Author Archive | April

Amy Meyerson and “The Bookshop of Yesterdays”

Bookshop of YesterdaysYesterday was the official launch date for my friend Amy Meyerson’s debut novel The Bookshop of Yesterdays. It’s always a big day when someone in your writing community launches a book. This photo doesn’t even do justice to how packed Skylight Books was last night.

The book tells the story of a young woman who inherits her uncle’s bookshop in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles and quickly comes to realize that, before his death, he set up a scavenger hunt for her that leads her from book to book. As she follows the clues, she learns the truth about the falling out her uncle had with her mother years before.

The story is a book-nerd’s dream. It totally made me want to own a bookstore. And it got me thinking about how we, as writers, choose what titles to use when our stories reference other books. So today we’re going to pick Amy’s brain a little bit about her experiences writing The Bookshop of Yesterdays.

Here goes…

April: I love the setting of your story. And it’s such fun to read about a character discovering clues in the books her uncle left her. When choosing the books to use, how did you balance what was right for your characters with what you needed to move the story along?

Amy: When I had the initial idea for this book, I knew right away that the novels I selected for the scavenger hunt would make or break it. I wanted to celebrate books I love, books other readers love, too, but they also had to work for the story I was trying to tell. The novels Billy uses in his scavenger hunt have a dual function: within their pages, Billy has highlighted a section of the text and left a corresponding clue that leads Miranda to talk to someone from his past. The highlighted sections help Miranda interpret her interactions with the people she meets from her uncle’s life. For this to work, the selected novels couldn’t feel arbitrary or inconsequential. They needed to resonate with my novel, either narratively or thematically. The only way I could achieve this was by starting with my story, so I plotted out what happened in the past and worked it into a series of stories that people who knew Billy could share with Miranda. Then, I made lists of possible titles that could work as clues, whittling them down to what I thought were the perfect choices for each section. If this sounds challenging, it was!

April: It’s one thing to write a story and another to publish it. What kind of changes did Park Row suggest? Did you have to change any of the titles you originally used?

Amy: The biggest thing I’ve learned through this process is that it’s different for every writer (and probably for every book, too. I’ll let you know once I’ve finished writing the next one!). I’m sure some writers do very little rewriting, but I did a ton of revisions at every step of the process: getting the manuscript ready to send out to agents, reworking with my agent, then revising with Park Row. When I went through my first round of edits with Park Row, I ended up making several shifts in the plot. The challenge of reimagining the plot was that I also had to change the corresponding novels and clues. Many of the books I initially selected didn’t work anymore, so I had to choose new titles. Ultimately, the batch I ended up with worked a lot better, not just for the story but for a book about books. In earlier drafts, I chose books that I loved but that many readers might not have read.

April: The pacing of the scavenger hunt really keeps the story moving. Did you know, before you started writing, how many clues the scavenger hunt would have, or did you just kind of feel it out as you went along?

Amy: I knew that I wanted to have a bunch of clues, but I didn’t have a preset number. So, I really let the story guide the clues. That said, the clues were instrumental in helping me find my way through the novel. This was my first attempt at writing a novel, and writing something so long can quickly become overwhelming. When I write short stories, I like to lay the printed pages out on the floor and look at them all at once. It allows me see the structure of the story. You can’t do that with a 300+ page novel. So, I needed a way to think of the novel in smaller, more digestible chunks. I suppose chapter breaks can accomplish this, but for me, I needed something woven into the fabric of the story. The clues were a really useful device in giving the novel a clear structure.

April: I hear your publisher is doing a real-life scavenger hunt to promote the book. How do we get in on that?

Amy: Yes! I’m so excited about it. Since the novel is set in an indie bookshop, we really wanted to show a little love to independent bookstores when marketing this book. Local bookstores are an essential part of today’s literary community. They are where readers connect and discover new books. My publicist had the awesome idea of running a sweepstakes to celebrate the publication of The Bookshop of Yesterdays, where participants could participate in a virtual scavenger hunt, then enter to win a gift certificate to the independent bookstore of their choice as well as lovely hardback editions of five classic novels mentioned in The Bookshop of Yesterdays.

