“That’s not how I do it,” I would whine.
“Well, how you’re doing it isn’t working,” my mother/father/brother/ husband responds
“But it does work…it worked before. I don’t know what’s wrong now.”
I’ve had the preceding argument so many times in my life that both my loved ones and I have it memorized. Taking advice has never been my strong suite. No one will admit that faster than me.
My resistance doesn’t extend to professional advice (except when my husband tries to teach me about computers.) I take advice from books just fine. As a teenager, I even took advice from insane quizzes on the internet (those never served me well.)
The crux of the matter is that nothing burns like admitting a loved one is right and I am wrong. Or I thought so until I started taking advice from complete strangers, with no qualifications beyond those I could attach to myself. Yes, for those of you who are any sort of artist this may sound familiar. The idea of a peer group of people who have not made it into the industry all advising each other… and on the internet where certain types of advice seem far more common than in any face to face group.
Recently, I’ve been taking a lot of advice from other would-be authors. At first, the process was productive as I hammered out some of the basics to clear up my narratives. However, over the past few months, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the process.
My issue? Listening to people who from a logical standpoint are in no position to give advice, who don’t seem to realize that the dynamic needed for a peer group to is respect, equally contributing partners and encouragement.
There are four main types of advice givers that grate on me.
The first is the know-it-all. The person who instructs as if they are an agent or editor, with no (orvery little) regard to support or encouragement. These well-intentioned souls only offer criticism. Sometimes, they don’t even give you examples of how to fix things, they just make sweeping statements about your pieces faults. If you question them invariably, their response is ‘An agent or editor wouldn’t tell you how to fix things, you’d be lucky if they even told you what was wrong. I’m just being realistic.’
They aren’t. The reason this method is infuriating- they aren’t agents and editors. Professionals who I solicit can and should be able to give know-it-all advice because I went to them specifically. They have a professional opinion that you as an artist are seeking out.
The second type of well-meaning advice giver is the skimmer. They don’t really look at your piece. Just enough to make a few comments, misunderstand a bunch of stuff and the criticize you for not being clear. What they really want is your advice without taking the time to earn it. In my opinion, the skimmer is the worst because unlike the know-it-all, they don’t want the best for you.
The third type is the ego-stroker. These are usually either people that just aren’t quite as advanced, but sometimes this happens if you stick with a certain partner for too long. They become afraid of offending and get too nice. This is the easiest to take because often it doesn’t happen every critique…and hell sometimes a little encouragement is needed after the other stuff!
Last, is the drama queen. They will find one or two aspects of your story they don’t like, latch on and exaggerate how awful it is, how much it bothers them. They will find a way to claim they are confused about every paragraph because apparently they have no comprehension whatsoever of metaphors. Or they will decide that they don’t like your character and spend the entire time telling you how flawed/irrelevant/non-sensical the characters actions are.
Drama queens are the easiest to take because they are so easily ignored.
All of these types minus the skimmer have one thing in common, they are all legitimately trying to help. And despite my natural proclivity for resisting advice, I listen to them all and take what I can. I’m sure that some people are equally annoyed by my advice. And I know looking back (I never know it’s happening when I’m doing it) that I’ve given critiques in each of these styles at least once.
Now a bonus, there is actually a fifth style of nasty advice giver. These people don’t want the best for you. At best, they don’t give a flying sparrow fart if you succeed. They serve up canned rants, drill how hard the industry is and how you’ll never succeed, they judge you and your work without looking or with barely a glance. I’m not saying these people want you to fail, they aren’t evil, they’re just more concerned with being heard than with helping.
The same way as a child, I was more concerned with being heard than with being helped.
The odd part about all of it though is that learning to give advice and seeing how absurd people who ‘know how it is’ sound when really they don’t… Is teaching me how to take advice. How to listen and try. To put aside what I think because I don’t want to be a know-it-all advice taker.
And hopefully, my new attitude will transition over to when my techie husband gives me computer advice…after all he actually does know more about the topic than me.
For anyone who is part of critique circle who I may have worked with, none of these types are based on any one person. Despite the frustrations voiced here, I have yet to encounter someone who was truly just cruel or working with malicious intent.