Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.

So, The Boy and I have this couple’s journal. It requires us to answer questions everyday.

On January 9th, our task was to describe each other in one word.

For me, The Boy chose inspirational.

Which led to a great big discussion about how I don’t see myself as inspirational. (Yes, I’ve since apologized and clarified that I wasn’t picking on his word choice.) I just never thought in a million years that anyone would see me that way. I was surprised. Floored, actually.

To me, inspirational people have done something truly great with their lives. Marie Curie, Sally Ride, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman…to me, they are what inspirational looks like.

But then The Boy explained that where I am and what I do is exactly where he’d like to be. He finds that inspirational.


And I realized that arguing this point was as dumb as him telling me he’s not a good photographer because he’s comparing himself to the best in the world.

There are levels of greatness, just as there are levels of inspiration. Intellectually, I know this. Emotionally is a whole ‘nother ballgame.

I wrote about striving for 100 rejections yesterday, but the truth is, I can handle dozens of rejections more gracefully than I can take a single compliment.

While I strive to get better at this, if you say something nice about me, you’re bound to get a joke or something mildly self-deprecating in response.

Which I’m sure is annoying as fuck. I apologize. I’m really trying to improve.

It’s small comfort to know that at least I’m not alone. Last year, a local reporter wrote a brilliant column about how women tend to disparage themselves. I identified with it so much that I shared it on my author page, only to be (gently) lambasted by someone who’d complimented my appearance and hadn’t liked the response.

No one wants to hear excuses. They don’t want to hear how you were taught from a young age that feeling good about yourself = vanity, or about your early experiences with abuse that crushed your self-esteem, or the bullies who told you that you were ugly, or anything else.

They just want you to be confident at all times, because confidence is attractive. Unless you’re perceived as too confident, which comes across as vain.

It’s a fine line.

In the meantime, I will practice saying “Thank you” without the disclaimer. If you tell me I look beautiful in my new author photos, for example, I will try really hard not to say it’s because I had a great photographer.


I’m still a work in progress, clearly.

Do you have trouble accepting compliments, or are you comfortable with them? And if you’re comfortable, please oh please share your secrets!

Thanks for reading!
1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.


  1. Crystal

    A few years ago I started just accepting the compliment by saying, “Thank you, that’s so nice of you to say!” It was hard at first, and on the odd occasion I will still slip up, but it actually feels REALLY GOOD and motivates me to compliment others twice as often.

    Great post, Holli!

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Thanks, Crystal. That’s awesome that you’re able to do this. I try, but sometimes I still slip. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Stephanie Faris

    I think we don’t want to seem as though we’re full of ourselves…we want to exhibit humility. But my mom always forced me to just say “Thank you” to compliments. We were just watching Mean Girls last weekend and this reminds me of the scene where the mean girl tells Lindsay Lohan she’s pretty. “Thank you,” Lindsay’s character said. To which the mean girl replied, “So you agree?” Because she didn’t say “No, I’m not,” she was seen as agreeing with the compliment when she wasn’t necessarily–she was just accepting it.

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      I remember that scene very well. For me, there’s also an aspect of not wanting anyone to be jealous of me. So if someone says, “You’re getting published! That’s amazing!” and I know it’s their dream as well, I might say, “Oh, it’s just a novella” or “It’s only an e-pub,” because I don’t want my accomplishment to make anyone feel bad.

      I’m most uncomfortable with compliments about my looks, primarily because I don’t care for the way I look, and also because I don’t want to focus on it. Not the easiest thing to explain!

      I recall watching Y&R with my mom when I was a kid, and someone told one of the actresses she was beautiful. She simply said, “Thank you,” and I was floored. You could actually just say thank you? For some reason, that never occurred to me…even at the age of ten or so.

  3. Sarah

    I’m so quick to shrug off compliments, so this is a great reminder. Thank you!

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      You’re welcome, Sarah. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Berrak

    It has taken me years and years of training to get to a point of saying “Thank you.” I used to argue with friends, give them counter points on why I wasn’t and they would patiently argue back. So even on the days I don’t agree, I will say/mumble “Thank you” and sometimes, even ask them “Why?”

