It’s Time To Free Your Thoughts

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The social media web is a terrifying place to spend time in.

There are thousands, if not millions, of people sitting in front of their laptops and tablets right now, waiting for anyone to write anything mildly offensive so that they can get that high that comes with being the first to exhibit the faux outrage that seems to be taking over our social feeds.

It’s almost like it’s a game.

Ladies and Gents! Step right up and be the first person to find something that might offend one person and blow it out of proportion! 

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It’s not hard to understand why you are hesitant to share your original thoughts on the Internet. Reputations have been ruined for far less.

There’s a book called “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson that is full of stories of people who have been publicly shamed by “faceless commenters” where the “punishments often outweigh the crimes.”

Jobs have been lost. Accounts have been taken away.

And all because somebody wrote or tweeted or Facebook’d something that was downright awful.

I imagine that what you want to say doesn’t come close to offending anyone, so now is the time to think about letting those words in your head out into the open.

But there is that whole business of letting go.

It’s easy to put the words down on the screen. It’s the whole ‘clicking the button marked ‘publish” that’s the hard part.

Until now, those thoughts have existed only in your head. They are yours, and yours alone.

But here’s the thing: Once you release them into the wild, they become a part of the dialogue that is shaping humankind. And, really, who are you to say that what you’re afraid to share is stupid or not insightful?

It’s probably the opposite, so it doesn’t do us any good if you keep them to yourself.

We live in an unprecedented time of communicating where anyone can gain a following for the words and ideas they share.

Anyone.

Like I’ve written about before, there is someone out there who wholeheartedly agrees with what you want to say, they just don’t know it yet. But when they read what you put out into the world, they’re going to get that real buzz that comes with finding a kindred spirit in this world of a million hot takes.

So what are you waiting for? Give it a shot.

Let them go.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Twitter Becomes A Murky Place When Tragedy Strikes

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*Disclaimer: The tragedy that struck Paris recently was a horrible, horrible thing. In no way am I trying to minimize it by writing about how it relates to Twitter, but I think it’s a topic that needs to be discussed since Twitter is such an integral method of communication.

For a lot of people, they could only watch the horror in Paris unfold late Friday night from afar, so they scrambled to Twitter to stay current in real-time via updates from their followers and various news outlets.

For better or worse, Twitter is where news breaks the fastest, but it’s often not accurate news that breaks. At least, not right away.

In our rush to make some sense of what is happening, we’re quick to re-tweet the first thing that we see, even if we haven’t taken the time to vet the information. As long as it represents what we want to say, we will share it.

One example is this picture of Parisians taking to the street after the attacks to show that they are not going to be afraid:

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No doubt, this is a great example of people coming together in the face of terror, but this picture was not taken on the night of the attacks. According to a post onBuzzfeed, it was taken in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack in January.

The natural response, I think, is that this type of misinformation is harmless. It serves its purpose, which is to show that the people of Paris are brave and will not stand for senseless violence.

But it also shows how quick we are to share something that suits our needs, even if we’re not sure of the accuracy. This time it’s harmless, but when does it become more than that?

From the same article in Buzzfeed, someone re-circulated a tweet from Donald Trump that was intended to mislead us into thinking he tweeted this immediately after the attacks.

Here it is:

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This tweet, like the image above, was in response to January’s attacks, not November’s. This example, though, has the potential to be more damaging. If you’re on the fence about who to vote for in 2016, for instance, something like this, that is shared inaccurately, might (unfairly) sway your decision because someone else saw that it fit their need to extend a narrative.

Whether you like Trump or not, he didn’t write this in response to this Paris attacks, so it shouldn’t sway your opinion. (Here’s what he actually wrote.) But it’s going to because nobody has time to proof their endorsements (and that is what a re-tweet is: an endorsement) when the news tweets are flying fast and furious.

After all, it’s so easy to click “re-tweet” and move on.

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We often criticize news outlets for not moving fast enough to share information when tragedy strikes, but journalists have a duty to double- and triple-check their information before they share it, all while the public is breathing down their necks.

You and I have the luxury of not being held to those standards when we re-tweet something on Twitter, but maybe we should?

At the very least, we should think like a journalist. Anything we share via our Twitter accounts influences someone. We might not think our actions can be harmful, but they are, especially when compounded with the actions of others.

If you think about yourself as influential, then maybe you’ll take the time to make sure that the information you are sharing is accurate. But since most of us view Twitter as something not to be taken very seriously (except when it should be) our actions there don’t carry weight.

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I think it’s important to examine how Twitter plays a role during tragedy because it’s not going away.

