Advising the Truthteller

Director Carol Reed and star Orson Welles in the sewers under Vienna during the filming of The Third Man.

It used to be that the hero would have to climb a mountain to find the sage old man in a lotus position waiting for him, apparently immune to the cold and wind and not needing any sustenance like food and water. The hero would then ask a really – I mean REALLY – silly question that would inevitably be answered with a cryptic “Because it is there” line or some such. Or the hero scales the cliffside in order to visit the teenaged oracle who’s higher than a kite and the sexual plaything of a suspect religious order. The oracle then mutters some barely intelligible riddle that the hero takes back to the horny old goats of the order and they ‘interpret’ it to mean what they want it to mean. Usually this involved the hero taking a powder away from the village so that they can do what they want without any interference from the do-gooder hero.

Seeking advice is as old as people are. We go to those we trust in order to gain validation for what we want to do or are already doing. That we trust anyone enough to seek their advice is amazing in this day and age. At least to me it is. There’s so much free ‘advice’ laying around waiting to be picked up that it’s hard to understand why there aren’t more success stories.

Unless it’s because advice must be tailored to each person to interpret for himself.

That’s it.

I’ve been telling stories in one form or another most of my life. I’ve been in a band, made mini comics and written things down for several decades now. Everyone I’ve asked for advice has been generous and not just delivered platitudes of generality. It must be that I earnestly want to get better at my craft. That I want to be the best I can be as a writer. I’ve spent time talking with a lot of people about telling stories and though I’ve misunderstood what I was told – a LOT more often than I thought every time – all that advice sticks with me.

So the best things I’ve ever been told are:

“Stop drawing your stories.”


“Don’t give up.”

Both focused me on writing. Just writing. I’m more and more comfortable with where my skill level is right now than I ever have been before. I know I’m good enough, I just haven’t found my audience yet. I know that the stories can be better and I work at it. I’m not giving up.

However, I don’t draw my stories any more. That’s not a harsh thing, it was a reality. The person that told me that was RIGHT. And you know something? I knew he was right when he said it. I was telling stories in the only way I knew how, with words and pictures. It used to be words and music, but that fell through and I gave it up. Giving up drawing was just as easy.

No, I’m a writer and I have been all along. I was just playing at the other things.

My mentors have known that when I asked them and they knew I could take criticism. First rule of asking for advice is to not seek personal validation for what you want. The second rule is to have thick skin and be confident enough in that skin to withstand anything. Mentors don’t attack you when you ask them for advice. They coach you to be better.

Remember that if you ever ask my advice about anything.

Jason Arnett is a storyteller living in Kansas and writing in the plains of the fantastic. Some of his work can be found at

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