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Writing

Preview for 2016: Back to the Writing Lifestyle

I feel the pull to write again, and not just blog posts – but books.

I’ve been mulling over some ideas for the last few weeks and I think I have at least two books that are starting to formulate and gel in my head.

This is going to be me in 2016 - 6:365, Photo by eren {sea+prairie} from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

This is going to be me in 2016 – 6:365, Photo by eren {sea+prairie} from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I love the writing process. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on my experience with my first big writing project. I was in graduate school and working with someone who lived on the other side of the country. So every night after I finished studying, I would work on our project and send him my latest draft or notes before going to bed. By the time I got up the next morning, he had read my work and sent me feedback which I would review over my morning coffee.

Getting back into writing books both excites and frightens me. When I wrote my first three books, I was at the beginning of my career as a lawyer and I had a lot more free time. I could easily devote half a day Monday-Friday working on a book. Typically, I created detailed outlines on Monday, wrote two chapters between Tuesday and Friday, and took the weekend off from book writing to write blog posts.

Now, I have a full client load and a busy speaking schedule. I am honestly not sure how I’m going to do this while staying in sane and making enough time to sleep. There is no way I can write 3,500 words a day with my current commitments. I will probably have to create a schedule where I only write 1,000 words each day, and still take the weekends off to rest and let ideas percolate.

Oh yes, there will be a writing schedule. Actually, one of the hardest things about working on these projects right now is I’m still trying to figure out what I want the final products to look like. Once a figure that out, I can work backwards to create an outline and from that a writing schedule so each week I will know what topics I need to cover.

The process for writing my last two books was insane. I signed two book contracts where I was committed to write both books over the course of six months. I remember finishing my first of those books on a Friday, sending the draft to my editor, and starting the next book on the following Monday. And while I was writing the second book, I also had to review edits on my first book. It was a crazy schedule, but I loved the creative process.

I suspect if I am going to pull this off, my life next year may have to be based on a strict schedule, possibly similar to my a lifestyle while I was studying for the bar exam. I may dabble with ideas of only responding to phone calls and emails during specific times and spending more time in seclusion, eliminating outside distractions to focus on my work.

Yes, I know writing books may be counterintuitive given that I was told to cut myself some slack or risk having a heart attack only a few weeks ago, but when I feel compelled to write I have to honor that. This idea has been gnawing at me for a few months now. And my history shows that when I’m creating, I’m often the most happy. Back when I was working on that first project, I was exhausted but also so exhilarated and excited to start and end my day writing and reviewing feedback. It never felt like work.

To Post or Not To Post

WordPress Buttons by Alexander Grounder from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

WordPress Buttons by Alexander Grounder from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Anyone who knows me knows I don’t make decisions easily. I mean, watching me try to order a sandwich can be painful. Once a decision is made, it’s made and you’re probably not going to budge me from my position but getting to that point can be a challenge.

There are a lot of things that I write about that never make it on the blog. When I’m writing about something that I’m really fired up about, I know I’m not always in my most logical mind. (As the great Rocky said, “Anger robs thought.” This fits me to a T.) So before I hit “publish,” it’s not uncommon for me to kick the draft out to one or more people to get feedback before I share it with the world. I lovingly call these people, “The Committee.”

At any time there are probably about 10 people I consider part of The Committee, and depending on the posting question anywhere from one to all of them will get a copy of what I’m thinking about posting before I decide if it goes out. I had so many strong emotions coursing through my veins as I wrote the post, I Can’t Stay Silent Anymore (probably my most daring post to date), so I knew I needed a second and third opinion before releasing it. Here are some of their reactions – mostly paraphrased. (I’m only referring to them by first initial to protect their identities.)

B: Sleep on it and see if you still want to release it in the morning.

E: Why are you hesitating? Posting this is not a bad idea.

R: It’s a thoughtful post. Go with your gut.

P: It’s an excellent post. Who better than a victim to truly state the outrage and expose the injustice of the ways this is handled in our society? If you want to put it out there–go for it. The world needs to hear it.

J: I don’t have time to read this right now. I have a massive brief due.

(That last one was just to show you that my Committee is composed of real people whose worlds do not revolve around me.)

I feel very lucky that I have amazing friends and confidants who let me vent, support me when I’m doing the right thing, and tell me when I’m wrong. I couldn’t do what I do without you.

