Telling Someone They “Suck” Isn’t Advice–It’s Just Plain Evil

The more a writer makes her way through the world of blogs and books on writing, the more she will encounter a rather unexpected challenge to her writing career: experts who are eager to tell her that she sucks.

That’s right. It’s almost as if these “Sucky Experts” enjoy seeing a writer’s hopes and dreams dashed all to pieces. They’ll focus on all the negative aspects: they’ll say you suck because you’re not smart enough, or you’re too much of a wimp, or you don’t know how to get it together, or you’re irresponsible, and then–miraculously–they’ll say the only way that you’ll get where you want to go is to buy their book, take their service, go see them speak, or buy their DVD box set where they will teach you how to fix… well, you. Because, for Sucky Experts, there is always something intrinsically wrong with you.

There are even some Sucky Experts who will tell you you’re just not gonna “make it.” “Give up now,’ they say, “because your dreams will never come true.” They’ll tell you that it’s going to take too long, or you’re gonna have to sacrifice too much, or the market has changed too much, or that there’s only a small amount of “slots” available out there. They’ll tell you that there’s only a few writers who will get to be “Writers,” and that the rest of us are just gonna have to give up trying, because we’re gonna make it hard for the few writers who really deserve those “slots.” Unless, of course, you buy their book and learn exactly how to beat everyone else to your dream. Because, they say, you just can’t do it without their “expert advice.”

The Sucky Expert works on three fundamental beliefs:

One belief is that self-punishment and self-hatred is the only way to success. They seem to imply that it isn’t about how much education or training you get, or how hard you work, you just don’t have the “it” factor. So you have to fundamentally change who you are, which yes, amounts to self-hatred.

The second belief is scarcity. Scarcity is the belief that there’s only a limited amount of success or wealth out there and, in order to get it, you have to be a cut-throat competitor. You gotta screw over the other guys if you want to get ahead.

The third belief is in absolutes. Sucky Experts will pride themselves in telling you that their negative and incredibly cynical approach to life is the way to go because that’s just the way it is. It’s the way the world works. They will convince you that everyone is like that. They’ll say: “Of course you need to be brought you down. Of course you need to be told that your dreams won’t come true without my expert help. You don’t like it? Fine. But you’ll find that everyone is like that. It’s just the way it is in the writing world. Deal with it.”

And when you give them examples of people who managed to find success by being honest-to-goodness people who had a dream and went after it, despite all the odds, these Sucky Experts will tell you that that example was just an exception to the rule.

They’ll tell you all of this as if they were giving you valuable and sound advice.

But, really, they’re making you feel terrible about yourself and your chances so you can buy their product.

And that isn’t advice, it’s just plain evil.

Listen. If you’re writing, then you already know it’s hard. No one needs to tell you this. If you’re writing in today’s world, then you already know that it’s REALLY hard. No one needs to tell you this.

Sucky Experts think that they’re giving you “tough love” in order to make you “stronger.” But what these Sucky Experts fail to recognize is that life is already bringing writers down. Life is already giving us TRUCKLOADS of tough love–tough love that should be defeating us, but somehow we’ve managed to be stronger for it.

So, the last thing writers need–THE LAST, LAST THING WE NEED–is for there to be yet ANOTHER antagonistic force in our life.

Any number of signs are telling us every day that we suck: our job, our boss, an ex, an estranged family member, gas prices–you name it and we feel like It is out to get us, and It is stressing us the frak out.

So the last thing we need is another evil force in this world “advising” us to nix our dreams, or that something is wrong with who we are, or to resign ourselves to believe that the world is made up of cynics and we have no choice but to join the downer party.

Certainly I’m not asking for experts to encourage writers to be delusional. No, that’s not what I’m saying. (Certainly writing is challenging, I’ve said so myself many times.)

What I am saying is that writers these days don’t need hecklers. What we writers need–heck, what anyone trying to chase after a dream needs–are not hecklers, but cheerleaders. We need your support. We don’t need you to look down us with your chin raised saying: “Not. Finished.” Instead, keep reminding us that we have potential, and with the proper training, or after the proper amount of time, we will get there.

Now, in all honesty, this post was not written for the Sucky Experts, it was written for anyone who must navigate the many cynical circles of today’s world.

You must be warned that the Sucky Experts are out there, and they’re out to turn a buck at the cost of giving you low self-esteem.

