A Response to “13 Ways Writers are Mistaken for Serial Killers”

I’ve often heard it said about writers that if you haven’t earned a place on at least one government watch list as a result of your internet searches, you’re doing it wrong. Many – many – fellow writers have shared this particular sentiment, and I’m definitely inclined to agree with them. Some of my Google search terms during the writing of ‘Nowhere to Hide‘ would cast suspicion on even the most mild-mannered and innocent of folks. Among some of the tamer searches were “How long would it take someone to bleed out?” and, “How does the temperature of a body change starting immediately after death?” The tamer searches, mind you.

So, the point is, if you’re looking at us from the right direction, writers do have a tendency to look a bit like psychopaths.

Fellow writer, blogger, and social media guru, Kristen Lamb, wrote about this phenomenon a while back in a blog post titled, “13 Ways Writers are Mistaken for Serial Killers”. I got a good chuckle out of it, so I thought that today, for fun, I’d do a response post to these “13 Ways”. So let’s get started, shall we?

(Note: this is all in good fun. I’m not really a psychopath. Please don’t send police.)

#1. Serial Killers/Writers Need Alone Time
I’m only assuming (logically) that this would be true for serial killers, but I know for a fact that it’s true for writers. By the time I finish a 12-hour work day I just want to crawl into bed with my laptop or a notebook and even the sound of other human beings existing makes my whole body tense up. Being alone is how I recharge, and as skilled as I often am at multitasking, trying to write an important scene while someone is talking to me is a rage-inducing event that only other writers can commiserate with.

#2. Serial Killers/Writers Often Hold Down a “Normal” Job
Indeed, just as every psychopath must hold down a job in order to pay those pesky dry-cleaning bills, so too must writers find gainful employment in order to stay alive and keep writing. It’s an unfortunate truth, since both parties would clearly rather be doing something else, but the overwhelming majority of writers are not able to pay the bills with their writing alone, so most of us are sitting right next to you in the office, slogging away the days with the rest of the mindless drones.

#3. Serial Killers/Writers Can Look Just Like YOU
I know, it’s totally crazy to believe, but it’s true. That woman in the clothing store picking out the same blouse as you? She could be a writer. The guy down the road who happens to drive the same car as your significant other? He could be a writer. We’re in your jobs and in your schools; we permeate every corner of your neighborhood. We are virtually invisible.

#4. Serial Killers/Writers Understand Law Enforcement
How would the police react to a body left in the center of town with a flagpole sticking through it? You probably never considered it, but a writer could tell you because we have to know. We can’t have our fictional police running around like chickens with their heads cut off, so we have to know how the real police work, what they would do, where they would go. We have to be intimate with their workings. But not too intimate…we don’t want them coming over and stumbling across our Google search history.

#5. Serial Killers/Writers Use Terms Like T.O.D.
This entry actually confused me because I wasn’t initially sure what T.O.D. stands for. I’m fairly certain now that it’s Time of Death. Regardless, in Kristen’s entry she mentions that writers never see just a freezer, but rather a containment unit for possible bodies. I can confirm that. Even when I’m not working on a manuscript that involves death and destruction, I see it everywhere and log it in my head for possible future use. My brain is especially morbid because I work in industry, where I’m constantly seeing opportunities for accidents (or “accidents”) that my fictional characters may encounter.

#6. Serial Killers/Writers Hear Voices That Tell Them Who to Kill
At the risk of sounding like a complete lunatic (you probably already think I am at this point anyway), I’ve had many schizophrenic arguments with myself over whether or not to kill a character. The human (*ahem*non-psychopathic*ahem*) voice says, “No! I love this character! He must live until a ripe old age and die in bed surrounded by grandchildren!” Meanwhile, the writer (*cough*psychopath*cough*) voice demands plot-based torture and turmoil that can only be achieved through the horrible death of a key character. And oftentimes enough, the evil voice wins.

#7. Serial Killers/Writers Choose Victims Carefully
The underlying message here being that writers kill those who displease them by creating fiction versions of them to mutilate.

I feel like I should play ignorance on this one because I don’t want people skimming through ‘Nowhere to Hide‘, trying to work out which real-life people I’d feed to a pack of zombies given the opportunity.

So yeah, I totally have no idea what Kristen is talking about with this one. >.>

#8. Serial Killers/Writers Plan Their Kills Methodically
Well, of course! You can’t just kill any random old person at any random old time! What if you realize later that you needed that person to further the plot? No, no, these things have to be planned out very carefully…

#9. Serial Killers/Writers Have a Timeline for Their Kills
Oh for sure. You can’t just kill someone and then go on with your life like nothing has happened. There is a definite timeline that involves moments of reflection on the act, thinking about what we could have done differently, and considering the consequences for the future. You can’t rush the flow of emotions that are involved in the aftermath of a new kill.

#10. Serial Killers/Writers are Narcissists
Kristen punctuates this particular point by explaining that serial killers think that they’re God, but writers know it. We’re the God of our own little world, sometimes benevolent, sometimes cruel, but always ready, willing, and able to smite any character at any time. We are narcissists because we are all-powerful. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha!