For as much eye-rolling as we do when the local news runs a story with a Twitter component, that’s just the world we live in now, and no amount of eye-rolling is going to change that. It’s where we go to express our opinions, share interesting content, and interact with our community.

If anything, Twitter is going to become even more ingrained in our day-to-day as more and more users flock to the service. As of September 30, that number stands at a staggering 320 million.

The problem, then, is that, the more people using Twitter, the greater the chance there is for misinformation to spread. And with that comes the inevitable articles that tell us what Twitter got wrong in the rush to make sense of it all, like we saw with the Boston bombing and Paris attacks.

I’m not sure there is anything that can be done to fix this problem, except that we need to be more vigilant when it comes to making sure that what we share is accurate.

But when events are breaking in real time, who has the time for that?

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

You Are Allowed To Be Angry

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I’ve seen a lot of posts lately on various social media channels that say, because we all have food, water and shelter, any outburst of anger is petty in comparison to what those who are less fortunate have to go through every day.

“You’re angry? Try not knowing where your next meal is coming from, bro.”

I totally get it – we are extremely lucky to live and work where we do.

But that doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to show basic human emotion.

There have been times when I’ve gotten so mad at something that happened at work, that I had to stand up and walk away from my desk in order to cool off. I surprised even myself by how vehemently I reacted, but the anger was coming. It would’ve been the wrong decision to sit and stew.

In those moments, the idea of not letting myself get angry wasn’t even an option, even though I found myself in a professional environment.

Now, I can’t say this for sure, but holding it in may have made it worse.

So I let go. And, damn, did it ever feel good.

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This brings us back to the idea that it’s in bad form to express our anger in a professional environment, whether that considers social media part of it, or not.

In this age of owning our personal brands, we are told, essentially by the way the social media mob reacts to anything that resembles anger, that being buttoned up and professional at all times is necessary, lest we want to show any kind of personality whatsoever.

I would much rather interact with someone who I know is going to be genuine (and that involves showing feelings) than I would someone who is going to take the high road time and time again.

It’s fine once or twice, but you know that, sometimes, there is an angry beast within, just waiting to be unleashed.

I say: just let it out.

Then, get back to work.

You might be surprised by how good it feels.

And if you get called out for it? Don’t worry. We’ll forget by tomorrow.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

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Speaking from the point-of-view of someone who has practiced public relations for over a decade and finds himself nearing that time in one’s life when a mid-life crisis is imminent, I often find myself worrying that I don’t know everything I should know at this point in my career.

There are days when I’m all, Yeah! Take that, work! I strut around the office with my head held high, confident that, yeah, I know what I’m doing.

But on other days, I feel like the dumbest guy in the room.

I’ll have conversations with people who are far smarter than I about tactics that are over my head, and I’ll walk away feeling like the entire industry has passed me by.

It is during these times when I’m certain there is a blinking sign over my head that screams “Fraud!” to everyone who walks past me.

When this happens, I just want to curl up and hide in my cubicle until I’m old enough to cash in my 401k.

Of course, I am not that dumb. One person cannot know everything. Those who act like they do don’t. They’re just brimming with confidence. And with that confidence, they give off the belief that they know

For every new trend that pops up and threatens the very sanctity of the work we do, there is something we are good at; something we are so good at that it makes others wonder if they will ever measure up.

So don’t beat yourself up thinking that you are not good enough.

Chances are, you are good enough. You might even be great.

And where you don’t think you’re good enough? Learn. Get better at something you recognize is not your strong suit. Don’t wallow in self-pity. Go out and get better.

W.B. Yeats once said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

He was right. As you get on the path to bettering yourself, you never know what kind of fire you’re going to ignite within yourself.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Communications Breakdown with Ksenia Anske, Author

Today I’m excited to introduce a new, regular Q&A feature on my blog that I’m calling Communications Breakdown.

With apologies to Led Zeppelin, this title lends itself well to what I hope becomes an examination of how some of the communicators I admire and respect, well, communicate, whether as individuals or on behalf of brands.

The first guest is Ksenia Anske, a fantasy writer who has authored such books as Rosehead and the Siren Suicides trilogy. While, admittedly, I haven’t read any of her books (yet), I was drawn to her on Twitter because of how willing she is to offer writing advice or encouragement.

I figured her candor would result in great answers to some good questions. And, I think I was right.

Let’s break it down!

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(That’s Ksenia.)

Brad: Why is writing so hard?

Ksenia: Why is looking in the mirror so hard? You don’t always see what you want to see. You’re never perfect. When you write, you look deep inside yourself and what you see is often not what you expect. Worse, what you see you’d rather not see, not know about. There is only you and paper. You can’t blame your inadequacies and your weakness of expression on someone else. You do your best and you get only what you see, what is before you. Accepting that is hard. We don’t like looking stupid or shortsighted or tongue-tied. We like faking perfect facades. You can’t do this with writing. You can try pretending, but pretending will make you sick because you know you pretend. There is nowhere to run. You must face yourself. That’s bloody hard.

