PS #WriteLikeCrazy On Holiday

Oops, I was so caught up with the philosophical implications of my vacation that I forgot to post a couple of updates.  (This awesome picture that I am posting is hopefully what I am doing by the time you read this.  This is an auto post written in the airport on my way out.)

#WRITELIKECRAZY will go on.  I have my work in progress with me.  I didn’t want to leave it behind. This is kind of why I don’t say writing is my job. I would never take my job with my on vacation.  Writing is my heart and I will get some words on the page in the mornings.  After which I will indulge in regular like beach reading, dancing, mojitos, and maybe jet skiing. (I’m on the fence about that one.)

There will be #WRITELIKECRAZY blog posts appearing here, magically in my absence! There are a couple of cool guest posts in the hopper and some posts written by yours truly.

I am trying to think of a cool way to celebrate LEAVING ATLANTA’S tenth birthday.  That book is my baby-boo.  I am thinking to give away ten books for ten years.  If you have cool contest ideas, let me know.

Alright. That’s it.  I gotta a plane to catch.  Actually, a lot of planes to catch. But by the time you read this, let’s hope I am on a beach, sipping a mojito and #writinglikecrazy.  I hope you’ll keep the hashtag alive til I get home.

 

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Ten Years in, One Thing I’ve Learned #WRITELIKECRAZY

The original title for this blog post was: Happy 10th Birthday LEAVING ATLANTA! #WriteLikeCrazy On Holiday. To celebrate the decade since I became a published author, I booked myself a fancy island vacation.  First class all the way.  For ten years in the biz, I felt that I deserved it.  So that was going to be my post, all about taking care of yourself and learning to give yourself a round of applause.  But you know– that’s not what ten years have taught me and a hurricane named Isaac made sure I didnt get it twisted.

Here’s what happened. About 48 hours ago, a tropical storm gathered in the Atlantic.  I looked at the weather channel and it was nothing nice.  My dream vacation– the one that was supposed to be my reward for a decade in the trenches– was being washed away. I know it’s insanse to take a weather event personally, but I was crushed.  In my head, I call could hear all the naysayers.  I don’t only mean the ones who warned me against travelling alone to Antigua (you’re going to get killed!) but all the naysayers along the way. I remembered everyone who failed to encourage me in my writing.  (You would not believe the things people said.  I was told everything from “you’ll starve!” to “all the guys are going to be scared to date a Published Writer.”) I remembered the people who told me to take the safe path and “write on the weekends.” I watched the Weather Channel, hung my head and worried about the process of canceling my trip.

I won’t lie.  I cried about it and gave myself a headache.  I hadn’t bought travel insurance, so I was going to lose all the money I had put down on the trip and I would start school without having had a few days to myself.  I tried to figure out how to do a staycation here in Jersey, but it wasn’t just the same.

Well…

The the part of me that is stubborn, unreasonable, and optimistic refused to let me cancel. I decided to wait to see if the storm would “turn.”. After all, how many metaphorical storms have I weathered these last ten years? Since when did I start giving up so easily?  I decided that if the planes were flying, I was going.

The storm did turn, not completely, but I am going to Antigua anyway. It’s going to be a Frankie Beverly vacation– sunshine and rain.  The airline called and they are re-routing me halfway around the world and half of the trip will be in coach class. I was upset about this for a big chunk of yesterday.  I had paid for a first class seat and I wanted to sit in first class.  The nice woman on the phone explained to me (slowly like she was talking to a child) that there were no more seats in first class because this was a last minute ticket.  I shot back, angry (like a child) that I had booked my original ticket back in April!  She was calm.  I would have to fly coach or not go.  I whimpered and accepted seat 25C.  She then suggested that I extend my trip an extra day since all day Thursday would be eaten up with travel drama. No charge, she said.  I eagerly seized upon it, but there was a catch.  Miami to JFK– coach again.  So I had to weigh the options– an extra resort day, or a first class ticket home.

And here’s the lesson. You don’t always get what you deserve, but you will receive many blessings.  Ten years ago, who would thought I would be taking an island vacation financed by the returns from my writing?  Even five years ago, this type of getaway would still be just another unreachable item on my bucket list.  For a minute, I almost spoiled it for myself because of my seat.

