“What do you do?” is a normal question that is now a pain to answer. When people find out I’m a military historian, crime and horror and fantasy novelist and short story writer, graduate school adjunct, freelance non-fiction writer and writing teacher, and professional (insert laugh here) improv actor and sketch comedy writer/actor who is best known for novels about pro wrestling and videos about an insane British professor who does one minute lectures on things like sirens and flips, the look on their faces is akin to that glassy stare that infects the eyes when a math teacher asks you to solve the problem on the board, the one you’ve been ignoring by doodling Ninja Turtles beating up Glen Danzig in the margins of your notebook.
Granted, it’s also a long way to say “I’m poor and America is broken!” (rimshot!), but I digress.
When they regain their composure, many begin to play a game called “Advice I Never Asked For, From Someone Who Doesn’t Know Anything.” Because if there’s one thing people are experts in, it’s advice on other people’s lives and careers. Here’s the advice I get most often.
- Just write novels. That’s what sells. Short stories have no value to novelists and waste precious time (even though I’ve made more cash in short stories than novels thus far). That’s your currency.
- Just write military history. Your doctorate makes you unique (as unique as the thousands of other PhDs running around looking for any work in their field). That’s your currency
- Just write military fiction. Your doctorate and your fiction writing, that’s what makes you unique (except I don’t want to and find most military fiction heinous and hate-filled boy’s own power fantasies). That’s your currency.
- Just don’t waste your time with things that aren’t your currency.
Just fuck off. Seriously.
Most advice comes from people who don’t work in any of your fields, or . . . “currencies.” Most advice comes from the POV of the consumer who thinks of themselves as tastemakers who know how the world works, or other variants of the dilettante observer of the cultural marketplace. And I bet some people mean well with this junk, but, as Oscar Wilde noted, “All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.”
But for most who offer bottomless amounts of advice, I detect an ounce of baiting for future Schadenfreude. When the success they expect of you, with their advice as the secret ingredient, of course, fails to materialize, they get the sweetest and laziest satisfaction, the ultimate cake-and-eat-it-too for those who aren’t anywhere near the fucking kitchen: “See,” they say, “if Jay had only done as I’d told him, he would have been a success. Such a shame. And he works so hard, poor dear!”
So, allow me the salacious opportunity of giving you bad advice! Let me relish in your future failures with “Dr. Ridler’s Top Five Must Do’s and Do-Not-Do’s For Succeeding like a Porn Star in Writing and the Arts! 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed (unless you screw up my perfect suggestions, which you will, so it’s on you, dearhearts!)”
- Be Born Rich, You’ll Be Glad You Did! Why choose poverty when starting life with every material advantage is the route of winners? Hire “people” to take care of cleaning toilets and making food, and focus on what Destiny has chosen for your calling: making art while the less fortunate service your every need. Namaste!
- Marry a Sugar Momma or Sugar Daddy! Operators are standing by to make your lifelong dream of staying home and servicing the needs of your patron lover while scratching out time to dabble in experiments with your fantasy series about a person who is NOT LIKE YOU winning against the odds IN A WAY YOU DID NOT!
- Buy Every Self-Help Book Ever! Much like the lottery, you’ll just have to keep buying them until you find the one that has the philosopher stone for making your shittacular existence into the cosmic daydream that a benevolent god wants you to have . . . so long as you buy the right book!
- Only Listen to the Advice of Someone Whose Success Happened Ten, Twenty, or Thirty Years Ago, Especially at a Convention! Ignore the changes in the workplace environment, ignore your own experience, ignore everything that seems to indicate the system is rigged, because Larry the Bestselling Guru, who actually doesn’t produce any new work and just lives off the mad cash of the inspirational tour circuit selling the illusion of change to a hungry audience starved by hardship, once-upon-a-time wrote a thing that did well (best done in conjecture with #3!)
- Only Listen to the Snappy New Gurus of the Past Five Years! You know, the people who sell classes more than books, or succeeded against the odds in the Kindle world of ebooks or youtube stardom and think they’ve cracked the code on how their success, which is a non-repeatable condition of talent, effort, and chance, is actually a formula for you to follow if you just buy their workbooks and come to their seminars and share their brand like a chain-letter.
Whatever you do, only listen to people who reinforce your preconceived notions! Telling you different is just selling something!
NEXT MONTH! Dr. Ridler’s Top Five Reality Checks About “Surviving” in the Arts (and the use of irony!)