Over the last decade, the internet has transformed. It’s grown into a living and breathing platform. That platform has been used for a wide range of different industries and approaches. One of the biggest things that’s emerged is professional self-help pursuits.
You can find business advice from a CEO in a Tweet, you can get writing tips from a podcast, you can seek long-form advice from popular blogging platforms, or even high-level celebrities blogging on the side. It’s quite something, isn’t it? Even the celebrities who once seemed so unattainable are within touching distance, engaging with their followers, offering advice and guidance.
Speaking of advice, it seems like suddenly, everyone’s an expert. For writers, everyone’s a writing expert. How on earth do you know who to listen to when you’re after proper advice to advance your writing career or improve your craft?
It’s a tough one because there are a lot of pretenders. These days, literally anyone can write a book and self-publish an eBook. Some don’t even go to those lengths to identify as a writer trying to punt professional advice.
If you find the right experts, you can build something great.
The Advice Source
It feels as though the way this type of expertise has developed isn’t particularly useful. Considering how many pretenders have managed to build such big platforms. It can feel more overwhelming than informative. You might read one piece of advice that resonates with you on Monday and by Friday someone else has overridden that advice and suggested something else entirely.
What’s right? What’s not? What’s leading? What about what’s misleading? So, rather than focusing on offering you advice or telling you how to accept advice, I thought a filter would be a more helpful thing to apply.
When you get advice, the first thing to do is determine whether the person offering said advice has faced this situation and followed said advice. Plenty of gurus are happy to offer writing advice despite never having written anything longer than a 500-word blog post. If the person offering advice hasn’t done the thing it’s safe to say you can dismiss the advice. It’s all about practice, with any advice, but particularly when writing.
Now, if they have done it, you can find out when they did it. If it was many years ago, you can question whether it’s valid or if it was advice that came with an expiration date. If you want to know more about crafting narratives and the person offering advice wrote a short story 23 years ago, then they might not be able to offer you the right level of insight.
If the person offering advice has done the thing and is still doing the thing, then you’re moving to firmer ground. How long have they been doing it? Has it been a year? Then, take anything they say with a grain of salt. Has it been five years? You’re safer now. You can put more weight on advice that comes from someone who has been doing this for a while.
For example. Adam has been writing mystery novels for 15 years. He has a lot of great advice, but Marty is more interested in pursuing nonfiction writing. Adam can offer some advice, but he knows his limits, and instead of giving Marty too much advice he steers her to a friend of his.
Marianne has been a nonfiction writer for the best part of a decade. Her experience is more relevant to what Marty would like to do and thus her advice is far more likely to help Marty get to where she’d like to be.
Adam is a great person to get writing advice from for people who write fiction, or someone who wants advice on how to pursue a writing career. However, his experience isn’t enough to qualify him to offer writing advice to everyone. While Adam was wise enough to recognize that, not everyone is.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of people happy to build their platform on the back of poor advice and inexpert opinions.
Experience isn’t the only consideration to make when you look into who’s worth listening to. You have to also consider their motivation for proffering advice. Is this experienced person simply trying to sell you something? If they’re trying to sell you something, then it’s likely to safe to discount their advice altogether.
Of course, if there’s a kernel of truth in that advice you can walk away with that for free. If there isn’t a commercial connection and the person offering advice is doing so simply to share or mentor, then it’s fairly safe to invest or accept said advice.
The Level of Advice
You may also want to consider just how much advice the person offers. If this person is a professional in terms of advice-giving, then you may want to take it with a grain of salt. Especially if they’re the type of person who churns out books in quick succession.
It’s difficult to be an expert at a single thing, how can anyone be an expert on dozens of different things. If they want to offer advice on a range of subjects, then you should be wary of the information they’re providing you.
Perhaps the most important thing for you to realize and recognize about advice is that it’s all relative. It’s about circumstances. Everyone loves a success story and if they want you to follow in their wake, well, there needs to be concrete steps. The reality of the matter is that a lot of people don’t know how they managed to achieve what they did.
So, they try to look back on their journey and figure out how they did it so they can offer this advice to others. This can result in dot-connecting with dots that didn’t exist. So, then they have an inaccurate plan that they present to everyone as the blueprint to follow. Except, that’s not how they did it and now everyone is following this error-ridden blueprint.
That’s the risk you take when you seek advice from untested sources. Like most things in life, one requires a measure of discernment to get this right. You’ll know within yourself whether you’re following advice that’s right for you or you’re running down a rabbit trail chasing an irrelevant plot twist that was thrown into the mix by an inexperienced pretender.
Ultimately, you should be clear-eyed with the advice you take. The best thing to do is find your own way and select the kernels of truth or factual advice to guide your way. That can be true of pretty much everything, but writers have to trust their gut when writing and if you feel your instincts leading you one way and advice pointing you in a different direction, you have to ask — what do you trust more? Are you with your gut?
Having said all that, I’ll offer my own advice to cap this off. There’s only one difference between a good writer and a bad writer. It’s not skill, it’s perseverance. A good writer will find a way to keep going, whereas a bad writer will quit and walk away at the slightest resistance. That’s what it all boils down to.
As a writer, are you ready to work hard?
Improve your craft by practicing, editing, rewriting, and dedicate your time to writing. If there’s criticism, be prepared to take it on the chin and determine what feedback is helpful and what is unnecessary.
Use feedback to improve your writing and don’t be afraid to chase your dream until it comes true. A good writer finds a way to persevere because they’re passionate about what they do and they believe in their skill, whether they write to make money or for their own enjoyment.
“The professional gives an ear to criticism, seeking…to learn and grow…The professional reminds himself it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be in the stands or out in the parking lot…The professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality. Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page.” — Steven Pressfield