#11. Serial Killers/Writers Take People Apart
I should think that this one would actually be a no-brainer. How can a writer become another person, tell another person’s story, without first tearing that person down into their most basic components? We need to know what makes that person tick, and the only way to do that is to get into that person’s mind, move the gears around, take control and see where it leads us. Actors would call it “immersion” or “getting into character”, but I like to think of it more as “character possession”.

#12. Serial Killers/Writers are Also Sadists
This is one that I couldn’t deny even if I really, really tried. My absolute favorite bits to write in any story are the same bits that make the reader cringe, quiver, or cry. I love writing the pain, the agony, the misery, the torture, the fear, the distress, the hopelessness. Call me a psycho if you wish, but there’s something about all those negative emotions that makes them a ton of fun to write.

Oh shoot, is that the asylum folks at the door? Pardon me just one moment while I pack up my laptop and crawl out this window…

#13. Serial Killers/Writers Struggle With Addiction/Compulsion
The obvious elephant-in-the-room with this one is that lots of writers struggle with drugs and alcohol. But a more common (and less depressing) example would be that tons of writers feel compelled to hoard “writing stuff”, even if they never seem to use any of it. I, for example, must have at least twenty completely blank notebooks because I want to use them, but I always end up just writing directly on my laptop because it’s so much quicker. But the compulsion remains…notebooks, pretty pens, organizers, colored markers… I’m like a goddamn zombie for stationary.


So there you go: thirteen ways in which writers are (apparently) like serial killers. If you didn’t fear us before I bet you do now, am I right? So tell me, which parts of this list creep you out the most? Do you know any writers whom you’re now going to keep a closer eye on? Have you actually thought about this before and come up with a comparison that Kristen didn’t? Please let me know, because your comments tame the voices in my head. Mwa ha ha ha…

Blogging 101, Day Six: Write to Your Dream Reader

The assignment for day six is all about writing to attract the kinds of readers you want to visit your blog. Michelle W. asks us to “publish a post for your dream reader, and include a new-to-you element in it”. By “new-to-you element”, she means to include an aspect into your post that you haven’t used before, whether that be adding a photo, embedding a video, incorporating a quote, or any number of possible little tricks that you can use to enhance your post. In her original day six post, Michelle gives links to information on how to do all these little extras, so check it out if you’re interested.

Myself, I think that the important part of this assignment is the “publish a post for your dream reader” part. It seems obvious, but is actually something that lots of bloggers mess up. Kristen Lamb often talks about how writers have a tendency to blog about writing – their writing process, what they’re currently working on, the issues they come across as a writer, and so on and so on. In small amounts, this isn’t a particularly bad thing, but when that’s all a writer blogs about it becomes a problem because the only people who are really interested in the writing process are other writers…and for the most part writers aren’t looking for other writers to visit their blog. Writers want readers to visit their blog, to become part of their audience and (hopefully) their fan base.

There are plenty of bloggers out there who blog primarily for their own pleasure, for cathartic reasons, or for other personal uses, but the overwhelming majority of us blog because we have things to say and we really, really want other people to hear those things. And the best way to attract the kind of readers you want is to write your posts specifically for those people. For instance, I’m a huge nerd, and it makes me happy when other huge nerds drop by the blog to chat, so often I’ll talk about nerdy things that I’m into, or use pictures or memes of nerdy stuff to illustrate an unrelated point – just to nerd it up a bit. I also love talking to fellow parents, so I’ll often write posts about my daughter, or parenting in general, usually with a cute or funny story involved, because I want the fun-loving parents, not the cranky buggers (j/k…cranky buggers welcome here as well ^_~).

It took me a while to catch on to this (retrospectively) obvious concept. For the first few months of my blog’s life all I wrote about was writing, and it wasn’t long before I started to burn out. I wondered how I could possibly keep up a blog if this was all I was ever going to talk about. I also wondered why it seemed like no one was reading my blog. In my first six months I think I totaled about ten regular followers, and two of those were my parents. But finally, after discovering Kristen Lamb’s blog and hearing her talk about this exact issue with “writers who blog”, I began to talk more about myself and less about my writing. I began talking about every day things that I thought people might find funny or relatable. I began to give advice to the kinds of people I thought might stumble across my blog. I wrote my thoughts and opinions on lots of different topics, and worded my posts carefully in hopes of attracting a certain caliber of people. When the “A to Z Challenge” came about I decided to write my posts about fictional characters because I thought it would be great to attract some more movie/TV/video-game/comic book-loving people to the blog. All in all, it has been a successful venture.

Instead of writing a new post for this assignment (since I’ve been doing exactly this for well over a year now), I thought that I’d link back to a couple of my most popular posts of all time. All of these were written with a certain group of people in mind, and since they were fairly successful posts, I think that really drives home the point of writing “for your dream reader”. Write for certain types of people, and they will come.

A Day at Kearl Lake is a post I wrote quite a while back, when I first began working out West. It is currently at the top of my “most viewed” pages because tons of people who are just starting a job out West stumble across it in search of information. I wrote the post just to let people back home know what a regular day out on a work camp is like, and I wound up attracting a lot of other random people who were curious about the same.

