the art of rocking out your identity crisis so you can go on to rule the world




A young woman and I were driving my older boys to Pasadena when I learned that she gave motivational speeches to teenage girls.

“I talk a lot about the importance of developing your own identity,” she said.

This is something my therapist – one of the smartest women I’ve ever met in my life – has brought up in our discussions together. The issue of female identity, how girls will get into relationships with boys or men before their own identity is formed (“when it needs to be the other way around: you become who you need to be, and then you find the person you need to be with”).

It’s why many women will often have a second coming-of-age when they’re – oh, what a coincidence – around my age — when unresolved issues tend to raise their blobby heads.

(I thought this was referred to as a midlife crisis, but maybe that’s just for men.)

(My therapist trained her own daughters not to get married until they were over thirty, when they had established careers and financial independence. I thought this was VERY VERY WISE. I know that marriage is great for many people, but I also have this sneaking suspicion that if marriage was so fabulous for women as we seem to believe it is, the culture wouldn’t have to work so hard to sell it to us.

At a black-tie event a month or so ago, a major movie star of my mother’s generation sitting next to me told me, “If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t get married. And I say this as a happily married woman.” And also, I pointed out, saying it as a woman with an amazingly successful career. “Even so,” she said. “Your identity can still get subsumed.” But I digress. )

Identity has been on my mind lately, because everything I’ve been learning and blogging about in the past couple of years demands knowing who you are and what you stand for.

It demands not just a sense of identity, but a finely honed blade of an identity to cut through the marketplace.

You can’t build a platform, start a movement, create a great personal brand, if you are a question mark to yourself. (You can, however, use the work of developing a platform, a brand, to soul-search and figure out some answers.)


When we were in Pasadena, this same young woman – let’s call her Kelly, it’s the name of a favorite character on the soap opera SANTA BARBARA I was addicted to in junior high — noted the fact that I am an obsessive reader (I was e-reading on my new cellphone, an Infuse 4G I chose partly for its massive screen) and asked me if I could recommend any biographies of cool women.

“Yeah, I love those,” I said. (I had just finished DANGEROUS MUSE, about Lady Caroline Blackwood: aristocratic, beautiful, brilliant, difficult, damaged, alcoholic.) I rattled off some of my favorites: books about Edna St Vincent Millay, Lee Miller, Coco Chanel, Catherine the Great.

Kelly said: “I want to read about women who were – you know – not just great and powerful and accomplished and everything, but knew how to rock being a woman. Who totally rocked being a woman.

“Then you will love these books,” I said.

We moved on to other things.

But that phrase has lingered in my head ever since:

how to rock being a woman

because I thought it was interesting (especially in light of my previous post) that she had to specify that. Would a man say, “Yeah, Alexander the Great conquered countries and shit, but did he rock being a dude”?

But I knew exactly – on a deep, nonverbal, womanly kind of level – what Kelly meant.

So I was trying to take this gut feeling and articulate it. A certain savoir-faire, or je ne sais quoi…? No, not quite right. Being comfortable in your woman-skin…?

But I think it goes beyond that.


I started Tribal Writer – spinning it off from my faithful little Livejournal – about a year and a half ago.

It was a way for me to explore this idea of author platform. Since the moment I took to my Kindle, I sensed the sea change in publishing and how online platform would be key to future survival.

For the past ten years I’d been moving between the technology community and the writing/publishing community, and the two are a world apart. One also moves faster than the other. If I wanted to explore platform, it made sense to ask some of my tech-business friends about where they thought publishing was going and what they would be doing right now if they were writers. It made sense to pour over social media blogs and how-to-blog blogs, which segued into online marketing and direct marketing and branding and creative entrepreneurship (which, I realized, is what platform can become: an exercise in creative entrepreneurship, and oh, isn’t that interesting) and innovation and creativity in general.

I read – obsessively – about all these things.

Because I realized that I loved this stuff. Loved it. Loved.

And I also began to notice that there seem to be two different – and I’m not quite sure what to call them – creative-content-entrepreneurial subcultures or ‘spheres’ on the Internet. There’s a lot of overlap, and they’re very friendly with each other, and they both celebrate the unconventional life (while acknowledging how difficult it can be), but they each have a different feel to them – at least to me. One is male and the other is female.

The ‘male’ sphere is all about authority blogging, world domination, battling The Resistance, creativity + organization = success, creativity + productivity = success, prolific + healthy + brilliant = success. I went to check out the website to a book I’m reading called the ACCIDENTAL CREATIVE by Todd Henry. Note all the guys. Go to the BOOK page and scroll down to the many testimonials. All guys. Also note how books about creativity and innovation – which tend to be business books – which tend to be written by guys — tend to use the same examples of people being brilliantly innovative and creative. Who are mostly guys. (Hell, mostly Steve Jobs.)

The women are all about getting down to business too, but it’s presented in a more holistic and even spiritual approach (spiritual in the sense of creative and personal growth, not organized religion). Take Marie Forleo’s ‘Rich, Happy + Hot’ adventure mastermind program for female entrepreneurs at various stages of biz development: a participant’s goal for the year is just as likely to include “becoming a nonsmoking cleaneating hardbodied yogi”* as well as “making six figures” or “landing a book contract”. One of the queens of the realm – Danielle LaPorte, who recently landed a quarter-million dollar book contract with a major publisher – sets the tone with striking, distinctive posts that blend the spiritual in with the business advice (it’s pretty cool).

This sphere is all about self-actualization rocks and marketing from your magnificence and empowering passionate people and calling you to rule your realm. Many of the products and services are marketed to a mostly-female audience. It’s not because anybody is discriminating against men. It’s because of underlying themes that perhaps appeal uniquely to women. Not just how to run a successful biz or build a successful brand, but how to create a successful life that brings everything together: that harmonizes. A new kind of model that lays down a new kind of script, for a female existence that not so long ago would have been considered radical and revolutionary.

How to rock being a woman.