Your challenge is to not let these so-called “experts” get to you. Because, unlike what Sucky Experts will say, the biggest threat to your writing career isn’t the market, or that you suck, or that the world is just cynical and you have to deal with it, or that there’s not enough “slots” for you or your writing career.

No, the biggest threat to your writing career are these so-called “experts” themselves.

Because telling you that you suck is not advice. It’s just plain evil.

much soft love,


What do you think? Do you agree with me that “tough love” is often used as a cover for mean-spirited put downs that don’t even qualify for real advice? Am I just overreacting, or have I hit a soft spot? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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50 comments on “Telling Someone They “Suck” Isn’t Advice–It’s Just Plain Evil

  1. You are absolutely, clearly, and magnificently correct!!

    I’m going to comment on this post and link to it tomorrow in my blog 🙂

  2. Christina says:

    You have totally zoomed in on something that’s going on in the writing world and also the world in general.

    I call it The Travesty of Tough Love (yes, in caps, because the people guilty of tough love weave together enough lies to fill an entire book).

    I’ve found that people who buy into and practice the philosophy of tough love, whether directed at someone’s writing, passion or life’s choices, do it for three reasons:

    1. It’s self-serving. In the writing world they want to make money. In our personal life it’s because they don’t want to get involved, make sacrifices, make an effort, or it’s because they’re too selfish to truly care for someone else.

    2. It’s a form of blackmail that (again) fits their agenda. Tough-love proponents usually make demands: “Do as I say, or else I’ll withhold x y or z or you won’t get x, y or z.” For them, it comes down to having power over someone else. They never offer to help without wanting anything in return and they never help in a way that the person seeking help needs or prefers.

    3. They’re sadists. They enjoy putting people down or watching people suffer because (from what I’ve seen) they too had a hard time and they want to make sure everyone else has just as hard a time.

    Bottom line, keep away from these people. Don’t listen to them, it’ll only destroy you. Whether this tough love has to do with writing, life or anything else. Tough love is evil love.

    And Ollin, thanks so much for giving me an opportunity to let off some steam! (I really needed it!!)
    I’m so happy I’m not the only one who sees how wrong this tough love stuff is. I was afraid us soft-love types were an endangered species.

  3. Marcia says:

    I agree with you, Ollin. They are out there and their message can get into your head and mess with it. The only one who can benefit from their advice is they themselves. I read a blog a few weeks ago that fit your “Sucky Expert” description. Can’t remember the name of it now, but I remember how it made me feel…downright depressed, for about an hour, til I read my fave posts from you, Joanna Penn and Kristen Lamb. It immediately made me feel I was wasting my time by writing because, according to them it was going to go nowhere. I think it’s really too bad that these people have to resort to such tactics to sell something and to build their rep as experts, instead of offering quality material and a positive outlook. So, I’m with you on this one…”DOWN with all the Sucky Experts!”

    • Ollin says:

      That’s the number 1. way to realize you have an encountered a Sucky Expert. If you leave the blog or book feeling terrible about yourself then you’ve just encountered a Sucky Expert.

      You know I’m thinking or writing a post on Friday about what makes a good expert. Because I’m realizing now that it is good to know how to tell the difference.

      Good experts will leave you saying “yes, yes, yes” that’s true. Even if it is constructive criticism of your behavior or your abilities or skills. But they never go as far as to take it personal. They show you areas where you can improve and give you the feeling that you are totally capable of making those changes.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Marcia.

  4. There’s enough negativity/insecurity in my head, that I don’t need to hear the negativity from elsewhere. Positivity is a lot harder to maintain, and I’m still working on it, so I made a choice to stick around positive blogs online. 🙂

  5. Ollin says:

    Yeah, like I said in the post. I think we should avoid telling people lies of any kind. Whether they be positive or negative. Any lie isn’t good. Let’s be honest, but let’s not predict what we can’t predict. Who knows whether you will “make it” or not? No one will. So we can say yes things are challenging out there, but here are some tools to help you improve your changes.

    Don’t say: things are challenging, you suck so you won’t make it, and if you don’t buy my product you won’t make it without me. Because you’re a loser.

    Instead say: Things are challenging yes, but you have the potential to do anything and be anything, and the possibilities are endless. Here, let me help you navigate this very challenging world to make your journey a little bit easier.

