Tag Archives: Advice

Why Unsolicited Advice Is a Terrible Idea

Yes, I appreciate the irony in writing a blog post about unsolicited advice that could be read as unsolicited advice.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of never giving anyone any advice that they haven’t asked me for, though, and I thought it would make a great topic for a post here while I’m adjusting to the idea of keeping my mouth shut until or unless I’m asked for my opinion.

Perhaps someday I’ll revisit this topic once I have more to say about it? For now, let’s talk about why giving people advice they haven’t asked for is a terrible idea.

 You Don’t Have All of the Facts

Everyone has private parts of their lives that are only shared with very few people or maybe even no one else at all. It could be as simple as a soothing bedtime ritual or as complex as an uncommon hobby that they only discuss with others who have also devoted their free time to perfecting the art of underwater basket weaving.

The parts of someone’s life that others see  almost certainly don’t give a full picture of who they are or how complex their problems – or their perceived problems –  really are.

Sometimes what looks like a banana isn’t actually a banana after all. (Also, I love this picture in and of itself. Isn’t it interesting?)

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I’ve seen this happen multiple times with various friends of mine who are living with serious, longterm mental or physical health problems.

No sooner do they mention having a particularly bad day or dealing with a troublesome, new symptom than someone else will jump in with a half-dozen suggestions for how they should fix their disease once and for all.

Yes, they’ve tried all of those cures already. No, that random Internet article isn’t going to magically fix deep-seated health problems that have been bothering them for decades and that have been treated by multiple doctors and other healthcare professions over the years.

I’ve only ever had this happen to me briefly once or twice, and even that made me irrationally angry. I can’t imagine what my friends who must deal with possibly well-meaning but ultimately wrong and judgemental assumptions about their bodies over and over again go through.

What works for one person can fail miserably for another even if they’re both dealing with similar circumstances or diseases.

 It Doesn’t Work

Advice is only useful when the person receiving it is open to the idea of changing. It’s not like a vaccine that will protect someone from dangerous diseases regardless of what thoughts flutter through their minds while their immune systems are learning how to recognize and destroy inactivated polio germs.

One has to be ready to accept what the advice-giver is saying in order for it to have any hope at all of working. Changing your personality, habits, and/or current situation is such a difficult task that there’s no other way of going about it. Anyone who isn’t motivated to keep going even if they don’t see any results right away is almost certainly going to give up long before any of the work they might have put into their current personal project has had any chance at all to fix things.

Unwanted advice also doesn’t work well for adult relationships in general. When someone who isn’t in an official place of authority over me tries to control what I do or how I live, I feel annoyed and confused. If they continue to do it over a long period of time despite being asked to stop, I slowly begin to share less about my life with them.

Not only does unsolicited advice not work in the short term, it makes me much less willing to listen six months or a year from now if they have something else to say to me.

Rather than prompting me to change whatever it is they think I’m doing wrong, what this kind of interaction teaches me is that they’re not a safe person to confide in. I will often start spending less time with them and guarding myself when I do see them. Their intentions may have been noble, but the results of their poor boundaries are going to be the exact opposite of what they might have hoped for.

Some Lessons Have to be Learned the Hard Way

Not everyone is willing to take the experiences of others as the ultimate truth.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have the urge to warn other people about certain types of mistakes I’ve made in the past, but you can’t live someone else’s life for them.

Sometimes they have to find out for themselves that something is a terrible idea regardless of whether it takes thirty seconds or thirty years between their decision and reaping the consequence of it.

The only thing the rest of us can do in the meantime is to respect their boundaries and hope that they’ll learn their lesson as quickly and easily as possible.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Writing

1. Not Explaining How Things Work

One of my favourite books when I was a preteen was Lois Lowry’s “The Giver.” It’s an excellent example of what happens when authors don’t explain how their worlds work.

The idea of growing up in a society that had no suffering, premature death, disease, or pain of any kind mesmerized me. I spent hours fantasizing about what it would have been like to live there, especially early on before I realized what price the characters had to pay for that slice of paradise.

There was one part of the plot that drove me up the wall, though. Jonas, the main character, explained in an early chapter that  100 babies were born every year in his community. All of those babies were placed with adoptive parents, no single parent families were allowed, and no family was ever given more than one son and one daughter to raise.

The women who were chosen to give birth for the colony only needed to give birth three times in their entire life. Once they completed those pregnancies, they spent the rest of their lives as single adults. They never were allowed to marry or have/raise other children.

So out of Jonas’ 50 female classmates, about 17 of them would need to be classified as birth mothers in order to produce the next generation. This means that 17 of his male classmates would never be assigned a spouse. If you continue to do the math, each generation of this society would be smaller than the rest because of the restricted family sizes and the large numbers of people who were never assigned a life partner.