* I, uh, know this because this is my goal. one of my goals. i’ve accomplished the nonsmoking part, am working on the hardbodied part, and then shall tackle the cleaneating part. but right now I’m eating salt and vinegar chips. because I can. dammit.


The overriding message is the same: we are moving into a new era (if not already in it) of what Daniel Pink calls “high-touch, high-concept.”

Empathy, ideas, connection, community, design and storytelling are the orders of the day: reaching people emotionally as well as intellectually.

It’s an interconnected world that demands authenticity + transparency because it runs on influence + trust. You are what you do, and not what you say you do, or pretend to be in public. Because somebody’s going to blog about it, and somebody else is going to share it, and people are going to compare notes, and discuss, and all this is going to happen in about thirty seconds.

The command-and-control power model doesn’t work so well here. There’s no center from which to rule. The ‘message’ is whatever the people say it is. What’s more effective is power to: empower and inspire and relate to each other in ways that change the game and move the needle. It is also an oddly level playing ground, where Goliath often finds himself outmatched by the quicker, nimbler David (and is still a bit confused by “the Twitter”).

It is a world that plays to what have traditionally been perceived as the strengths of women. This might be why Adam Carolla’s latest book is called In 50 Years We’ll All Be Chicks.

Which is probably a slight exaggeration.

But still.

Time to rock.

Jul 12, 2011

38 comments · Add Yours

I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough* to read your blogs. Until then, I’ll just have to hope that I can learn enough from you that I can help her become who she wants to be!

*”old enough” not in the sense of content, per se, but because, well, she’s 9… and there’s no glitter (and precious few gratuitous puppy photos)


Rocking being a woman is about doing what moves your soul. And to know what moves your soul means that you have to be mindful of what you do. When we are in tune with the feelings that resonate throughout our bodies, we can better realize what it is that we want and need. Our world moves at lightning speed these days and it takes effort and listening to what our bodies tell us. By the way, as I eat the sour cream and onion chips and drink Mountain Dew at 700am in the morning and read about your salt and vinegar, I was thinking what a crummy feeling was travelling through me. In order to really hear our soul talking to us, we need to slow down and clean it up. At that point, we can better decide who we are and then rock it. Going to throw out my chips…well, maybe tomorrow. :)
Thanks for this post…it is important to know who we are and where we are going.


Your posts are often so dense, I find much to ponder. And I like pondering.

I liked your phrase “finely honed blade of identity”. I feel as if I have a blade of identity. It has shape and form, but isn’t quite to the point of razor sharpness. As I blog and express myself it grows sharper over time.

But is it possible to be too rigid about identity? Is identity truly a fixed thing that needs to be defined? Or is it organic and a little bit fluid?


Identity?!? My most struggled war with Self- me. So I became and actress. Hot ass shit one too! I thought I wanted to grow up to be my sister. She was the epitome of rocking womanhood, so I thought. And still do. I still want to grow up to be my sister so I made her into a character “La Femme” and now I have finally grown up! Or did I? Very questionable when you see my quirky videos being my sister, who was all a dive, lady, hot-shot, and had a don’t-give-a-damn attitude about what guys thought, a big one for me! Being Latina in a Latina culture that tude was blasphemy! Off with the head kind of blasphemy. But somehow, she got away with it. And she also got away from my life. So I thought that only I had this “looking for my ID crisis” alone until in read this I realize this is what lots of us women are going through! As much as I have read I think this has been a piece that has allowed me to see this and accept it. I recognize I am just rambling. I got to send this to all the girls I know and re-tweet it!
Justin, love the way you rock womanhood!


‘you are what you do, not what you say you do, or pretend to be in public.’ I love that. I will take it for my life.
In this post you made some really good points.


Justine – great post. I think that ‘identity’ is a journey too often overlooked in our culture, subsumed by other measures of “success” such as money, jobs, things to buy, places to go, things to do. Thanks so much!


I love it! Until recently I accepted I was a woman. I know I’m 24 and have a 1yr old toddler; wife and mom. But any time I’ve thought what a woman was I refused to have anything to do with it. In my eyes Id rather be a kid forever. Yes peterpan right? Lol kids have this amazing ability of knowing no limits, everything is really possible. Tell them they can’t do it and they’ll prove us wrong. And then I discovered women were supposed to be amazing, courageous and all of this stuff. If I wanted to conquer the jungle I could do it an rock my hair while doing it. I didn’t know that women could be powerful and not just in an office setting. Old skool I know but my ultimate hero is Queen Esther from the bible. This chick was ballsy she went up to where the king was and could have been killed at that instant to save her people, she also kept her imagination and was a child at heart. And why did the king pick her? Because of her beauty. :)


“Who totally rocked being a woman.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about this, but I think crying may be the right response. I hesitate to ask what this poor woman says to motivate teenage girls, but somehow I suspect “hire a math tutor” is not part of her rap.

There is an important profile of Sheryl Sandberg — Mark Zuckerberg’s right-hand person at Facebook — in the July 11 issue of The New Yorker. Sandberg is preoccupied with the question of why there are so few women leaders in the high-tech world, and one explanation she comes up with is the binary choice women face around motherhood. She feels that women leave the workforce too soon to have children, so that when they decide to return, they have to start at the beginning again. There’s definitely a glass ceiling: it’s the eleven year maternity leave. Francine Prose has written about this as well: even in the workplace, women are focused first and foremost on getting home to their kids.

I’m struck a little bit by how … remote … the women in the bios you recommend are. Lee Miller started her career as a swimsuit model and mistress of Man Ray; Catherine the Great was a monarch, and … Edna St. Vincent Millay? No Hilary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Margaret Thatcher, Carly Fiorina. These are extremely successful professionals and moms, who are treated with great seriousness by men and who are also widely reviled by many women, which I don’t think is a coincidence. Hilary Clinton rocks being a woman. That’s what it looks like.

