Honest responses to advice I’m sick of hearing

If you are a young person, you probably have been on the receiving end of more advice than you can shake a stick at. It isn’t all unsolicited-I am guilty as much as the next person of clicking on too many ‘how to’ articles and getting incensed at the blatant abuse of the imperative tense. It is generally good manners to smile and accept the advice for face value and only take on board what you feel comfortable with, but lately, I’ve found myself getting more and more annoyed with some particular pieces of  conventional wisdom. So here is my (somewhat) comedic and very exasperated take on some of the common pieces of advice out there:

1. Be proactive

Gee, you mean I won’t become rich and successful by sitting on  my arse?  Colour me surprised. And here I was thinking that the networking events and career training days and the ton of unpaid work I do writing for blogs and all the submissions I put in for contests and magazine pitches would cut the mustard. I was clearly being an eejit.

Honestly, though. I’m sick of the stereotyping of Millennials as lazy and entitled when the job market is a mess, the economy is in the trenches, and education just keeps getting more and more expensive. When our parents worked hard, they did so in private. When we work hard,  it is in a world where you can go online and find someone who looks like they work even harder and better than you. Comparison is rampant, and any work can be outsourced for cheaper. No wonder a lot of young people these days are depressed.

So don’t assume someone isn’t being proactive if they weren’t as successful as you were at their age. You won’t know how you’d fare in today’s workplace either.

2. Make A PLAN

Or strategise. Or Have Your Priorities Straight.

Sometimes I feel like people giving this kind of advice are living in another dimension. A dimension where you can work the same job for 30 years and career advancement is as simple as playing your cards right. There is no such thing as sudden company collapse (a la Mode Media) or downsizing because the manager decided to move half the operations in another country. There is no such thing as Brexit and uncertainty about whether this big multinational company you are employed at won’t pack up in two years’ time.

I get it – it’s good to have goals, and it’s good to know what you have to do to achieve those goals. But bizarrely you also need to Be Flexible these days, which these days can mean anything – from revising your 5-year plan as you go along, to accepting any kind of horrible job that comes your way because you have loans to pay for and you are subsisting on baked beans and toast.

3. Wait for feedback

This one’s to all the aspiring creatives out there who send out your novels and portfolios to agents and then wait with baited breath for a response. Personally, I love it when my rejection slip comes back with something more personal than “not for us”, but just like everyone else, agents and editors are suffering the consequences of accessibility, and they don’t have the time or the spoons to give everyone guidance on how to make their work better. (In fact, they are probably better off keeping their rejections impersonal and to-the-point, lest someone get ideas and start sending them revisions.)

Also, how subjective is feedback these days? Even in industries where there is standardized benchmarking for work performance, HR is supposed to take into account the individual characteristic of an employee – where do you think that leaves art, which is more or less in the eye of the beholder? Finding trustworthy feedback takes time, and some of us don’t have that luxury.

So the next time you think about berating someone for sending out mass submissions and not waiting to hear from an agent, bear in mind, most of us don’t expect a response. Hoping for it is exhausting enough.

4. Rule social media

Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Pinterest. Instagram. Snapchat. YouTube. Vine. Periscope. Tumblr. WordPress. Blogger, if you’re old school like that. And then there are the other 8 billion specialised social networking platforms that we need to take on if we want to reach our niche audience. We’re supposed to have a PUBLIC profile on at least a couple of those social networking websites, and we’re supposed to make our content sharable and interesting and cohesive.

Umm… how about no?

A public profile is a lot more work than people think it is. You have to be careful what you say, how you interact with others. There is less room for mistakes and error. A slip of the tongue or an ill-considered remark can become a monster that haunts you for the rest of your online life, and that is just the best case scenario. And what if you just don’t get many followers, and all the time and effort you put in are for naught, which, let’s be honest, is more likely than not? If you approach social media like work, you find yourself competing against every other person who is out there, and there is always someone who is more energetic, more interesting, more entertaining then you are.

