Giving Advice: What You Should Do vs. What You Are Doing

I’ve had an absolute blast participating in WriteOnCon to the point that I have donated money simply to cover my constant and near obsessive refreshing.

For my part, I’ve learned a ton, met a ton of awesome people, gained 15 new Twitter followers and counting, have a completely re-imagined opening to an MS I was sure was done, and have a query that may actually get some sort of reaction.

But, what I’ve REALLY learned is something on the art of advice giving.

As I was going through my own process, wherein I got some fabulous reactions to my writing and was able to work with them, I saw most people taking the opportunity to tell me what they thought I should do instead, to the point that some were modifying my voice to suit their monologue. At times this is helpful because I know they’re wrong, but I have an innate reaction of ‘No, but it should be…’ so that got me far. What got me farther was a post that told me what reaction I WAS managing to give.

That really struck a chord with me. It was so different that I was able to see my own query for what it was and what I wanted it to be instead.

So, I took that to the 1st 250 Word forums where folks post the smallest snippet of their precious manuscript, the 1st 250 words and wait for folks to give them feedback they can use. I had started there doing what everyone else was doing, telling them what I think they should do instead, but trying VERY hard not to change their voice for them.

And that’s when I remembered the single most valuable exercise a very patient and amazing beta reader did for me. He went through and marked up places and told me what he thought they meant. (He also counted the syllables in my first 250 words and made a chart, but I did not take it to this extent.) I DID however, go through the 250 words and told people the things that this small amount of words told me, with no presuppositions from their query or anything else.

I’d follow it of course, with a small note on my emotional reaction overall. I also tried very hard to point out the Biases I knew I brought to the reading so they wouldn’t impact the writer too much.

I got a great reaction from this. I think for the same reason I got so much from the advice giver that helped me the most, there’s a lot of noise about what other people would do in my shoes.

Writing is not about what other people think, it’s about what they feel and see as they’re reading your words. Sometimes you do what you’re trying to do, sometimes you fail miserably, sometimes you fail at English. Those first few words are important because they describe the boundaries of the rabbit hole I’m trying to suck you into.

So, here’s my advice on what you should do if you’re trying to help someone with writing. Try not to tell them what you think they should do, try to tell them what they are doing in a way that lets them see what they want to fix.