How to Get Good Advice

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When seeking editorial counsel:

Don't be like Johnny Fontane

Don’t be like Johnny Fontane

  1. Don’t ask a writer or editor you do not respect to give you constructive criticism.
  2. Find a writer or editor you respect and ask just one time for his/her undivided attention. (unless you are compensating them). You cannot go back to the well again and again and again…unless you stupidly keep paying them for advice you never take…
  3. Spend less time with writers and editors you do not respect.
  4. Spend more time with writers and editors you do respect.
  5. When a writer or editor you respect takes the time to consider your work and offers advice…Thank them and act on it. Even if you think the advice is stupid… Chances are, if you respect them, the advice they’re offering is just the thing you need to take your work to the next level.

Whatever you do, don’t respond like this:

  1. Thanks for these notes, but I’m going for something bigger than just “genre” fiction.
  2. My ________ (best friend, husband, guru, bridge partner) didn’t think my rape scene was gratuitous…so I’m confused about why you had such a hard time with it.
  3. I’m too close to the work now to consider the kinds of changes you’re suggesting. I mean, I’d probably have to re-write the whole thing!
  4. I read an interview with Jean Cocteau in the Paris Review that contradicts your insistence that readers want a beginning, middle and end. As I recall, he said something like this “There is always the temptation to fix it up, to improve it, to remove its poison, blunt its sting.”  I guess I’m like Cocteau. I just can’t compromise my vision to serve the necessities of the marketplace.
  5. I don’t work that way.

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Posted in


Read this one first.
It identifies the enemy—what I call Resistance with a capital “R,” i.e. fear, self-doubt, procrastination, perfectionism, all the forms of self-sabotage—that stop us from doing our work and realizing our dreams.
Start here.
Everything else proceeds from this.



  1. Patryk Dawid Chlastawa on October 30, 2015 at 6:17 am

    Wow. That’s a bunch of insulting comments. And so discouraging.

  2. Marvin Waschke on October 30, 2015 at 6:31 am

    Not just in writing! If you don’t respect the source, you have already decided the advice is bad. Why bother?

  3. Joel D Canfield on October 30, 2015 at 6:32 am

    The greatest gift anyone can give me is to show me where I’m wrong.

  4. Harrison Greene on October 30, 2015 at 7:11 am

    I am reminded of the sage who wrote: “I never give advice because wise men don’t need it and fools don’t heed it”.

    But, if you must have advice, I certainly think that your points are spot on.

  5. Mary Doyle on October 30, 2015 at 7:28 am

    A great lesson in manners that would apply to almost any advice-seeking situation.

  6. Jean S on October 30, 2015 at 9:14 am

    Oh yeah. And I’d add a couple more:

    1) If the writer you respect AND an agent you consult tell you the same thing, perhaps you might could LISTEN.

    2) The fact that your mother/father/best friend “couldn’t put it down” means nothing.

  7. Dick Yaeger on October 30, 2015 at 11:51 am

    I’ve found that respect, like trust, requires tolerance, builds slowly with time, and often travels a bumpy road. Disrespect, on the other hand, is usually instantaneous and respect is never recoverable.

  8. Aaron C on November 4, 2015 at 10:33 am

    Between this and Pressfield’s recent comments, I’m getting the distinct impression that he and Shawn have been inundated with ridiculousness lately.

  9. Mel Jacob on November 4, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Thanks for the post Shawn, but … Kidding.

    Great stuff. Thanks.

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