You see, I had assigned a sort of emotional premuim to that first class seat.  I needed seat 3A because I had worked hard for it; if I didn’t have it, then it meant that I somehow had fallen short of my bucket list ideal.  This fantasy of a first class vacation was something I dreamed up for myself when I was just starting out.  It was probably based on something I had seen on television, or maybe even from overhearing friends and relatives who had “made it” talk about their vacations.  And look how quickly I went from crying because I thought the trip was cancelled to being funky because it wouldn’t be first class all the way.  Shamefully, I didn’t even take a second to be thankful that travel would be permitted at all.

In the ten years since Leaving Atlanta, I have worked to curb this kind of thinking.  I’ve struggled to learn to put away petty markers of success and remember what the real indicators are of a life and career well lived.  I sigh to think of how much time I wasted when I was just starting, fretting over The New York Times? And it’s not just baby-writers that do this. I have seen extremely successful people melt into tears because of some small disappointment. When I received a crappy review last year, Nichelle Tramble read it, agreed that it was viscious, but she said, “Let it have your breakfast, but don’t let it eat your dinner.”  It’s so easy to disregard all the bounty that you have been given and that you have earned because of some insult heaped at your feet or some shiny thing that is just out of your reach. Ten years in, and I finally get it.

So– seat 2A or seat 25C, the point is that I am going, and that I wrote my way there.

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A Perfect Age To Be Published, A #WRITELIKECRAZY guest post by Marie Mutsuki Mockett

Here is another guest post by a writer whom I admire very much.  Even though we may seem to be living in the era of boy- and girl-wonders, In this wonderful post Marie Matsuki Mockett reminds us that where you are is the best time to write the story you are meant to write.

A Perfect Time To Be Published
By Marie Mutsuki Mockett

I wrote the first draft of my novel when I was thirty-one. My Picking Bones from Ashhusband, who is Scottish and warm and funny but schooled in that British way, read the early manuscript and murmured: “Hmm. I like this one paragraph.” So I put the novel aside, then wrote and published short stories for a while. At thirty-five, I dragged the manuscript back out again. The one paragraph is the only thing from the original draft that is still in my book.

I had always wanted to be a writer, and I sometimes wonder if I might have succeeded earlier in life if I’d attended an MFA program in my youth. We’ll never know. Instead, I worked a variety of jobs—test prep question writer, online store manager, non-profit administrator, failed antique picker—while writing in the corporate toilet stall, on the weekends and during company meetings. When I was disappointed or hurt by rejection, I would try to remind myself to take the long view; it takes time to become a writer, and many of the people I admire have had long careers.

In the beginning, I was often told what many female writers hear: I was talented, but my writing was “too quiet.” I revised. An editor rejected me because she “already had a half-Asian writer.” I was devastated. Much as I loved this other writer’s work, I knew that our material was different. Would anyone else notice? Another editor rejected my book because: “I have just had a child and I cannot accept what the mother in your book has done.”

I tried to tell myself that another editor would not confuse her personal experience with an unmarketable product. These rejections were often paired with variations of this one line: “I know someone else will publish this work with the enthusiasm it deserves,” which I dismissed as an empty compliment. As I got to know other writers who had been through the same grueling process, I learned they too had heard the same semi-praise.

When I finally met my editor Fiona McCrae, from Graywolf, I was absolutely positive I wanted to work with her. She understood what I was writing, and saw ways to strengthen the novel that meshed completely with my vision. I was relieved. And then I was grateful for all the other rejections that had kept me from working with someone who might not have been a good fit for my book.

My wonderful agent said to me earlier this year, “Sweetheart, you are the perfect age to get started.” I think I know what she means. As writers and artists, it’s our job to develop a vision of the world—to see what others are missing. This is the kind of thing that takes time, and that you cannot learn in school. It’s wonderful to see a writer like Kazuo Ishiguro, for example, turning out even more probing material as he matures. I do not mean that younger writers don’t manage complexity, because of course I can think of plenty of examples where they do. It’s just to say that writing generally takes time and can be painfully slow. About the only thing you can really control is the quality and uniqueness of your work. Make this your focus, and I really and truly believe that you too will find someone who will publish your book with the “enthusiasm it deserves.”

