Dating Advice vs. Writing Advice: Which is worse for your self-esteem?

Those tall dudes get all the chicks!

Those tall dudes get all the chicks!

Hey. This new thing came out the other day ago and it’s called The Internet. You should get one!

The Internet offers four things: The chance to insult people anonymously, porn, photo-shopped celebrities, and relationship talk. All of which, when swirled in that crazy blender known as your brain, conspires to foster body-image anxiety and ruin your self-esteem.

In real life, you prioritize. Your house is burning down = important. The creepy guy across the street who lives in his mom’s basement and never talks to anyone = not important.

On The Internet, however, everything is your house burning down. If some anonymous creepy guy who lives in his mom’s basement says, via an online comment, that you look like a squid, then OMG, people think you look like a squid. If a Love & Relationships columnist makes a generalized statement about attractiveness (you expect her to come up with actual content? She’s on a deadline!), then that statement applies to everyone all the time.

I’m glad the internet did not yet exist when I was a wee, insecure lad. Instead of blundering through my adolescence oblivious to all my shortcomings, I would have discovered just how unappealing I really am.

pierceFor example, it has come to my attention, thanks to The Internet, that body hair below the neck is disgusting. Thank you Pierce Brosnan for wallowing in repulsiveness with me all these years. You’ve been like a brother.

I’ve also learned that my speaking voice is a whole note too high. That’s only about 1/6 of an octave, but the ladies want what they want. It turns out they want blue eyes as well, not the brown ones currently soiling my skull holes like sad circles of fetid mud. And, of course, at 5’9”, I am two inches too short to ever get a ride on the love train. I actually read this matter-of-fact statement online last year: Men under 5’11”, who are not considered attractive…

What’s cool about the internet… the vast amount of information available at a single click… is also one of its problems. Your mind can’t process it all and it blurs together. If 51 percent of people think something, that “majority” turns to 100 percent in our heads. Yeah, probably more than half of the women out there would rule me out because of my height, but there are over 3 billion women in the world. I applied the Barry Manilow approach to dating my whole life without even realizing it. Barry Manilow didn’t care that 95% of the western hemisphere mocked him in the 1970s. He focused on the 5% that loved him and ended up selling 80 million albums.

Writing advice works the same way. We are bombarded with it daily (admittedly a self-induced affliction for most of us bloggers) and read way more of it than we can possibly soak up. The sum of all this advice, once it forms an opaque gelatinous substance in our minds, is that we need to be The Perfect Writer. The one who hits every possible style and substance point with each sentence. Nothing less than total awesomeness will do.

Rather discouraging, isn’t it, to try and please everyone?

If someone hopes to fit a (fictional) beauty standard that is attractive to 100% of the population, he is going to end up a hopeless wreck with shattered self-confidence. One doesn’t need to attract everybody, just somebody who appreciates the combination of quirks and qualities that make him unique. Fair warning: you may have to meet 50 people before you find that one. Now consider that your reach as a writer is rather broader than your reach as a potential romantic partner. If 1 out of 50 potential readers appreciates your quirks and qualities that make your writing unique, you’ll end up with a successful story.


This post partly inspired by a comment thread on Timi’s blog, which included contributions from Timi, Uju, and Nancy.

47 responses to “Dating Advice vs. Writing Advice: Which is worse for your self-esteem?

  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    I say thank God you came along with this priceless information right before I publish. Phew! I don’t need to appeal to all readers. I can end my story the way it SHOULD end, and some of them will still love me (hi, Barry!).

    With a little simple calculation, if I need 10,000 true fans out of 7 billion people, that’s less than 0.02% of the world. Any one of us should be able to manage that in no time. Isn’t math wonderfully reassuring? (Late at night – don’t necessarily trust my calculations.)

    I was worried.

    • ericjbaker

      I can’t say I have a love affair with all math (though I appreciate what others can do with it). However, understanding how statistics works is essential for viewing the world through a critical lens.

      Or something.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

        I do have a love affair with math – the answers are always there, always the same regardless of who the observer is, and always make sense. Match that, anything else.

        That said, I have put my physics and math behind me to write novels. But it is still handy to understand whether an outcome is likely or not, and how to calculate royalties & such. Writing is a business, and most people handle basic business math very well – even if they don’t think they know math. It’s THEIR money, you see.

        The biggest development to come out of indie publishing is the ability to see where the money goes. Traditional publishing has made that almost impossible for authors: returns, 2 x yearly royalty statements 6 months in arrears, impenetrable contract terms for different media, the agent’s cut, foreign deals, etc. – plus the almost complete belief authors have that if they ask questions of their publishers, including – heaven forbid! – an audit, they will be blacklisted forever.

