Clear feedback is always better than unsolicited advice.
I've been writing on the internet for a decade now.
I've been writing on the internet for a decade or eleven years now. Not sure at this point. Let's stick with a decade. I've jumped across writing platforms, fought with technology, learnt new tools, struggled to put it all together and resisted the urge to completely stop writing. I'm human and I'm flawed. Whenever I've discussed these issues with friends, I got the following words.
“Trust the process.”
“In due course.”
“Things will work out.”
These are all statements you must've heard too. But for me, these statements have always come only from my kindest friends. I heard it so much that at one point it stopped making sense. What does “trust the process” mean? What is the process? Who is in it? Is it like a job application – should I follow up? Cry, or something?
The rudest people have hurt and upset me but have served as a form of wake-up call. I vividly remember having a conversation with someone a few years ago about my work. All I did was ask for feedback, and heard something similar to this:
Your friends are not obliged to read your work. No one has to give you feedback. Everyone has their own stuff to do. If someone takes the time to go through your work and let you know, good. If they cheer for you, nice! If not, deal with it. If and when your work is good, everyone will let you know.
The words “if and when your work is good…” echoed in the background for months. It stumped me. It crushed me, too, because until that point, I knew my work was quite good. It always has been, and it always will be.
Now remember, I asked this person for feedback, and not for life advice or creator advice. They had the choice to say that they didn't have the time to give me feedback and simply move on. But they didn't. I didn't talk about my work not being seen.
I've edited the above message to make it sound kind so I don’t have to re-read the words that hurt me. As a creator, this is not a nice speech to hear from a non-creator. Don't get me wrong. Not a lot of people know the struggles creators go through, and that's ok. But sprinkling advice like it's fairy dust only shows the responder's inability to understand a request — they were projecting their own insecurity (of perhaps not being seen, who knows?) on to me. 🤷🏽♀️
If one isn't strong enough to distinguish the difference, words like these might mentally upend them. For example, I've been writing from a very young age. I make a living from writing. When an early career writer seeks feedback, I'd rather give them specific feedback on their work than tell them how to live their life as a writer. I can decline to give feedback (whether I know them or not), and that’d still be a valid response.
Seeking feedback means that the person is placing themselves in a vulnerable position. It shows they're willing to put in the work — that they're eager to grow. Anyway, I couldn't believe that someone would diminish my request to make it seem and sound like a yearning.
But weirdly enough, and in hindsight I can say that thinking about this experience changed my approach to receiving anything and everything that was thrown at me — forever.
Now, I don't worry about what anyone has to say to me about my work. I appreciate the feedback but I don't look forward to someone's 'two cents' like I used to some years ago. I feel seen. I feel heard. I have some people whose support is stronger than the strongest rock that has weathered the storm and found its forever home, and that, to me, is enough. More than enough. I've come a long way from where I was five years ago — mentally, emotionally, spiritually and professionally.
The words have started to make sense. I'm forever trusting the process and being patient. I've never worried and I never will, because I'm always open to learning. I've reached a state of absolute Zen that no one can take away from me, and for that I'm grateful. :)
To the unsolicited advice-giver, and to everyone else who echoes my advice-giver’s thoughts, I say:
“I’m a creator. If I'm putting myself out here – it takes immense courage and fierce belief in myself that someone like you – a non-creator, a critic, a bystander doling out free advice, has never done before. Thanks for the advice. But really, no thanks. Bye!”
In Anne Robinson's style:
"You are the weakest link. Goodbye!"
On a more serious note — if you'd like to know how to give clear feedback to a writer so you can avoid being the unsolicited advice giver, wait for it and I'll write about that too.
If you liked reading the blog post, consider supporting my 100-day writing project. I'm currently on day 6. I've got 94 exciting and unpredictable days to write and I can't wait to see what all tumbles out of me!
Thanks for reading and supporting me in this journey.