Thursday, May 18, 2006

In Dog We Trust

Nobody likes an amateur know-it-all. So why is it that we see so many people taking advice from those with no experience or practical knowledge?

Yesterday, I posted about the 25-year-old virgin, who turned out to be a fraud. Coincidentally enough. But last night, I was watching Law & Order SVU and (spoiler if you haven’t seen it) in it a teenage girl goes off her medication because she listens to a rock star who says that psychiatrists are poisoning people’s minds with unnecessary drugs.

It was interesting. It was one of those shows where, to me, everyone was a bit of a victim. And, in discovering that the virgin story was a fraud, it got me thinking the frequency with which people get exposed. Some author writes a book and calls it non-fiction and it turns out to be fabricated lies. People get jobs with phony credentials. Just yesterday, Trace blogged about sincerity and how hard it is to believe anyone you see on tv as being for real.

And it is.

I had an interesting conversation with someone not too long ago. They told me they checked all their email to track where it came from, to validate the source. On the face of it, I bet some of you are thinking that’s extreme, but sometimes, I do it too. I get an email from someone I really admire and I’m thinking, Is this a joke?

It’s sad. I struggle with this all the time, on all levels of relationships, because I genuinely want to like people. I want to trust people. And my inclination is to ‘like everyone’ until I find out they aren’t a good person, but then I’m hurt.

Some people might think I’m being bossy and critical to say it, but I genuinely worry about people dispensing bad advice on the internet and blogs. Since I’ve been active in the blogging community, I’ve seen some crazy things. Miss Snark fans will likely remember the post in –December, was it?- that talked about the guy telling writers to make up writing credits so agents and publishers would take them seriously. (If someone has the link, I’d love it – couldn’t find it this morning.) And that’s just one example. I can think of dozens of sites where some self-appointed guru is holding court, dispensing their peals of wisdom and when you check them out, they have no writing credits to their name.

And some of their advice is bad advice. Trust me, as someone who worked in journalism and studied in the field, some of the posts I’ve read have made me want to scream.

I see the bi-product of this all the time. People refusing to comply with submission guidelines for Spinetingler. Authors trying to sneak past reviews they’ve written of their own book…

And I’ll stop there, because I have this whole post on editing that one day, I’ll be brave enough to put up, but not today. I’m at risk of anything I say about Spinetingler editing being internalized by a specific writer or person, when I would bet substantial cash none of the people I’d be thinking of read my blog, particularly since no one example is a sole person and some of them were journalism colleagues. But still, someone will take it personally and think I’m bashing them.

Plus, my editor does read my blog. Ohhh, maybe I should get that post up before I get editing notes so she doesn’t think I’m talking about her. Hmmm, I’d better consider that!

There’s a saying I read a long time ago, at the bottom of a Daily Bread devotional, that said: An open mind is a good thing, like an open window. But you put a screen on it to keep the bugs out.

Although I wasn’t endorsing the 25-year-old virgin and his plight, and didn’t even link to the website, I still feel a bit bad to have given this fake any more publicity than he was already getting. I’m glad he’s been exposed, but one thing I noticed when I was looking at one of the news sources online I read regularly – they’d pulled down all the articles about this guy.

So, the progression of the revelation of the truth wasn’t acceptable, perhaps because they had egg on their face? Now, instead, it’s like his sins have been washed away, at least by that press.

Which just reinforces my skepticism, my fear that we indulge frauds and by sweeping them under the carpet and poo-pooing it, we leave the door open for more to come along and lead others astray.

I can’t stress this enough. Double-check your sources. If you get advice anywhere – from me, from JA Konrath, from Miss Snark, from anyone – it never hurts to get a second opinion.

Interestingly enough, watching the kittens growing has reinforced something about this to me. When they’re born, their ears are folded down, so they aren’t able to hear all that well. Over the past few days, the ears have started to perk up, Russel even looked at me when I called him.

And it’s made me think about how often it is that the ‘babies’ are the most adamant that they know it all. It’s made me, again, afraid of disregarding advice from anyone generous enough to give it to me. The few people who’ve read Suspicious Circstances and been generous enough to give feedback, I’m reading through it all and trying so hard to keep an open mind.

Because if I claimed to know it all and to have mastered everything about writing, I’d be proving myself a liar.

One of the books I’m most looking forward to reading in 2007 is the debut by Brett Battles, tentatively titled Hung out to Die. JB Thompson has done a fantastic interview with Brett, and you can learn more about him here.

In light of what I’ve been blogging about today, part of this is a bit disturbing.

And I’m not ignoring you guys this morning – I’m off to a meeting and look forward to responding to any comments when I get home.

What colour should your blog be?

Your Blog Should Be Purple

You're an expressive, offbeat blogger who tends to write about anything and everything.

