I know that not very long ago, I had a long post on here about offering advice that wasn’t asked for (and how I thought it was a dangerous, and often bad, idea). Guess what? Once a week, I’m doing precisely that, right here, on this very blog, as announced on the post on Monday.
Funny thing is…I’m not sure I have all that much advice to give.
So, I’m going to start this long path of author enlightenment, by giving a bit of insight into what authors a really like. You see, many authors start out quietly…putting words to a page during the late night hours, or other times in which no one is around to look over their shoulder. Almost embarrassed, many authors begin crafting their own stories, feeling almost as if they’re playing pretend as they put together the first few items together on their first epic novel, short story, or whatever. In fact, you’ll probably find, if searching through author blogs, at least one post about the concept of allowing oneself to actually call themselves an “author” as if it’s a special term that requires more of a person to meet its standards than to just have authored something (this blog is no exception to such posts).
So it is that when authors are finally willing to express themselves publicly, allow others to become aware of their creative acts, they’ve probably been working on things for quite some time, working on them by themselves, developing their skills on more of a solo level, than with any actual input involved. As such, many authors, when finally deciding to let the world in on their little secret, think they’ve done a pretty good job of doing everything without help (even if they’re crazily insecure about what was developed) and the one thing they just don’t think they need is advice…at least not advice on the actual act of writing.
I remember when I first finished The Legend of Buddy Hero (the version that no one should read and is so terrible that my grandmother just gave me back the copy I had given her as a present…), I was so insecure about what I had written, while so impossibly certain that I had written something absolutely perfect, that when I first realized the truth of the situation, I completely broke down and had no clue how to move forward.
It wasn’t until that first break down that I finally reached the point where I realized that being closed to advice was completely stupid, and I actually began seeking it out, from as many unbiased places as I could, searching for those who would completely tear me a new one and force me to rewrite the things that were bad, even if they were my favorite pieces. The Legend of Buddy Hero is a very different book now from that version I first wrote. A much much better one at that.
When I began seeking out advice, I went to the internet and found a site called Authonomy. I quickly realized that I wasn’t the only author completely frightened of criticism (although, by this point, I was looking for all the criticism I could get). In my first day on the site, I began trying to offer advice on as many different books as I could, in the hopes that I would begin getting advice back just as quickly. I managed to find a bunch of people who were on there simply to reach the top of the charts on that site (which meant that publisher-type people would actually read your book), and although their books were very much in need of editorial assistance, had absolutely no interest in receiving any thoughts or comments or advice.
I made some enemies that day…and the advice I gave was fairly minimal compared to the help they actually needed.
As an author providing advice (or a reader too, I suppose), there’s a rather fine line to tread until you understand where the author you’re reading for is expecting your responses to be. I know that I still receive some rather glowing remarks from readers simply because they fear I might get angry at their comments, or hurt, or whatever similar term you might want to use. (I just want to set the story straight that I take all advice in stride, although I may get a little obsessive in attempting to get to the source of the issue from time to time). I also greatly appreciate all advice.
But today’s post isn’t about providing advice…it’s about accepting it, requesting it, and realizing that you absolutely definitely need it.
There’s a certain confidence that comes with the territory of publicly releasing your art, even if that confidence is faked. And, I’ll admit right here, I believe that confidence is necessary. You need to believe in your art, stand behind your work, have faith that it is truly something special. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t use a little help.
Sure, sometimes reviewers, readers, commenters, they might not give their thoughts in ways that show they are recognizing your literary greatness. Who cares? You already know that you’ve got mad skills with a word processor. But, listen to the things that cause them pause. Ask for people to tell you what caused them issues when they were reading. You’ll find that most people have at least something to say about any given book that they’ve read. And most of the things they say will probably have some merit to it. Sometimes it’s just that they missed the point and perhaps moving a couple words around might make all the difference in getting that point across. Other times it might just be that they aren’t the appropriate audience for the story. Just because someone offers you advice doesn’t mean you need to use it. But you’ll find that as soon as you open your ears to the complaints of the people (remembering again that these aren’t personal attacks and that not every complaint is stating you’re a terrible writer), you’ll have plenty to think about as you make edits or compose your next epic tome.
There are two things that make my writing better. Writing daily, and getting advice (even if I don’t want it).
I suggest you do both as often as you can.
And that’s my first Writer’s Advice Column! Let me know if it helped, if you hated it, or whatever else. As you now know…I like advice. 🙂
Have fun out there!