I think it’s time for some straight talk with teenage girls. That talk starts like this: “Your job is not just something you do until you have kids. You need to pick a skill and then practice it ceaselessly until you become extremely good at it, so good that men and other women will have no choice but to take you seriously. Shopping isn’t a skill. Clubbing isn’t a skill.”

Twyla Tharp wrote that at a certain point she realized that she had to choose between her career and having a family. She said that she realized this because creating great art requires one’s undivided attention, something a marriage and children also requires. She felt strongly that you simply can’t pay adequate attention to both. Alice Munro, on the other hand, didn’t start writing until she had her children. In those early years, she practiced writing while they slept: in the morning, during naps, and at night. Every spare minute, as she said. Her husband supported her. That’s another way to go. Girls shouldn’t blind themselves to the extraordinarily difficult obstacle children present, though, to the great difficulty of “rocking being a woman” as something other than a mother — and successful women should be brutally up front with them about this reality.

I think the real identity crisis that our daughters will face head-on is not losing their identity to their husbands — that was the problem of my mother’s generation — but broadening their identity beyond motherhood.

Here’s the reality of REAL creative badasses: they spend all their time making art. When the choice is between going clubbing and making art, they make art. That’s why they’re so good at making art: they practice it constantly. When they launch their author platform, they struggle to find time to blog about their work because they’re so busy doing their work. They know that people love their art, and that’s their focus — it’s why their art is so well regarded. Their work is not the incidental thing that is leftover after the high priority tasks are cleared up: these things — “life” to you and me — are shoe-horned into spare moments around the main work of making art. I worry that you never write about the main thing I’m interested in about you, Justine: your fiction. I hope it’s the focus of your life, because if it turns out to be something you squeeze in after the blog posts are written, I’m afraid it might not benefit from your undivided attention.


Wow, Bob, although I certainly appreciate your male perspective on how to rock it as a woman, I’m also wondering if you were deliberately trying to get this kind of rise out of me….? I’m going to take some time to reply to this — I’m not sure if you intended to be so dismissive and condescending, but there are some points I want to address.

Yes, that is exactly the problem with teenage girls today: the shopping and the clubbing. And yes, women quit their careers when they have kids because they *want* to. The *context* has nothing to do with it.

The young woman in question overcame a great deal of adversity in her background, which is why she was approached to speak to teenage girls in the first place (at her church). Obviously I’m not going to go into great personal detail about her background. Interesting that you would simply assume that she’s a twit speaking to other twits. Who can’t do math.

The *literary quality* of the specific books I mentioned had something to do with the reason why I recommended them. I admit, as an artist I’m interested in the lives of other artists — and I may have respect for Thatcher and Carly F. while still regarding them as evil incarnate because of some of their political views (I was an ardent supporter of Barbara Boxer + hosted an event for her) — and although Clinton is admirable to me her life is still in progress. When it is over and delivered into the hands of an excellent historian/biographer I shall read it. Okay? Okay. Oh, and to say that these women aren’t reviled by many men (or worshipped by many women)? What planet are you living on?

Edna St Vincent Millay was an incredible writer, rebel, trail-blazer for her time. Easy for some people to dismiss today, but that doesn’t change her courage or her talent (or the fact the SAVAGE BEAUTY is an incredibly compelling and well-written book.)

I have a great deal of admiration for Lee Miller, by the way, *because* she started out as a swimsuit model and muse — and became an impressive artist herself who documented the concentration camps, among other things. She refused to let herself be defined or limited by her looks — in an era when women were decorative. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself. Have you ever been to a Lee Miller exhibit? It blew the top of my head off, why I became interested in her in the first place. (Btw, she was raped as a youngster, and overcame that. The woman is indeed a major badass.) Women who seem ‘remote’ to you are of extreme interest to me because their experiences are not as ‘remote’ as you might think, nor are the examples their lives can serve, especially when presented as full and completed and analyzed and set within a particular time period that in and of itself can be analyzed. When you’re a woman who decides to live an unconventional life, you can find inspiration in places but you’re still carving your own path. Which is why these biographies become important. You need to see some version of it in order to see some other possible version of it in your head in order to be it.

Tharpe is of my mother’s generation; she had many excellent reasons for not wanting to surrender not just her art but her *life* to marriage and motherhood. Many other women — of her generation and previous generations — made the same claims for obvious reasons. When you were a wife and mother, it was difficult to be anything else, because your husband held so much sway over you, and because society deemed you psychologically wrong if you had the audacity to want something more than the chance to shop for shiny appliances. And yet some women managed to do it (Anne Sexton springs to mind, Sylvia Plath…granted, they killed themselves, but an unconventional life tends to exact a heavy price.) One of my favorite pieces of art is a portrait by — wait for it — Lee Miller — of Francoise Gilot, standing in her studio with a canvas in her hands, her young son close by her. Portrait of a woman as an artist *and* a mother. Francoise did it — and also survived an emotionally abusive marriage to an incredibly narcissistic and difficult man (Picasso) with her personhood and sense of humor intact (Picasso’s other exes didn’t fare so well). I like Francoise very much. :)

And you’re wrong, actually. Sometimes art thrives when it happens around the edges — cross-fertilized by life experience and a diversity of intellectual stimulation, uncontaminated by the pressure of writing for money or for deadlines. What art requires is the *discipline* of structure, the ebb and flow of *routine*, and where that routine puts the art-making should be according to what best serves the individual. Some people freeze up if they put it at the center.

I don’t write about my fiction because blogging is a break from my fiction, a chance for my mind to reset, to wander among other things and make new connections that I can then bring back to my fiction. I understand — and I guess I should be flattered, and I am — that there are people wondering when the hell I’m going to deliver another novel.

If you want to be a beta reader for my novel-in-progress, you can email me at soulful@com and I’ll send you some sections.


This is a great post. Don’t let Bob get you down. I started reading it and it just pissed me off. The general dismissive nature of him of all young woman shopping at the mall is typically chauvanistic; n’est pas? His opinion should not matter at all as he stands so uninformed.

