Been thinking about how people tend to give advice. It’s usually unsolicited stuff, but you get it when you ask too. Don’t worry because I’ll bring this writing rather quickly. Just from the title, I’m sure people know where I’m going. Some probably already jumped to the comments.
Many people give advice in a way that makes it feel like they are giving orders or talking about utter truths. They believe that because something worked for them, it will work for others. Maybe they had to go through a tough experience and feel that it’s something everyone should experience. So, they tell others to do the same and ignore a few basic facts:
- Everyone is different.
- No experience is completely identical.
- People take different lessons from the same event.
- Empathy and understanding is needed for good advice.
- Don’t get upset if the person doesn’t follow your advice.
#4 is a big one specifically because many people have one, but not the other. They understand what a person is going through on a logical level, but ignore the emotional side. Others feel the emotions, but don’t put any logic towards the problem. This creates a one-sided piece of advice that will either trigger an outburst, make a situation worse, or being ignored and lead to #5.
Personally, I think people do this because they give advice to make themselves feel better and not to help others. It’s a total ego stroke because you get to be proud and get thanked if you lead someone in the right direction. Once things go wrong, a person who did it for themselves can become a problem. They’ll blame the person for not following the advice perfectly, refuse to accept any blame, or just walk away. In the end, this makes things worse and is why people need to be careful about giving advice.
This brings us to writing where people scream various phrases like they’ve been engraved on the left ass cheek of God. ‘Show, Don’t Tell!’, ‘Kill Your Babies!’, ‘You NEED a Newsletter!’, and ‘This Marketing Idea HAS to Be Done! are some favorites. You can see that these pieces of advice fall into two categories:
- The first two phrases are mottos that people shout without giving any explanation. It goes this way because many who say them don’t understand them at all. I’ve had people complain about showing and not telling because they don’t like me using present tense, which changes the way things feel. Someone once told me that I’m not a real writer unless I kill my babies by deleting 80-90% of what I first write. These people got angry when I didn’t follow this advice even though it didn’t feel right for what I was doing. They just used them because they saw it being used by other authors as constructive criticism.
- The other two phrases are when an author has success with a writing or marketing concept. They start telling everyone to do it and refuse to believe that it could fail in any way. Many times I’ve done the same marketing as other authors and come out with nothing while they found success. Some admitted that what I did was good for my genre or noted there were major obstacles that they didn’t face. Others put the blame squarely on my shoulders for ‘not doing it right’ or ‘missing the boat’. The point is that marketing is fickle and what works for one author may be an utter disaster for another. It makes sense since we’re all individuals with our own styles and play to different audiences.
This is why I always try to say that things worked for me, but it might not work for someone else. If I ever get around to publishing Do I Need to Use a Dragon? (Fantasy Writing Tips), you’ll see that I make this a big sticking point. I feel like even the top authors can’t really claim to have all, if any, answers. For one thing, they got successful during a different era where publishing and reading were different. People always argue this with me, but you don’t have as many readers as there used to be. You might think it’s the same, but that’s because you hang out with many readers. Most of the people I know are too busy to read or stick to non-fiction with no interest in things like fantasy. You also have readers who go into series only after an adaptation and most of those won’t wander away from that franchise. It wasn’t like this when older authors were finding success, so some of the advice that is given simply doesn’t work.
So, what can be done if someone asks for advice? Personally, I think it’s best to give it with the caveat that I mentioned. Tell them what worked for you and offer more support than words. Show them what happened and discuss both the pros and cons. Don’t make things out to be sure bets because they rarely are. Try to see situations through the eyes of the person you want to help instead of your own. That will make it clear if your suggestions are even feasible. For example, don’t suggest dropping hundreds of dollars into marketing to someone who is struggling to buy groceries. That will come off as insulting and almost elitist because you’re basically saying ‘I am rich enough to succeed and you are not’. Same goes for free time, support systems, technology, and other aspects that an author might be restricted in for a variety of reasons.
Funny thing is that this post is basically giving advice too. So, maybe none of it will work for some people. Weird paradox there.