If social media is your job, that’s one thing. But if you have to take it on in addition to everything else you’re doing – writing a book, working in corporate – then it’s exhausting. Not everyone has the luxury of punching the clock at the end of the day and then sitting down with their laptop to build a social media empire throughout the night.

5. Be flexible / Don’t be picky

Trust me, Millennials aren’t picky. We are the furthest thing from picky, at least when it comes to our work. We put up with zero-hour contracts and we accept the possibility of having to uproot our entire lives to work in a country where we might not even know the language. We are not picky. We are desperate.

That is not to say that flexibility is a bad thing or that we should be rigid in our demands, or that we must stick to our coveted Plan at any cost. But what being flexible means more often than not in this day and age is to settle for less than what you are worth. It means taking shit when you don’t have to. It means keeping your head down and not asking for a promotion or more job security because your employers might kick you out in favour of someone who has a little less self-esteem. It means letting your government plan to leave the European Union without first guaranteeing that worker’s rights will be protected.

Before you come along and tell someone to be more flexible with their work, ask yourself if their work is something that is worth being flexible for? Are they given protection or are they simply being exploited? And can you empower them in some way so that they won’t have to compromise their health and well-being while looking for more security in the workplace.

6. Be positive / Don’t be cynical

If young people these days strike you as negative or cynical, let me tell you a little something – it’s damn hard to be happy all the time. It takes energy and perseverence. It also requires you to actually believe in the future, which, I might have to add, isn’t exactly looking rosy right now.

Sometimes cynicism is a natural response to a situation. A coping mechanism to help the mind deal with a lot of shit. And young people deal with a lot of shit. Depression rates are on the rise. So are university fees and unemployment. A great many of us still live at home because even renting a property is too much. Job interviews and assessment days can resemble the Hunger Games. For some of us, just popping pour antidepressants and getting through the day is all we can manage. Don’t judge and berate us for not having the energy to put on a happy face, too.

7. Just pay the price of admission… even when you can’t afford it

Writing academies. Writing retreats. Creative consultancies. Art conferences. All of it costs money and all of it is said to be worth the price of admission. And if you have that money, great. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to just go for it (getting an MS critiqued for a fee, for example) after I’ve explicitly said that my budget is quite tight and the fees for an agent-ran course would be a strain on my finances.

I get it – we all have to make a living. But there is absolutely no guarantee that this investment will pay back for itself, and when you have to make the choice on whether to decimate your savings or not, it is goddamn depressing.

That’s not a problem that is exclusive to artists, either. University student loans, for example, are widely considered to be a worthy price of admission, when most jobs require a Bachelor’s degree to even consider you. But the fees keep rising, maintenance loans are cut, interest rates are adjusted for inflation and the government isn’t bending over backwards to make more jobs for young people, or offer more security to employees. More and more often it starts to feel like you are being told to enlist in a pyramid scheme, and maybe, just maybe, you will rise to the top… by standing on the shoulders of those below you.

I’m sorry. Some admissions are not worth that price.

It gets worse!

The Research Whisperer

This post is co-authored by Karina Luzia and Kate Bowles of CASA, and Jonathan O’Donnell of The Research Whisperer. It has been cross-posted to both blogs. 

It Gets Better’ is a great program, hosted in the United States, that aims to tell…

“…lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth around the world that it gets better, and to create and inspire the changes needed to make it better for them.”

The message is a simple one: Growing up is hard. School is crap, but don’t despair. It gets better.

This is a really effective campaign because it has found a way to tell the truth and help the people who need it.


It Gets Worse! We need a similar campaign for our hourly, adjunct, casual, sessional (HACS) academics, and for PhD students who dream of becoming professors one day.

The problem is that while we would love to be able…

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Writing a first draft in 3 weeks

Eagle-eyed readers of this site might have noticed I went quiet (more so than usual) over the summer. There was a combination of factors going on – not least trying to put together a pilot project for my doctorate – but another one was the one cited above.

I was writing.

A new book.

And I completed the first draft in 3 weeks’ time.

And no, I can’t believe it either. I’m kind of afraid to look at the printed copy and finding out a bunch of blank pages.

