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On the giving of advice - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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On the giving of advice [Feb. 8th, 2016|08:54 am]
Marissa Lingen
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Last week I had a post about panels at conventions, and I got interested in how to talk about doing panels better. I’d like to see more people talk about that–especially in the contexts of different kinds of panels. Getting slightly more specific seems like it might be a fertile source of good advice, because I think one of the places people hesitate is that panels vary so much. Does it really make sense to tell people to reread a few of their favorite short stories on the topic so that their minds are fresh without a huge time commitment, if “the topic” is long series, or TV shows, or if they can’t readily think of what short stories would be applicable because it’s something like grimdark or paranormal romance that has had its main flowering in novel form? Answer: no, but anyone who has any chance of being a good panelist has the sense to filter out what advice doesn’t apply to their specific panel, I would think.


But I started thinking about the more general problem of giving advice, which is audience and characteristic error. Even in the standard panel advice that is focused on etiquette, I see this problem. For example! One of the most common pieces of advice I see is, “Don’t monopolize the panel. Let the other panelists have an equal amount of time to talk.” Except…what if you’re on a panel on Non-Western Cultures in Fantasy with four middle-aged white men, two of whom think that Lord of Light is the last word on the subject but are maaaaybe willing to allow for Bridge of Birds if you stretch a bit? Do you sit back and let them go on and on about those and then squeeze in your long contemporary list (complete with non-Western writers GO FIGURE) on your “fair share” of the panel? HELL NO YOU DO NOT. At least–I didn’t. And I am not sorry I didn’t. But that is not my characteristic error. My characteristic error is not to sit down at the end of the panel and stare at my hands and say, “very true, Socrates.”


But for some people it is. So when you give the “don’t monopolize the panel, don’t run your mouth” advice, the odds that you will make a dent in the people who monologue about their own brilliance for twenty minutes: fairly low. The odds that Sherwood or Caroline* will hear this and nod and say, “Oh, very true, it’s so important not to rattle on,” and will shut their mouths even further? Unfortunately high. So trying to dodge the pitfalls of advice-giving in that regard gets difficult, and the question becomes: who is your actual audience for advice in the first place?


For me, talking about panels, it’s mostly new people. Because new people do not have a shtick already. New people know that they don’t know things. They are looking to know more things. (Ideally so are experienced people, but we know that doesn’t always work out.) So you might be able to catch J. New Shyauthor and say, hey, you’re on the panel for a reason, here’s how to prepare for it so that you can feel more confident. And you also might grab L. New Blabbermouth early enough that they at least have moments of self-awareness when they remember to turn to Pamela** and ask what she thinks while the panel is still going on and not just out for supper later.


This is true of writing advice, too. The people who were likely to get down on themselves for not writing ten million words every day are the ones who will pick up on the “writers write every day” quote from whoever they’ve picked now to be the person to use to beat yourself up over it. The people who were likely to be flaky butterfly writers are going to choose the “art finds YOU” quotes instead. People gravitate to their own characteristic errors. Yes, even me. Especially me. So: balance, balance, balance. And seeking out advice from people not like oneself. And asking oneself who the audience is for advice in the first place and whether it’s even worth the time, because if you’re not going to be able to get past characteristic errors so that the person who needs it can hear it, better to write about how to make a macrame owl.


Nobody makes macrame owls anymore. I am from the tail-end of a generation consumed with kitsch and retro, and yet are there macrame owls everywhere? There are not. It seems that everybody’s characteristic error is not making macrame owls. You folks might really want to get on that. I’m telling you for your own good.


…eh, who am I kidding, nobody listens to unsolicited advice.


*Randomly selected names for hypothetical panelists. Resemblance to actual insightful fantasy writers entirely coincidental.


**See previous footnote.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Comments:
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-02-08 02:55 pm (UTC)
True, moderation really matters.
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[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2016-02-08 07:57 pm (UTC)
+111.

The most frustrating panels I've been on are the ones where the moderator isn't doing their job. If it's just a matter of somebody keeping quiet, I can try to backseat-drive a bit by addressing them with my own comments and attempting to draw them out, but it's difficult to shut down a talker without some authority backing you.
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[User Picture]From: leahbobet
2016-02-08 08:31 pm (UTC)
Agreed entirely. And...yeah. There comes a point when you just jack the panel and declare yourself New Tyrant Moderator, because if the mod isn't doing it, needs must.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-02-08 08:34 pm (UTC)
...I don't know what you mean....
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[User Picture]From: leahbobet
2016-02-08 08:39 pm (UTC)
Of course not.
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[User Picture]From: klwilliams
2016-02-10 01:06 am (UTC)
When I'm the moderator and I suspect there will be some blowharding on the panel, I have a quick talk with the panelists beforehand about not dominating the discussion, and that I WILL cut them off, etc. My early jobs were in daycare and substitute teaching, after all. I have teacher voice.
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2016-02-08 04:26 pm (UTC)
One thing I've found that makes a big difference is the moderator. I've been practicing that, moderating at ConDor. Not just coming with a bunch of starter questions in case there is one of those lulls, but making sure to ask a question of the quietest person there. Another thing I've learned is to listen to the intro that each person speaks and see if I can jot a question or two out of that. (Harder when the person says, "I'm X Writer, and I write fantasy," then turns to the person at their other side.

