Writing Lessons From the Karate Kid -or- What to Do With Unsolicited Writing Advice

How often should you email your list?

Once a week?

Once a month?


This question has been batted around practically since email has been invented, and many marketing mass-ters* throughout the English-speaking world have pitched in with their thoughts on the matter.

(* was tempted to put something else in there after the hyphen, but I shall be a good Sarah and keep this article out of the toilet bowl)

The average consensus appears to be similar to something a reader recently sent me:

Love the content. Reading through it slowly and trying out the advice in some of my work. Only feedback is that the frequency of e-mails can make your actual content and message less impactful…Since your ideas and content are amazing, I would know your value more if the frequency were lower, focusing on quality per message rather than pure messages. Quantity is important, but only if it doesn’t cause the reader to label it as spam.

He was responding to my Great Weeding Out Project (GWOP, for short), a recent initiative to scrub my email list clean, removing all the non-readers and keeping only people who enjoy reading and can benefit from my content.

The gist of the GWOP is to increase the quantity and quality of my emails so that those who actually want to hear from me get more of what they want, and those who don’t will take the hint and skedaddle.

Why? Because if someone cannot bear to hear from you more than once a week, they probably are not a good prospect for the value you provide.

Should You Take Readers’ Advice?

Now, it’s good to hear from readers about what’s going on in their life and what they’re struggling with (especially as it relates to your writing topic).

I often ask my own readers about their challenges, so that I can help them overcome these obstacles.

And you should, too, every now and again.

But there’s one thing you should NEVER listen to, and that’s unsolicited advice on how/how often to produce content (in this case, emails).

The Customer Is (Almost) NEVER Right

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” — Henry Ford

I don’t say this to be mean, but this is a textbook case of “wax on, wax off.”

You know, in the old Karate Kid movie, Daniel (the aspiring karate kid) doesn’t understand why eccentric Mr. Miyagi keeps making him wax his car…

…until Mr. Miyagi reveals that the act of waxing on and waxing off has been teaching Daniel the fundamentals of kick-butt karate, without him even realizing it.

Of course, The Karate Kid is fictional. But there’s truth in this scene. And that truth is:

You can’t always tell what is really going on just by looking from the outside. You need to be on the inside to realize WHY something works.

So, to the reader who sent the email, I wrote:

I’m very pleased you love the content and hope you are not offended by this email. (Truth be told, not long ago, I believed the marketing mass-ters too. Now I know better)

But if you (or if other folks reading this) are offended, or if you feel like the volume of emails is too much for you, please unsubscribe.

There are many principled reasons why I do what I do, and if you stick around, I may let you in on some of my secrets in time.

If not, then as mentioned in a previous email, we’re all created different so what I put out ain’t for everyone. If you choose to leave, thanks for letting someone else take your spot, and no hard feelings!

What Should YOU Do With Unsolicited Writing Advice?


The best default thing to do is to ignore it.

There are some cases where you should NOT ignore unsolicited advice (when it comes from someone you personally know and trust, someone who cares about you and is an expert in the topic at hand), but in most cases, unsolicited advice is more than useless.

Notice, “unsolicited” does NOT include advice or commentary that you actively ASK readers for.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do surveys now and then and try to narrow in on your readers’ problems so that you can solve them better.

But when someone who doesn’t really know you thinks they know better than you, and offers critiques on what you’re doing without knowing WHY you do it?

Ignore them.

Know WHY You Do Things

Now, if I did not have several strong reasons for sending emails the way I do, I might have listened to this unsolicited-advice-giver. And that would have screwed up my strategy, big time.

Because, in addition to the GWOP, I have at least dozens of powerful reasons for doing things the way I do them.

But instead of asking why, or trying to analyze my moves to figure out what makes the strategy work, this person jumped to (the wrong) conclusions and basically did what Daniel did to Mr. Miyagi before he learned the secret of “wax on, wax off”:

Daniel: “I’m being your g — slave, that’s what I’m being! We made a deal here. You’re supposed to teach, I’m supposed to learn, remember? For four days I’ve been busting my ass and haven’t learned a g — thing!”

Mr. Miyagi: “Not everything is as seem.”

Daniel: “Oh, b — s — , I’m going home, man!”

(Luckily for Daniel — and us movie-watchers — Mr. Miyagi was kind enough to call him back and explain the matter. Otherwise he would have missed out on a HUGE opportunity, and the Karate Kid movie would’ve bombed).

Like this reader, Daniel didn’t realize that everything Mr. Miyagi asked him do was teaching him the fundamentals of his craft.

It’s not entirely his fault, though.

A lot of people do things without knowing why. Often it’s because they’ve habituated, or someone else told them it would be a good idea, and they adopted it without thinking it through.

So I end with one last story:

A young woman was making pot roast one day when her husband noticed something odd.

“Honey, why do you cut the ends off the roast before you put it in the oven?”

The wife was puzzled. “I don’t know,” she said. “That’s how my mom always did it.”

Curious, the wife called up her mother and asked, “Mom, how come you always cut the ends off the pot roast before you put it in the oven?”

The mother was surprised by the question. “I don’t know, sweetie,” she said. “That’s the way my mom — your grandma — always did it.”

So the two contacted Grandma and repeated the question, and Grandma laughed:

“Oh that? That’s because my pan was too small. I had to cut the ends off, otherwise the roast wouldn’t fit!”

Moral of the story?

Know why you do things. Then keep doing them your way.

And if the unsolicited-advice-givers don’t like that?

Let them go home.

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