I Want to be an Amtrak Writer in Residence

Writers all over the U.S. are excited that Amtrak is offering people the opportunity to be a writer in residence. Jessica Gross was the first writer in residence and she rode and wrote from New York to Chicago and back again. What a great 39-hour adventure! I love the idea of getting on the train and going head-down into a project with the gentle rumbling of the train beneath you and the world zipping by out the window.

AZ Diamondbacks Game, Phoenix AZ - June 2010

AZ Diamondbacks Game, Phoenix AZ – June 2010

If I was chosen to do this, I think I’d want to travel from Tucson to New Orleans and back again. It would be a little over 70 hours total on the train. Because it’s such a long trip, I think I’d like to stay in New Orleans for a day or two to recharge my batteries, evaluate where I am in my writing process, and strategize what I wanted to crank out on the return trip. I’ve never been to New Orleans, so I’d want to find a place to take a handstand picture and maybe visit Storyland or Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop – the oldest bar in the U.S. I don’t drink but it would be fun to visit as I’m sure plenty of other writers have spent many hours there to rest and recharge while working on a project.

I’ve been a writer and a blogger for over four years and I love it. Every so often I find a project that I just can’t work on at home – I’m too easily distracted by chores or anything that’s not my writing. Sometimes when that happens, I banish myself from the house until my work gets done. I’ll go to a coffee shop or a library with the expectation that I’m there to work and I can’t leave until my work gets done. I turn off the internet and put my phone where I can’t see it or hear it and get to work. That’s usually enough to force me to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard and crank out what I need to get done – usually faster than I anticipated.

Amtrak 353 by jpmueller99 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Amtrak 353 by jpmueller99 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’ve been toying with doing some memoir work for years. I have a basic outline of what I’d want to include and the format for each chapter but it’s been a challenge to find the time and creative space to sit down and let the ideas flow. I would need big blocks of time to sit write without distractions, where I can sit in quiet contemplation, where I could lock into my zone and let my fingers fly over my keyboard. I’d love to be an Amtrak writer in residence to work on this project.

So Amtrak, if you’re serious about offering other people the chance to be a writer in residence, I hope you’ll pick me.

The Undeniable Plans for 2014

I recently asked my readers what they wanted me to write about and someone suggested I share my 2014 plans. That gave me reason to pause, because in 2012 I was focused on getting the law firm off the ground and last year I spent the beginning of 2013 getting ready to speak at SXSW. This year I don’t have a big event or activity taking up all my time. I think I get to just live for year. But of course I have plans for how I’d like to spend my time.

My legs after  a session of ASTYM.

My legs after a session of ASTYM.

1. Get Healthy. Years of gymnastics and running has resulted in a buildup of scar tissue in my lower legs. I finished my last half marathon with so much pain that I thought I had three stress fractures. Instead of training for the 2014 race, I’m in physical therapy. They’re breaking up the scar tissue with ASTYM and dry needling, building up my strength, and working on my running posture. They said I should be good to go to run a 10K in March.

2. Separate Work from my Personal Life.  Carter Law Firm got a brick and mortar office in December 2013. To go along with that, I want to work on keeping work at the office and not work once I’m home for the day. This includes not working on the weekends and getting all my blogs written during the week. (When I was writing books last year I’d work on the books during the week and blogs on the weekend.) I got used to working all the time and it’s time make more time for fun.

More Adventures = More Handstands

More Adventures = More Handstands

3. Go on More Adventures.  Going to law school really got me out of the habit of having a life on the weekend and it’s too easy to fill the weekend with work stuff, so this year I want to make it a point to do more new things during my down time. There are so many wonderful places and events in Arizona I’ve never experienced. I’ll be using Roadside America and community calendars for inspiration but I’ll be starting the year by doing the Polar Plunge in Tempe. And I definitely want to see Bisbee this year and take advantage of the night in Sedona I won during Indie Week.

4. Continue to be a Minimalist.  I made a huge donation run to Goodwill a few weeks ago. My backseat and trunk were packed with stuff I don’t use anymore. Since then, I’ve already started the next pile of stuff to be donated. I will continue to be mindful of what I do and don’t use and periodically do a sweep of the house to get rid of things that don’t add value to my life. Next year will also start with the reversal of all my closet hangers. Every garment will have to earn its right to stay in my wardrobe again.