This problem bothered me for years. I couldn’t figure out why Ms. Lowry wouldn’t have added a throw-away comment about some women giving birth more than three times and/or some families being assigned more than two children. If my math is correct, both of those things would need to occur in order to keep their numbers steady from one generation to the next. Small details like that would have gone a long way in explaining why Jonas’ society had survived for so long.

2. Forcing Endings That Don’t Fit

Lately I’ve read several different books that pushed two characters who barely even liked each other into falling in love. No, I do not have a problem with romantic plots or subplots in general. There is definitely a time and a place for them, but not every story needs to end with two people falling in love and pledging to be together forever.

Some characters are better off as friends. Other characters might make a great couple in the future once they’ve gotten to know each other or have solved at least some of the problems that are currently preventing them from being a good partner to anyone.

I have also noticed this happening a lot when it comes to happy endings. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve seen a happy ending tacked onto a movie or TV show when there was absolutely nothing in the beginning or middle of the storyline to indicate that anyone would be lucky enough to end up that way.

Do I have a problem with characters living happily ever after? Of course not! I love it when a plot unfolds in such a way that every single character in it gets everything they need and want in it. With that being said, not every tale is meant to turn out that way.

If the ending doesn’t fit, don’t force it.

3. Telling Instead of Showing

Earlier this year I began reading a story whose blurb sounded amazing. I was excited to begin it and sure that I was going to love every single second of it.

By the end of the first page, I knew I was wrong about that. It was a real struggle to finish it, too, because of how much time the author spent telling the audience what was happening instead of showing it to us. When I closed my eyes, I couldn’t visualize anything that had happened in the scene I’d just read.

None of the characters’ adventures caught my imagination in any way because everything from what they ate for dinner to the battles they fought were described so vaguely that they almost might have been the same thing.

There was nothing to pull me into that universe, and so it was quickly forgotten.

4. Chasing Trends

Some people say you are what you eat. That may be true, but I also say that you are what you read.

The first time a teenage girl in a supernatural universe fell in love with a 200-year-old vampire who turned out to be a pretty decent person despite his sunlight allergy and intense cravings for human blood, it was fascinating. The twentieth time it happened, I didn’t even bother to finish reading the description on the back cover before I put it back on the shelf.

This isn’t to say that I’m totally against the idea of a normal person falling in love with a vampire. If I ever stumble across an author who has come up with a fresh twist on this idea, I will read his or her work with joy.

In general, though, it’s best to follow your characters instead. Maybe someday someone will write about a teenage girl who meets a vampire she finds vaguely attractive, gets extremely weirded out by the fact that he’s several centuries older than her, moves far away to attend college, and then eventually meets back up with him for a cup of coffee after she’s graduated and come back home to take over the family business.

5. Not Researching Your Subject Matter

No, this advice isn’t only for people who are writing nonfiction or historical fiction. After listening to one of my writer friends talk about this on Twitter lately, I’ve come to agree with her stance on this issue: everything that can be researched should be researched!

For example, if you’re writing about a character who has a  peanut allergy and you don’t already have personal experience that kind of medical condition, go research why allergies occur, how Epi-Pens work, and what could happen to someone who starts wheezing after they eat something that was accidentally contaminated with peanut oil and then realizes that they can’t find their Epi-Pen anywhere.

One of the things that will make me close a book and stop reading immediately is if the author gets something very wrong about a topic I know a lot about. I don’t expect perfection in every single detail, but it sure is nice when writers at least attempt to get the facts straight.

6. Only Reading Books in Your Genre

Last year I wrote an entire blog post about why everyone should at least occasionally read books that aren’t from their favourite genres.

If anything, I believe this even more firmly now than I did back then. There is nothing wrong with loving one or two genres, but I’ve seen the difference between authors who only read books that are from the genre they write in and authors who have branched out into other types of storytelling.

Every genre has areas it excels in and other areas that it usually handles poorly or even ignores altogether. It is only by moving from one genre to the next that you will begin to see what your favourite genre is and isn’t good at discussing.

7. Even Worse, Not Reading Books at All

I’ve met a few writers who have stopped reading anything that isn’t directly related to whatever project they’re currently working on.

While I completely understand being crunched for time, reading well-written fiction is almost as important as attempting to write it yourself. One of the best ways to learn how to write well is to read essays, stories, or books from authors who have spent years perfecting their craft.

They say you are what you eat. I say that you are also what you read, for better or for worse.

How about you? What do you think are seven deadly sins of writing? Come tell me about it on Twitter.