Commentary on “42 Dos and Don’ts from a Dick”, and a dirty little secret

First comes the original e-mail, a rejection letter sent to some 900+ applicants who didn’t get an online writing gig.  Read it within this Gawker article impaling it as “42 dos and don’ts from a dick.”  You can then read the original author’s logic and rebuttal at Salon.

When I look at the anger Shea’s long list of advice has generated, my thoughts include:

  • Wow.  No good deed does go unpunished.
  • These people are not cut out to be writers at all.  They cannot take constructive criticism.  I wouldn’t have hired them either.
  • This is a perfect manifestation of the “I’m So Awesome” generation that got a trophy just for deigning to show up.
  • What part of ‘follow the directions’ is so complicated?

I find this all very revelatory.  It’s helpful to me, because there are a couple of errors mentioned that I can easily see myself making, and would rather not make them.  (Thanks, Shea!)  What it reveals to me is that I haven’t been wrong about the Amazing Ego Based Upon Few Results mentality so common today.  Anything that sounds like negative feedback:  “That’s disrespecting me!”  Respect is earned, sorry.  Advice offered:  “How arrogant to think you know better than me!”  Uh, he does; he’s in a position to hire, and you are not.

Think on it.  They would rather have been ignored than receive help.  They would rather flounder in ignorance and mediocrity than take a bruise, suck it up and grow.  Anything less than “You’re so awesome!” is a boot in the groin.

How did we wind up raising young adults this way? Is this a young adult thing, or a writer thing, or a young adult writer thing? Feel free to educate me.  Because when I get a list of 42 things I might be doing wrong, I want to bless the sender.  That’s 42 things I should never do wrong again.

I promised you a dirty little secret, and you shall have it.  Truth:  I didn’t succeed as a ‘lancer because of busting my butt, nor by being a brilliant writer. That isn’t self-deprecation; I’m not saying I didn’t work hard, nor that I’m untalented.  I succeeded at freelancing because most of my competition took a look at its path ahead, sowed as many mines as possible in its path, concealed them carefully, went away for a while to forget where they were, then just waltzed on through the self-made minefield.  Over, and over, and over.  Most of my competition suicided on the way to the finish line.

I didn’t have to beat them.  They beat themselves.


10 thoughts on “Commentary on “42 Dos and Don’ts from a Dick”, and a dirty little secret”

  1. As an aspiring writer myself, I can tell you that it’s difficult to get any form of feedback much of the time. Virtually no one steps up to the keyboard the first time and starts producing timeless prose. For all but the most gifted of us, it’s a learning process, and I find anyone (like Shea) who will take their time and expertise to help me to be an asset. In working with an editor recently on a piece I’d created, he gave me some harsh, specific criticism. My first response to that criticism was happiness, because I can’t fix what i can’t see, and he was shining the light in a way that allowed me to see what I was doing wrong. That’s invaluable. I’m subscribed to Shea on FB now, so we’ll see if he continues to be interesting once his 15 minutes are up. Thanks for bringing this to my attenti


    1. Shawn, I completely agree. A couple of the rejection letters I got were excellent because they were near misses, but also gave some feedback. The right reaction is thanks and taking the lesson to heart.


  2. I’m ambivalent about Shea’s rejection email. On one hand, I welcome constructive criticism because I see it as an opportunity to learn something useful. On the other hand, if I had applied for a job in a manner that was professional, appropriate, and followed the guidelines Shea presents, but get a rejection letter that was clearly aimed at someone who didn’t know what they were doing, I might be annoyed. I might feel that this impersonal rejection in the form of unsolicited advice that did not apply to my submission was arrogant and offensive.

    I respect the motives Shea shared in his rebuttal, but as I said, I can understand feeling frustrated at getting rejected and lectured at the same time, when I had not committed any of the described infractions. Of course if I had been an applicant who habitually committed these infractions and didn’t understand I was self-sabotaging, I would be grateful for the feedback.

    I guess in reflecting on your blog and on the situation, I lean more towards appreciating Shea’s desire to be helpful to the ignorant. Thanks for getting me thinking, I enjoy this blog and I enjoy your perspective.


    1. Thank you, Lo, as always. I guess my theory here is that the people who didn’t make the errors also get something out of it: they know what other people are doing wrong, that they themselves did not do. Thing is, usually one gets no rejection at all, for one gets no answer at all.


  3. It’s not just in the field of writing. Many of my college students looking for their first job in the field are writing abysmal letters/resumes, etc. I think the advice os spot-on for all job-seekers, regardless of expertise. –JBryan


    1. Thank you, Jennifer. And I agree. It is triply so with writing work. If you cannot write well enough to present yourself well, how can you possibly propose to perform the work well?


  4. The email from Shea is bang on, for ANYONE looking for job. These days most places want you to email you resume, you just don’t get to meet people beforehand like you used to. I would much rather hear back with a ‘here is where you can improve’ than silence. I have put out many resumes in the last few months and i will be bookmarking this list to revamp the way I apply now. Maybe my next one will result in something more than waiting for a call or email that never comes.


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