stressing about getting paid.  It’s making you very unhappy, and it’s not worth it.  That check won’t make or break us financially.  We’re going to be okay.”  I had thought he was being dismissive and unfeeling, while he thought he was being supportive and helpful.

It’s sad how easy it is to misunderstand what people say to us, even when we know someone very well.  I think the problem is that no one, even those closest to us, can ever know exactly what we are thinking and feeling, unless we take the time to tell them.  My husband had no idea how much emotional baggage I had riding on that check (which did eventually arrive), and I had no idea how much my stressing about it was bothering him.

These days I try to take the time to find out what people really mean when they say something that hurts my feelings, because so often that’s all it takes for me to realize that the other person wasn’t trying to be hurtful at all.  And now I realize that I could have avoided a very painful misunderstanding if I had simply asked my husband just exactly what he’d meant when he told me that whether or not I got paid for my book wasn’t that big of a deal…..

39 thoughts on “But That’s Not What I Meant

  1. Oh Ann, you are so right, it’s far too easy to misunderstand and let words fester and upset us instead of saying what we feel and having it out in the open. I’ve done the same thing after my husband has said a remark that was not intended to hurt but did through sheer lack of understanding. Congratulations on getting the book published, by the way. Did you end up getting paid for it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I did get my check! There was a problem with the paperwork on their end, apparently, but it was straightened out and I was paid. But more importantly, I’ve learned to ask questions when someone says something hurtful, because it’s so much easier to talk it out than to let the hurt feeling linger. Especially when there was no hurt intended!

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  2. So true – and so often it is the “tone” in which something is said that completely changes the meaning. So……. did you ever get the money? Is the book still in print? YAY for you! Quite an achievement – especially with little ones at home too!

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    • Yes, I was paid, just a little bit later than I was supposed to be. There was a glitch on their end, but it all ended up okay. I don’t know if the book is in print or not….I checked a few years ago, and was able to order a few more copies of it. But it was never sold in bookstores, it was only used in classrooms. Still, it was a thrill to see my words published in a book form!

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  3. You’re so right on this, Ann. Sometimes we only say part of what we’re thinking/feeling and expect others to understand while other times we reply to something like your husband did and expect that you understood what he meant. We need to be clear about what we say and if we’re hurt by something we need to be clear about that also. I’m glad it was finally cleared up for you but I’m sorry you felt that way for so long.

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    • Thanks, George! I am sorry it took me so long to realize that it’s more than worth the effort to discuss these things rather than let hurt feelings continue, but I guess better late than never! The bottom line is, I always want what is best for my husband, and he always wants what is best for me, so when one of us is saying something that sounds as if we are disrespecting the other one, it is sure to be a simple matter of miscommunication. And I have found that the same thing hold true for most of my other relationships as well. The truth is, it’s hard to know where someone is coming from if they don’t tell us, and they don’t know how we feel about what they are saying if we don’t tell them.

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  4. That is so cool that you wrote a book! And so quickly! Have you written any other books? I wrote articles for a local paper for about a year but finally stopped when I realized that by the time I drove to the said event, interviewed people, drove home, wrote, revised, and edited, the $50 per article I was making came to about $5 per hour if that. It’s so depressing when you love to do something but can hardly if at all earn a living from it. But I don’t regret it. I got to meet some cool people and do things I would never have done. Currently I’m working on a romance novel that’s very slow going due to my work schedule and it’ll probably never get published but I still love the writing process and you never know.

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    • Oh, Kim, that sounds so familiar! I made only $50 for most of my articles, too, and finally had to give it up because the time invested just wasn’t worth the money, even though it was good experience. I did have one sale to Brides magazine for $600, and a couple of other sales for a decent amount, but those were few and far between.
      As for the book, I’m not sure it really counts as having a book published, since it was written to meet their specifications, and sold to a packager who then sold it to a publisher. I have written four books, but that’s the only one that has sold.
      Still, I think you should proceed with our romance novel. You might well find a publisher for it, and even if you don’t, the whole self-publishing world is exploding, and there is also the satisfaction of seeing a project through to the end, even if you don’t sell it. Given your job and your family duties, completing an actual manuscript is something to be proud of!!! You have a lot of talent, and it would be a sin not to use it, in my opinion.