Aside from my “About Me” page, the next page on my list that has had the most views is Goodbye, Poppy…Love You Forever. I wrote this particular post for the dual purposes of expressing my feelings about my grandfather’s death, and helping to comfort all the family members and friends who were also affected by his passing. It certainly served it’s purpose. Writing the post was extremely cathartic, and so many of my friends and family members dropped by to read it that it has remained in the top five “most viewed” pages for over a year.

I’m Not a Therapist…but I Play One On the Internet was a follow-up to the Kearl Lake post. Several of the people who stumbled across the original Kearl Lake post were women who contacted me because they were concerned about the possibility of their husband/boyfriend cheating on them while on the work camp. After trying to be both honest and comforting to several different women, I decided to write this particular post, whose main point is “you have to have trust to have a happy, healthy relationship”. While I only ever got two people who contacted me as a result of this particular post, it is very near the top of my “most viewed” list, so people are still taking a look at it to this day, and I genuinely hope that it’s helped a few people.

And because I wanted to include something a little more fun in this list, I skipped a couple of posts in the “most viewed” list and picked on that, none-the-less has been pretty well viewed: Tickle Trunk for a New Generation is a step-by-step post about how I “built” a dress-up trunk for my daughter, based on the design of Mr Dress-Up’s Tickle Trunk. Hello, crafty people who stopped by because of this post! Yes, you’re welcome here too!

So, again, the moral is to write for the kind of people you want to visit your blog. And if you’re like me, and you want everyone to visit your blog, just write a little bit about every possible thing. ^_~

Blogging 101, Day Four: Say “Hi!” to the Neighbors

Day Four’s assignment is honestly not one that I expected to see, but I’m glad that I did because looking back it would have been a good lesson when I first started this blog. The assignment is to follow five new topics and five new blogs in the Reader. If you’re really new to this and don’t know what the reader is, it’s that page that pops up when you first go to WordPress – or the one labeled “Reader” if you’re using an app – that shows a bunch of other people’s posts. You can choose a bunch of viewing options on the Reader, but the default shows the blogs and topics that you have chosen to follow.

The reason The Daily Post asks you to do some following? Well for one thing, community is a huge aspect of blogging. When you first start blogging you’re not going to have a big audience right away because no one knows who you are or how to find you. Your first followers will likely be other bloggers, and the way that most of them will find you is by returning the favor when you find them. Search for people who share the same interests as you, write about the same kinds of things you write about, or people who just make you think or laugh. The bigger you build your community, the more likely people will find their way to you.

I didn’t catch on to this gem right away when I first started blogging. I clicked on a few other blogs, for sure, but I rarely read them, and even more rarely interacted with them. It was probably a year or so after I started the blog that I began to realize, “Hey…why should I expect people to interact with me if I’m not willing to take some time to interact with them?” So I started to spend more time reading, liking, and commenting on the stuff that caught my eye. I built up a respectable list of blogs that I follow, and many of those bloggers have become internet friends and great sources of ideas for the blog. If it weren’t for the people I’ve interacted with, I never would have come across this blogging “course”, for instance, nor the A to Z Challenge, nor a number of other blog hops, awards, challenges, and various ideas.

Since I’m already following a ton of stuff, for the purposes of today’s assignment I’m going to share a few blogs and tags that I’ve found very useful. Check them out, and find some more of your own!

The Daily Post deserves a mention, of course, for being the benefactors of this particular challenge. Their blog has tons of helpful stuff for bloggers, including daily prompts in which they link back to your blog if you participate, and a “community pool” post on Sundays, in which you can share whatever you like and ask for comments, feedback, etc.

Kristen Lamb’s Blog is a must to follow if you’re a writer. She’s the guru on all things author platform-related, and also posts advice on the writing process itself. Occasionally she also has guest posters who have been known to share a wealth of useful information.

Perfection Pending isn’t a useful site in the traditional sense, but I love it to pieces because Meredith makes me feel a little less insane. She’s a mother of three who often writes about her children and her life in a funny, relatable way that makes me – as a mom and a writer – feel a little less alone in the world.

As for tags, it really depends on what you’re looking for, who you want to connect with, but I’ve found lots worth seeing by searching the tags “challenges”, “writers”, “mothers”, and “authors”. Just think about who you want to connect with, and hope that those people did a good job tagging their posts. 🙂


Blogging 101, Day Two: Say Your Name

The assignment for Day Two of our little blogging adventure is to edit your title and tagline. The reasons? Well for one thing, these are for the most part the first things your visitors will see, and you want to make a good impression. For another these two little pieces of information can define your blog and help explain to the people who wander by why they might want to stop and have a visit.

Now one thing that The Daily Post points out is that your blog’s title does not have to be the same as the url you chose for it when you set it up, and that’s very true. For instance, when I set up my blog I chose the url “nopageleftblank” and also used that as the title of the blog, but at any time I could decide to change my title to anything else I want. It’s nice if the url and the title match up, but not necessary at all.