I have a 12-year-old daughter. She is beautiful, smart, somewhat shy. I am doing everything I can to build her confidence up, even when I get answers like, I don’t know (which she knows I hate when she says this.) The gender roles certainly begin to play out towards the end of elementary school and the abyss of junior high can swallow them whole, especially girls. There are a lot of social mores at play, different backgrounds, too. Some children at 12 are allowed a lot of freedoms that we don’t allow with our child. This comes into play as well. Vigilance, confidence building, leadership, stating opinions, having an opinion, these are the things I want to concentrate upon with her.

I loved this piece and completely understand what you are getting at. For Bob to sweepingly say that all women live to have children and rock it from that perspective is just ridiculous.Thank you for the article. I have much to ponder while you deal with Bob.

Katherine Owen


Yes both sexes play their role very well, don’t they? Well domesticated we all are.
Although – always knew that I’m a bit of a woman, getting that confirmed here again. Then again, man and woman are just another mental model

I have a great marriage where we actually started off without roles. We each picked up the chores we like most. I do the dishes and clean (kitchen / windows / house in general), my wife does shopping and cooking, and kids and laundry we do together or whenever it suits us.
Top post on my ICT blog? “Resurrection.What are you waiting for?”

I learned (or unlearned?) a few years ago that everything you know is based on other people’s stories, wishes, ideas and opinions. You built on to that afterwards. Your belief system, judge system, opinion system: it’s all based on little rules that you don’t even think of questioning.
Well, I did, and then another, and another, and pretty soon I saw the complete system – just another system to keep you down, in serfdom; keeping you perfectly auto immune

Changing the rules doesn’t impact the game: seeing the Game behind the Rules is what does

Become great, powerful, rock? Why should you? What’s in it for you, and when you get there? What will you do, feel, find and get, when you are rocking. What if you have been rocking for 2 weeks straight?
Rock being a woman? That’s raising the bar even higher. First you have to rock, second you’ll have to be a woman as well.
And who told you to do all that anyway? Why?

Find your identity: ask all the identities you know what they are doing in your life, and in the end there will be one identity left: that’s the Real You
So, rock out that one true Self


Or, you know, 50.


Good reply. My views about this are complex, and I suspect we disagree mostly about the particulars. I say this because you’ve written repeatedly in the blog about the degree to which women do a disservice to themselves by a single-minded focus on The Hotness, and how you’ve observed just how un-seriously smart, powerful men take women who can’t meet them intellectually and professionally. Women do this to themselves, abetted by the culture and their girlfriends, and encouraged by lots and lots of men. But it’s also the case that there are many men out there who are very frustrated by this – they want to do the right thing, but they aren’t being given much to work with. Sheryl Sandberg talks about this at length.

I hire young people to work for me, and one thing that’s clear to me is that they have fully absorbed the language of self-actualization and the concept of branding, without cultivating any of the substance and skill necessary to build an actualized self or a realized brand around. They are all sizzle and no steak. They all talk about how passionate they are about their work, what perfectionists they are, how obsessed they are, but the main experience I have with them is their tendency to sleep through their alarm clock and to forget to call in to say they’ll be late; the women leave to have a baby or follow their boyfriend when he takes a new job. And in this regard, I have a bone to pick with you: I wish your blog were much less about the importance of building a platform and much more about the product and how you build it. The generation coming up, as far as I can tell, needs little encouragement to blog or reach out on Twitter. This goes for men and women (and don’t get me started on the men – it’s a good thing in the future we’re all going to be women, because if we were all going to be men we’d be sunk.) But women are squandering the opportunities created by those of my mother’s generation – the generation which wasn’t afraid to call themselves feminists – because that generation created opportunities that young women today both take for granted and fail to capitalize on. This goes for the way they seek identity through their boyfriends/husbands, the way they fail to cultivate careers versus jobs, their financial helplessness, and the subsuming of all other pursuits to 24/7 child-raising. I am 100% with your therapist in this regard. I hope she’s out there giving motivational speeches because hers is perspective that I rarely hear being offered out loud to young women by older women. I’ve never heard Oprah turn to the camera and say, “girls, be the change: turn off the television and go do your math homework.”

You’re in quite a unique position: a woman who started out living by one paradigm, got her head handed to her, and came out living a different way. And you wrote your way through the entire process! Now you’re identifying as a writer, among other things, and encouraging writers to build platforms to market themselves and survive in a future without book publishers. I don’t know whether yours is the right strategy, but I do know that content is king. You say this in the blog, but usually as a footnote. You’re in the game: please share with us what that’s like. Your daily routine, how you’re consciously engaging with your writing, how you got unblocked, how you make the choices you do in your writing. The last 30 pages you threw out: why did you throw them out? When did you know they were all wrong?

I understand the value of motivational writing. My blood quickens just like anyone else’s when you talk about being a creative badass. Do you see these two articulate, carefully-crafted comments I’ve written on your blog? I’m a creative badass. In my daily life, I have to keep un-motivated and un-focused people working so that I can keep the promises I’ve made to people who are paying me their hard-earned money. I’ve found that one of the best ways to do this is to give people very concrete tasks that are oriented around specific outcomes. Sometimes, when they’re floundering, the relief on their face when I hand them a concrete solution instead of an inspirational principle is palpable. I’m asking you to do more of that here in the blog: the concrete details of how you – you – make great content. Then your readers, men and women, can see what a woman who rocks being a woman actually looks like. From what I’ve seen, you’ve got the strength of character and fearlessness it takes to do this – there aren’t ten women in a thousand who could have written your plastic surgery post, or the posts about how you got outmaneuvered by Elon and what you did about it. I’m a fan, but a frustrated one.