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Yes, I’ve come to believe that accepting compliments is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to everyone, particularly women. I’m glad you’re getting better at it. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for commenting.

  5. Karen Jones Gowen

    Since I dislike talking more than I dislike accepting compliments I’m ok with this one. I just say, “Oh,thanks!” with a smile and move on. I’m always surprised and pleased to get a compliment so it usually shows in my expression.

    • J.H. Moncrieff

      Thanks for the comment, Karen! I’ve missed you.

      I LOVE talking to people, so I’m not sure that would work for me, but it’s a good strategy!

  6. Bonnie

    Congratulations on the new website. I tried commenting on the old one but it never went through. Here’s an abbreviated version:

    I have always suffered from this problem. Saying “Thank you” works eventually and does become an automatic habit. But when you get a new compliment for something you’ve never done before it’s easy to fall back on the “uh, it’s because of xxx”.

    I found what helped is to imagine yourself saying your disclaimer as a comment to someone else. For example, “You only look great in your pictures because you had a terrific photographer”. Cringe. We would never say such a thing to someone, so why would we say it about ourselves. If you take each disclaimer and restate it like this (usually alone, and after the fact), eventually you’ll stop yourself as your mind will hear it before you say it.

    Hope that helps. By the way, you’re extremely photogenic and look great.


    • JH

      Thanks for commenting and for the kind words and feedback, Bonnie. This has been a long time coming! And unlike Blogger, hopefully WordPress won’t eat any comments. That old site was BEYOND frustrating.

      That’s a great suggestion, to turn our responses around in our minds. You’re right–I would never say that to anyone. I guess, in my own misguided way, I’m trying to give credit to the awesome people who have used their time and talent to help me.

      Thanks for the compliments. You’re an amazing writer! I see big things coming for you in 2015.

  7. Ev Bishop

    Yes, it really is soooo ridiculously hard to learn to accept compliments, but a few years ago, I too adopted a reply similar to Crystal’s: “Thank you. That’s so kind of you to say!” My gut still says to object, deny, or talk myself down–but I am getting way better at it. What helped me was realizing how I feel when I compliment someone or express appreciation and they try to negate it . . . I don’t like it. I don’t want them to grovel or feel they have to owe me a returned good word, but I want them to know they helped me, encouraged me, or just brightened my day by looking so fine (lol). I feel sad if my words make them uncomfortable; I want them to feel appreciated. πŸ™‚

    And by the way, your boy is right. You are definitely inspirational. πŸ™‚

    • JH

      Aw, thank you so much, Ev. That’s so kind of you to say. And I mean that.

      I would never want to make people unhappy by rejecting or negating their compliments. I definitely have to work on this!

  8. Ev Bishop

    Also, I just try to speak the truth about how I really feel about the kind words. I know . . . “just the truth” . . . what a concept, lol.

    On compliments about my looks or outfit: “Thanks, I’m feeling really good.” Or, “Thanks–I was feeling terrible. Your words brightened my day.”

    On things I’ve done for someone: “Thanks, I’m glad I could help.”

    On accomplishments (though I want to add, “if any,” which shows I still have a way to go in my head!): “Thanks. I’m super excited about it too!”

    Etc., etc. . . . It’s not that I recommending using scripted responses, but I think often people’s kind words DO give us a lift or make our day (which is often the giver’s intention), so why not acknowledge it? πŸ˜‰

  9. Ev Bishop

    You’re welcome, Holli! πŸ™‚

    And, about my last post . . . *recommend* not recommending. Oops!

    • JH

      Those are good suggestions as well. I make a point of giving people–even strangers–compliments, and I’d feel like an idiot if they argued with me, since it takes a certain amount of guts to compliment someone you don’t know in the first place.

      So far, everyone has thanked me with a big smile on their face, which in turn makes me feel great. I have to remember that. Online, it’s so easy to shoot off a quick, ill-thought reply.