Thing I find very hard: getting a word in edgewise when Z. Blabbermouth has decided that their current work in progress, or their award winning whatever, is absolutely germane, and launches into a long synopsis.If the person is a huge seller and super famous, there's a very good chance the audience is there to hear that person. So interrupting them gets scowls and glares. I try to watch the audience for clues, which can be hard when everyone is polite, but people do have subtle tells sometimes when they are bored out of their tree. (Likewise I often am very wrong.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-02-08 07:50 pm (UTC)
I really hope--and maybe I'm wrong--that even rampaging fans of a particular author would rather hear them being interesting than boring. So if I can try to trigger an end to the monologue and a beginning of them saying something new and insightful, that seems like a win for everyone. But often easier said than done.
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[User Picture]From: asakiyume
2016-02-10 11:29 pm (UTC)
I think even when the audience comes to hear Z. Blabbermouth, it can be worth trying to give Q Lesserknown some airtime because although the audience may not have come to hear Q, given a little exposure, they might be very interested. Like getting someone to try a new dessert even though all they want is the cheesecake. Yeah, that cheesecake is delicious, but try this crème brûlée. Just try it...
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[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2016-02-08 08:14 pm (UTC)
I'm in the process of chewing through my own thoughts on panel advice, but so far they're aimed much more at the people who are designing panel topics, rather than the participants. I may wind up with two posts, at this rate. >_>
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-02-08 08:18 pm (UTC)
Oh noes. I feel so guilty.
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[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2016-02-08 08:31 pm (UTC)
Don't you have an icon for that? :-P
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[User Picture]From: leahbobet
2016-02-08 08:32 pm (UTC)
I find this all very sensible. But finding you sensible is my characteristic something-not-erroneous, so.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-02-08 08:35 pm (UTC)
We will band together.
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[User Picture]From: thanate
2016-02-09 02:14 am (UTC)
The one I've been mulling over is how to deal with it when half the panel (or even just the moderator) has a very different idea of what the panel is supposed to be about. I have made a very awkward left turn back to non-Western inspired fantasy from SF in translation (about which I know virtually nothing, so it was redirect or panic) but I feel like less dramatic instances of this happen a lot.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-02-09 02:41 am (UTC)
The very first panel I was on, half the panel (including myself) wanted to talk about technology and magic in fiction, and the other half wanted to talk about how technology interacted with their Wiccan/other pagan religious experience of the concept of magic.

The moderator split the panel time-wise. Which I think was the very best option, and even so it was amazingly difficult to talk very carefully around the word "magic--now of course I mean the fictional concept and NOT anything religious anyone in the room might experience personally."

I think this is one of the problems with the "sign up for the panel you want to be on!!!" model of programming, because you get people who are trying to be on their concept of a panel as sparked by a keyword or phrase, and their concepts can diverge wildly. Which can still happen if you're doing an editorial model of programming, but it seems far less likely if someone is sitting down and saying, "X, Y, Z, A, and B all know a great deal about this topic! Let's put them on the panel and make Z moderate!"
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[User Picture]From: cloudscudding
2016-02-09 04:49 pm (UTC)
Good thoughts.
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[User Picture]From: klwilliams
2016-02-10 01:03 am (UTC)
I have a large enough ego that I would love to get feedback on how I did on panels, particularly as soon after as possible, so I can remember them. I have no idea if I talk too long, or sound like an idiot, or what. I do try to pretend that I'm an audience member and try to keep the baton passing on the podium, but when I'm not the moderator that doesn't work as well.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-02-10 01:16 am (UTC)
And while we haven't spent a lot of time together in person, I have confidence that you mean this sincerely, so I can say with sympathy: it is HARD to get people to give actual feedback when you mean this kind of thing sincerely. At least I find it hard. People are so used to "I want reassurance" that it's very difficult to communicate "I actually want feedback" in this kind of situation, so you get a lot of "you were great, it was fine." Sigh.
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[User Picture]From: cloudscudding
2016-02-10 03:12 am (UTC)
Yes. Particularly in Minnesota. Or they say things that they think will convey unspoken criticism in some useful manner but which go entirely over my head. Or so I suspect. I'm not sure about that, but I'm always paranoid.
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[User Picture]From: asakiyume
2016-02-10 11:20 pm (UTC)
macrame :-)

Because we tend to correct the errors we don't need to correct and to not see or be reluctant to fix things we really ought to address, I try to grit my teeth and listen to advice or critique that gets my back up. I try. I don't succeed very well, but sometimes. Some advice or critique is, as you say, easy to dismiss as not relevant, but it's when I find myself feeling more annoyed than I ought to about a piece of advice that I realize (if I'm lucky. eventually) may have some medicine in it that I need.

But sometimes it's just super annoying and not good medicine! Go figure.

Speaking of hypothetical Sherwoods, the two times I've seen a Sherwood-led panel, they were excellent. She really has a knack.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2016-02-10 11:27 pm (UTC)
Well, as she is coming to 4th St. I will put a bug in Programming's ear about not just putting her on panels but having her moderate.
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[User Picture]From: asakiyume
2016-02-10 11:37 pm (UTC)
That's an excellent plan!
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