Also, a word about Lee Miller, someone who’s work I also like and respect. Francine Prose wrote about her in her great book The Lives of the Muses, a book I promise you will not be able to put down. There’s no doubt in my mind that artistic creativity has a powerful sexual component to it, and that the romantic and sexual nurturing that women like Lee Miller offer their artist boyfriends is instrumental in enabling these often repressed and frightened men to tap into their creative centers. The fact that Lee Miller was a smart and talented artist herself must have magnified this effect enormously – can you imagine what it must have felt like to be loved and admired by a person like her? But the problem for young women has always been the same: the culture says, in effect, “start with looking good in a bathing suit and go from there.” Too often they don’t end up Lee Miller, a model who became a great artist; they end up Kim Kardashian. But it’s worse even than that, because the equivalent “muse” for a smart, ambitious, creative woman is the husband who says, “quit your job, I’ll support you; stay home and raise a kid and work on your art.” That’s how men “nurture” creative women: they give them time and money, and ask only in return that they spend their time raising their kids. Every writing workshop I take part in is full mostly of mommies with MFAs: going to class is a break from their kids. They never write – how can they? They never have time. And you know what? They all blog. Facebook, Twitter: they’re all over it. Blogging is perfect, because it’s short, unstructured, informal, unplanned. They can fit it in. Their blogs are boring, but they have their platform, and they feel like they’re working. I’m sure some of them will leverage their blogs into book contracts, and more than one of them will prove me wrong when I say: you’re not going to be the artist Alice Munro is if you spend your creative energy like this.


Thanks, Justine, for making me think deeply about this.Here’s my struggle. Can a woman “rock being a woman” if her primary focus is being a mother? As a new mother I’m shocked at how fulfilling I find it. Far more fulfilling than my work in public relations or any other attempt I’ve made at a career. How un-badass is that! But impossible to ignore. Could a mother be the ultimate creative badass? It seems a horrible disservice to women that mothers who embrace their motherhood as their career are associated with far right Limbaugh listeners and Palin lovers and, lets face it, not respected by a huge chunk of our society.

I look forward to your future posts as you dive further into these issues of womanhood, power and identity.


Love the depth and precision of your thinking here, Justine.

I looked up Badass in the Urban Dictionary, and got “The epitome of the American male.”

I looked up synonyms for Badass and it’s about Ego (oh, and violence):

Since I planned to write about ego and identity this week, this one is for you. A response to your badass post. Get yourself a Gorgeous Ego. Enjoy!


“Sometimes art thrives when it happens around the edges — cross-fertilized by life experience and a diversity of intellectual stimulation, uncontaminated by the pressure of writing for money or for deadlines. What art requires is the *discipline* of structure, the ebb and flow of *routine*, and where that routine puts the art-making should be according to what best serves the individual. Some people freeze up if they put it at the center.”



Oh my god. Yes, yes, and YES. Justine, this is it. <3 <3 <3


Dear Ms. Musk,

I just found your site via a link on former literary agent Nathan Bransford’s website and so far I am loving it, to borrow from an oft-used fast-food chain’s slogan (which doesn’t refer to the “whopper” waistlines they and their competitors indirectly manifest). ;-)

If I may, I would just like to comment on the “empowerment” concept that itself frightens me as a naturally introverted young woman of 18 (well, in about a month or so, anyway), who has zero real-life friends and overwhelming guilt at even being born because my mother, a wonderful person with a graduate degree from a well-regarded private university, abandoned her entire life and a job she loved and in which her co-workers respected her, after marrying my father, a self-important, immature, sloppy drinker who beat her on a semi-regular basis throughout my childhood, and for what? To raise me, her daughter, amid the myth of dual-parent bliss and protect me from being bullied on the playground by the bratty, spoiled children of pro-family upper-middle-class elitists if she were to attempt a divorce. Her daughter who’s become so depressed and devoid of self-worth that I can’t even pay her back in gratitude (because I think of myself as a living, breathing example of why Roe v. Wade should probably be a Federal mandate by now). As such, I must say that from personal experience, I do not feel motherhood is empowering or “beautiful” but just one more chronic, terminal pathology from which I do not wish to suffer. :’-(

That said, I am not “empowered” per se in going against the so-called “life script” (in swearing off marriage and dating) but am rather too chubby and homely to even garner attention from the opposite sex, a fact to which I have basically resigned myself as I sit at home depressed, surfing the internet while worried about my mother’s failing health and with a notebook beside me chock-full of creative ideas that I may never see to fruition. I was taught growing up that to be egotistical and narcissistic (or “bad*** as it’s written here) was shameful, not only for girls but just people in general. But I have read at length about your proposal to aspiring writers, of which I am one, to try their hands at social media as an effort of “selling the author” as part of the full creative package (if I have read that correctly). I currently do not have a blog or website and cannot afford one at present because I am unemployed/unemployable and have no money with which to purchase a domain name. Nor do I have enough energy or mental focus required to commit to writing a full-length novel *and* spending undue wasted time on social sites — not to mention how incredibly shy I am in real life (“IRL” to use the modern-day abbreviation), again, with zero friends “IRL” to add to my list.

I have a wishlist of books I would like to read and work through to (re-)inspire my creative “spark” while still young and with “a chance” (albeit minimal) of extending whatever voice I have to offer. One is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron; another is No Plot No Problem by Chris Baty (the Nanowrimo bible), and now added to my list is the one listed below on your site about writing a novel in 90 days. Alas I cannot afford to buy any of them and cannot even go to the library to look them up; I am practically housebound due to poor health of my own and severe social anxiety. As such, I don’t think I could survive in the world of social media either because I am just biologically prone to low self-confidence (and I seriously question the importance of a Facebook page if there’s nobody to include on the famed “buddy list”). I absolutely have confidence in my *ideas* but next to none (or “less than zero,” to borrow from the title of a once-popular novel about the art of being a male “bad***” à la the Urban Dictionary entry) in the *person* who would be presenting them. Wasn’t one of the myriad facets of postmodernism to exclude the author’s voice as a major entity within the written work (“journalistic fiction,” in one way), except for the name that appears on the front cover?