    By the way, I’m not against anyone selling products or services, just people selling products and services at the expense of making someone feel terrible about themselves.

  6. kaleba says:

    Did you read my blog? lol Just kidding– of course you didn’t! 🙂 But I had to chuckle through this post because I wrote something similar a while back. I was, however, whining, which you certainly were not.

    There are some writers out there that want nothing more than to sell you their product. They don’t seem to care about the quality of their writing, or about the art, or about encouraging others. It does seem as if there are but a few slots to fill, but in reality, as you state in your own way, this is a world of plenty. Few people write for the sake of writing. Most want to sell their books. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the business of writing, the money making part, and forget that real writers write because they want to, or must, or can’t not write, and oh yeah, want others to read it. But, one does not live on words alone, so one must “sell, sell, sell!” (to quote one of my favorite lines from the movie Trading Places). And then art and business get all tangled up in a mess of phlegm and bile. Ok, so I may be overstating it a bit, but yeah, things can get ugly.

    You, Olin, are always encouraging, which is great. Another great post from you. (And it’s nice to know I’m not alone in thinking there are too many heretics out there trying to quash the dreams of would be writers.)

  7. I think you’re right. There is a line between tough love and just being flat out rude/mean/horrible. While you’re pointing out everything wrong, remember to stop and point out something right. I had a friend I asked to read one of my stories and crit it for me. I can’t look at his crit because it’s too horrible. It’s just flat out mean and I know he’s into that kind of crit, he thinks there’s nothing wrong w/ a writing friend saying ‘This part just sucks, redo it.’ But I think a little more tact is in order. I asked for my writing to be ripped into, not murdered without remorse.

  8. Amy Buchheit says:

    Happens in the fine art world too (people telling you you won’t make it). I simply walk away from those folks and find the cheerleaders in my life. I don’t waste my times on the soul-sucking energy vampires any more. Who are they to tell me what I can and cannot do?

    I find (and Julia Cameron discusses in her book “The Artists Way”) that most people who are doing that are failed creatives. They didn’t make it (or aren’t making it and are trying). So like some evil-spirited person falling off a cliff, they grab at the nearest thing, which may be your ankles!, and try to pull you down with them.

    Those people are not worth my time or energy. Next! Moving on …

    • Ollin says:

      Hey Amy,

      Thanks for mentioning Cameron’s advice. As always, I highly recommend her book. She gives a great description of the type of people you mention. She calls them “shadow creatives.” I believe.

      The point I think is just that we all need to beware and not let others pull us down.

  9. Amy Buchheit says:

    LOL! I read your reply after I posted mine. Similar response. Great minds think alike …

  10. Thanks for confirming what I already thought, for validating me! Actually I am one of those people who write spontaneously and freely and manage just fine, but if someone starts lecturing me about ‘subject, nouns, adverbs, protagonist etc.’ die quickly in the water. I can and do learn much from others – for free.

    • Ollin says:

      Hey Elizabeth,

      Certainly you should look for others to help you master the craft of writing. There are plenty of great experts out there who are only their to help you and prop you up, and yes, they may even help you understand grammar a bit more. Nothing wrong with that.

      It’s wrong when they start to put you down just so they can get you to buy their product. It’s fine to offer services, I offer a writing service myself, but I never put someone down so that they take this service. That’s manipulation and that’s just evil.

  11. purrrentice says:

    I totally get how you feel. I actually discussed a similar topic in my blog last week about cynical, Debbie Downer writers, those smarmy, starving artists that think that you must suffer and be a big rain cloud with a pencil in hand to create anything worth a crap. The writing world is tough enough as it is, so why do people insist on being such jerks? I’m sure it’s the best reaction they can come up with to counter my coolness. =)

    I guess haters are gonna hate, no matter what.

  12. Elise says:

    You’re right. If I didn’t have cheerleaders I really don’t know how I would keep writing. I want to second the posts already here and say I loved your advice about knowing you’ve found a bad expert if you feel awful and down after being exposed to them. There is a way to be encouraging without giving a blanket “good job!” assessment. Thanks for the great post.

    • Ollin says:

      I’m glad you liked it Elise.

      To reiterate:

      If you leave the blog or book feeling terrible about yourself then you’ve just encountered a Sucky Expert.

