When People Give You Advice – Whether You Want It or Not

writing advice

After my husband retired from his career as a firefighter, it soon became apparent that one of us needed to get out more. We aren’t the kind of couple that enjoys being connected at the hip 24/7. Not even a little bit.

So I bought him some power tools. When he pondered aloud about what he could make with them, I pointed him to Pinterest. Before long we’d started our family’s arts and crafts business – Hammerhead Woodcrafts. We make signs, furniture, and home decor items out of reclaimed materials, like hardwood pallets. There’s an entire movement dedicated to this. It’s kind of a big deal – just look on Pinterest.

Last week we set up at a street festival downtown. It’s an election year which means politicians put themselves in the public eye to shake hands and kiss babies. Our local ones were out in full force. Four years ago I helped with the graphics for a prospective delegate, linking me to most of the county politicians by just a few degrees.

(That reminds me – I have a Bacon number of three. My dad did some construction work for Robert Duvall, who was in the movie Jayne Mansfield’s Car with Kevin Bacon. I also have a Bacon number of three two other ways, through both Sinbad and Raymond Burr, but I won’t bore you with those stories. Pardon the digression, but I just had to share that random bit of trivia.)

During the last half hour of the event, an older guy sauntered up to our booth and looked around at our stuff. After a few minutes, he proceeded to tell us what kind of items we ought to sell and then stalked off.

What the ever loving heck happened there? My husband and I had no clue. We quietly discussed the man’s suggestions then dismissed them as they were both too complicated and required reclaiming materials that were either too expensive or too difficult to acquire.

When Writers Get Unwarranted Advice

Sometimes the writing advice can prove similarly baffling. Random comments and reviews that come out of left field make me wonder if the person ever read anything I’ve written. After all, why would they say that about the work I put blood, sweat, and tears into writing, re-writing, and re-writing again.

When these comments happen, I’d rather whiz toward the second star to the right and straight on til morning. I’m a little past Neverland though, which leaves me with a 3-step process for confronting the comments head-on.

  1. First I take some time, a few hours or even a couple of days, to digest what the person said. I ask trusted friends if I’m overreacting in thinking the advice was out of line.
  2. Be grateful, always. When talking to the person who gives me the advice, I thank them for the time they took to read your work. Regardless of what they said, they actually read something I wrote, which means there’s a chance they had to buy it. Barring that, they acknowledge that I’m a writer, which is an achievement on a whole other level depending on the person.
  3. And now comes the hardest part (for me, anyway); I tell them I welcome the chance to discuss their thoughts and give them a way to contact me – even if it’s just through private messages via my author page on Facebook.

I have to confess. Sometimes I don’t go through with #3. Sometimes I say, “Thank you for letting me know” and go about my business.

Some people come to writers with advice because they genuinely believe that writer is the person to tell a particular story. Some people give advice on a whim. I’m guilty of this one.

That would make a great story!
Inspiration for a new story?
You’re going to put that in your book, right?

Guilty, guilty, guilty – and that’s just in the past week.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with someone’s advice, the person will have more respect for you and be more likely to invest in your future works if you reply with a tone of kindness.

Sometimes Advice Precedes a Bigger Message

The old guy at the street festival? He came back to our booth a few minutes before time to tear down for the night. We treated him with the same kindness we had during his first visit, despite his boisterous suggestions.

This time, instead of giving us more advice that didn’t suit the nature of our business, the man explained how he and his wife had recently adopted a son. This man wanted to get the kid something, but nothing seemed “right” for a boy that age. Beware of the Teenager was too abrasive, and Welcome, Little One was too babyish. The advice he gave described the the type of item he hoped to find on his previous visit.

Working together, we finally found something that would convey the love this dad had for his new son without completely embarrassing the kid. The guy took our business card on his way out after asking if we did custom orders for holiday gifts.

May I be as fortunate with my writing.

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