Something else I will mention on this topic, however, is something else that I picked up from Kristen Lamb’s Rise of the Machines: Authors in a Digital World. That is, before even signing up for a blog in the first place, one should consider why they are starting a blog. When I started mine I was a bit hyper and immediately started trying to come up with clever names, but in retrospect I should have considered that this blog is going to be an important part of my author brand. To those ends, it would be nice if my url was something that is easier to find based on what little information people may have about me, i.e. my name. Don’t get me wrong, even if I could go back I would still name my blog, “No Page Left Blank” because I believe it defines my goals, but if I had considered the implications a little further I may have chosen my url to be traceylynntobin.wordpress.com so that it would be that much easier to locate via search engine. Get what I’m saying?

Anyway, back to the assignment. Now, I’m not actually going to change my title and tagline because I’ve already established those and they’re exactly as I want them to be, but if you’re just starting up, here’s how I chose mine. “No Page Left Blank” is my title, chosen because I wanted to immediately give the impression of an artist to people who wandered by. My goal is to become a published fiction author, and to those ends I try to write as much as I can, whether it be toward the actual fiction, or on this blog, or whatever other options present themselves. Thus, I attempt to leave “no page left blank”. Get it? It may not be the most clever thing in the world, but it’s a little catchy, a little memorable, and my impression is that people are easily able to remember it and associate it with me.

As for the tagline, this is a place for you to be a little more creative if you so desire. A title isn’t likely to be very long – in fact, a lot of people simply stick with their own name – but the tagline gives you the chance to actually describe your blog a little. Myself, I just chose to say “Tracey Lynn Tobin’s Blog” because the end game is that people who read my books will then come looking for my blog. It suits it’s purpose, you see? But get creative! And if you have no idea how to actually go about changing these little bits of information, The Daily Post explains how in the Day Two post. Check it out!

Blogging 101, Day One: Introduce Yourself


Day One’s assignment is to forget about what your blog looks like or even if it has a proper name yet, and to write a “Who I am and why I’m here” post. It may seem a little bit obvious to introduce yourself when starting up your blog, but lots of people don’t do it right off the get-go, and plenty never do it. I’ve checked out tons of blogs that left me wondering, “Who the hell is this person and why should I care about what he/she has to say?”

The fact is, as The Daily Post explains, that writing that introduction post has the joint benefits of letting your prospective audience know what to expect from you, as well as helping you yourself decide what this whole blog thing is going to be all about. You can write exclusively about yourself (pro tip: people care about you more if they feel like they know you), or explain your goals and reason for starting the blog, or even just write about how you honestly have no idea what you’re doing yet. The point is to get words down, to have something available for your prospective readers to look at and (hopefully) think, “Hmm. This person sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll follow.”

When I first started this blog I wrote just such a post, one that – while it didn’t give up much information – gave an idea of who I might be as a blogger. It was a small example of my voice, of what people might have to look forward to if they chose to follow me. In retrospect I may have been a little more forthcoming with the personal information, as this blog has now become a key component in my author platform, but we all have to start somewhere.

So for argument sake, and to be able to say that I did, in fact, do the “assignment”, here’s my new “Who I am and why I’m here” post:

My name is Tracey Lynn Tobin. I’m a 30-year-old wife and mother of one spectacularly cool little girl. I’m trained and regularly work as an Industrial Instrumentation technician, but at the core I am, and always will be, a writer. I’ve been writing fiction since the third grade, and while I’ve had numerous breaks from writing as I’ve grown, I’ve always come back to it. In recent years I have focused a lot more on my writing, on refining my style, on finishing what I start, and on building an audience. I’ve not been published as yet, but I plan to be in the near future, with my first novel being a zombie apocalypse that I’ve been working on for a few years now, called Nowhere to Hide. This blog serves the dual purposes of helping me to build that audience I spoke of, while also being a way to keep myself writing even when writing seems impossible.

Oh, and by the way, I love horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, and I’m happy to talk at length about my many obsessions, which include the Marvel Universe, the Whedonverse, and Super-Who-Lock (Google it ^_~).

There…how’s that for an introduction? 🙂

The second part of the assignment is to ensure that you give your post some good tags, the kind that a search engine will snag and lead readers to your post. For example, for the purpose of this post I’ll make sure that I tag “Marvel Universe”, “Whedonverse”, and “Super-Who-Lock”, because those three things are certain to be regularly searched on the multitude of search engines. The fact that I’ve included them in my post won’t necessarily bring anyone here, but put it this way: if you don’t put the tags in there, search engines have no way to identify your post, and no reason to bring it up in any search results.

Two extra things that I’ll mention that aren’t actually part of the Blogging 101 assignment:

When considering the tags that you’re going to use for your post, remember to identify yourself in some way. As Kristen Lamb explains in Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World, there is going to come a time when people are going to be searching for you by name, and whether that name is your real one or a pseudonym, it makes it a hell of a lot easier for people to track it down if it is attached to your blog as often as possible. Step back and imagine what you would type into Google if you were searching for a particular person. For example, since picking up the tip from Kristen, I’ve started tagging each and every one of my posts with the two tags: “Tracey Lynn Tobin blogger” and “Tracey Lynn Tobin writer”. That one little change alone has made it so that now if you go to Google and search for my name, every result on the first page is actually me.

