Safe Space for Our Voices

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

January 20, 2017

lizadonovan-hearourvoice-1At noon today, January 20, 2017, a new administration takes over leadership in the US. Inauguration, balls, protests and marches will magnify every moment in Washington, DC this weekend. The first 100 days of the new administration will reveal just how much change is going to unfold and judge its benefits or detriments. To say the entire world is watching is not hyperbole. And writers cannot escape this gaze.

The US Press Corps has issued its stand in an open letter to Trump: “We believe there is an objective truth, and we will hold you to that.” Media has derailed in its quest for objective truth the moment advertising dollars oozed past the boundaries of editorial in an act of survival when print faded in the light of the rising digital sun. Media has long toyed with sensationalism to grab attention, often obscuring the truth to get readers. But now we live in an age of reality-TV masquerading as real and fake news making fools of all. We are now struggling with a post-truth era.

Let objective truth become your safe phrase.

We cannot hide from the events unfolding. To be an informed writer — even a novelist or poet or memoirist or creator of educational materials or creator of flash fiction — we must be informed readers. When it does not feel safe to read or listen to the news, often it is because of biases and worry over propaganda or fake news. Focus on objective truth. Read critically. Read deep. It might be tempting to scan the sound bites or let well-intentioned friends inform you in a Facebook post about those “six things you need to know about _______,” but seek the deeper reporting. Here’s my list of news sources:

  1. The New York Times (I pay for a monthly subscription)
  2. ProPublica
  3. Associated Press
  4. PBS NewsHour
  5. Audible (I pay for a monthly subscription and follow Channels like Scientific America and Masters of Fiction)
  6. Pocast Republic
  7. NPROne

Be a critical reader. Even the best of journalists can express bias. At times, I’ve caught a tone of exasperation missed by an editor or perhaps added by one. Recognize tone and intent. Be on guard for bias. Occasionally read a source you know to be bias (liberal or alt-right) to compare the reporting on the same story. Know the difference between opinion and fact. Look for sources. Look up sources. Do some sleuthing on your own, don’t become reliant upon outlets like Snopes because then you are letting someone else think for you. Don’t “like” biased news, call out fake news or lies when correction is needed, and don’t copy and paste incomplete information from your BFF. Seek objective truth.

One of the challenges writers have when filling the mind-well is wanting to write about it, of course. Be aware that this is not a safe environment for writers. Journalists have called for solidarity. Many groups, such as #LinkYourLife offer private safe space on Facebook with member rules to protect the space and moderators to encourage participation. Carrot Ranch is an open literary community. Most writers participate in multiple social media platforms and write blog posts, articles or literary submissions. We express our thoughts and our thoughts are informed by what we experience and read or observe.

Yet, doing so makes writers vulnerable. What was intimate in our hearts and minds becomes words on a page. When we share those words publicly, we can’t control the reaction of others. Something as simple as an encouraging quote or an expressed opinion can receive negative feedback. Recently I posted a quote from Langston Hughes and endured a vitriolic debate from someone on Facebook who inappropriately associated the quote to an offensive art exhibit. And yet, I defended artists having the freedom of expression. It felt ironic because I didn’t feel so free in expressing myself. Another writer posted a political meme and was trolled on her Facebook page. Another writer wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that created a media storm complete with public shaming from Bill O’Reilly and death threats.

So how do writers stay safe yet continue to write?

Know your boundaries. Find safe groups where you feel welcome and comfortable. Have a crisis plan. If you are new to blogging and are journaling personal thoughts and feelings, you can keep your blog private until you feel ready to share. Use your comfort to share as your cue. Sometimes, in order to grow, we have to expand beyond our safety zones, and being scared does not mean you are helpless. Set your boundaries on your social media and craft rules of what you will tolerate (you can block and report). I tolerated the vitriol on my FB because I want my posts to be public (part of my writer’s platform) and I knew the offender (my Hub’s opinionated cousin). The writer who was trolled on Facebook thought she could learn from opposing opinions, but it became clear it was an organized attack (by people she didn’t  know) and she blocked them. The Washington Post writer rode out the storm with the help of her publicist.