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A Warning Against Self-Sabotage #WRITELIKECRAZY

Sometimes when you are feeling insecure about the writing, you will give the work to someone very critical. I am not a therapist, but I have seen this many times.  You feel like the work is crap, so you will not rest until you find someone who will tell you it’s crap.  If someone is encouraging, you will blow it off as her just being “nice.”  The same thing applies for people who are constantly trolling the web for bad news about publishing.  You don’t believe you will ever be published, so you keep pushing until you find someone or some article that helps you stay in your comfortable place of fear.  If you’re doing this, realise it.  And then stop it.  I would never say that you are your “worst enemy.” It’s an expression I hate.  Afterall, your do more for yourself than anyone else.  You are not your enemy.  But you may in a position where you are not doing all you can to help yourself.  So get yourself together.  Breathe.  Try. And be brave enough to accept praise.  Be brave enough to love yourself and your work,  You deserve it.  Your book deserves it.  You can work hard.  You will work hard.  You have worked hard. You will continue to work hard.  And it will pay off.

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Blocked? 5 Tips #writelikecrazy

We are halfway through #WRITELIKECRAZY in August.  There are good days and bad days and just kind of blah days.  And there are other times when you feel like the muse has left you standing there at the altar.  Here are a few little tricks I do to help me get going when the magic isn’t there. 

Write a letter.  I often write letters in the morning before I start to write to get limbered up and ready to go.  I write on paper, but I am sure email will do the trick too. (However, I am not sure opening that web browser is a great idea.)  But the point here is that writing a letter to a friend buts you in a happy frame of mind and it’s easy writing— no anxiety,  no worries that it’s not good enough.  It reminds you that writing is second nature.  Just an extension of thinking. Of talking. Carefree expression.

Try a new location: Maybe the thrill is gone between you and your writing desk.  Try working somewhere new.  I occaisionally switch it up by going to the public library down the street, even though my typewriters are not welcome there.  I don’t know why it works, but it does,

Read your own work aloud:  Sometimes when I can’t figure out how to move the story forward, I return to what I have written.  Reading it aloud immerses me in the world of the story and I can pick up the thread again.

Clear your desk metaphorically:  Are you stuck because everything you start to write you start thinking of all the other stuff you have to get done?  Maybe take a day and click some things off your to-do list.  Clear up some space in your head.  Decide what things must be done so you can feel comfortable taking a couple hours to write.  Do those things.  Then write.

Take a day off:  Have you been working too hard?  Maybe you need to just walk away for a day.  It’s okay.  I know that they say “a writer writes”, but a writer also has a life.

 

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Losing Steam? It’s Okay. You Can Still #WriteLikeCrazy

Hi, Eveyone.  We are halfway through August, and I am noticing folks dropping out of #writelikecrazy.  Activity on the hashtag is slowing down.  I am not recieving as many cool photos of your workspaces.  The purpose of this post is to help you get back on board because we still have a lot of month left.

One question to ask yourself is whether you have set reasonable goals for yourself.  Remember, this is not NaNoWriMo.  We are not trying to cough up a whole book in a month.  We are just here to try and figure out some sustainable habits and jump start ourselves.  If you started this month like a crash diet, it’s no wonder that you have burned out.  But here is a great way that #WLC is better than a crash diet.  When you fall off the diet wagon, you just gain the weight back.  With #WLC, the progress you made in the early days is yours forever.  You can start again anything and move forward.

So rethink your goals.  Has school started for you, or your kids?  Are you going on vacation?  Factor that in and set a goal that you can read.  Can you do a page a day?  Maybe thirty minutes on the timer.  Give up watching Law & Order on Netflix and five that 42 minutes to your manuscript. As they say– A year from now, you will wish you had started today.

Are you second guessing yourself in general?  Are you worried that what you’re writing isn’t good enough?  May I offer this tweet from Anne Lamott whose wonderful book “Bird By Bird” really gets my engine running:

To be fair, sure a famous writer like Anne Lamott is coming from a different place than most of us– afterall, she is, apparently in bed while you might be at work.  But there is still wisdom in what she says.  Write.  Even if it’s bad.  If it’s bad, you can fix it.  But you can’t fix it until you’re written it.  Write that shitty first draft.  Don’t be mean to yourself.  Don’t tell yourself that it’s not good enough, or that you’re not good enough.