      On the other hand:

      Good experts will leave you saying “yes, yes, yes” that’s true. Even if it is constructive criticism of your behavior or your abilities or skills. But they never go as far as to take it personal. They show you areas where you can improve and give you the feeling that you are totally capable of making those changes.

  13. Christa says:

    Wow, reading that article was like sitting in the studio at art school all over again! “Not good enough!” “what were you thinking!” “You expect to get a job with that photograph?” “Honestly that just sucks!” “If you think that’s a portfolio you’re sadly mistaken. You will never get a job like that.” Vague critiques that get you no where in your career because they never tell you why it’s bad just how horrible it is. I received nothing but insults all semester followed by a big fat “A” in the course. After a few semesters I learned from those farther along in their degree that the instructors would goad you for the fun of it. They really did believe that complimenting your work wouldn’t get you anything but a big ego. My problem is now, as a working photographer and writer, is that I struggle to see the good in anything I do because I was taught to only look for the bad, and be too critical with myself. You could argue that me having a job is the result of their goading, but I personally don’t believe it is. There’s a difference between a good critique and just plain putting someone down to “toughen” them up. I’ll never treat someone learning from me in the way I was treated by those I learned from.

    • Ollin says:

      You hit it right on the nail, Christa. You should not be given advice that is useless. What’s the point in making someone feel awful about themselves? That only makes them feel terrible.

      I’ll share with you a post about bad critics I wrote awhile back, I’m sure you’ll agree:

      Bad Critic, Bad!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  14. tahliaN says:

    It’s always a shock to come across people who are that brutal. I spend ages trying to put my critical feedback in a positive helpful way. If people can’t back up their blanket statements with details and helpful suggestions then I figure they don’t really know what they’re talking about and ignore them.

  15. […] Today, I’m going to direct you to a post by Ollin Morales called, Telling Someone They “Suck” Isn’t Advice–It’s Just Plain Evil. […]

  16. gabriellan says:

    I’ve run into some of these “Sucky Experts,” and some people who just suck. It’s funny, but when I tell people I’m a writer, their reactions are usually at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Either I’m informed that what I’m doing is “cute,” and that I won’t be a “real writer” until I’m older, because teen writers just suck naturally; or, I get the gushy remarks about how brilliant I am for a girl my age. I don’t know which I hate worse!

    I do know that I’m a long way from the place that I want to be where my writing skills are concerned, and that yes, my first drafts tend to be quite mad, but I refuse to take advice from Sucky Experts anymore. I can do whatever I want to do, because I’m just that obstinate.

    Needless to say, I enjoyed the post! You always seem to touch on the exact subject I’ve been thinking about lately.

    • Ollin says:

      You’re welcome! Keep it at gabriella!

    • Keep at it Gabriella! Crikey, how does a ‘real writer’ start except by writing? All that matters is that you write and you enjoy it. I had too many of those Sucky Experts, including family, ‘friends’, and whatnot that kept pulling me down for far too long, until I finally realized that if I was going to achieve my dream, I was going to have to do it without them.
      You go, girl…!

  17. It’s oddly funny, but I’m struggling a bit with this right now. I have a wonderful book out, with three five star reviews…and one one star. No comment, just that single star. That’s a different kind of Sucky Expert. Now, if I give a review, I never give less than a three – not to lie to people, but simply because it may be that it just didn’t appeal to me, or it’s a starting writer, or I’ll give gentle suggestions on things that I thought could be better. Because otherwise what you’re really saying is ‘It sucks’ and that hurts.

    • Ollin says:

      Aww, sorry to hear you didn’t get better reviews! I’m sure it’ll go up soon! Maybe you should ask friends and family to star it to give you a moral booster? Eh? Good luck to you!

  18. Mary says:

    My dad was a good one for this evil disguised as “tough love.” I finally had to escape his negativity. Years later after we reconnected he admitted he was afraid I would do what he wasn’t able to — follow a dream and succeed.
    Love can be a very scary word in ways we don’t even realize.

    Excellent post.

    • Ollin says:

      Wow, great point Mary. People who put you down are motivated by fear that has nothing to do with you. I hate that. But it’s true.

  19. Always callin’ it like you see it, huh, Ollin? =P I agree, though. Telling someone they’re awful is no way to help them along. It’s hard enough to achieve your dreams, not just in writing, without being looked down on for trying your hardest.