        Give me a simple number from Amazon, monthly, to look forward to – and you can have them.

  • nrhatch

    This is a wonderful post. You write good stuff (chest hair and height challenges not withstanding).

    But, really, do something about those fetid pools of mud ~> they have colored contacts now so there is no excuse to put up with brown eyes.

    • ericjbaker

      I just pulled a Ray Milland from “Man With X-Ray Eyes” and (spoiler alert) gouged them out.

      Speaking of math, it’s probably a good exercise to calculate Crystal Gayle’s hair length in millimeters.

  • livelytwist

    Lol. Before the internet, there was TV and magazines. There has always been and there will always be pressure to conform 🙂

    I consume a fair amount of info, including writing advice. I chew, then swallow or spit. I’m glad that my post inspired comment that inspired thinking. The cover photo for the post says: Think Think Think 🙂

    We’re human and no man is an island, we affect one another. But we grow, we learn, we change, we come into our own, we have sense of who we are and what we want . . . including body hair below the neck 😉

    People ask me stuff about writing. Sometimes I tell them, “This is what works for me; try it and see if it works for you.” Of course some advice is universal . . .

    • ericjbaker

      Women have been hammered on harder and for much longer about body image. No question about that. I’m just glad I found out what I found out about myself later, so I didn’t have to waste all that time feeling like quasimodo.

  • Arkenaten

    1 in 50 is good enough for me!.
    All I have to do is increase my readership to 51.
    In answer to the question posed in the header: I would suggest the worst of the worst; in fact the worstest advice would be writing advice from a dating advice ‘expert’.
    Or dating a writing advice expert, even?
    I’ll work on it. Meantime I’m off to inquire about plastic surgery for a Barry Manilow nose job.

    • ericjbaker

      Based on my calculations, if I cook and eat Barry Manilow, I will absorb his mojo and learn how to write the books that make the young girls cry.

      Admittedly, my calculation are not done with math but with old cigarette butts and Old Spice after shave. So they require a bit of interpretation.

  • Sacha Black

    Lol loved this, very pertinent to my current state of self bashing my writing! There’s a quote flying round pinterest that says you will be someone’s favourite author – 😄

  • jhmae

    I’m only 32 (in 6 days in fact) and the internet was far too young to do too much damage when I was a teen. But I cannot imagine what it would’ve been like to be as insecure as I was AND inundated with all the crap that kids these days have to deal with online. I remember in I think 10th grade, some douchebag in my class – we never found out who – wrote some hate manifesto about everyone (there were only 56 of us in the class of ’01 if you can believe it) and though I was too shy for anyone to pay attention to me on a normal day, I featured quite prominently. It’s funny because the details escape me now, but it was devastating not just to me, but lots of people. That was just the beginning of the good ‘ole Internets.

    As far as writing advice goes, I get so fed up with just how much there is out there. About 25% of it is even worth listening to. The rest is just out to make you feel like a pile of hot crap. As with anything in life, as soon as you learn to listen to YOURSELF, things work out. Like they did for Barry. 😉

    • ericjbaker

      Wow, 56? I had single classes with that many students. My high school featured 9 buildings spread out over several acres. By the time we made it out to the far field to play soccer, we had to turn around and come back.

      It is amazing how every piddly thing seems so important when one is an adolescent. Later we find out the world is a lot bigger than we think and none of that shyte matters.

      I think you’re doing the right thing as a writer, which is to keep writing. Practice is more valuable than any bit of advice.

  • LearningToSurfPublications

    Hear ye! Hear ye! Well said. Never mind blue eyes – they are not considered beautiful in China! There’s a few billion beauties out there for you 😀 Leenna

    • ericjbaker

      I imagine the appeal of blue eyes, to a degree, is their relative rarity in the world. Same goes for blond hair.

      I think intelligence and compassion trump any physical attributes.

  • kriskkaria

    I love this, its hilarious (and true)! Can I narrate for my podcast?

  • L. Marie

    Great post! So true! The internet is both a blessing and a curse. It causes us to compare ourselves favorably or unfavorably.
    You made such a great point about Barry Manilow. He knew his audience and his appeal to them. Knowing your niche seems to be half the battle, isn’t it?

    • ericjbaker

      Weighing the pluses and minuses, I’d have to say the internet is pretty cool, and it makes research a million times easier. But it might not be a great thing for people who have serious self-esteem issues, because anonymity seems for foster cruelty.

  • Janna G. Noelle

    All advice should always be taken with a grain of salt, as the saying goes. There’s no recommendation out there that uniformly suits everyone. Rather than spending so much time search for external opinions, people should look inward for their own truth.

