I have been reading advice columns for years. Miss Information on Nerve, Dear Prudie on Slate, Dan Savage on SavageLove, Dear Abby (when that existed) in the paper.
I will listen to advice on just about anything actually. Podcasts about how to pick up women, how to manage money, even how to do a perfect lunge. Something about advice, even advice I’d never use, is inherently interesting to me.
The biggest reason I’ve come to discover? I have a personal rule where I try not to gossip (sometimes I’m not successful but generally I try to talk about things and not other people unless they are immediately in front of me). But reading advice columns gives me that voyeristic thrill of knowing someone else’s business in a way I won’t allow myself to in my normal life.
I’ve got a few questions since writing this advice column so I thought I’d answer them here:
How did you get this gig?
So when I had to submit a bio for a regional conference I was presenting at, I thought I’d have fun and end it with. “Nicole’s secret desire is to have an advice column or do stand up comedy, whichever she decides would be funnier.” And within two weeks, I was sitting with the editor of my local paper as he proposed me writing an advice column. Not sure how much of a coincidence that is but there you go. In other words: might as well put out there what you want, you may get it!
But you aren’t even qualified.
Yes, I know. I find this hilarious on several levels. First of all, I’m not particularly experienced in life. I don’t have kids. I just got married about five seconds ago and before that, never really planned on getting married. I’ve never bought a house, I’ve been self employed longer than I was ever in the ‘real’ working world, I am not even from this town originally. In other words, not exactly a typical local person you may look for to write a local advice column in a local paper.
But Earl (the editor and a friend of mine) assured me that they liked my blog and as someone active in the community, people would know who I was. Plus I am known for my straight forward nature, which some people find endearing and other people feel very intimidated by. Anyway, we struck up a six month agreement to try it out.
Do you get paid?
Yes, they pay me $30 a week. I know, clearly I am in this for the cash. But since I own the rights to the content (and they are just getting to publish it first), a low rate seemed fair enough. Plus it’s fun!
How can I read your column?
You can read my column if you subscribe to one of the local papers in this area (either the MDIslander or the Ellsworth American). I’m ‘premium’ content. Another hilarious idea.
Oddly enough though, a recent house guest told me he found my column online so I guess it’s published here: http://www.mdislander.com/living/columnists/ask-nicole
Have you learned anything writing this column?
I’ve learned a few things.
Like how to be brief. Unlike this blog (where I tend to ramble, I admit), I have 300 words to show both the question and my answer… and often this even gets edited down. It took me about four weeks to get my writing cut down to this smaller format. Now I can write something and have a good idea what 300 words looks like. The first few weeks was writing like 800 words then fiercely cutting.
I also found I am sensitive to being edited. My first column had a few jokes in it which, I’m sure for length, got edited out. But when I saw it in the paper, it felt like a part was missing. My initial (and very mature) reaction was to be pissed off. But I realize this is dumb. This column has been a good exercise for me in being comfortable being edited. Just like putting my writing out there, I have to put being edited out there to be more comfortable with it. This editing is a small step towards being comfortable, say, with someone editing a book I’ve written.
I have also learned who reads the paper. I’ve had far flung friends email me or people stop me in the grocery store. My mother-in-law reads it, people in my Rotary club who would never read my blog read it. I kind of like that what I say isn’t necessarily super public, it’s much different than the blogging/social media world I’ve lived in where everyone knows what I am up to.
I had stopped reading the paper after I stopped working there (mainly because I spent a lot of time editing which meant I had to read lots of articles about people arguing against funding the local library or vandalizing peoples’ mailboxes. Reading that kind of content all the time can destroy your faith in humanity if you aren’t careful!) But I think I may go back. Seems like it attracts a nice community.
What’s the weirdest question someone has asked you?
Sometimes I just hear questions and think, how did you let yourself even get in this situation?!? The one that comes to mind is the guy who bought Viagra from an acquaintance and was wondering if he should take it. I mean, I’m as cheap as the next person but drugs from someone you don’t know? Common sense, people. But most questions are situations we can relate to: wanting to make more time for an important relationship or telling someone something that’s hard to say.
It’s easy for me to say the right thing. I don’t know these people and I am emotionally distant from the situation. But like everyone, I sometimes struggle to do the right thing. And isn’t that what advice columns do? Remind us to do the right thing, which we already know in our hearts but just need someone else’s explanation to justify it?
Is it weird giving people advice?
I mean I give people advice all day. (Ask Derrick, I can be accidentally bossy because I am used to telling people what they should do, myself included, all day long.) It isn’t weird for me. But at the end of the day, we are responsible for our own actions and behavior. People can take my advice or not. Though I am waiting for that moment where someone walks up to me in a public place and slaps me… or at least chews me out for something I’ve said. Good news? I have a pretty thick skin.
I want to give advice, how can I start?
Start reading advice and writing advice. Starting a blog (or Facebook page, Tumblr account, etc.) has gotten easy. I have been writing this blog for SIX YEARS and it is just starting to catch on so if you are one of those instant gratification types, I suggest another calling. But put your writing out there where people can see it. Tell everyone you want to do this. Apply for blogging jobs in this field. Comment on other advice columns. Once you find your voice, you can either create your own platform from scratch or find someone who has a platform who believes in you. You can actually do both! Just be yourself, be content with you and four friends reading what you write, and keep practicing writing. You never know because, let’s face it, if I can write an advice column, anyone can.