The Year in Unsolicited Advice

I find myself staring down 2017 with a surplus of useless wisdom and nowhere to put it. 

What was important to us in 2016? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the year’s issues, big and small.

I started writing full-time in 2011. I was twenty-three years old and made between $25 and $150 per piece of writing, usually for websites geared towards other women my age. I needed roughly $1100 per month to live as comfortably as I required then, which is to say I was very chill about walking long distances in the rain, would attend almost any event in the name of free food, and gave myself a number of very questionable at-home haircuts so that I could afford to call myself a writer.

To make my $1100, I produced between eight and eighteen pieces of writing per month. Most of these were weird little notes about myself, my feelings, and what other twenty-three-year-olds should wear to parties to ensure everyone around them knew they could play or were at least considering taking up the ukulele. It was true then, and seems to be true five years later, that the best chance a young woman writer has to get her pitches read is to sell personal stories about sadness and sex. I don’t know how to feel about this, but I certainly participated very actively in the sadness-and-sex economy for the first year of my career. Mostly, however, I wanted to write jokes. This is how I found advice.

Advice pieces were a win-win-win: a space for comedy writing that was still ostensibly personal enough to get editors' attention, and that paid. A local website allowed me to start a faux advice column, and for the next three years I produced a bossy weekly ramble on topics like "cold season" (okay), "barbecue etiquette" (sure), and "when it's okay to be a bitch" (twenty-three!!!). Eventually I branched out and began offering my specious advice to other magazines and websites. These pieces were usually based around problems in my real life, which were plentiful, and so could easily be written at a speed required to meet my bills, providing I was paid on time. If rent was coming up and it looked like I'd be short, I'd pitch a sexting guide. Between 2011 and 2013 I probably wrote one sexting guide every three or four months. It was not an auspicious beginning, but it got my partially exposed foot in the door.

Last year, I published my first book—a humour collection loosely themed around the idea of giving advice. It was a compendium of any of my early writing that I could still read without wishing myself dead, plus new pieces on topics like "dips" (fine), "ageing" (twenty-six!!!), and "I bet Pinterest would be smug if it was a person" (absolutely why not). It contained all the best advice I'd given or received in my early twenties, and a number of highly personal essays about abortion and kissing and being embarrassed almost all the time. After the book I was able to reduce my publishing schedule to six or seven pieces per month, but I still spent 2015 writing a lot of how-tos, comic and serious, based in my own life.

But this year, I found I did not have it in me to write any more sexting guides. I have not kept up with which emoji are in fashion, for a start, but I also needed a break from personal writing in general. I had found myself narrativizing experiences in real time—planning the kicker to an essay about a breakup as I sat in the park discussing where it all went wrong, measuring out the future dollar value of some social faux pas at a party. It’s dangerous to assume one’s life is in any way ordered or linear, and selling mine $200 at a time felt, if you can believe it, quite bad. So I replaced magazines and blogs with television writing, turning my problems into the mishaps of fictional characters instead.

Keeping the majority of my thoughts and feelings to myself has been calming, and in general I am in favour of the switch, with one exception: I find myself staring down 2017 with a surplus of useless advice and nowhere to put it. So, in lieu of an essay about the time my new husband, ex-boyfriend and I physically carried my ex-boyfriend’s bed from his old home into my new one, here are a few of the best lessons that came to me in 2016:

- Correcting others’ pronunciation is rude and you are bad if you do it. If the person speaking is a good friend, and if they have expressed some concern over the word as they said it, you may offer your own “best guess” as to how to say the word, but language is a living thing and also fucking relax.

- No one can force you to wear sleeveless clothing, even if all the stores are selling shirts with no sleeves and little keyhole cut outs just wherever. Your options include light layers, making friends with a seamstress, or spending years climbing your way up the fashion industry to influence from the inside. Please let me know if you achieve the latter so I can personally thank you.

- As you approach thirty everyone you know will either give up drinking or flirt with a drinking problem, maybe both, which is to say: the tenor of your house parties will change quite radically.

- Don't trust anyone who tells you your bangs look fine in the photo. Check for yourself or accept that it will probably be a disaster.

- If you have peanut butter in the house you will absolutely eat too much of it but only because it's the perfect food. Just give in and put it in a wrap with some raspberry jam already. (Bonus advice: a variety of luxe jams and spreads in your fridge lend it the illusion of a much more together woman's appliance.)

- If someone really likes you they will find almost everything you do charming. In short: it does not really matter how often you text someone, or who texts whom first.

- Taking a break from the Internet is as difficult but worthwhile as everyone says. Consider doing so without writing an essay about why you are doing it. It will be there for you when you get back, just as you left it, like a slow cooker full of pictures of dogs and men who think you're a slut.

- Modern dating is a broken system. Cultivate a variety of friendships, noting those that seem steeped in romantic and sexual tension. Simmer that tension for three or four months, and if it's still there after a few makeouts, you've got a good boyfriend or girlfriend on your hands.

- "Wear sunscreen," lol. (But really, wear sunscreen.)

- Contrarians are not inherently noble or wise. Proud misanthropes do not make particularly exciting critics, artists, or friends.

- Posture is about core strength and even extremely terrible Text Neck can be greatly improved with an abdominals-focused workout routine. There is no need to sit at your desk all day, fearfully touching your hump and Googling images from Disney's surprisingly sexual take on The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

- If you are considering living with, let alone loving, someone for the entirety of your adult life, you'd be insane not to enter therapy with them right away.

- Don't make fun of your friend for trying a new look. Give it a few wears, then see if you still think it's stupid and bad. And then: keep it to yourself! Change is hard and your friend took a risk and the lewks that make them happy are actually none of your business!

- This being said, if you are over the age of twenty-five and have not figured out what hat style works for you, the answer is probably "none."

- This is so embarrassing, but: if someone is being mean to you for what appears to be no reason, your mom is right and they are probably jealous. Isn't that nuts?!

- Doing the right thing takes practice and feels extremely boring at first. It eventually starts to feel better but once you're good at it you're not even allowed to be smug, which to be perfectly honest is a real burn.

- Unless it is your mother's birthday or your best friend's wedding, you do not have to go to the function.

- Moisturize your body heavily and don't look at the Instagram accounts of people you don't like. That's basically all you can do.

Monica Heisey is a writer and comedian from Toronto. Her book, I Can't Believe It's Not Better, is out now in Canada and the U.S.