Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 20, 2016

Lines Written from a Dirt Heap

We all must endure much.

We are bombarded, bashed and battered by blather and babble from every corner.

Television and radio, billboards and the sides of buses weren’t enough. Vint Cerf invented the World Wide Web, and now we’re beaten and barraged by trivia and twaddle on computer screens, mobile phones and — for those who have the latest thing — the touch screen on the refrigerator door.

In this blog, I strive to be positive, optimistic and hopeful. I avoid politics, religion and painful subjects that cause stress and foment disagreement between humans. Yet, the world can smite and diminish even my unwavering optimism. Sometimes, I feel I must share my pain.

Something really bothers me.

Here at Under Western Skies Intergalactic HQ, we subscribe to a couple of writers’ magazines. Writing is, after all, what we do here, both as a profession and for pleasure.

For years, the purveyors of a certain service (here unnamed) targeted to writers have advertised in these publications.

I would like you to look at this company’s long-running advertisement:

A baffling computer user

What do you see?

I see a woman dressed for the outdoors, sitting in bright sunlight on a pile of dirt, computer open on her lap, arms raised in a sign of triumph, her face a study in jubilation, exhilaration.

Oh, and there’s a book about sixteen times normal size in the foreground.

What, really, are we meant to conclude from this photo?

Has this woman carted her laptop into the outdoors, found an irresistably appealing dirtpile, and upon that dirtpile completed her (novel/epic poem/memoir of her early years spent playing with Barbie®)?

Is that book a prop left over from a Mel Brooks film?

This troubles me.

Let us study it more closely.

A baffling computer user CU

Hiking vest, boots and pants, check. That’s apparently a backpack. Earrings and bracelets: a nice fashion statement. A stylish hiking author.

She’s sitting on a pile of dirt. Or maybe a rock.

So many things about this image trouble me that, looking at it, I feel sad.

Some photographer shot this frame and posted it for sale as stock photography. Then — this is the sad part — some marketing VP or assistant or intern chose this to be the image that symbolizes, nay, signifies the success that writers should expect to experience using whatever product is being hawked here. And they’ve continued to run an ad with varying copy but the same photo, month after month.

What writer ever hauled the ol’ laptop outside, sat in the middle of a sunstruck field (where it is impossible to see the screen), and sat on what looks like the most uncomfortable imaginable place in a position from which it’s almost impossible to type to finish some long-gestating piece of creative work?

I can let certain things pass: the amateur job someone did to blank out the computer brand logo on the laptop lid; the roof of a house or building visible between the book pages (she hasn’t hiked very darned far):

A baffling computer user detail

Did the CEO of the company shoot this photo himself out in the field behind his home? Is that his wife crouching on the dirt pile? Is that the roof of their garage in the background?

I know I should not let this bother me so much. But, other companies change their ads, the photos they use, even their logos. I’ve never worked for a company for more than a few years before they changed logos or renamed the firm entirely.

Why not this one? Why not show a writer lying immobilized under her desk in the fetal position, crushed by the burden of an unachievable deadline, deep in the grip of chthonic fear of being unable to write the last line and obsessed by the almost certain knowledge that she still has another seventeen years of revision ahead of her before she can submit her book for publication?

That’s how writers work. We’re not out squatting on rocks raising our arms in glee. We don’t do glee. At least not without powerful stimulants.

How can this firm expect to sell anything to writers with an image that so manifestly has no relationship to any true moment of an author’s life?

This bothers me.

It bothers me less, though, having shared it with you. Thank you for being there. I’m here for you when you need me.

© Brad Nixon 2016


  1. Bravo! I too am weary of seeing this hackneyed image and its spinoffs, creating the impression that writing is something one just tosses off on a laptop while sitting on a rock in the wilderness or reclining on one’s stomach in a flower-filled meadow — with intervals of arm-flinging euphoria.


  2. I agree this ad is a real hack job. I suspect that the reason you find this ad so annoying is because of your professional experience in writing and in film. Professionals like you are not the target audience of this ad.

    This ad in the self-publishing industry, as in many if not most industries, dramatizes or exaggerates to make a point. In this case, the ad, again as in many industries (pick one: travel, fashion, modeling, lotto, insurance, stock brokers, etc., etc.) is selling a fantasy. Thus, one sees here the exhilaration of, perhaps, an author’s work being published for the first time. Writing is fun, and you get your 15 minutes of fame and fortune if you use our service! Not true, of course; but they have to make a buck.


  3. It’s the first time I come here. Honestly I have needed of some google translate, but then I laugh much! What brilliant post! Usually I do comment rarely (still for my English), but I would like to thank you. I also would say that advertising in general treat any kind of things to promote its product and to me is most times ridicolous. But this woman, this writer – not a writer at all, happy winning, sat down on a delicious pile of dirt will remain in my memory ahahah!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Grazie, Stefania. Thank you for visiting Under Western Skies. Your blog is a fascinating collection of articles on a variety of subjects. I look forward to reading more.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are welcome. Grazie. (May I do reblog of some your articles about Italy?).


      • Stefania, that is very flattering. Thank you for suggesting it. I would be pleased to be included in your reblogs. There is a great deal of good information there. Grazie.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Brad.


  4. Might the company running this ad have a charge for their publishing services? That is, pay to publish? That’s what it brings to mind.
    Thanks for making me laugh today.


    • That’s how it struck me: a self-publishing company. You pay the company to publish your work, no questions asked about the quality of your submission. I’ve read some of those. Pretty dreadful.


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