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Advice: The Good, the Bad, the Massively Wrong

photo of lady during day of dead

“If I’d listened to my cousin, I wouldn’t have this cool job as a dead person.” Copyright by WyoJones. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

If you watch Big Bang Theory, then you know that Sheldon made some career changes last season when he felt stalled in his research. In that odd way information has of synching, I also saw a Facebook meme about bad advice possibly from Anne Rice (this was a Facebook meme) and a blog post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch about Weird Misinformation. Why did I put Sheldon in here? He’s funny and he rarely listens to advice and if he does listen, he acts on it in the wrong way.

Getting—and giving—advice is filled with risk and yet we all do it. We ask for it and we dish it out. I can remember these funny postcards that came in the mail years ago. This was back when funny postcards were unusual, btw. So this one stuck with me, because it is both true AND a warning:

IT’S FUNNY, BUT WHERE I TAKE MY EYES, THEY ALWAYS SEE THINGS FROM MY POINT OF VIEW.

This is partly what makes advice giving and getting so tricky. We give, and get, advice through a filter of our point of view. Sometimes we can filter out the chaff and see the nugget of gold in the advice and use it IN THE WAY THAT FITS OUR NEED. And sometimes try to make our need fit someone else’s advice.

It’s like Cinderella’s step sisters trying to make her shoe—and her prince—fit their feet. If this worked for X then surely it will work for me. One size rarely fits all. At least not perfectly. I have been guilty of trying to make that shoe fit. It’s like a get rich quick scheme. I want it NOW. I don’t think I’m alone in that. At least, I hope not.

Of course, the flip side is when we filter out what is actually the good part of the advice. We hear what we want to hear and then act on that. And when it fails, we blame the advice. I might have done that a few times. [Shuffles feet]

In her blog post, Rusch talks about the weird misinformation that is still floating around for newish authors to trip over. She offers some good advice, even if you aren’t a writer. She asks the question, “Does the advice make sense?’

Sometimes we don’t stop to ask that simple question. And then the next, “Does it make sense for me?”

I’ll be honest (well, mostly), when I first embarked on my adventures in writing, nothing about the writing business made sense. Not. One. Thing. It was like a group of people got together and came up with a business plan made up entirely of the worst, most failed business practices ever. And the worst part? If I wanted to publish, then I had to play in crazy. Back then, I had no other option.

Thank goodness there was this part of me that refused to completely comply. So I thought I’d share my top 4 pieces of “totally wrong for ME” advice that I’m glad I ignored.

  • No one publishes their first novel. It’s for learning craft. Finish it and move on. Oh, and you’ll be lucky if your fourth or fifth novel is decently written. (Pig in a Park which went on to become The Spy Who Kissed Me was my first finished, first published novel. It’s also my second best-selling novel. And I’ve published novels 2-14 and a slew of shorts stories.)

* Humor and suspense aren’t appropriate in a novel. Oh yes, I was told that. (The Last Enemy, my best selling novel–and almost every other book I’ve written–contains, oh, humor and suspense. The book with the least humor is Dangerous Dance. Only reason it’s not my least best selling novel is that it’s been out so long. And there are readers who like Southern Gothic books.)

* You need to focus on one genre and tone. You’re too “all over the place.” (Had I listened to this advice I wouldn’t have written: award-winning Out of Time; award-winning The Key; award-winning Girl Gone Nova—well, you get the idea. Every book after Dangerous Dance wouldn’t have happened and I love them all.

* You’re not a real author if you don’t publish the “right” way. This is a personal favorite and one I’m glad I started ignoring in 1998 and haven’t stopped yet. 🙂

Don’t get me wrong. Mentoring—learning from other peoples’ mistakes and successes—can save one years of costly mistakes. I’m still learning the writing business (and yes, it is still crazy, but not as bat crap crazy, thank goodness). Just make sure you’re hearing what they are actually saying and that it makes sense for you. Ultimately, you’re the one who lives with the outcome.

So, what the best/worst piece of advice you followed/didn’t follow/wished you’d followed? You know I love comments so much that I pick a favorite to receive my monthly AnaBanana gift basket ($25 value).  Recipient is announced the first blog post of the new month.

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Perilously yours,

Pauline

P.S. It wasn’t easy to pick which of my books-that-wouldn’t-have-been-written to feature today. But in the end it was easy (and the romantic choice). My “first written,” started out as Pig in a Park (sometimes referred to as that “pig in a poke” book) and is now generally known as The Spy Who Kissed Me: 

the spy who kissed me cover art

Mama wanted her to find a guy, but not like this!

Released in 1998 and still selling. Thank you, readers!