Before negative remarks send you into a crisis, have a plan: don’t engage with anyone who makes you feel unsafe; know how to block and report offenders; reach out to moderators; adjust your level of sharing.

As someone who leads a literary community, safe space means a place where our writing is not critiqued in the normal academic way of tearing down. Trolls would never be an issue here and that is why I have tight security on my comment feed. It can be annoying when comments or pingbacks delay or even get lost but it’s worth keeping the space here safe from undue criticism. We also have some basic rules at Carrot Ranch which are always linked. In the three years we’ve been flashing as a community, only once did I have to send an email to an inappropriate commentor, and the writers never saw the comment. Of course, we are not the Washington Post or The New Yorker, but it’s important for writers to know that having a safe zone to practice creative writing — raw literature — is a priority at Carrot Ranch.

Each week we focus on writing flash fiction as play, the way musicians get together and jam. Writers often comment and the focus is on what is engaging in the flash, or craft techniques that worked well. A safe place for literary art practices appreciative inquiry to build upon a writer’s strengths. A safe place expresses adult ideas in content, and we keep them to the level of: would you share this with your boss. If not, give a content warning, post it on your own blog and link to it in the comments. It’s never been a problem to date, but worth explaining that there is a process for sharing extreme content.

Ultimately Carrot Ranch is a safe place for writers from diverse backgrounds to share across genres, topics and national origin. Literary art is the common ground for diversity.

Even fiction explores objective truth. In fact, fiction is most powerful when it clearly expresses truth. Just because we live in uncertain times does not mean we have to be uncertain about what we write. Perhaps we are called to be more mindful of what we write, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Safety is a reasonable concern. It’s my greatest hope you come here to write because you feel safe in expressing yourself in raw literature among this literary community. We learn from different perspectives and we grow when we dare to be brave.

It’s a new era, today. Hone your voice and write on.


A Note about the artwork: Hear Our Voice is by artist, Liz Donovan and is a free download from the Women’s March on Washington. The purpose is to amplify the messages women bring to the march. I’ll be marching on Saturday in a Sister March, holding a sign made from this artwork. My body guard and faithful dog march with me.


I’m a member and co-moderator of the Link Your Life group on Facebook which is a safe place to share writing links. The LYL Mod Squad has joined forces today to reflect upn what safe space does and doesn’t mean. Here’s the complete list:

Heavy Lifting: Accountability, ego and a safe team environment, By Shawna Ayoub Ainslie

What Is a Safe Space? by Drew Sheldon

What an Online safe space is and isn’t by Stacia Fleegal

Why this one life hack will change your life forever, by Raymond Baxter

The importance of safe spaces and how to understand them better – Link Your Life, by Charlotte Farhan

Harmony, by Rachel A. Hanson

How bringing others in improves healing and progress, by Thomas Ives


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  1. C. Jai Ferry

    I appreciate everything you write in this post and the efforts you make to ensure that Carrot Ranch is a safe place for writers. I do have one caveat though (taken from far too many personal experiences): We can have our social media accounts on the tightest lock down possible and trolls can still wreak havoc, pervasive little snots that they are. We may know and trust everyone following/friending us, but we don’t know who is reading over their shoulders or with whom they might be sharing our content. I have seen instances where a trusted friend copied and pasted (because sharing functions were turned off) content to share with others because that friend believed the content was so good. I have seen people share content by handing over phones or laptops so people not authorized to see content could access it. Most of the time, such shares are done because the content resonated so strongly with the original recipient. Unfortunately, the new recipient doesn’t always react in the same way. So having a crisis plan is critical, and I am so glad you included that recommendation. I would add that your plan should include contingencies for the worst you can imagine…and then some. Case in point: I recently received death threats in two different instances. In both cases, the threats came from people who agreed with my stance/content, but disagreed about how to proceed. One threat seemed more like a blowhard puffing out her chest (not that I disregarded it). The other came from someone with an entire army of supporters who were ready to hunt me down (luckily that troll didn’t publicly share my name with anyone, but I monitored the situation for more than a month to make sure). I guess what I am saying is that even our supporters can adopt troll-like behaviors, so a crisis plan is important even when you feel completely safe in your own space. Don’t be afraid to react quickly and take definitive action, and definitely know your own limits and be able to walk away when necessary (that last bit is what I always struggle with *sigh*). Thank you for sharing such thought-provoking content!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for adding to the reality of writing in this current environment. Yes, you are right to bring up that we can’t control who shares and views or work once out. I’m so sorry you had to deal with death threats. It’s stunning that they can happen, but with anonymity people lose control of themselves. Perhaps we should continue this discussion and craft a post on crisis management.