To enter the sweepstakes scavenger hunt, just go to: www.bookclubbish.com/ScavengerHuntSweeps (see below for more details*)

April: What does your writing routine look like? Do you write every day? Mornings or night?

Amy: As a professor, I’m very fortunate to have the summer and winter breaks to write. When I’m not teaching, I try to write in both the mornings and afternoons. During the semester, I try to get into a schedule where I write every morning, but it can be tough to find time on teaching days or during grading cycles. Some writers institute a daily word count, but I prefer to focus on a time goal. I try to write for 2-3 hours a day, longer in the summer. Sometimes, I can produce 10 pages in that timeframe. Other days, I struggle to get out a page. Because of this fluctuation, I think it’s best to commit to sitting down for a predetermined period of time. This keeps me focused on the process rather than the product.

April: Do you have any superstitions around your writing? Any little rituals you do to get your brain in the space to write?

Amy: No superstitions, but I always like to read before I write. I find reading a great novel really inspires me to sit down and get some work done.

April: What are you working on now?

Amy: I’ve been working on a new novel for the last few months. After several years of living and breathing the characters in The Bookshop of Yesterdays, it’s so fun and refreshing to build a new world. I’m still in the early stages, but it’s another family mystery, this time centered on a historic diamond. So far, it’s a lot of fun to write.

Lightning Round

April: Coffee or tea?
Amy: Coffee in the mornings, herbal tea at night.

April: Whiskey or vodka?
Amy: Whiskey. Only brown liquors for me!

April: Hemsworth or Gosling?
Amy: Gosling, definitely.

April: “Sneaked” or “snuck”?
Amy: It’s awkward, but sneaked.

April: Wetsuit or bathrobe?
Amy: Can I add a third option and say bathing suit? I’m a lap swimmer. I find the public pool is the best place to work through story ideas.

More about the real-life scavenger hunt: *NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER. Purchase or acceptance of a product offer does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes opens 06/12/2018 at 12:01 PM EDT and closes 07/03/2018 at 11:59 PM EDT. Enter online at BookClubbish.com/ScavengerHuntSweeps. Open to legal residents of the U.S. and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are over the age of 13. Void where prohibited by law. One (1) prize will be awarded, ARV $218.00 USD. Full details on prize and official rules available at BookClubbish.com/Bookshop-of-yesterdays-sweepstakes. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received.


A big thanks to Amy for taking the time. Get your copy of The Bookshop of Yesterdays today.

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Arriving At The Truth with Salman Rushdie

I’m fascinated by the intersection of truth and fiction. It’s something I became interested in after seeing Reza Aslan talk about his book Zealot back in 2014. He talked about the difference between truth and fact. As Americans we tend to lump the two together, but when you tease them apart you find a really interesting place where some of the best stories are born.

So when I came across this video of Salman Rushdie talking about this very thing, I knew I had to share it. I haven’t read his new book yet, but apparently it has a flying carpet, so you know I’m going to have to check that out…

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Put Your Writing on the Calendar First


Some big news this week. I was accepted to the Squaw Valley Community of Writers! It was not the first time I applied, and so I’m feeling particularly proud of myself for persevering through past rejections.

Now the Work Begins (eek!)

As part of the program, I am supposed to submit 5000 words for workshopping, and another 5000 words for an individual conference with one of the mentors there.

For my application I used the first chapter of my novel (the one currently being shopped to editors in New York). And I’m certainly not looking to workshop those pages.

And yet, what I’ve written so far on my second novel is so rough I would never show it to anyone. What’s more, I don’t have a ton of time to work on it. Though the pages aren’t due until the end of June, I’m shooting to have the work done by June 15th so that family obligations in the second half of the month don’t derail me.

Then I had to account for the fact that the kids are out of school on May 31st, and that the last week of school is a joke anyway with wall-to-wall school parties and early dismissals. Life is getting hectic, and I really want to put my best work forward on this thing.

Prioritize the Writing

As I was thinking about all of this, I was reminded of something I learned a while back but have since forgotten: you have to put your writing on the calendar first.

