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Unsolicited Career Advice Sucks


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The Intro:

I'm posting this in 'People Suck' instead of on my personal blog because I'm overwhelmingly annoyed and I'm sure that other people experience this in their own fields of expertise and lines of work...so let's share in the vitriol. No sense in keeping it all to myself, after all.

This all starts with an intellectual hiccup called the 'Dunning-Kruger Effect'. From Wiki: "The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to appreciate their mistakes."

Tl;dr: People who are too incompetent to realize they are incompetent, and are really, really proud of their incompitence.

This kind of shit happens everywhere. You know someone who is like this, everyone does, and it nevers gets any easier to put up with...which is why I find myself writing this today. Feel free to chime in with your own instance of the Dunning-Kruger effect if you feel up to it, after all, snowballs are meant to roll downhill.

Before I go on, I want to make this really clear. I don't mind talking about writing. I don't mind hearing feedback or taking advice, either, and when I post something I expect it to some degree, but that's not the situation taking place here. What inspired this is someone with literally -zero- writing experience who snidely criticized a draft of mine that she didn't have actual permission to read in the first place, and then offered advice to 'fix' some of the things that make this piece good.

The Suck:

"Hey, mind if I read it?" Rita isn't actually asking my permission. I know this because she's already planted at the keyboard and peering at the screen, and I'm taking a Very Important Phone Call...I can't just go 'Hey, can you hold on a second? I need to bash my house-guest's girlfriend's face in really quick. BRB.' All I can do is walk into my study, push the door closed, and focus on the phone call.

I always dread this scenario: Someone I know or are acquainted with asks to read a piece I'm working on, and I am not in a position to politely refuse. It never ends well. It's not that I fear their judgement, after all, I have my agent and several editors to answer to before anything I write can even -potentially- see print. I shouldn't have to prove my worth as a writer to anyone BUT them.

I hear through the study door, said to her boyfriend:

"I like it so far, but I see some problems..."

This is what I dread. Unsolicited writing advice. Specifically, unsolicited writing advice from someone who I know for a fact doesn't fucking write. Because Rita doesn't write. Rita doesn't even read, for fuck's sake, she watches reality television and for ten years has worked as an entry-level grocery store clerk, and those are the only two things I have ever heard her talk about in almost a year of knowing her. But suddenly, upon seeing my draft, she's become a fountain of Hugo Award winning writing advice that she really NEEDS me to know.

I'm not imagining this, folks. Even her boyfriend, our house-guest, was mortified.

"You do know she's a professional author, right? That's what she does."

"Oh really?" Her tone is conciliatory, as though she can't understand how that could possibly be true. "She really needs to work on the speech here. It's awkward...and she uses 'said' too much. Her formatting is all messed up too, there's too much space between the lines." There was more, but I was trying to listen to the caller at the same time and lost track of Rita's expert commentary.

As soon as the call was over, I was down the hall and back in the living room, and she's still sitting there at the machine with this disgusted, almost piteous look on her face. Her boyfriend starts to intervene to prevent what she's about to say, but she's already started.

"Hey, this looks really good, but-" Her tone of voice is making me grind my teeth. It's a strange amalgam of pity, concilliation, and condescension.

"It's a first draft." I said, trying to be neutral.

"Really? Because I was going to say-" She starts again. Maybe it's something about that awful, saccharine tone of voice, but I can't let her say more than a few words without interrupting, just to shut her up.

"What were you going to say?" The Voice of the Devil has emerged. Mort seems uncomfortable, he's giving me this look as if to say, 'I know she deserves it, but please don't beat my girlfriend to death with your keyboard?'

"Mort and I were just talking about how you use 'said' a lot." Her boyfriend is now staring at her, looking appalled. It's clear that in the Nation of Mort, she has just lost her diplomatic immunity.

"Really? Editors like 'said'. It's an invisible article. It's better than tagging every line of dialogue with some lame adjective like a dime-store pulp romance, right? Women 'moaning' or 'panting' their sentences?"

"This guy comes off as awkward, the wording is hard to read." She says.

"He's got a speech deficit. It's part of the character that he speaks in short, abrupt lines. He's uncomfortable in that scene for a reason." Rita's nodding as though she understands, but it's clear she's not even hearing me.

"If you wanted someone to edit this or fix the formatting, I'd be-" For fuck's sake, she's still doing it.

"I'm good, thanks. Double-spaced is standard manuscript format. That's how new copies are submitted to my agent, the editors, and whoever will be buying it."

"Well...okay." At least she seems to have realized I don't want to hear this shit.

Anyway, bad, unsolicited advice and the people who give it suck. I don't tell carpenters how to build fine bookshelves. I don't tell surgeons how to open flesh. I don't tell mechanics how to fix cars. I don't tell photographers how to choose images. I don't tell dairy farmers how to keep their cattle healthy. Why tell me how to format a manuscript or properly tag or write dialogue? (Especially when I'm doing it exactly how it should be done?)

