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Blog // Thoughts
January 16, 2019

Overcoming Advice Overload

2019’s theme is The Year of Conviction. The first consequence of this is I’m changing my attitude to advice, both the giving and receiving of it, and also the role it plays in my creative practice.

Last week I wrote about 2019 being my year of conviction. Here’s the first consequence of that. I’m closing the door to advice. On January 16. How’s that for showing conviction?

Part of what I hinted at last week was the way in which a lack of conviction encourages us to live in the middle, in the space between the everyday experiences and the big reveals of finished work. The messy middle of process, strategy, planning, and false starts.

The fusion of URL and IRL, the digital lifestyle, encourages us to mine the middle for content. It turns us all into advice addicts; dealers and junkies high on our own supply, hooked on the latest tips and tricks, shortcuts, explanations, and how-to tutorials. Ripe for the cult of the hustle and the side-hustle. As if teetering on the edge of burnout, never giving enough time to important relationships, and being absentee parents was somehow a virtue.

The Limited Advice Diet For 2019

Over the Christmas holiday I read and re-read Jerry Saltz’s 33 Rules on how to be an artist. It’s perhaps the very best collection of advice for artists and creatives, on a par with advice from Chuck Close or Ira Glass. If you haven’t read Saltz’s article, please take the time to do so, maybe more than once.

For 2019 I’m making it the only list of advice I’ll read. I’m going to read it over and over again, hopefully to the stage where I can recall the most important points from memory. And riff on them at will.

I’ll turn some of the advice into posters to hang in my studio, or things I can place around my home, or maybe even things I’ll share online.

I have ordered two other books: Cal Newport’s new book, Digital Minimalism, and James Victore’s Feck Perfection. Cal is an author I’ve been following for a while. I suspect his book reinforces decisions I’ve already made. James is a mentor and friend. I know his book will remind me of things he’s told me and ideas I’ve heard him share.

That’s it.

Advice Has Value Only If You Act On it

The advice isn’t the important thing. It’s what you do with it. Advice you do nothing with is worse than useless. It’s like unworn clothes that clog up your wardrobe so you can’t see what to wear.

But advice you act on, think about, and wrestle with becomes your own.

Because all advice, no matter how good, is only a tool. Advice isn’t a hammered nail. It’s a hammer to drive the nail. And unless you pick up the hammer, it’s not a tool; it’s an ornament.

By the end of the year I’ll probably have a long list of criticisms of Saltz’s rules. Most will have been rewritten in some way. This is a good thing. This is the process that transforms us. Liatening to thousands of pieces of advice, from countless gurus who might be pulling us in all sorts of different directions, is not a process. It’s just a way of being dumped ashore like driftwood.

For years I’ve been saying: have fewer gurus. But this year I’m putting it into practice in a radical way. It’s the first step in the year of conviction.

Limiting Advice Doesn’t Mean Limiting Inspiration

This doesn’t mean I’m shutting myself off. I still want to be challenged. To find insight and inspiration. But I want that to come from the top and bottom tiers I mentioned yesterday. The everyday experiences and the finished work. From people who are making things and sharing their finished work. Not just talking about how to do it. And sharing an authentic lived experience. Not just a Photoshopped Instagram version of life.

After all, there can be such a thing as too much inspiration.

Of course, I will still read a lot in 2019; plenty of books, criticism, and reviews. But obviously there’s a world of difference between a biography of an artist and a “five tips to get noticed on Instagram” article. The first step in the year of conviction is to replace advice with action and experience. It starts here.

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