      • C. Jai Ferry

        Another thought I had was to remind people that safe places are not static. We don’t 100% control our websites or social media presences because the companies that own them (hosting sites, FB, WP, Twitter, etc.) are constantly looking for ways to “tweak” their systems. These tweaks can often lead to changes that affect our safe places, as I think many are experiencing in FB’s recent changes to allow more friends’ posts to show on people’s feeds. The result is that people are now seeing when their friends “like” a post/comment on someone else’s wall and jumping into conversations that they have no business being part of. I know I’ve had to shut down more than a few people who jumped onto my posts b/c they thought it was their friend posting (their friend “liked” my post and the interloper apparently didn’t bother to read that “why are you seeing this” at the top of the post). And I have had to block friends/family members who used my “likes” on other people’s posts as an invitation to attack the original poster (still feel horrible about that, Charli). Although FB notified users that it was changing its algorithms to allow us to see more of our friends’ activity on the site (after people complained about not being able to see friends’ posts), I don’t think any of us realized the far-reaching ramifications of such a welcomed (until it went into effect) change. And this seemingly harmless change has affected how people use FB — not only for trolling. I have many, many friends who appreciate my posts on FB but refuse to like/comment on them in any way b/c they don’t want their friends seeing their activity….on a **social** media site! In addition, after this recent FB change, about half of my groups changed their settings to secret b/c non-group members were suddenly seeing group members’ activity in the group. All of these things changed in a heartbeat several months ago and people are still scrambling to find ways to keep their FB presence relatively safe while also using it to engage with others (I had two different friends makes posts about this issue this week). So even if we have every all nice and secure in this moment, tomorrow the owners of the software could inadvertently remove some/all of our safeguards without us even knowing until it is too late. I don’t mention this to try and scare people, but just remind people not to become lulled into a false sense of safety. Maintaining a safe, secure space requires constant vigilance. 🙂

      • Annecdotist

        Aargh, death threats? I’m such an innocent in this department – thanks both for raising the possibility.

      • Charli Mills

        C. Jai you bring up issues that not all writers are aware of either. Basically, we are vulnerable when we are on social media and we can make choices regarding how we interact.

      • Charli Mills

        Anne, I’ve had other writers (not here but in other social media groups) get death threats for speaking out on sexual assault. That seems to be the one of the most inflammatory topics in the US. The rape culture is pervasive here, entrenched, denied and defended.

      • Annecdotist

        Thanks for letting me know that, Charli, that’s outrageous. Speaking out is hard enough as it is. I feel it would be quite as bad here in the UK, although maybe I’m deluding myself.

    • Sherri

      Thank you so much for sharing this about FB C Jai. It explains so much and all makes sense now. I knew the gist of these recent changes, but you’ve now confirmed my suspicions on the way FB ‘shares’ posts we like and comment on and I don’t like it one bit. I’ve also noticed on my public FB author page that they limit who actually sees it while asking me to pay to promote it to a wider audience. I will be looking much closer at my FB settings – again. And regarding the death threats – so sorry to hear this but not surprised – my youngest has recently had her blogs terminated (I won’t say on which platform, but it’s not WP). I won’t go into the reasons, but suffice to say, it was all about expressing an opinion that went against the popular one there and although my child (adult, but still my child…) received several death threats as in ‘You should just go kill yourself’, none of those blogs were terminated. My child also has Asperger’s and notices how it is now common to insult someone by calling them ‘autistic’, as if being an Aspie is akin to being the spawn of the devil. My child also recently deleted their FB profile but not before putting up a message to explain why…they walked away because the vitriol was too much to deal with, hard enough for anyone but especially for an Aspie whose main, if not only, social interaction is online. Thankfully, they gathered their friends and now has a new, safe and private profile and a new blog. But all that hard work? Gone. Thanks to ignorance and hatred spewed out by cowards. Okay, rant over, I’ll get off my soapbox. Thanks again C Jai…and of course Charli, will reply separately.