And the last thing that I’ll point out is that the “introduction” post you’ve just created makes an excellent “About Me” page for your blog. As previously mentioned, people are more apt to care about what you have to say if they feel like they know you a little bit, so making sure that you share that information in a way that is easily accessible can be a very important step to creating a successful blog.

That’s it for Day One! Catch you all tomorrow!

A Monday Miscellany

I thought that I’d take the opportunity of a Monday morning to mention a few random things that bear mentioning. Monday mornings are excellent for that sort of thing, I think.

First and foremost are the changes I’ve made to my blog. If you’re reading this post via my blog itself, rather than a WordPress reader of some kind, then you’ll see that I’ve changed the appearance. I think this theme looks a little neater, a little cleaner, and mostly just a little different. I found that my old theme was starting to stagnate at the back of my brain. In addition to the theme change I’ve changed the header image. The old image was a stock photo I found and wrote my blog’s name over top of. The new image is actually a photo of a couple of my notebooks laying on top of each other. I think it gives a more personal feel to the blog, knowing that those are my actual words in my actual handwriting. Plus, since the rest of the blog theme is pretty much just black and white, the little splash of different pen colors brightens the whole thing up a bit, am I right?


I also changed the little profile image on my blog from the little cartoon character I had to an actual photo of myself. This change comes from a bit of advice in Kristen Lamb’s Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World. Basically what it boils down to is that a good picture is an important part of an author platform, and it makes something like a blog a lot more “real” because of the ability to see the face of the person “talking”. All in all, I think that it looks professional, even if it’s not the best picture in the world. One of these days I’ll take the time to get a good “author picture” taken, but for now this is what you get. 🙂

Finally, as far as the blog goes, I’ve added a “Linkables” page (yes, I know, linkables is not a word, but sue me for trying to be a bit whimsical) where I’ve listed a few of my favorite sites and blogs. Have a look! You might find something interesting.

In other news, I’ve been making a valiant effort to make contact with Square Enix recently, with the intent of discussing my novelization of one of their most beloved games, Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan). I’m neither confident nor foolish enough to hope that they might want to publish what will eventually be two rather involved books (though that would be truly amazing). My hope is that I can obtain legal permission from the gaming company to publish my work as two free e-books, that way I wouldn’t be infringing on their copyright, but I would be able to gain some publicity and share my books with lots of video game lovers who aren’t necessary fan fiction readers. At least, that’s the plan. Unfortunately I’ve had no luck contacting the company so far. They don’t seem to closely monitor their several Twitter accounts, and though their website has a very detailed page that explains the process for submitting unsolicited material, I’ve now been waiting a week just to hear back about the release form I’m supposed to be sent before being allowed to submit my request. I understand that these things can take time when dealing with huge companies, but I really did believe that the form would be fairly quick to come, even if the request itself took months to be replied to. Have I mentioned before that I’m not one for all this waiting nonsense?

Lastly, just because I can, I want to congratulate all the amazing Canadian athletes who have bagged medals at the Sochi Olympics so far, and I wish the best of luck to all those who have yet to compete. You’re an amazing group of people and I wish I had one hundredth of your ability and determination. Kudos!

Traveling on The Artist’s Way

Despite the fact that I haven’t yet finished reading Kristen Lamb‘s Rise of the Machines, yesterday I decided to start reading The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. I’m a glutton for punishment, and somehow don’t feel like I’m torturing myself enough if I’m not trying to do eighty things at once. Viva la insanity.

Me, almost all of the time.Shown above: Me, almost all of the time.

So the book is meant to be a 12-week program, with each week focusing on a different aspect of creativity (and the resurrection thereof). There are exercises and the like for each week as well, with the intention that you pick and complete about half of those suggested. I haven’t gotten to this part yet because, as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are a number of small sections that occur before the program begins, and I wanted to give some attention to those first.

There are two different introductions in the book, one of which explains how the author came upon the idea of helping artist’s rediscover their creativity. In this intro she talks a lot about a “Great Creator”, which may or may not be God. This put me off a bit at first, but she is actually quite open and tolerant, and speaks about how it doesn’t matter whether you really believe in God or the “Great Creator”, just as long as you can believe in the idea of creativity being something that you can give yourself to. Because of the way she speaks, you can tell that she believes in a higher power guiding creativity, but she also makes it perfectly clear that she doesn’t expect everyone who uses her program to believe in the same thing. It’s a refreshing notion because I’ve heard it said before that atheists can’t be creative because they aren’t spiritual. It’s nice to know that someone as prestigious as Julia Cameron isn’t a bigot. I’m just sayin’.

Then the book moves on to talk about some “basic principles and tools”. Specifically, the author talks about two tools that she is absolutely adamant that we use on a regular basis, throughout the program and forever on afterward.

The first tool is called “morning pages”. I’ve seen these discussed on other blogs and websites, but this is the first time I read about them from the person who created them. Put simply, “morning pages” are three pages written each day (preferably first thing in the morning). It doesn’t matter what you write about, and actually it’s better if what you write about isn’t “real” writing. Rather than focus on prose, for example, morning pages should focus on whatever is in your brain that needs to get out. For all intents and purposes, it’s a diary with a minimum page requirement. The idea is to get all the nonsense out of your brain (even if that nonsense is nothing but negative thoughts and whining) so that it’s out and gone and it can’t bother you while you’re working on your real writing (or drawing, or acting, or whatever your art may be).