    • JH

      Those are good suggestions as well. I make a point of giving people–even strangers–compliments, and I’d feel like an idiot if they argued with me, since it takes a certain amount of guts to compliment someone you don’t know in the first place.

      So far, everyone has thanked me with a big smile on their face, which in turn makes me feel great. I have to remember that. Online, it’s so easy to shoot off a quick, ill-thought reply.

  10. Heidi Juniper

    It’s a joy to discover this blog (found you on Kyla Roma’s FB group). I find your voice very groovy. (By which I mean–clear & inviting & resonant.) Also, I just like the way you use words. And, I’ll confess–I esp. enjoy someone willing to employ the f word–one of my faves.
    I want to say–I get that, in society at large, confidence is seen as attractive. But for me–I think I find authenticity attractive. Whether that’s based in feeling confident, or not. Just, whatever’s happening for a person, that’s real in any way–I find this so compelling. (For that reason I really enjoyed Ev Bishop’s ideas about just sharing the truth of your reaction to someone’s kind words–I think it struck a chord with me because part of her flexible formula is acknowledging the other person’s attempt to be kind. Very connecting kind of response. Even if the experience is, “Oh, I wasn’t feeling great today”–saying that, and, “but that perks me up”–sounds much more connecting than dismissing the compliment whole-cloth!)

    Personally–ugh–I have to confess to loving compliments! And having no trouble accepting them! I’ve never given it a whole lot of thought… just taken it for granted… I don’t know what the “secret” to that might be… I suppose… Well, I’ve generally always liked myself, and felt loved. I had some rough pre-teen and teen years–who doesn’t?–but I guess I secretly believe I’m pretty great and other people would have to agree if they really see me. Although–I secretly believe that deep down, most people are pretty great–if not transcendently so–and are pretty dang lovable when seen for their authentic selves. So I don’t feel great in some superior way–just great the way we all are–radiant in our uniqueness.
    Thinking about my typical reaction to a compliment–I think I just sort of get all touched and say, “Awww… Thank you… That’s so nice.” It makes me feel really connected and I love that feeling. Also, ONCE in awhile it forces me to acknowledge that I’m doing something well. I have a tendency to forget to give myself credit for all the work I do at being me, being a good (piano) teacher, being a kind person–TRYING HARD. I try hard, a lot, and forget that I deserve acknowledgment (from myself) for all that trying and effort!

    Thought-provoking post. Thank you. Also, the (site) design and your photo are both glamorous and… rather spooking. Very memorable!

    • JH

      Thanks so much for the amazing comment and insights, Heidi. I’m sorry it took me so long to reply…I was in Maui…please forgive.

      You are truly lucky to have such a strong sense of self-worth. That can be quite rare, especially in women. I remember feeling that way when I was a little girl, but it certainly didn’t last. I’ve been self-deprecating for so long that it isn’t always easy to catch.

      I appreciate your kind words, and am glad you found something of worth here. Hope to “see” you again!

      • Heidi Juniper

        I hope you enjoyed Maui! It sounds tremenjously exciting. I think I saw you mention it on the Creatives group.

        I’m really annoyed at how smug my comments sounded. Like, “I have it all together–I don’t know why you guys don’t!”–ugh. I definitely didn’t mean it that way. I don’t have it all together! I have had my struggles with anxiety and depression; I feel I have made great strides. In fact, I weirdly was given reason, recently, to be grateful for having had those struggles. (long story–happy to share any time but don’t want to lose the thread)–But the memory of those things (depression, anxiety) never leaves one. But that’s only the beginning of not having it all together! I’m not sure how organized my life is–it feels like it should be more organized but I’m fucking fed up with shoulds!–although I honestly would love to discover the secret–the secret that works for me, someone else’s secret that works for them that I can steal, any secret in sight!–to being more productive. A long time ago I stepped off the “overachiever” bandwagon–and I am so very glad I did–and I now live from a more organic place. And I’m so proud of it–hardest/ bravest thing I’ve ever done–was to listen to my inner voice and stop living according to others’ standards of success. I feel more whole–but damn–I’ve lost the knack of making myself be productive. (Or–hopeful thought–maybe I’m in the agonizingly slow… but ultimately successful… processof rediscovering that knack–but from a more whole, organic, life-giving place?! I really really hope so. I try to pay attention to the way I use words–not to say to myself, “I always do this or that negative thing–and always will.” I try to use language that gives my subconscious some hope. So I feel stuck and have for a long long time… But instead of saying, “I’ve lost the knack of making myself be productive and haven’t had it for years and it’s hopeless”– perhaps I’m moving in a good direction–productivity coming from a more compassionate and congruent place?–and haven’t seen it yet? Something hopeful like that. Although honestly I would love to find a way to laze and podcast-listen my way into productivity. Does seeing all of Top Chef prepare one for greatness?)