  • 1WriteWay

    Before the Internet, it was women’s magazines doing in my self-esteem. And I’m so old, they weren’t even Photoshopping models yet. I totally agree with the weird air in the blogosphere. Personally, I think I’ve had my fill of “how to write” and “how to market” posts. It all gets in the way of my writing. And by the way, my husband had plenty of hair below the neckline and I love it! (Oh, sorry, TMI?)

  • sepultura13

    LOL – dating advice is far more crushing to the self-esteem than writing advice…by leaps and bounds.

  • Hariod Brawn

    The only advice I have for you is not to fart and cough at the same time. You’ll live, bit it’ll get messy. And if you sneeze into the bargain, well, you’re dead. Embarrassing, especially on a date.

  • Arkenaten

    You’re a bit quiet. Everything all right , I trust, and you are just skiving off.

    • ericjbaker

      Yeah, I’ve been taking a break from WP to re-evaluate my writing goals (i.e., do I still have any?). I’m hoping my inspiration returns one of these days.

      • Arkenaten

        ‘Kay .. long as you’re not dead in a ditch as my mother sometimes says when a quiet.

        As for goals … haven’t you completed one novel or did I misunderstand?

        • ericjbaker

          I’ve been dead in a ditch for about 11 years, so that’s nothing to be concerned about. Chasing away the odd scavenger perhaps.

          By “goals” by probably mean “do I want to keep doing it?” I already get a paid to write professionally, albeit corporate/technical stuff. What else am I hoping to get out of it? I see some of my fellow bloggers pouring their hearts and souls into self-publication and self-promotion, and more power to them. But I can’t see myself trying to stand out in an ocean of other writers. It seems like an astounding amount of work for little to no return. I hate to be a killjoy and I would never discourage someone from following that passion, but, personally, I see freelance editing as a much more lucrative gig. I guess I’m old-school. I just want to write the book and let a publisher convince people it’s worth the money.

        • Arkenaten

          I always felt exactly the same, and to a extent, still do, and It came as quite a surprise that one is expected to haul arse re: self promotion.
          I tend to think this might fall away somewhat if one can turn out a Harry Potter or 50 shades. Of course then there are the public appearances etcetera … sigh! The strain. 🙂
          But for the rest …..

          I consider you are fortunate to already be in a paying gig to write!
          I would give one of my nuts to get such a job – though you might tell me it is a drudge. Remember Gladiator?
          ”Sometimes I get to do what I want to do, but mostly I do what I have to do.”

          But you are already recognised as being able to write. So why not publish and be damned anyway?
          What’s to lose?
          If you want to finish a novel just as an achievement then the financial side is secondary, and self-publishing is no sacrifice either way, is it?
          Maybe it’ll get seen by a publisher?
          But if your MS sits on your hard drive until the cows come home what’s the point?

        • ericjbaker

          I don’t mind getting out there and meeting people and all that fun stuff, but I hate the “Notice me!! Please!” aspect, especially when I’m shoulder to shoulder with thousands of others doing the same thing. It’s kind of like social media: it can make a person feel more lonely and ignored than if he avoided it altogether.

          Certainly corporate writing can be tedious at times, but I’m playing to my skills and never feel “over my head,” so I can focus on work and not on making excuses for myself. It’s not a bad gig at all. Ruining my eyesight of course, but every job is going to wreck some part of your body or another.

          I didn’t mean to imply I’m going to delete my novel or forget I ever wrote it. I’ll shop it a bit to publishers and what not, but the thought of paying to get a cover designed and using my blog to shill for myself does not appeal to me in the least.

          Thanks for the encouragement! You’re one of the good ones, Ark.

        • Arkenaten

          Well, you now yourself best. Most of us do, funny enough. That little voice.
          Though occasionally it lies like hell to us!
          Just don’t look back and say …”Y’know, I wish I had …..”
          Know what I mean?

  • Sue Archer

    Hey Eric, finally catching up on this one. And hey, I like Pierce Brosnan. So boo to the Internet. I hope things are well with you and you are taking some deserved time off!

    • ericjbaker

      Everything is good, and thank you for asking. I hope the same holds true for you.

      I’ve been rather uninspired with my writing of late, so I don’t see any value in forcing myself to post.

  • nrhatch

    Long time no see. Hope you are well.

  • Arkenaten

    Still out there somewhere, Mr. B?

    • ericjbaker

      Hey Ark! I’m still floating around out there in the great big world, trying to rediscover my mojo. I’ve popped in to read your blog now and again. Blog Lurker is what I am!

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