But after all this fatalism laid out in what is undoubtedly a far too lengthy comment for the ADD-ish Internet era of “TL;DR,” I would ask if there is any hope for someone like me, or if there is some way of working around the limitations I have in order to see my dreams (just one of which is being a widely-read author) through to fruition. I have no intent of being a “bad***” (I don’t like foul language so I’ll leave the donkey on the doorstep) ;-) as I question whether feminism has played a role in pathologizing shyness or legitimate introversion (in terms of personality psychology) as a supposed consequence of patriarchy-induced female inhibition. I don’t want to debate theories; I would just like some input on whether one absolutely must “conquer shyness” in order to have *her* dreams made a reality, or if it’s possible to delegate some responsibilities from a distance — like, say, hiring a freelance writer to ghostwrite one’s blog, or somehow paying a professional model or actress to be the pretty face in a profile photograph like yours :-) because mine is way too fat and pockmarked, the face that would sink a thousand ships or cause them to self-destruct? :-(

(And yes, after all that elaborately written fatalism I must reiterate that I am, in fact, not yet even 18.) :-)


This is one of those posts where I want to shout YES YES YES whilst reading it. Brilliant. So far I’ve noticed three particularly difficult stages of womanhood. 1. Around 24 (maybe into a second job, a few years into a relationship), when you start maybe questioning the values you have grown up with and struggling to find an adult identity. 2. On becoming a mother, or thereafter. Which presents lots of contradictory messages and ambitions and realms of fulfilment. Lots of women I know find this incredibly tough and it’s also difficult to be honest about some of those difficulties. Sense of identity would rank very high here. 3. When you hit your forties- if you gave up work, maybe you’re trying to get back into it, your body is changing and you might have to face conclusions about fertility and childbearing or lack thereof. Life doesn’t get simpler necessarily after that, but perhaps some of the big areas of ambiguity become clearer.

Women seem to face a constant doublebind and so many types of coaching and counselling look at things in strands (career, personal life) when holistic, harmonious balance is required. Having a strong sense of identity is, I believe, essential to feeling integrated not fragmented – and fragmentation leads to anxiety, loss of purpose, low self esteem (in my personal experience anyway).

Society as it is constructed at the moment seems to undermine opportunity for this type of integrated, harmonious life. Current legislation around parental leave and current working practices see to force decisions to be made where they shouldn’t have to be made. As a consequence I see women with enormous potential having to shoehorn themselves into one path at a huge cost to society for their potential as a mother, as a worker and as a citizen. However, I do have hope that things are changing – albeit not rapidly enough and I agree that the new platform work in favour of women. The question might be whether they can be integrated sufficiently into society and accepted.

My sister told me recently that Wonder Woman was created by a man who believed comics needed a female superhero who embodied female superpowers – a “distinctly feminist role model whose mission was to bring the Amazon ideals of love, peace, and sexual equality to a world torn by the hatred of men.” Wonder Woman’s creator said: “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power” and “Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. ”

I would love you to be right about the way things are moving and hope that you are.


As a man, I find this blog fascinating, because lately, it has turned more toward woman’s issues, carrying with it, a load of passion. I’ve never been in group therapy so I don’t know what men unload there. But I have never heard men talk about identity issues in the workplace unless I bring it up. I then get a few comments and the conversation is over. That’s the way men are, I guess. Or maybe we’ve been taught to keep it canned, as girls have been taught to…well, I’m not getting into that. In any case, men are generally not as “open” as women are, and their blogs typify an external approach to solving problems.

“You rock!” I’ve said that from time to time, and it has never been gender specific. It is interesting to get a woman’s POV here. For me, this term conveys EXCELLENCE in whatever field it describes. And as I think about it now, “You rock!” also implies confidence combined with humility. Some people come into the world with confidence… No, let me start over. I think that we all come into the world with confidence, but many times it is undermined by well intentioned parents and peer group pressure. We then have to relearn confidence so we can get in the game, compete, and hopefully “rock”. As you explained here, excellence, combined with a sense of identity, takes time, persistence, introspection and a deep desire to “evolve” (whatever that means).

Where does the desire come from? Well, that’s the big question, isn’t it?



I hope that within all the rocking and self-actual-whatsis there is some actual creating. I think that is the primary weakness within all these changes: too much sizzle and not enough steak. Much of the new way of media, publishing and communicating is commenting on comments about comments, and the real work is ten steps removed.
Time to rock? The guitarist of AC/DC wore the wood down on his first guitar; that’s how hard he worked before it was time to rock.
Perhaps there is a middle between the two spheres. Then all of us – male/female/in-between/vamp/fey/were/wizard – will have that harmonized life sold to us by the self-improvement gurus.


@Mac Campbell Mac, I’m not sure what you meant by your comment, but commenting about comments is a forum of ideas, and the exchange of those ideas, is the bed of creativity.



That’s right, Mac, women haven’t been working *at all*, they’ve just been sitting around eating bon-bons. WTF…?


In reply to WTF: in no way did I make a generalization about women. Perhaps you should re-read the post before projecting. Didn’t mention bon-bons either.

I meant that people talk far too much about rocking, and do not enough to earn that catchphrase. I ascribe this not to women, as you supposed, but to the Internet, to Oprah, the whole millennial habit of talking about oneself. My point was that the people (male and female) who really rocked worked their butts off and got stuff done.

And… Whoops. I just looked up and saw that some guy named bob made the same points, and scored some personal shots as well. So you might be have been a little sore and taken it out on my post.

In brief: too much talking about rocking, not enough rocking. Nothing to do with women specifically. And my favorite writers are Doris Lessing and George Eliot. They rocked, and they may have liked the occasional Bonbon after they rocked it all day.
Ps saw your book in the horror section at Powell’s in Portland.



@Lisa : Where’s the “+1” button when you need it?


@Mac Campbell Mac, perhaps you should make your points more clearly given the actual content of the post you were replying to, instead of psychoanalyzing my response. But point taken. There will always be more talking than rocking– I think that’s just human nature — because rocking out is damn hard work and requires the kind of obsessive intensity not everyone is capable of — but the talk in and of itself is not without merit.