How important is it to you, as an author, to engage with your fans on Twitter?

My fans are my family. They have embraced me when I was going through the pain of depression, they wouldn’t let me sulk, they pulled me out and they carried me all the way to writing my first books. It’s thanks to them that I didn’t quit. Many times I wanted to. Many times I was so disgusted with my stories that I wanted to puke, to just forget it all and go look for a job. I’d talk about it on social media and get yelled at: DON’T YOU THINK ABOUT QUITTING! Who else can say this to you so eloquently if not family? You guys, my fans, I love you.

No, really, why is writing so hard?

Because it’s tedious and boring and exhausting. The myth about writing as being a glorious inspired occupation is just that, a myth. There are moment of elation and ecstasy, yes, but they are rare. Most of the time it’s taking forever to come up with the right paragraph and the right sentence and the right word and failing and tearing your hair out and banging your head against the wall and cursing yourself and your neighbors and the Universe and everything. What do you think? Sounds easy?

I’ve read and listened to a lot of creators explain that now is the best time for creative individuals to “ship their work” thanks to the ease in which it can be put out there to the masses. But on the flip side, it seems like incredible amount of extra work to have to act as marketer, PR person, etc. As an indie author, what’s your take on this creative boom we’re experiencing?

The boom was always there, the only difference is, because of the Internet we can now see it and measure it and share it, so suddenly it’s news, it’s a BOOM. How we love sensations. Not to dampen your spirits, of course. What is happening is fantastic. But you will also notice that many artists are starting to hide from this BOOM. Artists need to be alone to create, and the Internet with its endless disruptions is an antidote to creativity. It might spark it, but it can’t sustain it. We can no longer create in seclusion like we did in the centuries before. Even if we run away to some writing retreat, it is only for a short while. So what do we do? We learn to manage it. We block out the noise and let it in in small doses. That’s what I do. If I don’t put up walls protecting my writing time, I won’t write shit. I simply can’t concentrate for a long enough period of time on myself and on my thoughts if I allow myself to be swept away by this BOOM, and it’s easy, very easy.

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There is so much stuff happening everywhere, if you were to follow it, you would need a million lifetimes. Which presents a curious phenomenon. We used to get stunned by pieces of art precisely because of their newness, their oddity, their nothing-like-we-have-ever-seen quality. They would’ve been conjured in such remote places, so different from what we knew, that we would devour it and want more. Now, because everything is available everywhere, it is harder to find raw genius because hardly any of us can withstand this barrage of information and remain true to ourselves without copying someone else because they’re on the New York Times Best Sellers list or have won Pulitzer Prize or have a million followers on Twitter or whatever. How will we solve this? I have no idea. We shall see. We’re smart creatures, we’ll figure something out.

What is the biggest benefit somebody can take away from a regular writing habit?

Therapy. You get rid of your hurts and pains and aches and suppressed compacted crap that you were carrying with you for years. It’s exhilarating. You shed it and grow a new skin and feel like you can fly. I haven’t been to a doctor for years because I got so healthy I don’t need to see a doctor. I forgot what stress means. I do get anxious once in a while but it’s nothing compared to what I used to feel when I had my cushy corporate job and was miserable and empty and unhappy. What’s not to like? I love it.

Which authors have influenced you the most?

Oh, this question. Right. Of course. The hardest question of them all. I could write a whole book about this. Every author I have read has influenced me in some way, and I wish I could write them all in here. Alas, you will kill me if I do. So I’ll go in chronological order. When I was a kid, I devoured Kharms and Pushkin and Bianki and Jansson and Lindgren and creepy Russian fairy tales and even creepier and risqué tales of The Thousand and One Night, and one of my favorite books was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and another was The Little Prince. Later on, in my teens, I loved Bulgakov and Nabokov and Chekhov and Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva and Limonov and Tolkien and then I discovered Stephen King and was smitten. When I moved to US 16 years ago I started reading in English and was swept by J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Chuck Palahniuk and Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and Bret Easton Ellis and Irvine Welsh and Virginia Woolf and Haruki Murakami and…oh, there are too many to list. My latest infatuations, this year, are Tatyana Tolstaya and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Lidia Yuknavich and Ernest Hemingway, big time. Is that enough? I hope it is, because I can keep going forever.

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If you’re an aspiring writer, I strongly suggest you follow Ksenia on Twitter. Oh, and buy her books. All of them.