5. Release my Next Book.  The American Bar Association is publishing my next book – The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers. It’s expected to be released in February 2014. I’m excited for it to be released and I hope it will open more doors for me to do more professional speaking.

Those are basically my plans on top my standard events, activities, and goals of having fun and being productive. I hope your 2013 is winding down on a high note and that you have an awesome year in 2014. I’ll keep you in the loop about my adventures.

The Legal Side of Blogging – Part 3 of 4: Can My Blog Get Me Fired?

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am a law student. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

Work Uniform
Image by B_Zedan via Flickr

This is a question that has an obvious answer – yes, your blog can get you fired.

People have always done things that could get them fired – saying bad things about their company, clients and coworkers; breaking the company’s rules; disclosing confidential information; and stealing from the company – but now they are making it more obvious that they are doing it.

My general rule is don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper.  When it comes to keeping your job, don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to your boss’ face.

There are some amazing true stories about disturbing things people have done online in relation to their work:

  • Whole Foods CEO John Mackey was investigated by the SEC for posting anonymous messages that praised his company and condemned Wild Oats Market, his company’s competition.  (Poor form!)
  • An Illinois attorney allegedly posted an ad for a secretary in Craigslist’s adult section and told an applicant that her job responsibilities included dressing sexy and having sexual interactions with him and another attorney.  (Seriously?!)

How did these presumably intelligent people think that they might get away with this?

Companies have realized that online posting by employees can be good or bad free advertising, and are taking steps to protect their reputations by creating guidelines about what employees can and can’t say online.  I’m not a big fan of my employer telling me what I can’t do when I’m on my own time; however I appreciate it when I have clear limits about what I can and can’t do.  I like to push the envelope, but I don’t like getting fired.  Some of these guidelines are pretty obvious – don’t share confidential information, don’t bash the company, its employees, or its clients – but some employees won’t follow these rules unless they’re laid in stone, and maybe not even then.

Having a blog makes you more vulnerable than other social media profiles because it’s open for everyone to see it.  Facebook and Twitter let us control who can see what we post, but with a blog, your words are shared with the entire internet-accessible world.  When in doubt, don’t share information about your work on your blog or anywhere else online.

Employers are getting smart about these things and are Googling job applicants and looking for their profiles on Facebook.  They can’t discriminate against someone based on their race, religion, or sexual orientation, but they can choose not to hire someone because it looks like their preferred weekend activity is beer pong.  A lot of employers are looking at whether a person generally displays good judgment and won’t hire a person who does not act responsibly in their personal life.

I generally discourage people being stupid.   However, I have an exception for those who are genetic morons who can’t be cured with education: keep being stupid.  Make it blatantly obvious how stupid you are so those of us who are not stupid don’t have to waste our time on someone who might clean up and put on a good front, but who ultimately is a moron.

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The Legal Side of Blogging – Part 2 of 4: Can My Blog Get Me Arrested?

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am a law student. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

While most of what we post online is protected by the First Amendment, not all speech is protected.  Therefore, it is logical to think that anything that would be illegal to publish in a newspaper is likely illegal if it was posted online.  There are a fair number of things that could probably get you arrested if you put it on your blog.

Threats of Violence

In general, it’s illegal to threaten violence against another person.  In Arizona, “intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury” is assault.  The law doesn’t say what methods of creating this apprehension are illegal; therefore you can make an argument that a threat against you in someone’s blog is enough to have the author charged with a crime.  In Britain, there has already been one arrest when a woman threatened to kill someone on Facebook.

It’s also not a good idea to make threats that sound like terrorist plots.  Sarcastic threats should also be avoided since sarcasm doesn’t translate well from reality to the internet.  Paul Chambers learned this the hard way.  He was angry that the airport was closed due to snow and tweeted, “You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s**t together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”  He was convicted of sending “‘indecent, obscene or menacing’ messages over a public electronic communications network.”

Threats Against the President

It appears that the Secret Service patrols the internet looking for postings that threaten the president’s life and that all threats are taken seriously.  Fourteen year-old Julia Wilson was pulled out of class and questioned by the Secret Service after she posted a picture of then-President George W. Bush with the words “Kill Bush” on her Myspace page.  She didn’t know that threatening the president was a federal offense.  The First Amendment lets us express dissatisfaction with the administration, but not with death threats.