My care-cup is empty.

###

P.S. Dianthus just thought about 2 Girls 1 Cup. I love you Di, but payback is a bitch.

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I wouldn't let people look at my work. If that is your personal computer, then what is on it is your business and not this crazy woman's biz.

When they say "Mind if I read this?", I would reach over and click the back arrow or whatever would take it away and say "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do mind. This project is not ready for anyone to read. When I've finished it, I'd be happy to let you read it."

That was said scornfully. heh

Seriously, I think you were extremely gracious for not beaning her with your keyboard.

olga

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You handled that well. It would be an annoying situation for anyone, and I think you got the point across that you were annoyed without being dickish yourself. Let her boyfriend handle the rest.

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oh dear, that would have totally fried me

she is lucky you did not bite her head off

it is always nice when you, as a professional, have a friend who is a grocery store clerk, and she is offering to edit your work

really, it is laughable

ignorent, insensitive, audacious, I can think of a lot of ways to describe this

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it is always nice when you, as a professional, have a friend who is a grocery store clerk, and she is offering to edit your work

Exactly. I mean, I've got nothing against grocery store clerks, but it doesn't require a B.A. or higher in English. (Or, you know, experience in the writing field.)

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I would have lost it as soon as she started poking around in my computer without permission.

Thank you so much for bringing the Dunning Kruger effect into my life! I'd never realized there was an actual term to describe the way stupidity feeds on itself.

Similarly annoying things:

When noncrazy friends read an article in something like Time magazine, about bipolar, or a med, or whatever, and think themselves qualified to explain me to myself, and/or, tell me what to do about my meds.

When my mother who, despite other excellent qualities, has never had any semblance of personal style, tries to tell me how to dress myself, or what to do with my hair/makeup. There, it's the combined annoyances of my mother telling me to start wearing suits, and pluck my eyebrows into oblivion, and of someone who's not very good at something trying to tell me how to do something I'm pretty good at.

When people who take crappy care of their dogs try to tell me what to do with mine.

When people who've read, maybe, a single book by the Dalai Lama, or seen some documentary about Buddhism, take it upon themselves to enlighten me as to the meanings of my religious practices.

Worst of all, I have a friend who is in fact quite a good writer, but has never done the slightest thing about it. Never sent anything out, never done a query, never approached it with any discipline. Yet, when I was actuallu writing, and publishing, and all that, she would offer unsolicited advice about both the writing itself, and what I ought to be doing to get more work.

Maddening.

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I hate when people make an assertion about something as if it were the norm, what EVERYONE believes, when it is actually a Christian belief. When I try to explain how and why my point of view differs (I'm a "Jewy, Jewy, Jew," as Louis Black would say), they accuse me of affirmatively attacking Christianity.

When I explain I am not objecting to their point of view, I am just pointing out that what they said is not an "American" point of view, but a Christian one, they accuse me of trying to prevent them from worshiping. This has happened so many times, especially around Christmas. And you would be amazed at how often I can get people to outright admit they believe if you don't practice Christianity, you aren't really an American, because Americans believe in G-d. This also, you may note, presupposes that Jews do not believe in G-d. Plus, I if I then tell them I am atheist, the conversation takes a complete downward spiral.

Okay, not quite the same, as what your experience, but I think it fits Dunning Kruger Effect. Now I have to Google it, to see whether or not I have made a complete fool of myself.

ETA: Okay, this has nothing to do with the Dunning Kruger effect. Sorry.

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I hate when people make an assertion about something as if it were the norm, what EVERYONE believes, when it is actually a Christian belief. When I try to explain how and why my point of view differs (I'm a "Jewy, Jewy, Jew," as Louis Black would say), they accuse me of affirmatively attacking Christianity.

When I explain I am not objecting to their point of view, I am just pointing out that what they said is not an "American" point of view, but a Christian one, they accuse me of trying to prevent them from worshiping. This has happened so many times, especially around Christmas. And you would be amazed at how often I can get people to outright admit they believe if you don't practice Christianity, you aren't really an American, because Americans believe in G-d. This also, you may note, presupposes that Jews do not believe in G-d. Plus, I if I then tell them I am atheist, the conversation takes a complete downward spiral.

Okay, not quite the same, as what your experience, but I think it fits Dunning Kruger Effect. Now I have to Google it, to see whether or not I have made a complete fool of myself.

ETA: Okay, this has nothing to do with the Dunning Kruger effect. Sorry.

No, but it is a perfectly good example of another way in which stupidity feeds itself. And it's probably got its own name. If not, it should have.