I’ve actually been doing morning pages for a while now, though not on a daily basis, which Julia Cameron insists upon, so I’ll apparently have to work on that. I’ve also not been doing the pages freehand, which Cameron suggests. I’ve been instead using 750Words.com, which was actually created for this exact purpose. The webmaster of this site also read The Artist’s Way, and after determining that three pages of his long-hand worked out to approximately 750 words, he created the site. Though I occasionally do enjoy writing longhand, I prefer to utilize 750Words.com because of the speed factor. It takes me a heck of a lot longer to do three pages in longhand than to type it out on my laptop, and time is something I’m all in favor of saving. With that said, I’ve signed up for the August Challenge on 750Words – the challenge is to do your 750 words every day for the month, so hopefully that will be motivation to make sure I do my “morning pages”.

The other important tool that Cameron insists upon may be a little bit more difficult to work in. It’s called “Artist Dates”, and simply, they’re dates with yourself. That’s the long and short, really. You have to take an hour or two, once or twice a week, and go on a date with yourself. Go for a walk, go to the beach, go bowling…just go do something fun and/or relaxing, with the caveat being that you have to do it by yourself. No spouses, no kids, no family or friends of any kind. In the book Cameron talks about how you will resist doing these dates, how you will find every excuse in the book not to do them. She’s definitely right. If even half of her readers are the tiniest bit like me, there are a lot of artist’s out there saying, “Are you kidding? I can hardly find the time to bathe by myself, never mind taking myself on solo dates every week.”


And yet Cameron insists that these dates are important, if for nothing other than keeping yourself sane. I can see her point; how can one be creative if one can’t even find an hour a week to do something fun by oneself? That’s not saying that I’ll do them, but I’ll make an effort, if Cameron thinks they’re that important.

So it’s with those two “tools” in my mind that I move through the rest of this week. Starting this coming Sunday I’ll read the “Week 1” chapter and start working on the exercises. If those exercises happen to involve writing of any sort, I’ll share them on this blog. Here’s hoping that the book will help me as much as it’s supposedly helped many other artists!

Have you read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? How did you find it? Did it help you “rediscover your creativity”? Do you have any suggestions for someone just starting the program? Please share!

In the Summer of (a Writer’s) Life

I’ve been talking a lot lately about Kristen Lamb‘s Rise of the Machines. And I’m not likely to stop anytime soon because every time I get a minute to read a bit more I end up finding something I want to talk about. It’s just that good. 😀

Today I read a short chapter that invites us to establish which type of writer we are…Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter. Spring writers are the young ones with tons of time, almost no responsibilities, but not a lot of experience. Fall writers are older so they have lots of experience, and they have few responsibilities because their bills are probably paid off and their children are probably grown up. Winter writers are of advanced age, meaning they don’t have a lot of time left to make their writing dreams come true, but the time they do have can be 100% devoted to writing, and they have tons of experience.

I fall firmly into the category of Summer writer. In fact, I fall so firmly in this category that I found myself nodding enthusiastically as I was reading Kristen’s description. Summer writers are still fairly young, but they’re old enough to have gained a bit of worldly experience. At first it seems like an ideal time to be writing, but there are other problems. The biggest problem facing Summer writers is that they are in the most responsibility-laden era of their lives. Summer writers have day-jobs, children, mortgages, car payments, student loan payments, chores and errands that need doing. Summer writers can’t always find time to write because they have to dedicate many of their waking hours dealing with day-to-day career and family issues. Summer writers may be fatigued because they’re run off their asses by household requirements and children keeping them up at all hours of the night.

Summer writers, to put it succinctly, are bogged down with copious amounts of stress. They’re young, and they have experience, but they have no time.

Currently I am experiencing a slight reprieve, as my job out West recently finished and we’ve paid off enough debts that we don’t have to worry about money for a little while. Regardless, a lack of time is still my biggest complaint. On a daily basis, as the sun wanes in the West, I chastise myself for not writing more, and promise to do better the next day. But the next day I find a million other things to do, or the baby has a bad day, or I didn’t get any sleep that night so I’m completely knackered. And so when I do get a few moments when I could be writing, I instead find myself reading or playing video games or watching movies in bed (and trying not to drift off while doing so).

I’m not trying to give myself a pass or anything; I don’t get to just blame all my troubles on the fact that I’m at a particular period of life and I don’t get to whine that I can’t write because everything else is in the way. But I can say that there are challenges, and that I’m definitely not alone in having to deal with them.

No matter the season, all writers have struggles that they must work through, and as a Summer writer, I invite all other “Summers” to struggle with me. We have families and jobs and responsibilities, but we also have writing, and we have each other. We can do it, come hell or high water!

What season are you? What struggles do you fight with because of the time of life you happen to be in? Please share! I’d love to hear from you!

