There are two types of writing tips you will often find while searching for truth. The first are writing tips that mean well, but are empty. The second are writing tips that seem simple, but reflect a greater pool of wisdom. While it’s arrogant of me to assume the following will fall into that second bucket, I will do my best. I am going to call these two types of writing tips the humblebrag and the peer. So how do you identify which is which?
The Humblebrag Writing Tip:
In this format, the author “just wants you to succeed” by telling you how wonderful they are doing. This can a number of forms, but one of the most popular are sharing financial figures. They then pretend to break them down, so you can “learn from their success”. This is an easy to spot humblebrag, and often times the key to their success is… wait for this shocking revelation: hard work and luck! (Sarcasm filter being added here) Aren’t you glad you dug into their financials to learn that? But wait, there is more good information to be had if you sign up for their program or join their mailing list. After all, they just want you to succeed. I am sure your belief in their authority is totally not needed for their platform. That platform is completely separate and has nothing to do with the quality education… (Exiting sarcasm filter) So, as you can hopefully see, their success comes from presenting as an authority. There is nothing truly behind that authority beyond some minor social proof that they might have cooked up. They need you to believe their authority so that they can eventually sell you things, use that sales information to prove how awesome they are, and find more people to sell to. This is crux of the humblebrag advice: they need you to believe they are a humble authority who just wants to help.
The Peer Writing Tip:
I am going to put up two examples of advice to help show the difference: “Never stop trying and learning things” versus “20% of businesses fail in the first year”. Now image the article that follows each of those pieces of advice.
- Never stop learning things: How I figured out XYZ to make $10,000.
- 20% of businesses fail in the first year: What they have in common.
The first is a Humblebrag and is probably about someone who worked hard in an area, got lucky, and made some money. That’s great for them, but it probably won’t be an article that reveals the secret sauce. The article will talk close enough to truth to present authenticity, but it won’t actually be ‘hard to hear’. The second article is about cold humility. Imagine looking at five of your writing friends and saying one of them will stop writing in the first year. It’s not flashy to fail, but they can present better advice to strengthen what you are doing. That’s peer writing advice that isn’t trying to sucker you into signing up to their “courses”.
What’s the harm in a bit of success bragging?
The answer to that is that the end result leads you back to the “wise” guru. You don’t see how lucky they really got. You don’t see that they had much of their lives subsidized so that they could spend a bunch of time working on a particular platform. The humblebragger may not tell you that their spouse or parents helped them with their living arrangement and bills. Instead, you just see that hard work solved it all. You may not also see the “right place at the right time”. Perhaps the platform that the humblebragger was successful on just needed exactly what they were offering. They no longer need it, but they did at one time. The horrible part in all this is that the person bragging about their success may not even know how lucky they are. They may simple see that their wise decisions and hard work led to success. After all, no one wants to brag about how often they failed, right? My thought is to look for failure advice, not success (or look at modest/minor success).
Is failure advice always brutal?
The answer to this, in my opinion, is no. There is a format I like to think of as elegant. To me, the definition of elegance is hidden pre-work that is done, so that the end result looks easy/flawless. Adding this to the concept of failure advice can be done in this way. When someone keeps trying different things, keeps failing, and a trend emerges. One example might be someone who built a writing audience on a social media platform. That platform changes the rules and they lose their audience. They then switch to the next social media platform and it happens again. After a number of tries, they may realize: The only stable platform is one where you completely control it. To anyone reading that advice, it’s obvious. But you may not have seen all the failed attempts that lead to that.
So, why do so many people humblebrag? The answer can really be found in this YouTube video about fake gurus. The answer is to establish themselves as an authority, get you to believe they “just want you to succeed”, and then turn over control to them. They then use that control to sell it to the next round of people. All the while, honestly believing how amazing and great they are, because that’s how our human minds work. No one wants to be a failure, everyone wants to be a huge success. My advice is to hunt out those with modest success and a long history of explained failures.