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  5. Communication is a tricky thing because words are not as black and white or that simple where emotions are concerned, and when responsibilities are weighing heavy on our hearts and mind. Everyone in the situation is trying to fix it the best way they know how and sometimes the good intention is not always that easily detected by the other, because emotions are running high. Beautiful story Ann! And, congratulations on that book deal. It was still a great accomplishment. I’m not sure how long ago that was but $2100 is not bad for your first book deal though it was delayed awhile. Some never get a penny, and you still have time to pursue more writing deals if you so desire, now the kids are grown.

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    • Thanks, Deanne! It was sold, a long time ago, as a “work for hire,” which means I got a single payment for selling all rights. But since I wrote the book simply to meet their specifications and we needed the money, that was okay by me. The lesson that has stuck with me was how I should have told my husband how much his words hurt my feelings, which would have given him a chance to explain what he really meant. Because, as you say, words don’t always convey the true emotion behind them, and the misunderstandings cause so much unnecessary hurt. Sometimes we just need to work a bit harder at understanding each other.

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  6. You’re so right, Ann. It can be so easy to misinterpret someone’s meaning, particularly in this age of text messages & emails where the tone of voice is missing. You can tell so much by actually hearing the other person’s voice. I find I often ask people to clarify remarks now. I’m an over-thinker, I analyse everything, so it’s easy for me to jump to conclusions about meanings which are unclear. Asking, or better explaining, just avoids stress and hurt for everybody. Great read!
    And belated congratulations on the book 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, thank you! The book was a long time ago, and written to meet a need, rather than what I really wanted to write. But I did get paid, and that meant a lot!
      I’m also an over-thinker, and often far too sensitive, so I have learned the hard way to ask people what they really mean when they say something that hurts me. And to hope against hope that they do the same thing for me, because I know I have hurt people’s feelings, without meaning to, way too often.

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  7. Ann, this post is a wonderful demonstration of how easy it is to misunderstand someone and then let bad feelings fester. I’m glad it all turned out well ~ and glad you got paid for your hard work! Congratulations!

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  8. I think it’s so great that you had that book published and were able to write it with all the criteria in such a short time! As for misunderstanding people, my very wise mother always said that when someone is short with you or speaks rudely it almost always has more to do with them and their day than anything you said or did. She told me to just let it roll right off my back. Sometimes this is easier to do than others!

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  9. My wife and I have had our share of similar experiences, where one or other of us has misinterpreted the true intention of a comment. Over the years, though, I think we’ve gradually been getting better at avoiding them. (I hope my wife doesn’t see this comment. She may misunderstand it and get angry with me.)

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  10. Had to laugh at myself. Upon first reading your husband’s words from long ago, I found myself getting ruffled in your defense. Quickly adding that that $2100 was $700 a week for three weeks’ pay! Pretty dang good particularly back then! But………..then I realized what he was saying. haha I think it’s cool you wrote that book. I have a couple of book ideas floating around in my head. We shall see if they ever come to fruition. I am also checking out a couple of freelance writing job sites. My brother does the self-publishing deal. I may be looking into that in the future. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve thought about the self-publishing as well, but the only books I have written are for middle-grade children, and I don’t know how I’d market them. “Getting Rid of Harold” was an idea I came up with when I heard the book packager was looking for writers for a Fantasy Series. Sadly, it’s the only book I have ever sold. But writing them is still fun…I think you should go for it!

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  11. I think it is so awesome you made $2100 on something you wrote! That’s about $1900 more than I’ve made from self-publishing three books!

    I like your observations on perceived meaning and real meaning. Good Lord, How much more advanced would society be if we all just took a minute to think about how people perceive what we are saying, or took a minute to consider possible other meanings to what we hear people saying.

    very nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I’m impressed you self-published three books! I’ve often thought about doing that for some other manuscripts I have.
      And I agree, we would all be better off if we just tried to understand what people really mean when they speak to us, or at least ask them to explain themselves a bit better. Think of how much hurt and strife could be avoided!

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