Dissect This

Advice is everywhere. Are you a new writer? Intermediate? Have you gone professional but still feel that advice is good from time to time? We can all improve, no matter our skill level, right?

Luckily, advice is everywhere in nearly every profession–but especially in the creative arts. If you’re a writer, a photographer, a painter, a sculptor, a director–if you are a creative, you will find a million people telling you what you are doing wrong and what you can be doing better. If you’re lucky, they’ll also be generous with telling you what you are doing right in your process as well.

I love advice. I love advice that aligns with my process and I love advice that is antithetical to what I am doing.

But that sounds like they cancel each other out! You might be saying that to yourself right now.

The truth of the matter is–being told you’re doing things right and being told you’re doing things wrong is important because the truth lies somewhere in the middle. This is because no piece of advice fits all creatives. Advice, like a lot of things, falls on a spectrum. What works for one creative won’t work at all for another.

Advice comes at me from all directions. Sometimes it comes from readers, whose opinions I value since they are who I am writing for and they know what they want. Mostly, advice comes to me from other creatives and the folks at my imprint. Often, I find that the advice of the consumer and the producers of the product is in direct conflict with each other.

So, while advice is helpful, conflicting advice can induce a headache at times.

How do you take advice from dozens of sources and figure out where on the spectrum the truth sits? I’m glad you asked. I have a checklist.

  1. Is your success important to the person giving advice?
  2. Does the person giving you advice usually consume the type of product you produce?
  3. Does the person giving you advice do the same type of creative work you do?
  4. If the person giving you advice is a creative–are they actually succeeding in their own ventures?
  5. Was the advice unsolicited, and if so, what prompted them to give you the advice?
  6. What are the advice giver’s credentials that makes them a good person to be giving advice?

If the person is not rooting for your success, don’t take their advice. if they’ve never consumed the product you produce, don’t take their advice. If they have no experience with the type of work you do, don’t take their advice. If they are unsuccessful in their ventures, don’t take their advice. If you have any indication that a person is trying to sabotage you, don’t take their advice. And if they have absolutely no experience or credentials to be giving advice to others, you shouldn’t take their advice.

But if the opposite is true, maybe consider what they are saying and see if it can work for you and your process. It doesn’t hurt to try new things and tweak your process to make it the best it can be. This can be anything from the actual creative process to design to marketing. There’s no step-by-step for how to be creative and make the resulting product desirable to a consumer. There’s certainly no Get Rich Quick How-To that works. Even J.K. Rowling and Stephen King struggled before they made it. There have been superb books that just don’t catch on and there have been not so great books that millions of people adore. Art is subjective after all, right?

One trap I get caught in often is (sometimes bitterly) thinking: Why is THAT doing so well? It’s not that great.

That’s just an asshole viewpoint that I yank myself away from whenever it rears its ugly head. It’s not my place to tell consumers that they are wrong in enjoying the art that they enjoy. Most consumers enjoy a variety of different types of art. A reader can really enjoy reading both Twilight and The Kite Runner. Liking both doesn’t make a reader wrong. In fact, as I think about it, I love those types of readers. People who enjoy different genres and pick up a book solely because that’s what they’re in the mood for right now are some of the very best people.

Besides, trying to figure out why one thing works and another doesn’t will only cause a creative to go mad. You don’t have to assume that your high fantasy tale won’t be enjoyable to readers if everyone’s reading vampire young adult right now.

Keep writing your high fantasy. Write the best high fantasy you can write. Then figure out where and how to market it. You’ll find your niche in a market saturated with art that is in direct contrast to what you make. Whatever you do, don’t change everything about yourself to fit what is popular now. By the time you catch up to where the pack is now, they’ll have moved on to something else anyway. And then you’ll be in a never-ending cycle of trying to keep up with everyone else.

On this website, I often give advice in a way. I write about my experiences, how I create, and what works for me. I’m not really giving advice, but describing one way that being a creative can be successful. No one is required to read my blog posts and do things the exact same way that I do them. At best, I hope to inspire others to chase their dreams, try things, go against the grain, be unique, and hopefully be successful as a creative. My advice or descriptions of how I do things is definitely not guaranteed to make you successful in your endeavors. I’m still working on my own success, after all.

Ultimately, every creative has to realize that advice is just a suggestion. There are no hard and fast rules for how to create or what the next big thing will be. You can’t predict that. Who knew that Harry Potter would hit so big when it did? Loads of publishers rejected it, after all.

Listen to advice, send it through the checklist, try the things that make sense for you to try. Reject the things that make no sense to you. But most importantly, remember that there is only one you. Only you can make the art the way that you make it.

Advice is great, but a strong sense of self and belief in your art is invaluable.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,