But is it possible for one’s work to become even moderately well-known nowadays if the artist has profound faith in the work, but next to none in the artist?

I kind of like having an “identity crisis” (so to speak) because it allows me to remove bits of my own supposed personality from the creative work and let the work stand on its own. I guess I view pride in one’s work and taking ownership of compliments as pathological narcissism, and that itself makes me unique in this identity-favoring, pronoun-positive era of MySpace, YouTube,, and WeBook.

Nowadays, however, you’re more likely to have a microscopic bank account if you don’t have a larger-than-life ego. :-( And that worries me, even as a woman (but the textbook modest “good girl”), all this talk about “I am woman; hear me roar” and “mommy blogging” and “sisters doing it for themselves.” I’m one of those rare “millennials” who doesn’t have such a propensity towards “rocking out” or believing “I’m fabulous” or the supposed value of “me time,” and as a natural-born introvert, I’d like it to stay that way…

But I still want my book(s) to be read/art to be displayed/songs to be sung/etc. Arguably there’s a little bit of self-indulgence in that regard, but it’s kind of like if no one knew Barry Manilow was “the one who makes the whole world sing” and they just sang the songs he wrote. I’m petrified of the whole idea of “selling yourself as part of a greater package deal” — it’s not the “media” in social media that has me scared squirtless, but the “social” part. :-( I have trouble with one-on-one conversations in real life, let alone trying to engage a whole world of people.

*sigh* I guess I’m actually one of those Millennials who does better with superficial contacts versus real-world friends…but at this point in time, one still needs real-world friends to start the groundwork for a further network of superficial contacts. (Strangely enough, I’m a Milennial who knows Barry Manilow as more than the subject of a Family Guy sketch!) ;-)

Oh well, back to reading Catch-22 in the Rye and channeling Lone Wolf Salinger… :-(


@Ugly Dumpling Expecting a blog address, I clicked on your name – no dice. I won’t expect you to hear you roar, but throw a brother a link, why don’t you? Let’s see an excerpt of channelled Salinger – I won’t speak for anyone else here but *I’ll* be nice.


@ Mac Campbell – I wager you confused more readers than Justine. No, of course you didn’t “literally” make a generalization about women when you used the phrase “rocking and self-actual-whatsis”. That’s your story; stick to it.
But Mac, perhaps YOU should have reread the post before commenting. See that one sentence stand-alone paragraph, just before the concluding paragraph- right there, a few lines up from the bottom that reads , “How to rock being a woman.” That’s the blog’s overriding theme – the one in which readers understood your comment to be made.
Had you done so, given the nature of the blog and this particular entry, you undoubtedly would have specified “men and women”. Apology accepted.
And, if AC rock (and Willie Nelson) scratch pick holes in their guitars’ sounding boards, I suspect many readers of this blog have cabinets full of unfinished, unpublished short stories and novels; all testament to the ten, (and many more) years of their hard practice (and rocking) required for success; which is another reoccurring theme in Tribal Writer.


@Terry Wilson Hmm. When you use quotes in relation to what I have said, I assume you are quoting me; in none of my posts do I use the word “literally”, which you placed in quotes. Apology accepted!
Also, in my second post in response to Justine, I said(notice I am using quotation marks here): “My point was that the people(male and female) who really rocked worked their butts off and got stuff done.” That’s quite amazing – I took your advice before you even wrote it! Either that or (and I hate to harp on this) you should have reread my posts. Apology accepted.
I do now understand how people might have viewed my post, so that’s a point I’ll take down.
“AC rock (and Willie Nelson) scratch pick holes” – not really sure what that means, so I’ll skip over it.
The hard work of the writers on this board? That’s great. Admirable. I can relate. But I wasn’t referring to them in my posts, or saying they didn’t work hard. I’m not sure how that supports your comments.
Look, I’m a pleasant enough guy, but anyone can be a complete jerk if you take into account the things he *didn’t* say, or the things you thought he meant, or if you mistakenly advise him to say things he’s already said. If you’re going to pile on, do so in the spirit of accuracy.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to finish the second Game of Thrones. Tonight I will start a book I bought from iBooks, a book called Uninvited. Since I’m in her bad books, I may as well settle in and read one of them.


Additionally, “bad books” is an expression that implies that she is ticked at me, and in no way connotes the quality of Justine Musk’s books. I’m sure Uninvited’s reviews are well-deserved and I look forward to reading it.


@Ugly Dumpling And very quickly, it’s not about promoting yourself, which no one is interested in anyway — it’s about promoting your zone of ideas. By ‘time to rock it out’ I mean that the values of social media are such that the landscape has shifted in a way that plays to the strengths of women, if only we’re bold enough to stake our claim. It’s not simply about ‘being fabulous’ –if the substance isn’t there, the audience won’t be either.


Just found your site (from Dusti’s) and love it! I wish I could impart all of the wisdom you write about to my 12 year old daughters now, but, alas, they will likely have to learn from their own mistakes (the way I did). And still am, particularily when it comes to finding my muse and letting the creativity out. As an attorney for close to 20 years, it is very hard to do…which is why I was SOOOO delighted when my girls announced recently that one wants to me an artist and the other wants to be and atist and a writer! I do everything I can to help them develop those interests (without them knowing too much, because then they wouldn’t do it) and hope they never fall into believing that they have to give up creative pursuits just to earn a living…which of course leads us to Bob’s parting comments to you…and I won’t even get started on the whole working mother debate here.

As for Bob, just to put things into perspective, he is reading your blogs (a lot, it appears), so you’re obviously doing something to keep him interested ;)


@justine @justine Thank you for clarifying. But I must admit, I’m still confused, and at a loss for words (in the personal-platform sense, although my questions on other people’s sites are usually quite lengthy). I don’t want to let people in on anything in my personal life; I’d be promoting my brand (which I would think is the book and not the person — Stephen King is not a “brand”; he’s the “selling point,” imho. His publisher is the brand; his agent the marketer, and “Firestarter” the product). If I’m blogging about a novel, I’m not going to review washing machines or offer advice on HTML coding or grilling tips or anything unrelated like that (none of which I even know about, lol).

