Kelly Williams Brown sketches the elusive formula for a successful coming-of-age in her cleverly organized guide for 20-somethings, Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps.
How did this book evolve?
The idea came to me a few years ago when I was a newspaper columnist. I was coming up on a birthday and decided to post a question to readers on Facebook about what skills/abilities/possessions one should acquire by age 30—not the amorphous “Forgive yourself! Accept others as they are!” kinds of tips, but rather the actionable “Have both a flat- and a Phillips-head screwdriver” sort. I got a ton of responses, most of which were things that I would never have thought of but seemed obvious once someone else said them.
Beyond social media, how’d you get people to share their know-how?
I was so incredibly lucky in finding people willing to weigh in and interview for all the various parts of the book, although every time I approached someone, we’d have to have the following conversation nearly verbatim: I’d explain the idea behind the book, and they’d startle and say, “Well, I’m not really an adult. Are you sure you want to talk to me?” And then I’d have to gently say, “Well, you know, you’re a very successful financial planner in your 40s, so I think you probably are an adult.” No one sees himself as an adult, but people were very willing to help. There is, I think, something deeply satisfying about getting to explain something you feel comfortable and familiar with to others.
Were there any experiences that you had a difficult time coming to terms with before translating into practical advice?
There are plenty of dark, bad, and scary things that have happened in my life, but those didn’t generally make it into the book, because it wasn’t intended to be a demon-exorcising practice for me. It was more on the “Wiping your counter! You can do it!” level. But I am someone who processes everything way beyond what’s necessary or reasonable. And so by the time I’m ready to write about something, I’ve been tumbling and polishing and refining and explaining it to myself for quite some time, and I know what I took away from it. The more important question, of course, is whether someone else might take something from it as well.
What can we expect from you in the future? A more personal memoir? Some fiction?
I can’t see doing a straight-up memoir because... well, it’s a pretty high bar to have one’s childhood and 20s be interesting enough to warrant an entire book on the subject, and mine doesn’t particularly qualify. But I am already working on some future projects, which do include both fiction and first-person essays. So it’s a definite possible maybe.