You can do this.  Really, you can.  Try again.

 

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Putting Together Your Critique Team #WRITELIKECRAZY

Team Spirit, December 2006(This is a reprint of a post I did last year for my SheWrites Column, Surviving The Draft.)

So you’ve just gotten through with your manuscript.  You know I know  it’s not a beautiful work of art yet, but you’ve done all I can do by yourself. It’s now time to bring in the first team of readers. Here’s how I picked my readers, I call them Team T.

  • Everyone on the team must be someone I trust. By trust, I mean that they all much be someone who I believe wants me to write a better book. No one on the team can be weird or competitive with me. They are all folks who will approach the manuscript with an open heart, with nothing to prove.  This can be a little tricky because there are people that you like just fine, but don’t really trust that want to read the manuscript.  You have to tell them no—even if they will hear on the grapevine that other people are reading the book.  (Although this is not the most mature approach, I keep kicking the request down the road. Eventually the manuscript will be in a position that you can share more widely, so I just keep putting the person off until then.)
  • The team must be diverse. There is no point having a bunch of people just like me vet the manuscript. I need people who bring different strengths to the table. One person should be talented with plot, another should be a language freak. Someone who knows from experience the world I am writing about, and someone else who doesn’t. You get the idea.
  • They should be writers. This is really just so that they will have the language to help me improve. Talking about a manuscript in progress with someone who is not a writer can make me feel like a mechanic listening to a customer make weird noises to tell me what is wrong with the car. Also, something like a point of view problem is easily diagnosed by another writer, while someone else will be disconcerted by the chapter and may not be able to say why.
  • If there is any inkling that I may be using the manuscript to win the person’s approval, they can’t be on the list. This goes back to the idea that it has to be all about the work at this stage. For most people (me included) this takes family off the list. I have always said how much my early work benefited from the fact that no one in my family thought I was really going to be a novelist. If I had looked at my writing as a way to get that parental pat on the head, it would have warped my creative impulse.
  • They must be brilliant. The reasoning is obvious. I have to say that I am so lucky to have so many smart people in my life.

 

And as a bonus, a little writerly etiquette—

  • Make sure you have done all you can before passing it on. Your readers are to help you do what you couldn’t do all by yourself.
  • You should pay for postage, printing, whatever. For someone to read and critique your manuscript at all is enough of a gift. Don’t eat up your friend’s ink cartridges.
  • Send a little thank you gift or a card whether your friend liked the book or not.
  • When the book is published, remember those friends in your achnowledgements. (And yes, your book WILL be published.  I have faith in you!)
  • When the times comes, return the favor and give your friend the same time and care she gave you.

 

 

And of course, it’s now over to you SheWriters. Do you have a critique team? How did you put the team together?

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A Healing: A #WRITELIKECRAZY guest post from Remica Bingham

I was looking through the archives of this blog looking for posts that would be inspiring to us as we #WRITELIKECRAZY and I stumbled upon this peace by Remica Bingham.  I know that one fear that can keep a lot of us from writing our story is fear of alienating our family.  In this post, Remica writes about how her parents came together to design the cover of her first book.

A Healing by Remica Bingham

It’s a strange thing to find your father where you never thought he would be. So when I found my father pouring through the rows of poetry on my bookshelves I was a bit taken aback. He wasn’t reading any poems, just looking at spines and covers, examining each book, its texture, style. This was July 2006, after I found out I’d won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award and that my book, Conversion, would be published, in a matter of months, by Lotus Press.

When Lotus Press asked me if I had any input as to what I’d like to see on the cover of the book, I knew this was the right press at the right time. I told them my father was an artist and that I’d like him to do the cover art. Not only were they agreeable, but they seemed fond of the idea as well, without even knowing our story. I suppose they had read the book, though, since they’d chosen it for their book prize, and did get to glimpse into our past. My father takes a bit of a thrashing (as do many others—myself included) in the book. I tell so much about the dark times in his life, in our lives. My father and mother divorced when I was twelve and remarried when I was twenty. After many years of turmoil and distance, they found their way back to each other, older, wiser and more open to the possibility of happiness, of trust.

