Facebook, We Need to Talk: The 5 Types of Posts I’ll Never Like or Share

Look, Facebook…we need to talk. Communication is the key to a healthy relationship, after all. (For us, I’d say it’s doubly important since it’s basically all that we do.)

Here’s the thing. I love most of the things you tell me about each day. You know, the updates on what my friends have been doing. The funny things their kids have done. The pictures of the places they’ve been and the things they’ve made. What they think of the new pope. Even those memes they like, be they goofy or inspirational. In addition, I appreciate the way you tell everybody about it when I post something new on my blog. There’s a lot to love about our relationship.

Unfortunately, there are also some areas we need to work on. I hate to be a nag, but these things really bother me. Many of them are the exact reason I broke up with Email Forwards. (I know, we promised we’d never bring exes into it, but I felt it was necessary to make a point.) These things can be summed up as things I will never, ever share, like, or comment on (except maybe to post a link to a Snopes article). Our relationship would be so great if I never again saw:

1. Pictures That Tell Me to Type Something in the Comment Box in Order to “See Something Happen”

Of all your features, Facebook, my absolute favorite is the one where I can comment on my friend’s photo and suddenly, as if by magic, it changes! Somehow, they’ve programmed it so that…oh, wait. That never happens.

I’ll admit, this prank was funny at first, but it’s really starting to get old. A picture is just a picture. Typing something in the comment box cannot make it change. All it does is make the picture appear on my timeline. (Hmm…)

2. Videos, Pictures and Articles with Excessively Vague Descriptions

You’ve gotten lazy, Facebook. You used to tell me what something was before expecting me to click on it. Now, all I get from you is:

“This is funny!”

“This is amazing!”

“This is so touching! You’ll cry when you see it!”

Forget sharing these; I don’t even bother clicking on them. In case you’re not aware of this, it’s very easy to find funny, amazing and touching things on the Internet. If you want me to click on this particular one, I want to know what sets it apart from the rest. To draw a comparison, this is why TV networks explain what a show is about when they advertise it. Simply saying “This is the best show ever!” will get them exactly zero viewers.

3. Anything That Tries to Guilt, Dare, or Otherwise Manipulate Me into Sharing It

I’m very happy when my friends take a stand against things like child abuse, racism and breast cancer. Frankly, if they thought any of those things were good, we probably wouldn’t be friends. Sometimes, they share their feelings in the form of an inspirational graphic that encourages their friends to take a stand as well. Great! Let’s spread the word.

Sadly—very sadly—these graphics often contain something else that makes it 100% impossible for me to share them. I’m talking about statements like:

66% of my friends aren’t brave enough to share this. Let’s see who will.

I know all of my friends will share this because none of them are heartless trolls!

Or, worst of all:

Share this if you love Jesus! Remember what the Bible says: “Deny me in front of your friends and I will deny you in front of my Father.” So if you’re thinking about not sharing this, remember that God saw you reading it!

Let me see if I’ve got this straight. I’m some kind of horrible human being if I don’t share this graphic, right here, right now? Furthermore, you don’t trust that I might actually share the message because I believe in the message?

Even if I agree with the message (and I usually do), I refuse to share anything that includes these kinds of statements because I have no desire to manipulate my friends. And quite frankly, that third example is just offensive. I’m a Christian, I love Jesus, and despite the fact that the Bible doesn’t specifically address social networking to the best of my knowledge, I’m pretty sure God would rather I don’t repost something that tries to guilt, shame or frighten other people into sharing it.

4. Extraordinary Claims, Conspiracy Theories and Questionable Statistics

Honesty is very important in a relationship. That’s why I’m very disturbed when you start telling me things like:

Obamacare requires all U.S. citizens to be implanted with RFID microchips!

KFC gets their meat from genetically engineered, mutant chickens!

Walmart has a Martian slave labor camp on the moon!

Okay, I made that last one up. Still, some of the things you’ve shared with me are truly disturbing. I’ve seen fake amber alerts, fake inspirational stories, fake remedies, fake crimes, fake threats, and fake political messages from Bill Cosby. These have the potential to hurt or defame real people. And, to make matters worse, if something true does happen to come along, I’ll probably just assume it’s false and simply ignore it. I really want to trust you, but things like this give me no choice but to cheat on you with Snopes.com.

5. That Picture of Me at My Wedding That Looks Like I’m About to Kiss My Best Man

Please. Why won’t you just let that one go?