So I pulled out my bullet journal and looked at the coming weeks. I looked at every day and blocked out at LEAST one hour a day to work on my writing. Most days I was able to block out two hours, though some of those “two hour” blocks will probably be as long as whatever movie I put on for the kids. A quick google search tells me Pirate of the Caribbean is 2 hours and 20 minutes, and so is Mary Poppins, and every one of those Marvel movies is super long…

Then Honor It

The task now is to honor those blocks of time. No laundry, no dishes, no cooking dinner. If the calendar says I’m writing from 8-10, then damn it, come 8, I put aside everything else, load up an Avengers movie, and get to writing. I will order pizza – again. The kids can get dressed from the pile of laundry that still needs to be folded. Dishes can go ahead and pile up.

It can be challenging to not let things get it the way, but you know what? If you don’t block out writing time on your calendar you’re setting yourself up for defeat. Time will slip away, day by day, week by week, and another year will tick past without you “finding” the time to write. Don’t find time. Make it.

Put your writing on the calendar first, then work everything else around it.

Because you’re a writer.

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Use GoodReads to Avoid the Mistakes that Other Authors Make

GoodReads reviewsI had lunch with a writer friend of mine recently. We were talking about the projects that we’re working on, and the challenges we’re facing, when the conversation turned to GoodReads. My friend told me that she’s been using GoodReads to see where other writers have pissed off their readers.

To which I said: “say more.”

And she did. It’s freaking brilliant.

Determine Your Comps

First, she said, she made a list of comparable novels (“comps”). Her WIP has some specific, historical elements that she feels a little nervous about writing, so she chose comps that specifically address the same or similar elements.

For instance, say you’re working on a story about vampires (and I’m totally making this up – my friend’s story is NOT about vampires). You might add Twilight to your list. Maybe. If you’re writing a book about vampires, you probably know more about the topic than I do, and can probably name more than one book. So do that. Make the list as long as you can.

Then investigate.

Do Some Sleuthing on GoodReads

Go to goodreads.com and type in the name of one of your comps. Then, where the website lists the star ratings for the book, click to view the one-star reviews and dig in.

What did people hate about the book? Was there something that haters consistently complained about? Once you feel like you’ve got a sense for the gripes people had, switch to the four- and five-star reviews and see if any of those complaints pop up among readers who loved the book.

For instance, you might find a hater complaining that the story didn’t have enough details to make the lineage of the vampires believable. Then you might find someone who gave the story four stars, but dinged it because they didn’t totally understand the history of the vampires. That my friend, is a trend.

As a writer, you would be smart to take note that readers really need to understand the extended background/history of your vampires.

A Word of Warning

Opinions are like assholes though, right? Everybody’s got one. This little trick my friend was telling me about can go south REAL quick if you get sucked into trying to write something everybody will like. You can’t do it. Writing is art. There is not a single piece of art in the world that everyone agrees on. Let it go.

Do not read “sparkling vampires are lame,” and then decide that your vampires can’t sparkle. If your vision for vampires includes sparkles, you go on with your bad self and make them sparkle. (Except, that’s not a good example, because everyone will know you stole that detail from Stephenie Meyer.)

POINT IS – don’t let other people’s opinions shape your story. Instead, consider that we can all learn from other people’s mistakes. Even if we can’t sit down with our favorite authors for a one-on-one coaching sessions, we might be able to glean, through the feedback of readers, where a story fell a little flat, then turn that knowledge to our own writing and see if we can do better.

Good luck and happy writing!

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Explore Your Project History in Scrivener

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I like data, especially data that shows me I’m making progress on my projects. So today we’re going to talk about your Scrivener Project History. It’s new since the software update and I totally dig it. (This post assumes you’ve already upgraded. If not, you can read my post about the new version here, and you can save 20% off the price of the upgrade if you use the code APRILDAVILA at getscrivener.com.)

Find Your Project History

This is such a simple little thing, but I just love it. Start by clicking on Project -> Writing History. Like this:

Scrivener Project History

What you’ll get is a pop-up window like this one:
Scrivener Project History

Now, I usually don’t share from my WIP (did you recognize the opening chapter of Moby Dick in the first image?), but since I don’t actually work on that mock-up on a day-to-day basis, I had to pull from my own work to show you the rest. Please be kind.

