Our assignment this month was to talk about “bad advice”. So, here’s the thing…
I’ve had plenty of advice thrown my way over the years, both good and not so good. But I like to think that there’s no such thing as “bad” advice. Unwise, maybe. Lacking insight, perhaps. Not the right fit for my specific circumstance, sometimes. But most people are well-intentioned when they share their story or encourage you to follow the path that worked so well for them. The trick is in knowing when to take it, and when to trust your own best judgment.
Perhaps it depends, then, on the critical thinking, common sense, and intuitive power (also known as “gut instinct”) of the partaker of said advice.
Being able to distinguish between what does and doesn’t serve us well at any given time is a by-product of maturity, independent thinking, and self-confidence in our skills. If we know who we are and what we want, and we hone our skills to the best of our ability, we’ll take any advice through a filter of what is most right for us, and hopefully, choose accordingly.
For example: I was once told that the title I’d chosen for one of my early books (SAVAGE CINDERELLA) would shine too harsh a light on my character and didn’t really fit the story. The title came from a line in the book which really connected with me, and perfectly described the main character, Brinn’s, transformation and fight for survival. Because this advice-giver was a friend and a well-respected author, I listened and titled the book something else right before I entered several contests with it. The book never made it to a final round finish. A few months went by and my first-choice title kept rolling around in my gut, nagging me to go with my original idea. I changed it back and submitted to two more contests—both of which, the book won first place. Weird, right? All I had changed was the title!
The takeaways: Don’t give up! And follow your gut.
By the same token, there are times we can let our pride, angst, and insecurities take over, and we refuse to take a perfectly awesome suggestion that could lead us down an entirely different path. This goes under the heading of “good advice not taken”.
Here’s an example of such a moment…
I had written ON THIN ICE, a book of my heart that has many elements of my own life woven into its pages. Seventeen-year-old figure skater, Penny, deals with several traumatic and challenging events and issues throughout the story, to the point one early contest judge said, “If any girl went through everything Penny did, she’d be in a psychiatric hospital.” To which I responded with a hand wave in the air, “Still here!”
Before pitching it to agents and editors at a conference, I spoke with another well-respected author who always gave incredible advice on all things writing. She recommended I break up the book into several stories and pitch it as a series. Each book would focus on a different main character, but each of them would only be dealing with one BIG issue. Basically, she said when writing YA, to pick one main conflict and bleed all over the page for about 240 pages.
This was good advice and a brilliant idea…and all but impossible. I tried to deconstruct the book over a period of several months. It was torturous. Every thread I pulled unraveled the story more, and I couldn’t find a way to make essential connections that felt authentic. Listening to my gut—which was screaming so loudly I could barely sleep—I gave up. Ultimately, I felt like Penny couldn’t get to her HEA any other way than to experience all that she did. To this day, I love that story and I wouldn’t change a thing—although I would have loved to have seen what would have happened with that series!
My feeling these days is take what works and leave the rest. Use your own good judgment, listen to your gut, and be true to yourself. As I've matured, I have also learned to embrace humility and accept that I don’t know everything. Being open to learning, growing, and listening (with my ears and my gut), makes me better able to decide what truly is “good” or “bad” advice.
A licensed massage therapist by day, PJ Sharon is also an award-winning author of young adult novels, including PIECES of LOVE, HEAVEN is for HEROES, ON THIN ICE, and Holt Medallion-winner SAVAGE CINDERELLA. You can follow Brinn’s story in the Savage Cinderella Novella series which includes FINDING HOPE, LOST BOYS, SACRED GROUND, BROKEN ANGEL, and LIBERTY’S PROMISE.
In addition to her contemporary YA lit, Ms. Sharon’s YA dystopian trilogy, The Chronicles of Lily Carmichael, which RT Book Reviews calls “An action-packed read with a strong female lead,” is a sci-fi/fantasy adventure inspired by her fascination with “prepping” and her passion for environmental causes, as much as by her love of romance and the unending “what-if’s” that haunt her imagination.
PJ has two grown sons and several adorable grandchildren, and lives with her brilliant engineer of a husband in the Berkshire Hills of Western MA where she writes, kayaks, and plays in the dirt as often as possible.