“Could you tell me what I could do better for next time?”
I hear that question all the time. And by all the time, I mean ALL the time. It’s the invariable response when I have to (sadly) tell someone that their guest post just doesn’t cut it.
They get the “Sorry, I’ll have to take a pass,” and then – sure enough – they ask me for my advice. They want my suggestions. They clearly state (in writing, no less) that they’d like to become better writers and would appreciate my counsel.
Fantastic. I’m right there for those people. I’m willing to help. At least I used to be.
I’ve actually stopped answering the question.
You see, no matter whether I send people my thoughts on how they can improve their writing or comparative edits they can learn from or bullet points on what to change and how to change it, it’s the same old story every time:
I hated saying, “No, I can’t accept your guest post.” (And believe me, I wasn’t that much of a stickler about acceptance standards either.) Sometimes I’d sit on the post for days, putting off the inevitable because I felt bad. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or come off like a pretentious artist who only approved of the finest material.
So when I finally did say no and got a reply email thanking me and asking for my advice, I felt better. I felt I could do right by these people. Help them improve their writing. Quickly. Easily. Free of charge.
And I’d gently tell them where they went wrong, what they could work on and how to do better next time.
They rarely used the advice.
I’d say things like, “This is a great concept and I like the style of your writing, but it seems that you have three topics meshing together into one by accident, so it was a bit difficult to figure out the main point. I edited it down, though, and I think without the extra fluff it’s really honed and concise. See the difference?”
Or maybe this: “I like this idea and you write well, but the post seems a bit scattered. An outline would really help you focus on exactly what you want to say. And try to keep asking yourself, “Is this relevant?” with each sentence you write. I think you’ll see a huge difference!”
I’d wrap that all in some extra encouragement and quietly hit ‘send’.
But most didn’t want to improve.
Hardly anyone wanted the advice. They asked for it, but no one wanted the honest feedback – not really. Very few actually wanted to do the work and put in the practice they need to do to become better writers. Even if it was easy. Even if it was simple.
Even if all it took was paying a little more attention towards doing a better job.
It’s like that famous Pareto Principle, only in this case, it’s more like a 99/1 ratio. 99% of the people that ask for advice do nothing about it.
Only 1% actually gives a damn.
The 99% neglect the good, solid writing advice they get – the advice they asked for. They turn around send their guest post to a blog that doesn’t care as much as I do about posting material that’s worth reading. (And very often, they publish it too.)
Or worse, they shrug and publish to their own blog, as if their blog and their readers didn’t matter enough for them to polish up the work and deliver a better piece.
Do me a favor: Don’t be like that. If someone you’ve asked for advice takes time out of their busy day and gives you good counsel on how to improve, don’t ignore it. Don’t waste their time.
Don’t waste yours.
Use the advice. Benefit from it. Learn from it. Reap the rewards of doing a better job than you were yesterday, each day of your life.
I want to hear from you: Have you ever ignored good advice and regretted it? (I have – and I’ve learned not to do that!) Have you ever applied smart counsel that changed your whole game? Where else have you noticed people ignoring good advice?