Day by Day

Start at the top with writing days. As it turns out, I have opened this project and worked on it on 42 different days. Funny. It feels like a lot more. And in truth, this count only goes back to the day I resurrected this project and uploaded it from Word, so I actually have spent a lot more than 42 days on it. But 42 since I got serious. Moving on…

Below that, you can see average words (and note that you can switch to characters by using the drop down menu at the top right there – and if you do, will you please tell me in the comments below why you prefer that? I’ve never understood why that’s a thing).

I deleted a lot when I first dug into reworking this project (thus the negative count on March 12), so my net word count is low, but I actually wrote about 700 words a day, which is respectable.

I also like to look at the dates lined up in the first column there. I try to write six days a week when I’m working on a draft. It would appear I didn’t quite hit that goal, but I was working pretty consistently. Yeah me.

The data at the bottom there is a summary of the highlighted day, March 14 in this case. I like that it also gives you the session target. If you’re not familiar with setting daily word count targets, check out my post on that. It’s SUPER handy when you’re working toward a specific goal. Cough*NaNoWriMo*cough.

Lastly, you can toggle from “Months and Days” to “Months Only” (on the right there above the chart), to get a wider perspective on your work.

Month by Month

Here’s what mine looks like:

Scrivener Project History
March was a good month. Kind of made up for January. Stupid January.
Anyway, you can see how the data at the bottom shifts. Under “Words written” the first column displays totals. The column on the right you can change with the drop-down menu.

For this example I chose to show averages, but you can also do maximum in a day or minimum in a day.

So that’s it. Just a quick and easy way to review your writing habits and see the progress you’re making. Happy writing!

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Switching Mediums for a Day t Work in Clay

clay Michele CollierMonday was my birthday. It’s funny how they keep rolling around. I’m 41. I didn’t plan anything, because 41 is one of those kind of nothing birthdays, but as it turned out, my mom was in town this weekend to teach a sculpture seminar at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona.

She works in clay (check out her online gallery) and she often travels to teach courses, but I’ve never taken one. Not until this weekend. I’m not sure what moved me to join her this time, when so many times before I’ve hugged her and sent her off to teach without me. Maybe it was the fact that it was my birthday. Or maybe it was that I’m in a strange place with my writing.

Writing Projects

If you follow along at all, you know my debut novel is in the hands of my agent, being shopped around to editors in New York. While that is a really fun sentence to write, it’s also a surprisingly difficult period of waiting.

So I’ve been writing on novel number two. After some (okay, much) focused work I hit 80,000 words. It is officially a respectable length for a first draft, but the project is a bit of a mess. I needed to put it in a drawer for a month and let it simmer. I needed a bit of distance from it.

While I have ideas for novel three, I’m not ready to jump into it yet, so I’ve been passing the time doing research, but it’s just making me anxious. I’m so freaking tied in knots about all things work related lately, and I’m finding it hard to manage.

The Solution

As it turns out, taking a day to be creative in a way that is completely unrelated to my writing was the perfect remedy for my anxiety. I was about ten minutes into the eight-hour class when I had the thought: I need to buy some clay to keep at home. This is awesome. I had no concern for the finished product and it was liberating.

We threw the clay against the table to create long slabs, then wrapped and layered the pieces. We explored texture and form, and just got messy. Then we got down to work creating a piece.

It was also fun to see my mom in teacher mode. She’s such a pro. She does figurative sculpture, which is really hard, but she walked us all through the steps, showing us how to build the base, work up from there, shape a convincing face, and build hands that are proportionate. The time flew by.

This is what I ended up with. My very first figurative sculpture.

It’s imperfect, but you know what, when I was half way through it I knew what I wanted it to look like and a little voice in my head said: that’ll never work, but I kept going and I got there. I’m really proud of this piece, even though no one will ever see it but you guys.

Get Creative

The experience reminded me that we are, as writers, creative people. And that creativity can come in many forms if we let it.

If you’re feeling anxious, or stuck with your writing, I highly recommend taking an art class. Just a one day thing, or maybe more if you’re feeling it. (If you’re near Healdsburg, CA or Sedona, AZ check out my mom’s upcoming workshops.)

