by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
I'm going to veer from the current monthly topic of Process here at GBC to talk about something else that's been on my mind tonight.
On a writing forum I participate in, a relatively new member posted today about some of the writing/publishing advice she'd been receiving from nonwriting friends. The writer was upset because she felt the advice was misinformed and misguided. "Why don't you just self-publish your manuscript as an ebook?" people kept telling her. "That's where all the money is these days!" I'm not going to weigh in on that, on the self-published ebook v traditional publishing debate - at least not in this post! - but I will weigh in about the advisability of getting upset about stuff like this.
Cliff Notes version of my advice? Don't do it!
Longer version: There are so many things a writer can and sometimes should get upset about, it's wise to eliminate as many as possible and this is one of them. Having people in your life who are interested enough in what you do to offer advice - even if that advice is misguided! - is a grace. So many writers, over the years, have told me that their significant others, children or friends are dismissive of what they do. For some reason, I've never had that problem. From the beginning, even total strangers grew interested once they found out that I'm a writer. One time, I was on the table having a procedure to determine if I had breast cancer when the doctor, having been told what I do for a living by the nurse, began pumping me for information. I was sorely tempted to say, "Thank you for your interest, but can we wait to have this conversation until after you've removed that hollow tube thingy from the side of my breast???" For the record, I didn't have cancer.
And back to my topic.
For most things in life, there's more than one right answer. But when anyone offers you writing advice, the only right response is gratitude. It's not rage. It's not the stance of being offended. It's not hurt. It's not defensiveness. It is gratitude. Even if you think what you're being told is the most riduculous thing you've ever heard, even if the person offering the advice is the biggest asshat you've ever met, the only thing you need to say is, "Thank you. You've given me something to think about."
For those of you reading this who are in earlier stages of your writing life than my GBC sisters, internalizing this now will serve you well when you later are a published author and you receive a revision letter from your editor.
Believe me, when I first started writing seriously 17 years ago, I wanted what all writers want in the beginning: I wanted people to love my writing unreservedly. But over time, I learned that my best readers are not those who feel that way; my best readers are those who can say, "I love what you're doing here but this is what I think you can do to make it even better." Those kinds of readers are, again, a grace. And you don't get those kinds of readers if you're constantly being defensive and arguing with people who try to help you. I'm not saying you should heed every bit of advice you ever receive - far from it! You need to learn how to turn on your own inner editor so you can filter the useful advice from its opposite. But I am saying that writers need to learn how to take advice so that people will keep offering it. The truth is, if someone asks me for advice and then they make the whole experience unpleasant, I soon learn to stop helping. The thing is, the person can think all they want to that I'm all wet, but what they should be saying is, "Thank you."
One last thing to think about: The person whose advice you spurn today could turn out to be the person who could help you tomorrow...if only you hadn't turned them off.
Thank you for listening. I hope I've given you something to think about because you give me something to think about every day.