When I asked my father if he would paint something for the cover of my book, he was a bit reluctant. He’s so humble and protective of me. I could see his worry already dawning. Eventually, he would say ‘yes’, but it would have to be perfect. He set a lofty goal for himself, especially with such a close deadline (we had less than two months to get the painting to the press), but he was on board. I must admit, I was nervous, too. I wasn’t concerned at all with his skill (I still keep the portraits he painted for me when I was a child), but I had no idea what I wanted, and therefore, couldn’t give him any instructions, not even a slight lead.

Sometime in July, after I’d caught him ravaging my shelves for ideas, my father and I went to Sunday breakfast (a weekly tradition) and I told him about a dream I’d had the night before. I saw a woman’s face and colors, lots of bright colors. I had no idea what it meant or if it meant anything at all. I must have sparked something for my father though, as he’d been reading and re-reading my book and said the dream was all the inspiration he needed. It all fit together for him somehow, and the cover was born.

I never dreamt my first book would turn out better than I’d let myself imagine. It is pure color in a sea of green. The eyes I dreamt of are there and the textured sun. People are standing in praise, every bit the Conversion I’d hoped for. My mother, father and I went out to celebrate after he’d put the finishing touches on the painting and my father and I talked endlessly about the book’s set up, where his name would go, whose blurb I was still waiting on. We went on so long that my mother finally interrupted us and asked, “Well, what am I going to get to do?”

My mother is my biggest supporter, she was a single-parent for so long, I think she felt a bit left out, and rightfully so. This book was the first real project my father and I had worked on since he painted my peacock mask for animal day in the fourth grade, so we’d begun to exclude everyone else, even her, from the conversation. But her question stopped us in our tracks. “The picture!”, I replied, “Mom, will you take my picture for the cover? Then all of our names will be there.”

And she did and they are.

Lotus Press and the cover designer, Leisia Duskin, did such a great job with the book that we couldn’t help but marvel at out work, all of our singular efforts becoming one, when we finally got the book in our hands.

When I hung outwith Tayari in February 2007, the book had just come out and had made its way to the shelves of Busboys and Poets—a trendy hot spot in Washington, D.C. When we all went over to peruse the shelves, Tayari asked me about the book, the cover, the author photo, the press. When I told her my Dad painted the cover and my Mom took the photo on the back, her immediate reaction was, “You have to write about this for my blog. People would like to hear that story.”

I’d never thought about it that way, as something that would make any kind of difference to perfect strangers. I am just beginning to understand her interest now, as I’m writing this. That’s the true power of words and why so many of us make the continual trek to the page: we go there for a healing. That’s what I find looking back at the miracle that became my book, the story of my parents and I. There such forgiveness in the story—we all forgave each other for past mistakes, for anger and distrust. The poems, the photo, the cover, all of it was a healing for us, a welcome home.

2007

visit www.remicabingham.com

PS Her new collection of Poetry, What We Ask of Flesh is availble for pre-order.

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Don’t Go Showing Your New Work to Just Anybody. #WRITELIKECRAZY

Tayari and Allison

Allison and me when I won the USA Grant

I’ve been #WRITINGLIKECRAZY for a couple of weeks and I have to tell you, I am excited about what I am working on. The project is getting to the place where it is sprouting little green leaves all by itself. And Eddie Levert said in that famous song, “I wanna scream! I wanna shout! And tell the world about it…” But I have learned to check this impulse. Be careful who you show your early work to.

Negative or complicated feedback is probably the best way to get a nasty case of writer’s block. Sure, we all need to get input from someone who doesn’t live inside our heads, but the question is when to seek that input and from whom.

This is not a post about how to avoid the “haters.”  (I would actually be in favor of a petition to remove that word from the lexicon.)  I know that you have better sense than to give your manuscript to someone who isn’t a friend, or someone whom you don’t respect.  What you may do, however, is show the work to soon or hand it to someone who doesn’t know how to read an early draft.

I once asked my friend, Nichelle Tramble, to read a draft and she agreed, but before I sent it, she asked: What do you need? Cheerleading, encouragement, detailed critique? Where are you at with this?  This was the perfect question and I took a long time to answer.  Make sure you ask yourself this question.