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Maybe I'm weird, but it sounds like everyone exhibits the Dunning-Kruger effect - to some degree. Of course, that's probably my own cognitive bias. Or else I don't read the same references you do.

P.S. Sidenote: It also occurred to me, that there might be lots of intelligent grocery store clerks, or not. Plus, lots of writers who exhibit cognitive bias.

There are some grocery clerks who can't spell, and have bad grammar, but they can't seem to learn how to turn off their own cognitive bias. Like lots of writers. Professional or not. SAD isn't it?

Of course, if people don't want the Rita's of the world reading their stuff, they can always say "I've got to go. Talk later." Of course some people's cognitive bias sometimes prevents them from examining all of their options.

They forget, they might be able to get into another field. That has different formatting. Or maybe they just don't want to do it.

Some people do what they want, not what other people want them to do. It's sometimes so sad, IMO..

Objectively speaking, it shouldn't be - but maybe that field of writing isn't for you. Maybe it is. Hard to tell, when all anyone has to go on is anyone's word re: What "professional" actually means.

Sometimes, it makes some people, just want to blow up, I guess. Like run-ins with hairdressers that can make someone cry, it can seem like SUCH a huge deal. Some people just seem to turn things into such a huge deal. Sideways or other ways.

Even grocery store clerks. And hairdressers.And writers.

For instance: My hairdresser can't even spell the word incompetent. It's maddening. Then again, I guess I'm lucky I can even get out of bed. SIGHHHHH. It seems so uinfair. Then again, I guess I could fire her. But then I'd have to stop complaining, about her - maybe - at least in mindless petty ways.

Or claim I am doing that anyway.

About problems which if I really thought about them - I could probably solve myself. Because I don't really need unsolicited advice - I'm business for myself.

My grocery store clerk - has a PH.D and is a pretty nice guy - but he doesn't really know anything. That I know of...Because he's a grocery store clerk - you know? He's not a pro - except at being a grocery store clerk. He says he has a Ph. D. But who knows. He could be lying.

I know he can't bag groceries. Thats for damn sure.Then again, I can get in a foul mood, and complain about petty stuff. But never to my grocery store clerk. Some people are just like that - you know?

I know attitude is everything - but I can't seem to get myself to stop passive aggressive bullshit.

If I get too mean, I know I won't be much of an example to other people. But hell - it's because of my excruciatiung pain - you know? If I am too upfront with it - other people might not listen to my sage advice - at the grocery store.

That might not be as much fun. Kind of a drag for me. I like being a big fish in a small pond.

But if it really bugged me. I'd do it. Or off my hairdresser. Or get a new one. What a dilemma. If I wasn''t so busy writing about how I react negatively to some situations, I might have time to actually solve what seem to some to be teensy problems.

Especially to those people who have no idea what my life is REALLY like. As a professional, and all.

But they're not teensy to me. My problems seem huge. People just don't understand.. Other people just like to nit-pick. It's hell I tell you.

Sometimes, THINGS just bug me. Other times they don't. So in some ways, I can relate.

.

Suzie, I have only the vaguest notion as to what you're actually trying to get at, with this semicoherent rant. The only thing that's pretty clear is your apparent attempt to bring your issues with another member, in another thread, into this one. Doing so, after having been repeatedly asked to knock it off in the first thread, is petty, childish, and just unacceptable. So again, Suzie, knock it off.

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I can't understand that post enough to know whether it's dragging shit from that other thread into this one. Christ. My brain hurts now.

I'm glad I wasn't the only one.

Either way I think she said it best herself:

I can't seem to get myself to stop passive aggressive bullshit.
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Sorry. It's me, and I know it. It is probably pretty incoherent, unless you're inside my head. Which nobody else is. It's getting kinda scary in there, frankly. No, I only take my meds. No alcohol, nothing else. It's anxiety, plus depression that is worsening by the minute, plus home issues, plus maybe long-dormant BPD (that's my theory anyway.) I hate it. Am going to do something about it. Today. It sucks.

Sorry.

Sorry Recluse. I didn't mean to hi-jack. I have a diary & a blog, plus I just need a rest. Not your problem (or anyone else's.)

-suzie

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  • 4 weeks later...

I completely sympathise (semipro/student writer/actor/director here). I'd never give advice on a writer's first draft unless I was asked, and had read the whole thing. Anything other than that is just nosy bullshit.

But yeah - everyone thinks they can just *do* creative stuff. This is why I loathe shows like The X Factor and all of that Maria/Nancy/Joseph bullshit - they popularise the idea that any random person can do just as well as trained professionals, simply because the professionals happen to be creative professionals. I always say, you wouldn't have a contest for any random schlub to design your house, build your furniture or operate on your cat, so why should you go in search of some randomer to star in the West End?

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