It’s really remarkable how removing any concern for finished product really allowed me to play around. It was nourishing and just plain fun.

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Some Serious Wisdom From Author Hannah Tinti

Pasadena Festival of Women Authors Hannah TintiA couple weeks ago I had the honor of attending the Pasadena Festival of Women Authors. If you follow along at all with my blog, you know I’m a big fan. This was my third year and each time I’m just aglow with bookish goodness for days afterwards.

If you’re anywhere near Pasadena, you should get on their mailing list so you hear when tickets go on sale – then you have to move fast because the event sells out in, like, a day. But it’s so worth the effort.

As always, every women who spoke had my full attention. There were so many little puffs of knowledge and insight that floated out into the air over the course of the day. But the author who really floored me, and I mean left me stunned, was Hannah Tinti.

Hannah Tinti

Hannah TintiHannah Tinti is the author of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, a story about a father who protects his daughter from the legacy of his violent past and the truth about her mother’s death. She also wrote The Good Thief.

She started off her time at the podium talking about some of the trials and tribulations she has faced as a writer. In the three years I’ve been going to the festival, this kind of don’t-lose-hope-even-when-things-are-bad narrative is pretty par for the course, but then… oh but then.

Facing Our Fears

She talked about the importance of facing our fears. She gave a point-by-point strategy for dealing with fears, which, as I look at my notes now, I realize I can’t do justice. In a nutshell she said we should name our fears, declare a place of sanctuary that we can retreat to, grab a broom and chase those fears, and sometimes just pretend we’re not afraid until the truth catches up.

But talk is cheap. It was what she did then that floored me.

She had the audience snap with her, in a rhythm. Once the whole room, hundreds of (mostly) women, were snapping in time she shook her head and smiled. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she said. Then, after one more deep breath, she sang.

She sang as beautifully as any jazz singer I’ve ever heard. It was like she’d been doing it all her life. It was a mournful song, full of longing. I looked it up later that afternoon. It’s called My Love Is by Diana Krall. It’s a beautiful song, but really, the recording I found didn’t have anything on Tinti.

That took some serious bravery. I was so impressed.

Find a Place for our Pain

Should COULD have dropped the mic at that point, but she went on. She told a story about a man who had once suffered from phantom limb syndrome. He had lost a hand in an accident and even though it was gone he could still feel it. It felt like it was clenched in an excruciatingly tight fist and he couldn’t let go.

Long story short, a doctor discovered that by using a mirrored box, he could make it look like the missing hand was there. The one-handed man clenched his remaining hand, put it in front of the mirror and then opened it. His brain saw two hands relax and suddenly, the missing hand didn’t hurt anymore.

Said Tinti: the only way to cure our pain, is to create a reflection of it in the world. That’s what our writing is, she said, a way of creating a reflection of our pain in the world. By doing so, we let it go. It’s cathartic for writer and reader alike.

Me: Floored.

In truth, before the festival, Hannah Tinit wasn’t really on my radar. But if her writing has a fraction of the bravery and truth that her thirty-minute talk contained, it’s gotta be good. I can’t wait to read her books.

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Independent Bookstores – Where the Booklovers Go

independent bookstore day 2018Writers read. It is one of the defining characteristics of writers that we love books. Love ’em. Can’t get enough. And those of us over a certain age have, in our lifetimes, witnessed a  total transformation of how books arrive in the hands of happy readers. It looked bad there for a while (for those of us who love bookstores), but it turns out independent bookstores are on the uptick.

The First Hit

In case you weren’t paying attention, neighborhood bookstores were hit pretty hard when big box stores (Barnes & Nobles, Borders) came onto the scene in the  early ’90s. Then they suffered again when (in the late ’90s) when Amazon exploded onto the scene. Between 1995 and 2000 our country lost 40% of its indie bookstores. Dang.

Paper is Dead (or Maybe Not)

But then Kindle came along (in 2007) and crushed the big box stores. Just left them in tatters. Everyone said “paper is dead.” But they were wrong. What happened was a bifurcation of book sales.

On the one hand you have Amazon, where you go if you just want something fast and cheap.

On the other hand, you have your local bookstore, where you go if you want to immerse yourself in books and book culture.