You tend to set blogging trends, and you're the most likely to write your own meme or survey.

You are a bit distant though. Your blog is all about you - not what anyone else has to say.


Brett Battles said...

Great post on checking sources. And a big thanks for the plug.

That color of your blog thing seems to have you pegged fairly well...though I'd differ with the "all about you - not what anyone else has to say" bit, as this post is a perfect example of the opposite.

JT Ellison said...

Fascinating -- yours is purple, Brett's is Yellow, mine's green. -- Your blog is smart and thoughtful - not a lot of fluff. You enjoy a good discussion, especially if it involves picking apart ideas. However, you tend to get easily annoyed by any thoughtless comments in your blog.
Funny how we each approach it differently, yet I think we all relay good stuff.
-- An open mind is a good thing, like an open window. But you put a screen on it to keep the bugs out.-- That's good advice.
And you owe me $1.25, so we're even today! Hope your meeting went well.

JamesO said...

I'm a yapping dog - a professional cynic. It was drummed into me at school and is about the only thing that stuck. Whenever anyone tells me something, tries to sell me something or even just wants to be my friend, I'm always wary, always looking for the ulterior motive. It's a bit sad, and maybe makes me a bit distant at times.

Sadly the world is full of accepting people and those who prey upon them. So yes, keep that window open, but watch out for the bugs.

Except in the winter. No bugs around here when the air's that cold.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Okay JT, we're even (gawd, what did I misspell now?)

I was a bit rushed this morning, but I had fun, and now I'm just happy to be back at my desk clearing through 4 dozen emails.

Yikes! And Brett, I'm happy to plug you any time! Contrary to the colour quiz, I like shouting about the achievements of my friends here!

James, you're wise to be cynical. It keeps you from being taken advantage of. And we both know in this business, there are a lot of crooks out there! Sadly.

Erik Ivan James said...

Being warey of free advice is good in all things.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah, so don't listen to me!

Or should I start charging?

Bill, the Wildcat said...

Lot of truth to your comment about how hard it is to believe anyone you see on TV. I worked in TV news for quite a few years, so I can definitely attest to that.

Amra Pajalic said...

I'm with Jameso. I'm a suspicious little bugger and always waiting for the other shoe. My philosophy about people is that we all have an idea about who we are which is based on our aspiration of who we want to be, but in most instances this doesn't align with how we actually act.

When I meet someone for the first time and we're developing a friendship the first year is just about vetting if they're honest. Do they do what they say? Do they talk it up big but do the opposite? How honest are they about themselves? And most importantly, do they keep their word?

I can accept anyone who does anything (one of my closest friends is so secretive that I don't find out things about her for years ie. she was seperated for five years but kept refering to herself as divorced, she was engaged and didn't tell me until five years later when she broke up with the guy, and recently she moved in with her new beau but forgot to tell me cause they're work colleagues and have to keep it under the radar), but this is who she is. Her life has made her secretive and she holds a lot back and it really doesn't bother me. Because I'm still the only one who knows the whole story and because she's honest about her need for secrecy and dissembling to protect herself.

So you can see why I don't have many friends, but the few I have are gold. We've walked through coals together and come out the other side. Despite all this I don't think I'm a pessimist and I actually meet lots of people, but as you can see not many of them pass the test.

So reading things on people's blogs or someone pushing something onto me does not even enter my conciousness. If I don't respect people I don't have time for anything they have to say. And respect has to be earned, not given.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I'm very leary of freaa advice, unless I know the source.

It's always good to check things out! Great advice for newbies who take everything at face value.

My blog should be yellow....I hate yellow!

M. G. Tarquini said...

Everybody should be very leary of me.

Toni McGee Causey said...

I'm late to post on this one, Sandra, but excellent point about double-checking sources. A lot of people take the first "expert" they come across at face value. I've seen people have the mentality that "since it's in print, it must be true." Part of being a writer is being analytical about our own writing, critiquing our own work, and if a person hasn't developed the skill of analyzing even the advice they read randomly on the internet, then the likelihood that they will turn a strong, analyitical eye toward their own work is slim-to-none.

J.B. Thompson said...

Fascinating -- yours is purple, Brett's is Yellow, mine's green... (J.T. Ellison)

Doesn't it just figure that mine's green, too?

I second Brett's thanks for the plug, Sandra. Despite what your color says, you do a great job of making this about people other than just you.

J.B. Thompson said...
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Erik Ivan James said...

Sorry, Samdra. I should have included "from unknown sources".

Sandra Ruttan said...

We are Mindy.

Amra, I so agree that respect has to be earned. That applies to parents too, in my book, and all down the line.

You got green too JB? Man, Brett and I are the odd ones!

Toni, really good thoughts about showing some discretion. You make an excellent point, one people should really heed.

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