        Anyway–one more confession re: my untogetherness–in my life I’ve had a history of being really hard on myself. I still can be, although… In most ways, I’ve created a profoundly less self-critical and pessimistic relationship with myself. I still sometimes have the “this is awful! I made a mistake–it’s going to ruin EVERYTHING!” moments–but I am more aware of them–like you were describing “catching” the self-deprecation–frequently able to sort of observe the thought happening and not get pulled into it. So… although I have those moments… It’s like a lucid dream, almost? Where I can say–oh–you’re just thinking that. It isn’t real. (And I’ve fundamentally changed my relationship with my self. Because of–well–I guess there are a lot of ways to do these things–but the common Cognitive Behavioral approach–challenging my irrationally negative thoughts–hasn’t worked for me as well as doing that self-observation described above–along with “befriending” my inner critic.)

        But anyway–it’s not always been gumdrops and lollipops–in case I made it sound that way!

        Gollee, I didn’t mean to get this deep. I guess this feels like an inviting space. And, I wanted–in case someone stumbled across my comment–for them to know–I’m not that smug got-it-together person I may have sounded like!

        The thing is–when OTHER people compliment me–or–when I do have a moment of being able to smile at myself in congratulation for a tiny step in a great direction–or–have a genuine moment of feeling pleased about something I’ve done or am–I do tend to believe it.

        And I think you’re absolutely right–this can be rare–especially in women. I’m not entirely sure where my experience comes from. One guess–I think perhaps, my mom? Made a point of constantly saying to me and my brother, “Darlings–you are great! I love everything you do… yes you’re so smart and so talented and so so so… but you’re just great cuz you’re you.”

        Which I’m grateful for–and grateful to you, for making me realize by inquiring about our reactions to compliments, at all–because–my relationship with my mom, since my teen years and throughout my adulthood–has been rather troubled…

        Anyway–thanks for your feedback, encouraging words, and giving me a personal welcome! I would love to visit often. If you have a post you want someone to comment on–mention it on the Creatives site–or, feel free to message me personally!–and I’ll happily take a look.


  11. JH

    Welcome back, Heidi!

    I’m glad you feel this is a welcoming space. That’s certainly my intention, and you can always get as deep as you like. Thanks for the kind offer of future blog comments. I’m always happy to get a dialogue going on any post. Otherwise, I’m just talking to myself, which can be entertaining, but not overly fulfilling in the long-term.

    In a funny, ironic kind of way, you proved my point. You said you have no problem accepting compliments and have a strong sense of self-worth, and then worried that people may find that smug. I didn’t think you sounded smug at all. Why can’t we feel good about ourselves? Why do we worry that others will think we’re conceited if we don’t run around being self-deprecating all the time? I think it’s AWESOME that your mother taught you to love yourself from an early age and that you’ve taken that lesson to heart as an adult. More women need that kind of confidence.