The author blogs/postings/articles I’ve seen from time to time are almost like mini-biographies, with maybe a select Q&A here and there about the writing life. Ex: Laurell K. Hamilton sent a Tweet about having dyscalculia (a math-related learning disability). John Grisham gave an interview to “Parade” recently in which he talked about food allergies and his favorite recliner. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a human-interest element to the writer platform, but when all is said and done, if any of these people were “just starting out,” how does Grisham saying he’s lactose-intolerant have any bearing on whether people buy “Runaway Jury,” or Hamilton talking about her difficulties with algebra pertain to the Anita Blake series? I mean, if Janet Evanovich posts a recipe for plum pudding or something, how does that relate to anything having to do with Stephanie Plum?

(Although I do have a pretty tasty plum pudding recipe I’d love to send to Ms. Evanovich. And it’s gluten-free, so Grisham might like it too…and Ms. Hamilton need not worry about mathematically accurate measurements, because I have dyscalculia too.) :-)

But when you say “promoting your zone of ideas,” isn’t the published product itself the most important part of that zone of ideas, and if shameless self-promotion/product placement is actually a turn-off to readers (and considered spamvertising), then…what is there left to talk about? :’-(


@Mac Campbell Lol, thanks for being nice :-) But what I meant about “channeling my inner Lone Wolf Salinger” is embracing my inward recluse (is there any such thing as an “outward” recluse?), and squirreling away to a cabin in the woods of New Hampshire (or Walden Pond, perhaps).

Even if that cabin exists only in the dark corners and cobwebbed crevices of my solitary mind (and I really end up in a van down by the river)! ;-D


@Mac Campbell Lol, I don’t have a blog myself, but you asked for a link (brother), so here it is —

(I’m not the author/site owner myself but can really identify with a *lot* of what she says.)

Then again, I could throw you a link to my writer’s platform…

…”Brother.” XD


Wow, those are great questions, and there’s a lot to address in that comment! Each question really deserves its own blog post, but quickly off the top of my head:

1. Stephen King is very definitely a brand. He is one of the brand-iest authors out there; he was an author-brand before people even used the term. A ‘brand’ is the sum of impressions anybody has of you — it is your avatar, basically, your mental imprint in others’ minds. A ‘brand’ is a sense of identity, a set of ideas and associations that stands in for you, the ‘voice’ that your readers will construct their own sense of your personality or persona around.

2. PLEASE don’t take your ideas about blogging and online presence from already-established authors, especially those with celebrity or near-celebrity status. They brought their huge offline followings with them into their online world. They came up through publishing in a very different era. What worked for them then — and what works for them now — isn’t what is likely to work for any new writer today (other than the need to WRITE AN AWESOME BOOK). They’re in a completely different universe.

3. When I talk about “promoting your zone of ideas”, I say that because of exactly what you said — “shameless self-promotion/product placement is actually a turn-off”. People do not want to be ‘sold to’. People want to be *engaged* and rewarded for their attention. This is because the Internet has changed the very essence of marketing — it is no longer a controlled message that TV and billboards push out to the masses. It is no longer a one-dimensional promise, a hyped-up image — because as soon as people figure out what’s untrue, they spread the word, and the word now travels very very very very fast. So a ‘brand’ (for lack of a better word) has to be *authentic*. And it has to be attractive enough to have ‘pull’ — it has to offer out something that pulls in new readers who otherwise wouldn’t know you from Adam or Eve and wouldn’t care. Then you have to offer something that keeps them interested enough to stay and check out your site, and then to keep coming back often enough to form a relationship with your ‘voice’, and to develop an interest in your work, and become a fan, and buy your books, and tell other people about you. A one-dimensional message – saying the same thing over and over again — won’t do this. You have to offer content that is rich and multi-layered, that has value in and of itself, that you and your readers can explore different aspects of over time, so you can keep the conversation going. You have to talk to them in a way that interests *them*, and talking about your books doesn’t interest them, at least at first. Nobody cares. What people do care about is *meaning* and feeling part of something bigger than themselves. So you promote those ideas that you want to explore with them and that you want to be associated with — that become part of your brand-identity — and by aligning themselves with them, with your ‘brand’, your reader makes those ideas an expression of his or her identity as well.

For example, I just bought, on total impulse, a coffee thermos when I was at Coffee Bean. I didn’t need a new one, but it appealed to me because it had the identifiable yellow band of Lance Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG brand and was associated with that organization. I bought the thermos because I feel a connection to that brand, the ideas it represents for me, and I like being visibly associated with those ideas. I identify with that brand. I aspire to be what it represents. But notice that what the brand stands for is much deeper than just Lance Armstrong saying, “I am awesome! Buy my stuff!” Notice the kinds of conversations that you can have around that brand that don’t even have to mention Lance but could be about being an athlete, the Tour de France, surviving cancer, persistence and sacrifice, the nature of a champion, great achievement, etc. I was drawn in by those conversations, those ideas, and so I bought the thermos. What’s interesting is that I am completely aware of the process at work, how it’s playing on my psychology, and of course I know that a coffee thermos isn’t going to make me as badass as Lance Armstrong. But it’s an emotional connection that pulls me in, not a rational or intellectual one, and so I put down twenty bucks for the thermos.

So your job as a writer is to generate conversations that draw people in to your paid, published work. Which is a much more interesting and rewarding way of ‘promoting yourself’ than actually promoting yourself, at least in the old-school kind of way (passing out bookmarks, etc.).


Another brilliant blog post, you keep hitting the exact topics that are on my mind at the moment.

The comment discussions are as interesting as the post itself! It’s so easy for people to misunderstand each other, I guess a lot of clarifying is required. The challenge seems to be not to take things personally, ’cause then people start taking potshots at each other and forget about the original discussion.


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