  20. misty says:

    oh my… this is absolutely incredible. seriously. I buy into the stuff. I read the agent blogs. i follow the twitters. i beat myself up every day. And then I write- and I blossom. I pour out my heart into my project and everything feels great… And then I read the agent blogs. I follow the twitters. I suddenly can’t write because, well, what’s the point??? And the cycle continues on and on and on… It’s no good. And I feel like I must be missing something.

    and then I read your post.
    and I smile.
    Because, it explains everything I needed to hear.

  21. Carla says:

    Amen to this! Thank you so much for this article. It comes at a time when I personally needed a little boost but I think bits of encouragement like this are always needed for those of us who have this need to write. Those who do not enjoy writing, simply do not understand those who do. Those of us who do write need to reach out to fellow writers and support each other to counter the “Suckers” in our lives! Thanks again!

  22. inkspeare says:

    If those “experts” were so good at what they do, they would not be making a buck by putting writers down. Many people get their daily energy intake by putting others down, and in the process they manage to make a quick buck.

  23. Hear, hear! Well said.
    It takes so little effort to be encouraging. All it really takes to make somebody’s day is to stop putting them down in order to feel better yourself. In fact, when a person leaves your company feeling good about themselves, they feel good about you. It’s what I call a contageous well-being.

    • Ollin says:

      What a beautiful idea “contagious well-being.” I like that. I’ll pocket that and keep it for later. Thanks.

  24. I know I’m late to this party… but I thought I’d share my thoughts.

    I kind of rather think that many of us writers need a little bit of both the tough love and the soft love. We need cheerleaders, yes. Because we need to believe that we can do it, and sometimes it’s hard to muster that belief of ourselves. So moral support is often essential for many writers.

    But if we want to succeed financially and commercially based on our writings, we’re going to need more than just moral support.

    When our writings aren’t up to a great quality, we do ourselves no favors by secluding ourselves from negative criticism. Because if all we get is positive criticism, we’ll never know how to improve our craft and make it better. Sometimes, we need a little “tough love” to tell us that maybe we can do better. I’m not saying we need someone to tell use “You suck” – many of us can do that just fine on our own. But rather, someone who says, “That’s good, but here are some ideas that you might want to think about that could make it better.”

    Sure, if whoever is telling us this then follows it up with “And I’ll gladly share my idea of how you can make it better for the low-low price of 4 easy installments of $19.95” then, yeah, they’re just a shill and you can comfortably discount what they’re saying. But most instances I’ve seen of professionals offering advice to newbies and neophytes is usually offered freely, and if they’re shilling a book it’s more often than not someone else’s book.

    Anyway, my point is (1) I’ve rarely encountered genuine professional “shills” who are telling you that you suck for fun and profit (2) most of us could probably stand to improve our craft (3) we’re not going to improve if everyone tells us only how great we are all the time (4) so maybe it’s okay to hear some good criticism that highlights our weaknesses from time to time. But good criticism is constructive criticism, and isn’t just about something sucking, but about why it’s not working for a given person, may offer suggestions for improvement, and is always given in a positive and uplifting manner (usually by highlighting what worked well first).

    • Ollin says:

      Great point, I’m all for constructive criticism. I guess what I’m saying here is that “advice” that is vague and negative doesn’t help anyone. And I’ve encountered plenty people who are like that–paging Simon Cowell, Suze Orman, and Dr.Phil! Those are just mainstream people, I’m not going to call out the other guys, because that’s not what I do. What I am asking for is exactly what you are saying, which is constructive criticism. I hate “criticism” that is just dismissive and condescending. There is a lot of that in the writing world, the art world, and in the world in general. I made a point to say that I don’t agree in giving people grand delusions, but I guess what I am saying is that people are good enough to know how to improve and what needs to be improved and where to get that advice–as long as they are given the proper support and guidance.

      But they will lose their way without the support and guidance.

      And yes, there are plenty experts who turn a buck at making you feel terrible. I’ll give more mainstream examples: axe body spray – you’re not sexy without our product; any weight loss program – your fat and you won’t feel great or have a great life unless you lose that weight without our product; Hollywood – you’re a nobody unless you are famous – only celebrities are worthy – watch more reality tv etc and help us get more advertisers!

      We’re surrounded by sucky experts. Hey, I’m just calling it like I see it. If you can wade through that swamp, then that’s great! But if you can’t, maybe this can serve as a great guide for you.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Stephen. Always a delight!

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