    Of course we all have our struggles, and I’m very sorry to hear about your anxiety and depression. Many of my friends grapple with these illnesses…you may appreciate this post. https://www.jhmoncrieff.com/category/silent-killer/

    But we don’t have to be perfect to feel good about ourselves. No one is perfect, and everyone deserves to accept themselves as they are. Life can be tough, and many things will beat us down. We don’t need to take on the job ourselves.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Heidi Juniper

      Holli–Thanks for the permission to get as deep as I like. πŸ™‚ And this is another long reply–I thought of sharing privately–but if anyone else ends up stumbling across this exchange, these concluding thoughts might be interesting…

      I read your response and had to laugh! It WAS unintentionally comical, what unfolded in my replies to you… Almost a la a New Yorker cartoon… That lady who draws neurotics, maybe?… Here’s what I envision, inspired by what unfolded in our conversation:

      First Panel: Woman is poised in a daydreamy pose, with a half-smile on her face, thinking–“Geez–I quite like myself–so much so, that when someone compliments me, I believe them…”

      Second Panel: Woman gets stricken look: “Oh My God! What if someone finds out!!”

      Third Panel: Woman tears hair in shame and remorse.

      Anyway–I think my concern was based on the fact that the tone of voice I conceived my comments in was one of soft humility–and–it’s so hard to guess what tone is meant, from just words on the page. And around the same time I left that original comment, I bumped into a few people who are almost… aggressively psychologically healthy? The kind who self-present, at least, along the lines of–“I’m doing great, I don’t know what’s wrong with the rest of you!”

      So my worry was, that I came across in that fashion–that I might have sounded dismissive of people who have trouble accepting compliments. So I re-read my own comments as if conceived in that tone, and worried others might mistakenly do so, also.

      OH! But I almost forgot. The week after you posted your response just above, I was commenting on a friend’s FB post, trying to genuinely compliment her. I used “you” to mean HER, but she thought I meant the more general “you.” (As in–me–well, you’ll see.)

      So I inadvertently complimented myself. Then I thought of your feedback here–like, Take your Self-Worth and RUN WITH IT, Girl! No need to apologize!

      So I did. I owned it. Here’s a transcript:
      Jenn (my friend): Life has never been this busy, this confusing, this exciting, this overwhelming, or – dare I say – this scary. I’ve also never trusted myself and my path as much as I do right now. It seems I have a never-ending to-do list and things that are always falling a little short. My brain is always thinking and coordinating and intermittently worrying. But my heart is, for the most part, hopeful, gratified, replenished, and longing to build on my foundation. I don’t exactly know what my future will look like, but I trust that if I stay on this path, it can only be right.

      ME: Oh my gosh, Jenn–tonight my heart was singing and brain furiously planning–rarely felt so… so… I couldn’t find the words to say it! But–YOU said it for me. Thank you! It is so neat to begin to get these glimpses into this beautiful unique wise heartfelt thing you are putting out in the world–this beautiful unique wise heartfelt being that you are. And it’s also so sweet to hear that–it seems–we are both “hitting our stride”–around the same time! So cool! I look forward to that time when things slow down for both of us enough to compare notes. (Could be awhile–I don’t see a ton of breathing room any time real soon)–But the more that foundation you’re talking about builds up–the more we will have to… celebrate. Yes, I’ll say it! Yay us!

      Jenn: That is awesome, Heidi! Congratulations on everything you’re doing!!! Yay!!

      Me: You, too! Sincerely.

      Me: Also! I realized–I was trying to say–it is neat, on FB, to begin to get these glimpses of this radiant stuff–I used the words “beautiful, unique, wise, heartfelt”–that YOU, Jenn, are putting out into the world! But “you” can mean “one”–oneself… It might have sounded like that–that I am beginning to get glimpses of the radiant work I am creating and radiant being than I am. And–why not? Last week my sweet hairstylist man told me a bunch of profound things, including–that he feels we “come together to reflect each other–and validate each other.” I suppose if we are reflections of each other–what I see in you is in me too…

      So, sincerely–in regards to myself, AND to you, AND to anyone who stumbles across this:

      It is so neat to begin to get these glimpses into this beautiful unique wise heartfelt thing you are putting out in the world–this beautiful unique wise heartfelt being that you are.

      Yay us, right?

  12. JH

    To that I can only say,

    Yay us, indeed. πŸ™‚

    We need that self-confidence to be our buffer against the negative feedback this world will throw at us.


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