Often times emerging writers will say to me, “Kick my butt.  Don’t go easy on me.”  I usually interpret this to me “I’m scared. I hope it’s good.  I want to make it better.”  (Just for the record, as a teacher, I am not in the butt-kicking business.)  Usually if someone has paid to take a class, they want some detailed critique and I am happy to provide that.

But if I am in an early draft stage, I don’t want any detailed critique.  I want encouragement to help me maintain the momentum to make it to the finish line.  You have to understand that there are going to be some people in your life– people who LOVE you– who just don’t know how to be cheerleaders.  They do not own pompoms, only red pens.  And these red-penners will ask to see your manuscript, but you have to tell them no. These people think they are showing how useful they are by telling you what wrong with your piece.  This is what they think you need and they want to help.  Bless their sweet hearts.  Lie if you have to, but do not let these (otherwise wonderful) people anywhere NEAR your manuscript.  You can give it to them when it’s done and they can use their red pens to help you clean it up before you send it to an editor or agent.

You know who your cheerleaders are.  They tend to be happy go lucky types who encourage you in all kinds of random crazy stuff your heart decides it needs to do.  This would be the friend who encouraged you to take that ridiculous trip to Paris.  It will be the same person who told you that dating that drummer would be an experience and you should go for it.  That time you were crying after you colored your hair red?  She was the one who told you about the time she accidently colored her and it turned out magenta.  She’s your girl.  Give her the manuscript. She’ll read it on her e-reader while she’s on her way to Vegas.

My person like this is my good friend, Allison.  I will ofted read the day’s work to her aloud, stumbling over typos and rearranging funky sentences as I go.  When I talk to her, I can hear her clapping her hands on the other end, even if she’s driving.  “Cooter Brown! I haven’t heard anybody say that in years!” Or, “Poor Roy. He’s just trying to get his constitution together.” My favorite encouragement is, “Hurry up and finish. I want to know what happens!”   (See that picture on the left?That’s Allison and me in Chicago in 2008. I had just won a grant from the USA Foundation.  You can see her bright spirit in her smile.  Her bright spirit and a lot of fine champagne!) At this stage in the project, she’s the one I need.

There’s plenty of time for redpenners later.

 

 

 

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Take a Break From The Industry and #WRITELIKECRAZY

“What are publishers looking for?”  This is a question that I am often asked by emerging writers.  My question back to them is– “What would you do with that information if I told you?”  Would you write a book to match what you think “they” want?  Would you just feel terrible because what you’re writing doesn’t match what “they” are looking for?  In truth, I have no idea what publishers are looking for and I don’t really care becauase it has nothing to do with me, or with you.

You see, I have to say what I have to say, whether it gets published or not.  I got myself completely blocked when I was writing Silver Sparrow because I feared that publishers didn’t want it.  I almost let it wither on the vine because I was all tangled up in industry this, and industry that.  I don’t feel like going into it, but you can read about it here.)  Short version: what you know is your own heart and mind.  And as they say: write what you know.

For August, let’s agree to take a little vacation from industry news.  You don’t need to know what kind of deals other people are getting.  Don’t look to see who gets reviewed in the New York Times.  Doing a demographic round up of whatever award is recently announced is just going to spin you out.  And being spun out is not going to help you finish your project.

When we started this month, the plan was to be eager and enthusiastic about our work.  I must tell you that I have never heard one morsel of industry news that has made me feel excited about sitting down to write.  Furthermore, all the industry news in the world is irrelevant if your manuscript is still a half finished stack of papers on your desk.

Truth:  The journey is hard.  For everybody.  I know that some people make it seem easy, but that’s a performance.  It’s intense.  For everybody.

And here’s another truth:  All of us who write– no matter where we are in our career have something in common– we must write the next book.  Yes, you can spend a lot of time thinking about how it’s easier for some people.  And it is. And it’s hard.  And you still have to do it.

I’ve seen the VIDA numbers and I know that it’s rough out here if you’re not an straight, white, male.  (And I know it’s rough out here for many of them, too.)  But that roughness is not limited to publishing.  It’s true for life, yet you manage to get out of bed this morning.  You find joy in your life.  You experience passion.  And you will do the same with your writing.  Do it anyway.  And do with enthusiasm and do it well.

You got this. And we got you.

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