      • Charli Mills

        That’s awful, Sherri. And why we go to such lengths to create these safe spaces. They won’t ever be conflict-free or subject to intrusion, but I do believe among groups there can be intelligent and compassionate attempts to create such safe places. I hope your child has found that in regrouping, but as you say, what a loss and how unfair that those spreading the vitriol are spared because they express or represent the more popular (dare I say, populist) view.

      • Sherri

        Yes, you dare say populist…and unfair indeed. Oh what times these are. Thanks again Charli, I know I can always count on you for your wise, kind, caring and compassionate support and outlook <3

      • Annecdotist

        Feel funny giving this a ‘like’, but sorry this happened when your daughter needs that safe space more than most.

      • Sherri

        Thank you Anne…things have settled down a bit again now with a new blog and friends regrouped, but of course always the worry it could happen again. Social media can be wonderful but as we all know, it can also be so very ugly…

  2. lorilschafer

    Well said, Charli 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Hey, Lori! Good to see you at the ranch! Thanks.

  3. jeanne229

    Timely and important post! It is critical to to use reliable sources, a “novel” idea I have pointed out on FB to a neighbor recently, and was treated to a slew of comments about liberal idiots, etc. That pales in comparison to trolls, but it does give one pause. I have had my courage tested more in the last 4 months than ever, even though my platform and visibility are tiny. Just saw a post this morning on The Chronicle for Higher Ed, “When Truth Becomes a Commodity.” Your plan of preparation is a first step, Charli. And I for one would appreciate a post or even a private consultation on guarding your site. I have just had to jump up a level in my WP knowledge base these last two weeks after being invaded by 200 + suspicious subscribers and briefly losing control of my dashboard. Bottom line, thanks for this post. Outing your ideas in writing has never been easy, but now more than ever so much depends on it. And if our instant communication age has made it easier for lies to be communicated and disseminated far and wide at the click of a button, so has it made voices like yours to be heard in ever widening circles. I hear you sister.

    • Charli Mills

      I know what you mean about having courage tested! Not all opinions or expressions are safe. And I often wonder if suspicious activity like that is random, or if it’s an attack for speaking an objective truth. Now more than ever, we need to have reliable sources and credible facts. Ever since the Women’s Marches and my proliferation of political posts calling for administrative accountability, I have had an increase in Friend Requests on FB by “widowed” men. Um, I don’t think so! I think they are sham or hijacked accounts. Best thing to do is to have the double security on WP and change your passwords frequently. It’s a pain, but it helps. Any account I can, I do the double security of password plus text code to my cell phone and my cell phone requires my fingerprint. I wouldn’t be surprised if Russian hackers take over accounts and are the ones trolling!

  4. TanGental

    Very timely; the worst (so far, I really try not to be complacent) I have had is a commentator who follows my blog and who always assumes any comment piece I write comes from some right wing conservative viewpoint (unlike her irredeemably pure socialist credentials – me, judgemental!!) So her comments are always sneering and condescending in tone. But that’s the worst and because I leave them up there for public view I have readers who take issue. If that starts a riotous debate then I take the comments down. But I’m reluctant to stop her expressing her views, while wishing for her to find a way of doing so in a balanced way. So, you see, nothing really. But I take your point; you can’t control who follows you (at least i don’t think so, beyond making all their comments spam) and that feels like a last resort. And to date I keep FB very personal in my friends choices and twitter I limit the content. But it (trolling) will happen, probably when I least expect it.

    • Annecdotist

      Apologies for what might seem flippant response to your serious comment, but I’m so used to your humour and did wonder if the female with the “irredeemably pure socialist credentials” might have been me (I think I’m joking)!
      But I’m with you at the moment about leaving such things up for your more supportive followers to reply to (which I think is potentially more effective) but you’ll see from my comment I’m a total innocent / ignoramus in this regard and welcome opportunities to learn.

      • TanGental

        It wasn’t you. You are far too clever to be stereotyped thus.