A Blogger by Any Other Name

There is no doubt that social media is a powerful tool. Complain all you like about the kind of people who upload their every passing thought to Facebook, or those who insist on documenting every bite they eat to Instagram, but when you break past the nonsense social media is an amazing way of connecting to people from all over the world, which is a huge deal for an entrepreneur (writer).

But it doesn’t help the entrepreneur in the slightest if their only followers are family members and people they already knew from school or work. The entrepreneur needs to spread their social network, create a spiderweb of connections and interconnections.

Image via thecricketcontrast.com

In Kristen Lamb‘s Rise of the Machines she talks about the three different types of social media friends you want to know – the three different types of people who will help your platform grow.

The Connector brings more people into the fold. The Connector seems to know everyone, and through them the entrepreneur meets many new people as well.

The Maven is a treasure trove of useful information. They always seem to know where you should go or what you should do. They help the entrepreneur become a better entrepreneur.

The Salesman is the person that everyone listens to. If the Salesmen hypes up the entrepreneur’s work (book), you can be damn sure that people will buy it.

As I was reading about these three types of people, I began thinking about whether I knew any of them yet. It took a bit of thinking but I realized that, yes, I do know a few of each, though I’m not sure I know any Salesmen that know me well enough to do what they do best for me.

Then I got to thinking…do I fall into any of these categories?

I’m definitely not a Connector. At this juncture in my life I can definitely say that I know a lot of people, but that’s not exactly the same thing. I have a large family, so I know them, and some of their friends by extension. I know the people I went through school with, though I barely connect with them anymore. I met a ton of people out West while I was working there, and I even have a ton of them added to Facebook and LinkedIN, but again, I connect with very few of them. The fact is that I am actually quite shy, even after all I’ve done and at the ripe old age of 29. I’m not a Connector because I don’t like to connect. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of most of the people I’ve come to meet over the years, but I’m also the kind of person who sits in a corner at a party until she’s drunk enough to force herself to speak to someone.

I really wouldn’t call myself a Maven either. I do retain information from time to time and have been known to help people out with some well-timed advice, but this is not the norm. I neither retain every bit of information I come across, nor do I make it my mission to share this information with others. In fact, if I come across a good piece of info that I think will help me in the future, I have to record it some manner (blog, notes on my iPhone, etc) or else I will totally forget about it. No, I’m definitely not a Maven.

Salesman? No, this one is even worse than the first two. I can’t be a Salesman. For one thing, even though I blog and Tweet and update my status on Facebook, I am actually still quite shy and have trouble with this concept of trying to convince others to buy something (this is going to become a huge issue later on when I do get a book published and need to market it). For another thing, I’m not the kind of person of whom people automatically trust the opinion. I like such a wide variety of things, that it makes people wary. Someone might not take my suggestion to watch a particular horror movie, for example, because I also recommended this god-awful b-horror-movie that I happened to love. You see what I’m getting at here?

So if I’m not a Connector, not a Maven, and not a Salesman…what am I? Am I just some weirdo hanging out on all the social media outlets, not contributing anything at all to the spiderweb?

No. I contribute, just not in the ways discussed.

I’m a writer. I write about life as a writer, life as a mother, life as a wife. I write zombie horrors and supernatural romances, fantasies and fan-fictions. I write novels and short-stories. I write blog posts.

And because I am a writer I also read. I read blogs, Twitter updates, and Facebook statuses. I read fiction novels and craft books and bits of writing that fellow writers share on the internet.

Through this identity of writer-and-reader I contribute a little bit in every way. I may not be a Connector, but I will occasionally send a writer friend along to a writing group or introduce a blogger to another blog I think they’ll like. I may not be a Maven but I’ll sometimes critique a writer’s work by using the tips and tricks I managed to glean from the last craft book I read. I may not be a Salesman, but I will absolutely promote what I feel requires promoting, especially if it’s something I absolutely loved myself.

So I guess you could say that I’m a protege. I have tiny bits of all three types of people in me, fighting to be something helpful, and that’s okay. We can’t all be precisely labeled by the exact function we serve in society, but we can still contribute in a real and meaningful way.

Hi, my name is Tracey. I’m a Social Media Writer-Reader.

Keep Yourself Out of Internet Mud…or You Might Never Get Clean Again

As previously mentioned, I’ve been taking a bit of time to read some “craft books” on writing, and the first one I’ve been looking at is Kristen Lamb’s Rise of the Machines. The focus of her book is social media and how writers can use it to create a working “author platform”, but she also touches on other subjects such as traditional vs. indie publishing, marketing, and occasionally a little bit of (related) neuroscience. Yeah, you heard me.

One of the side-topics that has come up in what I’ve read so far (enjoying it so much!) is this idea of ruining your platform without even realizing it. In other words, turning your name to mud by accident. In a world where everything can be re-Tweeted half a million times before you blink, it’s easy for one stupid mistake to go viral and effectively ruin your good name for, well, for good. This doesn’t only apply to writers (or the celebrities we so often see spiraling the metaphorical toilet bowl); it applies to everyone. That’s why I wanted to talk about it today, because this is the kind of thing that everyone should know, but which most people never think about.

