Advice and the Bell Curve

Literary Bell Curve

Oboy. Talk about a love/hate relationship. Some want advice but never get it. Others get it and don’t want it. And others want it and get it…and hate it, and invite you to get carnal with your favorite barnyard animal for your trouble. What to do?

I come from the school that I don’t ask for advice unless I really want it and am prepared for good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between. The trick is knowing WHAT advice to listen to.

On the left end of the Give Me Advice Bell Curve you have “Love it, don’t change a thing.” The other end is, “Hate it, what made you think you could write?” The middle of the Bell Curve is “Listen to me because I’m like your mother- I know everything.”

The Middle Advice is where I see the most damage because it occupies a larger portion of the bell curve and offers the widest range of opinions. And they usually conflict.

One will say, “Develop the main character,” while another will say, “Too much on the main character, tone her down.” One feels that your pacing is slow, another loves the pacing. Yeech. What to do? Who’s right?

And that’s the danger of taking any advice too seriously..unless it’s your editor – and she is GOD. I’m reminded of being in my early thirties – back in the Early Jurassic Era – and someone at a party told me I had a really loud laugh. She was right – I do have a loud laugh.When something really hits me square on the funny bone, I’m the type who tosses her head back and just belts it out – a from-the-bottom-of-my-feet kinda laugh.

I never thought about it until this woman’s comment. The way she said it made me think I was as annoying as the Cyalis commercials. I mean really…what’s with the two bathtubs, and how does that evoke promises of doing the horizontal mambo? Eh, I digress…back to my annoying laugh.

It shook me up to think that I’d spent my whole life annoying the crap out of people. So right then, I made a point to subdue my laugh. Instead of peeling the wallpaper off the walls, I’d politely titter…very unlike me. Hubby finally noticed and asked me if he’d lost his humor mojo. No no, Sweetcheeks, you’re as funny as ever. I’m trying on my new laugh because my real one is so annoying.

He was shocked. Wha’? Who told you that? I told him the story, and he shook his head, and explained the facts of life to me. It was my laugh that made me, me. It’s part of my DNA, and not at all annoying – just the opposite. My laugh made him feel good because he thought it infectious…and not infectious as, “ew, I just caught this infectious laugh and now I have a rash on my bellybutton.”

He made me think about it in a different way. Upon reflection, I decided that I liked my laugh because it’s honest and truly joyful. I love to laugh, the deeper the better.

The woman at the party was sitting right in the middle of my “Grow A Pair, Pricey Bell Curve,” and her advice shook my confidence in me. Sweetcheeks, of course, was pinging my “You’re Utterly Fabulous” end of the Bell Curve…and that’s why I love him so much.

So the first lesson is to understand that no one is right. It comes down to what is right for you…what resonates with you.

The end run of all this is that before we set our Literary Bell Curves, we need to have the confidence to decipher what’s a load of aardvark dootie and what’s legit. What crits are we confident accepting, and what do we feel is off the mark? And I’m not suggesting that we only accept the good stuff. The negative crits have their place as well.

My point is to know yourself well enough to appreciate all the stuff that’s sitting in the “Listen to me because I’m like your mother- I know everything.” I’ve seen authors write themselves into a straight jacket because of all the conflicting advice, and that’s the biggest tragedy of all.

Advice is great provided you’re wearing good shoes, have a stiff drink in your hand, and a good sense of who you are. Don’t let the wrong people take your laugh away.

6 Responses to Advice and the Bell Curve

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    And then there are people who give you advice and then get mad if you don’t follow it to the letter. Especially when you didn’t ASK for said advice…

  2. And how annoying is THAT? Some people just can’t resist sticking their noses in where it wasn’t asked for. They feel that since they know you – the author – this gives them free reign to overstep their boundaries.

    I’ve had this happen a few times, and I just smile and say,”Thank you, I’ll take that under advisement.” Thud.

  3. LOL. I have uh…erm…boisterous laugh, too. 🙂

    Good input on the taking of advice. It’s all in the balance of things, isn’t it?

  4. Digital Dame says:

    This is why I shy away from writers groups, or critique groups. I just can’t see taking writing advice from a roomful of unpublished writers. Unless it’s something painfully obvious, like an unexplained gender shift in the middle of a paragraph.

    “Nothing, not love, not greed, not passion or hatred, is stronger than a writer’s need to change another writer’s copy.”
    -Arthur Evans

  5. I’m of a different opinion, Digital. Even though those writers groups may be filled with unpublished writers, they’re still readers. I’m not one to ignore a reader. But I also keep in mind that there’s no way you can please everyone. That’s why you have to have a strong sense of self.

  6. Pelotard says:

    As I’m fond of reminding people, even the most spectacularly successful authors are read by less than 10% even of the reading population. Everyone else was, at best, indifferent; chances are most of them would hate it.

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