6 Ways to Optimize Your Creative Time

Life gets busy. We can’t always devote as much time as we’d like to our creative endeavors. Short of inventing a time machine (which typically creates more problems than it solves), the best way to counteract this is by making the most of the time we get. Here are a few simple yet incredibly effective ways to make that happen.

This is NOT how we should treat our creative time.

1. Set Aside Time to Be Creative

There’s nothing wrong with having a casual, creative hobby to occupy spare time. However, if you’re serious about actually getting something done, be deliberate about it. Make it a priority and set aside time to focus on nothing else. Often, the problem is not how much time we have but how well we organize our time. A solid two hours in which you can gain some serious momentum is better than four hours broken up into scattered, fifteen-minute chunks.

2. Eliminate Voluntary Distractions (i.e., Don’t Try to Multitask)

We all hate unwanted distractions when we’re trying to concentrate. What we might not realize is how often we disrupt our own concentration by attempting to focus on more than one thing at a time. The idea that multitasking helps us get more done is incredibly popular but conclusively false. Time and again, research has shown that it actually has the opposite effect. We are more productive, less stressed and less prone to error when we give one task our full attention.

As you take control of your creative environment, don’t be afraid to disconnect for a short while. Shut the door, turn off the ringer on your phone and close all of those Internet tabs that have nothing to do with what you’re working on. Remember, this is your time. You don’t have to let the world rob you of it if you don’t want to.

3. Take “Smart” Breaks

Taking breaks to refresh and reboot our minds is an important part of the creative process. If we’re not careful, however, a quick break can quickly become a colossal waste of time. Avoid this by taking breaks decisively and strategically. Rather than just letting your mind wander, make a conscious decision to take a break and set a time limit. It doesn’t need to be a long time, either. (Sometimes, just stepping away from the keyboard to get a glass of water is enough to shift my brain back into gear.)

Be careful to avoid “break activities” that might hijack your attention for longer than you intend. In other words, don’t watch TV. Don’t check your email or open Facebook if you’ll feel obligated to respond to every new message and post. Instead, distract your mind with an activity that doesn’t require heavy thinking or any significant time commitment. Listen to some music. Wash a few dishes. Take a walk around the block and enjoy the sunshine. Do anything but think about the thing you’re taking a break from. Even a few minutes of controlled distraction can go a long way toward refreshing your mind and re-invigorating your creative drive.

4. Get Enough Sleep

It can be tempting to sacrifice sleep in an attempt to get more done. (Ironically, I gave in to this temptation while trying to finish up this post.) In reality, just like trying to multitask, depriving yourself of sleep will produce exactly the opposite of the desired effect. In addition, it will take a heavy toll on your overall health and morale.

Sleep is not a luxury. It’s absolutely necessary for proper functioning of your body and mind. Sacrificing one or two waking hours in order to get enough sleep is an investment that will pay huge dividends. With your brain running at full capacity, you’ll be able to get more done in a shorter amount of time. Plus, you’ll feel great and be less stressed while you’re doing it.

5. Learn Your Daily Rhythms

I was skeptical of this one when I first heard of it, so I completely understand if you are as well. That said, putting it into practice has made me a believer. The basic idea is that we’re more effective at certain tasks during certain times of the day. If we can capitalize on those times when we’re “better” at certain activities, we’ll get more done in a shorter amount of time. For me, housework and other mundane tasks are easier in the morning. My optimum writing time spans from late morning to early evening. Evening is when I like to relax with my family and engage in more technical forms of creativity like website development. Once I figured out this rhythm, I found that I was able to get more done and was less stressed throughout the day.

6. Don’t Force It

Sometimes, no matter what we do, those creative juices just won’t flow when we want them to. If you’ve deliberately set aside time to be creative, this can be frustrating—even aggravating—but it’s not the end of the world. Try to use the time for something else on your to-do list. Hopefully, this will free up some time for you to try again later. In my experience, trying to force an unwilling mind to be creative has the same result as depriving it of sleep or asking it to multitask. (In other words, it doesn’t work.)

If you have any additional ideas for ways to optimize creative time, I’d love to hear them! Send me an email or leave a reply below.

Understanding “That” vs. “Which” in Relative Clauses

As a young writer, I used the words “that” and “which” interchangeably, typically selecting whichever one sounded better in a given sentence. It embarrasses me greatly that I was well into adulthood before I learned the difference between the two. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • “That” is used to introduce restrictive relative clauses. A restrictive clause narrows the scope of the noun it modifies. In other words, it clarifies what the noun is pointing to when more than one possibility exists. Take the following example:

    “I wrote two emails and sent one of them. The email that I didn’t send contained my true feelings.”