What a Bookstore Is

It turns out that there is a market for the experience of a bookstore (those of us who love books aren’t surprised) and the demise of the big box stores left a hole for the indies to grow into.

Since 2009, there’s been a 40% uptick in the number of indie bookstores. This guy from Harvard, Ryan Raffaelli, recently did a study of how that was possible and what he outlines in his project summary are three things: community, curation, and convening. In short, indie bookstores know their communities, they work hard to offer the kinds of books their customers want, and they host book signings and book clubs to bring people together around books.

Indie Bookstore Day

This Saturday is Indie Bookstore Day, and indie bookstores across the country are hosting events to celebrate the fact that a bookstore is more than just a place to get a book.

To join the celebration, find the store nearest to you and make a date to go wander the isles just for the fun of it. Buy a book, or three (or, you know, more). Check out their calendar of upcoming events. Seriously, indie bookstores are the best. If you haven’t been to one in a while. It’s time you did. Have fun.

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Stop Being an Aspiring Writer

For some reason, I love reading self-help books when I travel. Whenever one of these get-your-shit-together kind of titles pops up I always hesitate to buy them because I don’t want anyone to see me carrying it around (because – embarassing). But there’s something about being in an airport, among the crowds of anonymous faces, that seems to open up space and compel me toward their bright covers.

aspiring writerSuch was the case this last weekend in the Portland airport. The kids and I were coming home from a spring break vacation at my sister’s place and I was drawn to the bright yellow cover of “You Are A Badass.”

Apparently, I AM a Badass

I’ve been curious about the book, but every time I come across it I read the blurb on the back: “…the self-help book for people who desperately want to improve their lives…” and I put it down. I’m not desperate to improve my life. My life is pretty good, actually. So I don’t know what compelled me to buy it this time, but I’m glad I did. The plane sat on the tarmac for three hours before it took off – something about engine trouble – and I finished the whole book in one very long day of travel.

The general theme of the book is that you can change the things in your life that aren’t working like you want them to. You do it by looking really closely at your own relationship to those things.

The Scripts that Play

For instance, the author, Jen Sincero, points out that most of us have really conflicted feelings about money. We hate it, but we want it. We love having it, but it is the root of all evil. She encourages us to look at why we have all these conflicted emotions, and then change the script that runs in our heads. And thus… the affirmations.

Affirmations

The author proposes, and I agree, that the stories we run in our heads influence everything we do. And so, we need to be more intentional about the scripts we let play out. She suggested writing down affirmations, putting them somewhere you see them all day, repeating them in your head all day long as you go about your business.

As I read what she wrote, I was reminded of the time that I decided to take the word “aspiring” out of my description of myself. For years I had been writing, every day, on all kinds of projects, but still when people asked I would say I was an “aspiring” writer. What a bunch of BS. As writers, we know better than anyone how much words matter. So I stopped using that word.

I choked on it the first few times, saying “I’m a writer.” It was hard. But the more I did it, the more people saw me as a writer. The more people saw me as a writer the more I felt like a writer. It was just this wonderful positive feedback cycle.

Get Uncomfortable

That, Sincero says, is one of the most important features of a good affirmation. It needs to make you uncomfortable at first. It needs to feel almost like you’re lying to yourself. Or, if it’s easier, start with the word aspiring, then remove it. For example:

I’m an aspiring writer.
Make it: I’m a writer.

or

I’m an aspiring best-selling author.
Make it: I’m a best-selling author.

This second one is where I’m at now. That’s the actual affirmation I’m using. Of course, I’m not going to walk around telling people I’m a best-selling author. That would be lying (and frankly delusional), but I AM going to put it on a post-it in my bullet journal, where only I see it, and read it multiple times a day. What harm can it do, really? None. And there’s a chance that, as I reaffirm that idea over and over, I will be motivated to do the work that a best-selling author does, busting my ass every day to make my reality match up with the affirmation.

Wherever you are in your journey as a writer, I would highly recommend taking a look at the stories you tell yourself. For a more guidance, check out Sincero’s book. It’s a quick read, and totally worth the time, even if you’re not stuck on a plane for hours and hours going nowhere.

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