      • Charli Mills

        We’re all going to be looking for the socialist now! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      This commenter must enjoy the sparring! You can actually remove followers: Also, I use the setting under comments that requires approval for first-time commenters. That’s why pingbacks don’t initially show up. I have manually approve them. I use a spam filter and it’s mostly accurate but occasionally a legit comment turns up in there. Somehow I think you could get the better of a troll! But best thing is not to engage, delete and block.

      • TanGental

        I like to try and let everyone have a say but sometimes one has to exercise a bit of censorship

      • Charli Mills

        Censorship would be a good topic of discussion.

  5. Annecdotist

    This is a great post, Charli, and great subsequent discussion. I have to say I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by all the commentary I’ve felt driven to read over this past couple of days – hard to keep a balance between the need to process this stuff and other more personal objectives (although, of course, they interact).
    Interestingly though, I read it through on Friday morning, feeling slightly distant from the issues of safe spaces having experienced relatively few online attacks. Then, returning to cyberspace late in the afternoon, I found a surprise comment on a two-years-old post reviewing a novel about the cover-ups of child sexual abuse within the Irish Catholic church
    I’d be curious as to whether theists would be more in tune with the commenter than I am but, after first welcoming it as freedom of expression of diverse opinions, I now think it’s another version of Trumpism and the powerful (in this case the church, by invoking a higher power) exempting themselves from the rules that govern the lives of ordinary citizens. However strong one’s loyalty to Catholicism, don’t we all have a responsibility to condemn the abuse shelters – and still sheltering – under its roof?
    I’m still trying to process my thoughts on where and how we draw the line between freedom of expression and denial and distortion of the truth. It also seems important not to be side-lined into defending tangential issues (for example, I declined to respond to my commenter’s challenge to cite evidence of significant good works undertaken by secular organisations – of course these exist in abundance but, in drawing attention to the abuse, I was in no way attempting to deny that religion can and does also linked to positive action). But it makes me realise how it can be hard to, in Kipling’s cliched but helpful words, “keep your head when all around are losing theirs and blaming it on you”.
    I’m not sure that moderating comments is the answer – although I reserve my right to delete the inappropriate. We’ve built a community that is supportive despite differences and I think it’s always great when a conversation develops between commenters that doesn’t rely on the post-writer’s intervention. But a moderated comment is seen only by the blogger, missing out on the opportunity for community support. We must avoid giving a platform to truth deniers, but an attacking comment can hurt as much, or more, when delivered to the blogger’s inbox than when publicly posted.
    I’m still muddled and think I need to go for a lie down – but I’m also excited at the prospect of our writing, even in fiction, becoming more of a political act.
    PS – hope you were enthused by the march! There were a few over here but not very accessible to me.

    • Charli Mills

      I was enthused by the march, Anne yet also I feel as you do: “I’m still trying to process my thoughts on where and how we draw the line between freedom of expression and denial and distortion of the truth.” After the Marches there has been an slaughter of the objective truth. I’m so exhausted from trying to follow what one journalist called today, “news from the White House fire hose.” I just want to go hiking and process without the pressure of a solution.

      I’d agree with you to keep comments such as the one you received up because you were civil in your response, and he does present an interesting (if not utterly twisted) perspective. I get his point that the Catholic Church is both divine and also a great contributor to humanity — classical education, chants, hospitals. Yet it also have contributed to human atrocities — inquisitions, repressions, sexual abuse among all others. His opening statement I think is meant to be an accusation that throws you off your guard. He deflects and defends. But he’s not vitriolic and he isn’t going to intimidate your readers. You (and I’m sure, Boyne’s book) struck a nerve. Is he what one would call an “apologist”?

      Moderators need to check activity that breaks any communicated rules and first attempt to correct. If that is not accepted and others voice concerns, then I believe a comment or follower needs to be removed. Otherwise, I think allowing different perspectives and offering respect for another point of view helps. Trolls are something different. They are either Russian disruptors or disturbed personalities.

      And I was thrilled to see there were Marches in the UK!

      • Annecdotist

        Thanks for checking that comment, Charli, and I think that’s good advice to give them an initial benefit of the doubt but to block if it continues. Oh, and I should add to the list of wonderful things the church has done in the wonderful range of choral music which it’s my honour to have the chance to sing in a choir (just practising Haydn’s Nelson Mass the moment).
        Yes, fewer women on the march in the UK, obviously, but we’re almost as concerned and keen to express our objections.
        Hope you’ve managed to rest a while now.