    The first sentence mentions two emails. Therefore, the relative clause is necessary in order to identify which email I’m talking about in the second sentence. If I remove the restrictive clause, my meaning becomes unclear:

    “I wrote two emails and sent one of them. The email contained my true feelings.”

  • “Which” is used to introduce nonrestrictive relative clauses. A nonrestrictive clause provides additional information without restricting the scope of a noun. For example:

    “I wrote both a letter and an email. The email, which I didn’t send, contained my true feelings.”

    In this case, there’s no need to identify the email in the second sentence since context has already limited the scope to one possible email. The nonrestrictive clause contains useful information but is not necessary to preserve clarity of meaning. It can be deleted without causing any confusion:

    “I wrote both a letter and an email. The email contained my true feelings.”

If you’re unsure whether a relative clause should be restrictive or nonrestrictive, see what happens if you remove it. If the sentence that contained the clause still makes sense in context, the clause should probably be nonrestrictive. If clarity of meaning suffers when the clause is taken out, it should probably be restrictive.

Fill a Bag with Garbage: A Creative Principle That Every Aspiring Writer Should Know

Without a doubt, the single most important thing I learned in digital media design school was this principle: some of the things I create are going to be crap.

Thankfully, this wasn’t one of those lessons I had to learn for myself. If it was, I might have given up long before I learned it. Fortunately, my classmates and I had a design teacher who cared enough to come right out and tell us. “Not everything you design is going to be great,” he declared after taping a big plastic garbage bag to the top of the whiteboard. “Most of the things you produce won’t be worth anything to anybody. That’s just a fact. It’s also true that some of what you create will be worth a lot to somebody. Just remember that you can’t have one without the other. If you want to produce great things, you’re going to have to fill a bag with garbage.”

I don’t think it’s coincidence that the novel I began to write after receiving my digital design diploma was the first one I would actually complete. I’m sure there was more to it than just understanding the “bag of garbage” principle, but I’m equally sure that it played a huge role. The biggest killer of my creative projects, written and otherwise, has always been my own self-critical nature. I would look back over whatever I had done, realize that parts of it weren’t very good, become discouraged, and toss the entire project. It never crossed my mind to take a step back and try to figure out why the idea wasn’t working properly. I’d just assume that it wasn’t a very good idea or that I wasn’t a very good writer. The following truths were painfully foreign to me:

  1. Good writers can have bad ideas.
  2. Good ideas can be poorly executed, even by good writers.
  3. Bad ideas and good ideas can coexist within a conceptual hierarchy (e.g., a story).

All of these problems will happen at some point during the slippery, uphill slog that is the creative process. Fortunately, all of them can be overcome if we’re willing to put in the work, which is why it’s so important to understand, accept and ultimately embrace the “bag of garbage” principle. Producing a certain percentage of flawed or poorly executed ideas is not only normal, it’s necessary—an inevitable byproduct of the creative process. The difference between success and failure is not in the size of this percentage but in how we respond to it.

Some of us are overly critical of our own work. Some of us aren’t critical enough. Regardless, we’re all emotionally tied to our ideas, especially those we’ve put time and effort into developing. (We’re not prose-writing robots, after all.) Because of this, the revision process requires a degree of wisdom and lots of emotional maturity. We don’t want to toss away a promising idea because of a few setbacks, but it’s equally dangerous to cling to an idea that just won’t work. An honest critique from a trustworthy third party can be invaluable in this area (I’ll talk more about this in a future post), but the important thing to remember is this: anytime you sit down to refine a large piece of work, significant portions of what you’ve written will (not might, will) wind up going down the proverbial drain. Recognizing in advance that this would (not might, would) happen helped me overcome a huge mental roadblock and allowed my first novel to survive a few setbacks that might have otherwise killed it entirely.

The early stages of rewriting an entire book aren’t fun. Weeding out entire characters, themes or subplots that you’ve spent hours developing can be a painful process. I know this from personal experience. In the end, though, a full garbage bag means that you’ve made room for more stuff that’s not garbage, and that’s the stuff that people really want to read. Bottom line, the “garbage” is going to happen one way or the other, so get your bag ready. Best to just accept it as part of the process—or better yet, embrace it as an opportunity to grow as a writer.