Have you seen it too? People on the internet asking for advice and getting a ton of responses. Do you feel like the answer didn’t address the question? Recently, a young person asked how to start writing fiction. There were a ton of responses that weren’t wrong, but most of them said, “read a lot” and “write a lot.” The intentions were good but that advice is inadequate. The best advice you can give when someone asks for advice on how to do something—is to give them the proper tools.
Yes, a writer must read a lot and write a lot. But when someone asks how to do something, they are generally asking for a roadmap or, in this case, a skills map. When you respond with a generic bit of advice, such as read a lot, the questioner could take offense. “Do they think I don’t read?” Or in the case of “write a lot,” the questioner can feel lost. “Write what?”
Helpful Responses to “How-to” Questions
The best responses are ones that the questioner can act upon. You don’t have to teach the person all that you know. Instead, say something like, “That’s a great question. Get a copy of (a how-to book that addresses that). I think you’ll find it helpful.”
You can direct the person to a helpful website or Facebook group.
Sometimes you may have too many people asking the same question. You can respond by directing them to a list of resources. “Thanks for asking. I’ve compiled a list of my best tips (give a web or google docs address).” You can be even more helpful by saying, “If there’s more information you’d like after reading all that, email me one or two questions. I’ll do my best to answer.”
Of course, you may be too busy. You can respond with a thank you and something like “I’m afraid my schedule is fully booked so I won’t be able to help you with this. You might try (a person, website, or book). Best of luck!”
The Best Advice You Can Give
A helpful and specific answer to a question for information or advice will make a positive impression on the person asking the question. The information you provide may inspire that person to achieve something he or she couldn’t do before. Your response may also positively affect an observer’s opinion of you. So next time someone asks you, “how do I…” Take a moment of your time and give the best advice you can give. You have nothing to lose and friends and fans to gain.