Cyberharassment

I’ve already jumped on my proverbial soapbox once about cyberharassment It’s illegal in most states and people are getting arrested for bullying people via social media websites, text messages, email, and for bullying people by creating websites about them.  Authorities have been taking these cases more seriously since Megan Meier committed suicide at age 13 after receiving a message on her Myspace page that she was better off dead.

Illegal Sales

The internet gives us numerous forums to sell our stuff; however, selling certain items and services like drugs, human body parts, stolen property, and sex, are still illegal wherever it occurs.  In some situations, you might get off by saying, “It’s not mine,” or “I didn’t do it,” but that will be a harder argument to make if these items are being sold from your personal website.

Solicitation

You can commit solicitation via your blog if you command, encourage, request, or solicit people “to engage in specific conduct which would constitute the felony or misdemeanor.”  I haven’t seen a case like this yet, but given how much the law caters to irrational, foolish people who don’t think through their actions, I can see it happening.

Another thing to remember is that your blog could be used as evidence against you in the event that you are arrested.  There has been at least one case where a sex offender was given a harsher sentence when the judge held that the offender’s blog indicated that he could not follow the court’s orders or control his actions.  His designation was changed from being a sex offender to a sexual predator when he created a posted aimed at his victim.

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The Legal Side of Blogging – Part 1 of 4: Can My Blog Get Me Sued?

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am a law student. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

First Amendment
Image by NomadicEntrepreneur via Flickr

Thanks to the First Amendment, we have the right of free speech in the United States. There are limits on free speech  regarding the time, place, and manner of the speech which is why we can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. The First Amendment also doesn’t protect obscenity or libel.

Speech on the internet is generally protected, including anonymous speech. I don’t understand why people want to speak anonymously in this public forum, but the law protects it.

Americans are very quick to sue people they don’t like, so the real question is, can I be sued and lose because of my blog? A quick search on the database and Google has revealed that bloggers have been successfully sued for their blogs.

Defamation and Libel
Based on case law I read, a blogger can be sued for defamation and libel if they use their blog to make false statements about a public figure. The courts seem to apply a broad definition to “public figure.” If the public figure the blogger talks about in their blog can show that the blogger made a false statement about them and that the statement was made with “actual malice,” then they have a valid claim for defamation and libel.

Conversely, a blogger’s personal opinion is protected by the First Amendment. It’s only when they are making statements of fact or a combination of fact and opinion that they have to be concerned that they could be sued if they are publishing false statements.

Copyright Infringement
A person gets a copyright if they create an original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium. They don’t have to register their work in any database; they just have to create it. Therefore, bloggers should own the copyright for all their posts, unless they previously gave up their copyright rights to someone else. If a blogger posts someone else’s material and claims it as their own, that’s copyright infringement. Writing about the same ideas is ok; stealing someone’s verbiage is not.

I don’t know why anyone would do this – isn’t the purpose of having a blog to express your own views and ideas? I suspect few bloggers are policing the internet looking for people infringing on their work and most aren’t equipped with the resources to file a claim against another blogger for stealing their work. I’m fine with people stealing my verbiage for their blog as long as they include a link back to this site. My guess is most bloggers are equally fine with others quoting them as long as they get the attribution.

You Can Be Sued for Your Comments – Not Sure If You Can Lose
Aaron Wall was sued by Traffic-Power.com when negative comments about the company appeared on Wall’s website, SEOBook.com. Wall opted to remove the comments about Traffic Power instead of spending his time, energy, and money to fight the lawsuit.

I don’t know what the comments about Traffic Power said, but it makes me wonder if other companies will threaten lawsuits against bloggers to remove negative comments about themselves online. Most bloggers probably won’t want to go through the time and hassle of fighting the suit, even when the comments might be protected by the First Amendment. Even if there wasn’t a valid case in this situation, it should serve as a reminder that bloggers are responsible for the comments they allow to be posted on their sites.

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Miss Ruth Writes For Other Blogs Too

I’m pretty new to blogging, but I’ve been writing for other blogs besides my own:

Improv AZ – www.improvaz.com

Unchaotic – www.theunchaotic.com

 

And besides writing, I have videos of my solo work on YouTube:

 

And sometimes people like writing about me: