March 1st, 2010

(More) On Advice

Advice–I love it! Anything anyone I respect wants to (gently) suggest I do or try, I’m open to hearing. I might not do it–I suppose statistically speaking, I do very little of what people suggest I do–but hell, it’s education just to know that this person thinks something is a good idea. Tells me something about his or her worldview, and that there might be others like it, if nothing else. But I do owe a lot–everything from my ability to use a hair-dryer properly to lots of brilliant edits on my stories–to someone else telling me what I was doing wrong and how to do it better.

I think one reason I’m so open to advice is that I know my own abilities pretty well–I know how to listen for ideas I could actually use, people who actually know what they are talking about, and plans I’m capable of executing. I can recognize a blowhard when I see one (though I’ll probably hear them out anyway, just in case I am wrong and they can tell me something useful). I also know when, despite any and all useful reasonable advice to the contrary, I just have to persist in the quixotic thing I’m doing and hope it works out (though I’ll probably hear everybody out anyway, just in case there is some easier option I haven’t thought of).
In short, though I am eager for life to be easy, it rarely is and advice helps only a tiny bit, and only rarely. But I’ll take what I can get.
Thus, I am loving all the writerly advice that’s suddenly all over the internet. Of course, the irony of the situation is that the only reason I’ve discovered these lovely lists of advice is that they are driving AJ crazy. And with good reason–there’s lots of nonsense on those lists, everything from don’t read contemporary fiction to don’t have children to how to sharpen a pencil.

But even though I know this sort of advice–directed at a general-interest audience, with no specific text or even genre in mind–is usually obvious at best and offensive at worst, I still eat it up like candy. I can glean bits from it, take an interest in the worldview of all these notable writers, and feel centre-of-the-world-ish in that here is a whole article telling people how to do something I already sort of sometimes know how to do. I could certainly get better at writing, and several comments on the lists suggested something new to me, but mainly I enjoy those rare occasions when someone famous totally agrees with me about something. Like this, from Ms. Atwood:

“You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.”

That said, I’ll get back to work in a minute, but first, two genuine pieces advice that come to me via much smarter folks than myself, which I hope will help you:

1) If you never remembers what sorts of fire you are supposed to put water on and what you aren’t, baking soda puts out both grease and electrical fires, and water does not. Nor does staring at the flames in terror, hoping they will somehow go out by themselves. (Thanks, Stef, for saving us and allowing me to live long enough to write this post.)

2) Did you know what contact voltage is? It’s complicated, and the link sorta explains it, but basically it’s electricity hiding in everyday metal objects on the street, just waiting for bare skin to brush against it so it can give a nasty shock. Yeah, sounds like sci-fi, apparently real, and much more dangerous for the traditionally barefoot dogs than for people. Toronto Hydro advises humans and canines both to avoid walking on metal grates or personhole covers, and just never to touch any metal on the street. Easier said than done, and highly terrifying overall, but probably good advice if you can take it.

Be careful out there!

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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