The Power of Asking for Help

By Randy Ingermanson

A lot of people go through life afraid to ask for help when they have a question. They’re afraid they’ll look stupid. Nobody wants to look stupid. So they don’t ask.  But there’s a way to ask for help that won’t make anyone think you’re stupid.

Ask Google. (Or any search engine of your choice. For simplicity in this article, I’m just going to talk about Google, but you can use whichever search engine you like.)

Let’s look at a few examples of questions you can ask Google and the kinds of answers you can get.

How do you add more memory to a 2012 MacBook Pro? There’s a YouTube video that will show you how.

What’s the difference between an S corporation and an LLC? There are many articles on this. Here’s one.

How do you format a novel in Scrivener? The makers of Scrivener provide a list of books that answer that question and many more here.

How do you write a novel? Google’s first choice for answering that question is my own article on the Snowflake Method here.

How do you install a new plugin for your WordPress blog? WordPress has a page that discusses plugins, how to install them, and much more.

If you’ve got a “how-to” question, Google almost certainly can find you an answer. Probably a whole page full of answers.

If you think about it, that’s pretty amazing. No matter what your question, no matter how stupid you feel, there’s a machine you can ask that will give you answers and will never try to humiliate you.

Some caveats are in order.

Caveat 1: Not All Answers Are Created Equal 

Some answers are better than others. Some of them are right. Some are almost right. Some are dead wrong.

Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it automatically true. You have to decide whether you trust the authority of any page you read. Which means you need the critical skills to determine who is trustworthy and who isn’t. But you’ve probably spent a lifetime developing your critical skills already, so this is nothing new for you.

Caveat 2: You Might Not Understand the Answer

Some questions are hard. That means some answers are going to be complicated. If you don’t understand the answer, then try again with a question about the part you don’t understand. Google doesn’t get tired of answering your questions.

Caveat 3: Not All Answers Are Known

Of course there are plenty of questions that nobody knows how to answer. If you ask Google a hard question, you might get articles that claim to answer the question, but don’t. Or you might get articles that explain why the question is hard to answer. It can be useful to know that nobody knows the answer.

Caveat 4: Not All Questions Have Unique Answers

Which is prettier, red or blue?

How far is up?

But Some Questions Google Can Answer

Despite the caveats above, Google can answer an amazing number of questions that come up in your writing. Here are a few examples:

What does your setting look like?

If your setting is on planet earth, Google Maps can show you a map of how it looks today. It can show you satellite images. It can show you pictures taken from ground level. Even if you’re writing a historical novel, this may be enough. It’s a lot cheaper than flying there.

Who was that company who just called you with an offer that sounds too good to be true? Are they a scam?

Check their Caller ID and enter it into Google along with the word “scam”. If there’ve been any complaints, you’ll find what people have said about them.

Is there anybody on the planet with the same unusual name as your villain?

Maybe you think your villain’s name could never belong to anyone real. Maybe you’re wrong. If it matters, you can find out pretty quickly.

Is it plausible that your heroine could swim a mile in the open ocean in twenty minutes?

Look up the world record for a woman swimming a mile.

What’s the best way to disable a Ferrari and what tools would you need?

For extra credit: How long would it take? Could you hide the tools in your tuxedo? How quickly could the damage be repaired to make the car drivable?

If your hero breaks a leg in Chapter 1, how long will it be until he can run again?

Sure he’s tough, but he’s not immortal.

How far away can you plausibly kill your bad guy with a rifle if you’re a good shot?

For extra credit: What about with a 9-mm handgun? What about with a shotgun?

If you’re trapped in a cave without water, what’s your best option while you wait for rescue?

For extra credit: Is it true you should drink your own urine, or is that a horrible mistake? How long can you survive in the absolute best case without water?

Build a New Habit

For the next 24 hours, keep track of the number of times you have a question. Don’t walk away from the question, even if it’s trivial.

Ask the question. Ask Google and see what kind of answer you get.

Get in the habit of asking Google whenever you have a question. It’ll make you a better writer.

And you won’t feel dumb when you ask. You’ll feel smart when you learn the answer.


This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 13,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit
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