I’ve spoken before about how anonymity does not truly exist on the internet and how we should watch what we do and say because it can come back to bite us in the ass. In that previous post I was focused on what I called “The Golden Internet Rule”, which is simply “don’t be a jerk on the internet”. This time I’m not talking specifically about being a jerk, but simply about understanding that whatever you choose to talk about on the internet has now become searchable, findable, and quite possibly eternal.

Don’t want to be wearing this for the rest of your days, do you?

I’ll give a personal example, because what better way to show people what you mean than by sharing your own morbid embarrassment?

When I was in university, studying to be a technologist, I had ups and downs. I had chosen my path partially on a whim because of a stressful situation (the course I had originally chosen was cancelled two months before the start of the semester, so I had to pick something else quick or simply not go to school). The result was that I often wondered if I’d chosen the right thing, whether or not I should drop out and choose something else, and was I really suited for this kind of career? I kept pressing forward because change is scary, and eventually I found myself in the fourth and final year of program, having an all-out panic attack. It began to occur to me that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I graduated. I didn’t know what kind of jobs I was even qualified for, how I would go about applying for them, where the work would end up taking me, or whether I would even be any good in the field. Sure I’d made pretty great grades in school, but the real world is a lot different from the class world. I didn’t know what kind of work I would be doing, but I was pretty confident it would not be writing short lines of computer code to set tiny LED lights to flash on and off at timed intervals.

One night when I was particularly stressed, I went online to a forum that I frequented in those days. I wrote a long post about my concerns, my worries, my stress level. I ranted about things like “wasting time and money on a degree I don’t even understand” and how I would disappoint my parents if I suddenly up and decided to do something different, and how I was terrified of the idea that I might have to move away from home for a job and “why oh why didn’t I choose a career path with a clearer future?!”

It was a rant born of stress, passion, and an overwhelming desire for someone to wrap their virtual arms around me and say that it was going to be okay. I did get that virtual hug from my virtual companions, but I also made a teeny tiny mistake. Within the confines of that rant, I used my full, real name. It wasn’t a concern because most of the folks on this forum knew my real name anyway, but in this particular post I wrote one line that described what my diploma would look like when I graduated, with my full name in the center of it. I added that bit in to make a point concerning my rant, but I didn’t consider what adding my full name in actually did to that post.

Haven’t figured it out yet?

It made me instantaneously  and easily locatable on Google.

For the most part this was a non-issue. I was a nobody that no one cared about. Who would even go looking up my name on Google, and if they did find my post, why would they care? At least that’s what I thought until someone did happen to Google my name and did click on the link that led them to my post. It was my uncle. I can’t recall the reason that he searched my name in the first place, but when he did he happened upon my post, read it, and subsequently wrote me a very long, very concerned email.

I was mortified.

My uncle was just trying to be helpful and calm my concerns, and he was very sweet. That’s not the mortifying part. The mortifying part was that he read my post in the first place. When I wrote that post it was with the intentions that only my internet friends ever see it. I just wanted a little bit of anonymous support from people who I never had to deal with face-to-face. For good or ill, I’ve never been the kind of person who can share their pains and emotions with their closest loved ones, so when one of those close loved ones found my whining, complaining, melodramatic post I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. And while in this case I had the opportunity to go back and change what I’d written (posts on this forum were editable), in another place I may have been stuck with what I’d written forever.

This is what we’re dealing with when we put ourselves out there on the internet, and my example is absolutely nothing compared to what some people have put themselves through. Every one of you reading this right now has seen at least one photo of someone who uploaded their pic on a social network site only to realize later that there was something excruciatingly embarrassing about it. One particular photo that comes to mind is of a teenage girl who took a “selfie” of herself and uploaded it to Facebook before noticing that her vibrator was sitting in plain view in the corner of the pic. As if that’s not mortifying enough, before she noticed it dozens of people had copied it and posted it elsewhere. The picture went viral. Because this girl failed to take a few seconds to actually look at the photo before posting it, she is now an internet meme that will never die.

Whatever you say, whatever you post, whatever you do, it only takes one opportunist to back-up your mistake on his computer before you can backtrack. In this way the internet is forever. Ask anyone who has ever found themselves depicted as a cruel jape on sites like 9gag. It doesn’t matter how much you beg or cry or scream, you can’t erase something from the internet once people have decided to use it at your expense. Even if it is an extreme example and you have grounds for legal action, it only takes one person to store the quote/pic/post away to whip out again at a later date. And the bigger a deal you make out of trying to abolish a bad rep, the bigger a deal people will make out of making sure that it never dies.

This is why we have to be careful, not only when dealing with touchy issues like religion and politics, or when letting our tempers get the best of us online. We also have to be careful with everything we say or do on the internet. Before you say or post or upload, step back and think. Think about how you would feel if your parents (or your children) happened across your post. Think about the repercussions if your employer saw that pic. Think about the veritable shit storm you might inadvertently stir up with your status update.

Basically, just THINK. It’s something we don’t do enough of these days, and with the Internet playing the part of devil’s advocate, one stupid mistake can mean that you name is mud for a very, very long time.

Have you ever said or did something on the internet that came back on you in an embarrassing or painful way? Do you know anyone else who has had to deal with this kind of unintentional reputation ruining? Thoughts and comments?