4 Questions To Consider Before You Take Writing Advice

Advice is like a rusty old bicycle: everyone wants to give it away, whether or not it's useful to the person who gets it.

Your peers, parents, and mentors may have the best intentions. But before you take their advice about your writing, get some perspective by asking yourself these four questions.

1. Are you able to listen to advice right now?

The deadline is the same for every student in your class, but not the reaction to that deadline. If you are feeling especially anxious for any reason—whether it’s because of the assignment, something else at school, or something in your personal life—you’ll have less grit in the face of pressure.

When you feel yourself starting to panic, say “No” to unsolicited advice. If you feel like you have as much on your plate as you can handle, listen to that wise inner voice.

If you feel too overwhelmed to get advice but you feel like you need it, take a minute to recenter yourself with a calming technique before seeking help.

And if you already have a great plan and are moving forward on it, you're probably not in the market for advice.

Advice you already know isn't advice; it's nagging. [Tweet that!]

Even though others might think they're being helpful when they offer you their opinions, you might feel like they're judging your ability to follow your own plan. Express polite appreciation and don't let it bug you too much.

2. Is the advice from a knowledgeable source?

Your friends, your soccer coach, and your dad may all have the best intentions when they tell you exactly how you should write your essay. But intentions don’t always equal results.

Good advice has to be based on knowledge of the subject. Good essay advice will come from someone who is an expert in writing and the writing process, such as your teacher or a writing coach.

Advice from Your Parents

Parents are hard to say “No” to when it comes to school work. It’s true that they know tons about their fields of expertise. But if those fields aren't American literature or expository essay writing, their advice isn’t guaranteed to get you the results you want.

Plus, getting advice from parents can make a lot of us (I'm raising my hand!) feel frustrated. If you start to get antsy when Mom or Dad chimes in with advice about your paper, just say “Thanks,” and leave it at that.

If you feel cool as a cucumber but know the idea won't quite work, you might try (respectfully!) explaining to your well-meaning parent what you’re going to do instead. This can help your folks understand the assignment, class requirements, or your writing process better.

Tips from the Web

I know you’re smart and you already know that just because something's on the web doesn’t mean that it’s true. Thus, a random blog post about the true meaning of the literature book you’ve been reading at school is not good advice to follow!

But it's also important to remember that just because something is true doesn't mean that it's relevant. Even if you find a well-researched scholarly article about the true meaning of the novel, you shouldn't let it direct your writing.

Instead, trust your class notes, quizzes, and assignments to advise you about themes and characters, or to help you understand what’s going on. If you’re really stuck, make an appointment with your teacher as soon as the essay is assigned so you can clear up your confusions.

3. Does this advice work for the way that you work?

If the advice is coming from a good source at a good time for you, that’s a great feeling! You’ll be able to cash in on perfectly-timed, relevant help so you can work smarter.

If the advice actually matches the way you work, that is.

If you want to learn how to edit the videos you make with your friend and you find the perfect (free!) class about how to do it at a time when you’ll be free and focused, there’s one more important question you have to ask: does it work with my OS? If you’re on a PC and the class is for Mac users, you’re out of luck.

Your personal operating system is a mix of the way you write and the way your teacher wants you to write:

  • How do you organize your thinking?
  • Which steps do you prefer to do first?
  • What are your other commitments and how much time do you have?
  • What are the requirements of the assignment?
  • What elements are on the rubric?

4. Will this advice help right now, or should you save it for the future?

Some advice is fantastic—if it comes with a time machine! (Once I’ve already burned the stew is exactly the wrong time to tell me that I should cook it with the heat on the lowest setting. Sheesh!)

When advice comes rolling in, make sure to file it correctly under “use now” or “save it for next time.” If you focus on advice you can’t follow right now, it will usually trigger anxiety. And anxiety is your biggest enemy when you're writing. It steals all your energy and makes it much harder to be brilliant. 

Some final advice about taking advice ;)

Just because you don’t take advice in one area doesn’t mean you should disregard it in another. Stay open and receptive. Your super-organized BFF might be a great resource for advice about how to prioritize all your homework. And maybe your soccer coach has some great insights about how to boost your focus so that when you sit down to write, you perform your best.

Since your parents have known you your whole life and watched you overcome more than a few challenges, they might have excellent advice about how to structure your time. At the very least, they’ll be able to tell you what’s on the family calendar so that you don’t overbook yourself or lose time to procrastination

And don’t just reject bad advice; seek out good advice! When you’re not sure what to do next for your essay, ask for help. You can make an appointment with your teacher if you’re in the early stages of writing. And you can also make an appointment with me for a one-on-one coaching that works with your schedule with On Demand Writing Help.

Join the conversation: What's the worst advice you've ever gotten? How about the best?