If you are as well-versed as I am in the field of writerly productivity tips, you will know that this isn’t really that much of a feat. Quite a lot of people complete their NaNoWriMo in half the time offered them, and there is even an article on how to write a novel over a long weekend which I had bookmarked on my phone from the day I got it (the phone, I mean) to the day the battery died completely. It’s a very attractive dream – not least because the feeling of “flow” is fantastic.

Some might even call it addictive. I certainly do.

Flow is amazing because flow is when stuff gets done. Finally, the words and images that have been plaguing you for months are out of your head and into the page; finally, you can tweet your wordcount and bask in people’s baffled adoration; finally, you feel like you are productive. But flow has another great benefit – it allows you to leave the self-consciousness at the door and write with abandon. It’s basically what any writing instructor – Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldman, Anne Lamott – will encourage their students to do. “I’m going to write a short, bad book,” is what Dani Shapiro’s friend reportedly says before she starts on a new project, and my God, this mantra was what I had in mind when I was trying to lay down the draft.

I could bring us all down to the group by pointing out that, once the short, bad book got written, I am faced with the task of deciding whether it’s viable. I could point out that those 3 weeks and 75K words might be worth nothing other than the enjoyment they brought me. I could say that I have set myself up for failure because no writing project after this could possibly go as good.

But if you’re like me, you clicked on this post to find out How I Did It. So, for what it’s worth, this is How I Did It.

I actually started this book one year ago. I had doodled the concept on a train journey and then ended up chatting about it with my then-supervisor who expressed very enthusiastic interest. Then I wrote snippets while on holiday – not actual structure or story, but random scenes that popped into my head as I went about my business. It was promising.

Then I got back from holiday and forgot the project even existed. It happens. Work piles up and life isn’t very far behind and I actually had another book I set my hopes on and worked hard on making as good as it could be. Naturally, when that proved to be Not Good Enough, I had to do something to take my mind off going into Waste Spirals*.

Oh, lookie, I had just the thing. Years of being unable to write made me approach the project warily. I expected nothing to happen, for words to just freeze up. But I was feeling restless and unhappy, so I set my old notebook out one night, then when I woke up, I got my laptop and told myself that I’ll be writing a short, bad book. I set myself a target, and, because my friend had tagged me to do the #22Kill challenge, I used that as an incentive for me to write 2200 words each day.

At first I flew by the seat of my pants. I had a bunch of ideas and backstory to lay down, plus I had a bunch of pre-written scenes that helped jog my memory, even if they themselves didn’t end up in the actual document. I was still pretty sure it would not go anywhere, and waited for the day when I would just dry up.

After I passed 10K words, though, I had to admit that I was stuck in this thing, so I might as well go all out. And I used the Snowflake Method to outline the rest of the novel. It took me a lot less time than it said it would – one evening – but that’s because I skipped on a bunch of steps and also, the idea had been in my head for a while, so I wasn’t exactly starting from scratch.  Once I had a scene list and a better understading of the character, stuff just kicked into high gear.

I’m sorry if this is vague, but the way I see it, writing is like trying to lay down a puzzle with only a partial idea of what the final picture looks like. You know the dimensions, you know the colour scheme, but you also find a lot of fine detail along the way. You need to find patterns and make leaps to connect plots and characters. The Snowflake Method really helps with that, but you also have to be ready to look for the things too.

It helped that I had a lot of time on my hands. I will never say that I am not privileged that my work schedule allows me a lot of free time on the summer to write. It also allowed me to exceed my word limit.

And, of course, having the ending in mind was really useful. I think with this one, I had the ending in my head almost as early as the beginning, which is great. Not every project is the same, though. And there’s no guarantee that it won’t change in subsequent drafts.

In fact, my job now is to figure out what it is that I wrote. What it’s all about, and whether it’s worth pursuing further. 

I will keep you updated.

 

*Waste Spiral: the constant reminiscing of the time, effort and resources spent on trying to make a thing work, and it did not pay off. Often found in creative people, as well as anybody why spent money on a gadget that did not perform to task. Could end causing excessive amounts of stress and rage.