      • Charli Mills

        I love that you are able to enjoy the choir aspect of church and get the opportunity to chose on your own terms to participate.

      • Annecdotist

        Well, we don’t always sing in a church, and I get a bit of a shock at what’s coming out of my mouth when I’m singing in English but the music is delightful and I’m so grateful for it.

  6. Norah

    What an interesting post, Charli. I have to say I’m an innocent in this, and grateful to be so. I have experienced little negativity on my blog or social media. Maybe I’ve not got enough reach yet. Perhaps that’s a good thing. However, I have heard the stories of others, and am appalled at what they have experienced. I appreciate your guidance in this matter and, like Jeanne, would appreciate more information about being on guard and prepared. I followed the links to others of the posts, but not yet all. There is some interesting reading in there too. Thank you to all LYL moderators for sharing what a safe place means to them. And thank you, Charli, for creating a safe space here at the Carrot Ranch where we can all come, pull up a stump, and have a chat. The definition you provide of The Ranch is apt. Thank you.

    • Charli Mills

      In some ways, I think engaged communities can be intimidating to dissenters. I’ve noticed that the nastiest comments are ones on published articles where the author would never interact. It creates this sense of freedom to be more critical and judgemental, whereas in a community, the author is communicating and it’s less of a critique and more of a conversation. See, communities are a plus! 🙂 And yes, we get to chat and learn from one another. Thank you for taking time to read the moderators, too!

      In marketing communications, we called it “crisis communications” and we’d have talking points or a crisis plan for various scenarios. One preventative is to have rules that support your blog or social media’s values. I’ll work on translating that into a crisis plan for bloggers and do a future post.

      • Norah

        That’s an interesting point about dissenters mainly commenting on articles that don’t invite communication. I have always enjoyed the opportunity for discussion, and therefore learning, to occur. I enjoyed the articles and found the content informative. It is good to learn from others and be prepared. I look forward to learning from your future post.

  7. Sherri

    This is a great post Charli, thank you so much for writing it when we all so badly need to be aware of safe places, such as Carrot Ranch, where we can write and express our opinions without fearing threats and vitriol. I need to return and read some of the links here too. I’ve always kept out of political and religious sharing on social media and my blog (except for when I wrote a small piece about Brexit) because I know I will fire back with both barrels if someone is rude or disrespectful or threatening, which I also know is the worse thing to do. So I try to keep my thoughts to myself, as much as possible. But I don’t like the way FB controls who sees which posts we like or comment on (as C Jai explained). Although I don’t have much to worry about on that score, as it’s not as if I have anything to hide – I don’t think so anyway! – but it is an unsafe invasion of privacy and as evidenced here especially from C Jai and Jeanne, causes the wrong kind of trouble. And I totally agree about being careful what we read and where it comes from. Great advice and links. I have always held to the belief that in everything we read, we need to question the source and I’ve drummed this into my kids. ‘But where did that article come from, who wrote it and why?’ We can find anything we want online to support our beliefs, but that doesn’t mean it’s accurate or true. Especially when we’re fed fake news. Or is that ‘alternative news’? Thanks again for this Charli. I’m so proud of you. <3

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, that would be “alternative facts”! Frightening. We had more alternative facts emerge today and I wish I could continue to be non-political but I feel compelled to stand up for truth. Good teaching you gave your children. I’m laughing at the image of you drawing both barrels! Don’t mess with this Rough Writer, she’s Annie Oakley! 😀 But I completely understand. There are some arguments I can’t keep out of and I do my best not to create them. I think as a community here, we all create the buffer for this safe space. Thank you for being a conscientious part of that! <3

      • Sherri

        Oh yes, that’s what I meant, thanks! Haha…Annie Oakley, that’s funny 😀 I love that you stand up to those issues you feel passionate about, and sometimes it is impossible to not say anything, you go girl! For those times, we need to! I’ll try to keep those barrels down when I do next time, lol 😀 Thank you again Charli, I’m honoured to belong to this safe community <3


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