What My Critique Partner Taught Me

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I made leaps and bounds a year and a half ago when I decided I’d allow someone to come into my life, read my blood on paper, and give them the option to stab it a million times over with red pen.

It’s terrifying. It’s brutal. But it’s completely necessary.

To make matters worse, I took the plunge on Reddit, a site known well for its uncouth comments. These traits are no different in writing subs, so I had my doubts about finding a CP who was a.) at my writing level, b.) honest but constructive, and c.) finished with a manuscript that made sense.
I am proud to say he met all three criteria. Actually, we joked that Reddit aligned the stars somehow for us. Here’s what we taught each other:

Writers Have Different Strengths
My writing is very condensed, but this makes my action scenes blurry. On the flip side, he’s overly descriptive to the point where he digs himself holes later on in the story. We ended up balancing each other out and calling bullshit on things that didn’t fit or make sense.

Different Perspectives
I honestly believe every writer should have one CP of the opposite gender. While I am an advocate for equality, men and women do communicate differently and it’s nice to have someone say, “Eh, not quite. Here’s how he/she would react.”
Similarly, it’s nice to work with someone who knows, and has worked with, what I call your specialty characters. In my WIP, one of my canon characters is an autistic boy. It just so happened my CP was a social worker who had experience with special needs students. That character is stronger because of it.

Ideas, Ideas, Ideas
Ideas are a dime a dozen, but it’s nice to hear how someone else would back themselves out of a corner, especially if they put you there. There were plenty of times where critiques messed up the entire flow of the story. Having someone there to offer escape routes felt like I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t stuck.

Godzilla: A Great Example of Lazy Writing

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I was prepared to post a blog about high concept this week, but after seeing Godzilla, I wanted to dedicate my time to writing out what stirred me the wrong way in the movie theater.

To preface, Godzilla was hyped up by my eighteen-year-old brother. It was also a must-see for my boyfriend. Being a sci-fi lover and a complete fangirl of the Alien movies, I was stoked to see Godzilla. And then trope after exhaustive trope played out on the screen with bloated dialogue, and I went from “they actually showed the monsters this time!” to “this needs to be over.”

The movie was 30% sexist, 30% racist, 30% Support Our Troops propaganda, and 10% decent writing for a fake-out beginning.

Blatant sexism, racism, and stereotypes at play in Godzilla

I equate my love for the first few scenes to an agent’s hope after reading the first few chapters. Editors and beta readers weighed in on those first few scenes, with a strong wife in the same, male-dominant occupation; a quirky marriage where both care equally for each other; and a sentimental boy child not shunned for his sensitive side.

And then the mother dies and we jump fifteen years in the future. It’s like an annoying prologue that serves no purpose, because we could’ve learned the same information in the present: the alien pods had been feasting on radiation for fifteen years.

We then open with the sensitive boy all grown up with a wife and four-year-old kid (they stretched this high-school romance a little far age wise, but I let it slip due to the bigger problems). Our main character just got back from deployment hours ago when the phone rings asking him to fly to Japan to get his father out of jail.

He does, promising his wife he’ll be back in a day. He tell her this promise numerous times throughout the movie, and never once keeps it. Every time he’s given a choice, he chooses his job (military) over his family. Sexism example numero uno.

But it doesn’t end there. We find out that the father (Bryan Cranston) is the psychotic genius who figures out, via echography (a science he taught himself through one book sitting in his cluttered apartment), that the radiation and seismic earthquakes are mating calls. The information is delivered to the Japanese just as the Alien pod is hatched and wreaks havoc on Japan.

godzilla movie review 2014 bryan cranston

Hooray, while the Japanese sat and stared at the pods for fifteen years scratching their heads, the white man comes in and saves the day! Let’s call in the American military – thus a reason to propel our main character to re-enlist himself despite promising his wife he’d be home.

The movie drags on, taking forever to build up to the scene where the Aliens and Godzilla are revealed. We see the US military move in on the monsters, shooting their guns and tanks and bombs, but not once are we shown a female soldier. They apparently don’t exist.

OK fine, no soldiers. What about the Japanese scientist’s female counterpart? No, she’s apparently standing there for diverse eye candy. How about doctors? Oh, the main character’s wife is a nurse. Do we ever see her in action as hundreds of people die? Nope.

sexism in godzilla movie 2014

What we do see is the wife hysterical on the phone, admitting she’s scared as she bawls her eyes out. What does her husband, the main character say? He’ll be home by sunrise. And what does he deliver? Another broken promise.

As a caveat, I do want to say I was impressed by the aliens. Some people on Twitter are upset that the male got wings, but it was an accurate portrayal of some bugs (certain ants get wings, the queen is always large). But if they’re an Alien couple, why can’t there be a female Godzilla? The earlier Godzilla’s made it clear that he doesn’t fight for humanity, so isn’t that what Godzilla’s protecting? She’s just chillin’ underwater while he fights for her (hey, kind of like the main character’s wife!)?

Well if she is, she totally missed out in his final battle scene. Godzilla tail-whips the boy Alien into a skyscraper and he falls lifelessly out of view. He then proceeds to pry the girl Alien’s mouth open and shoot his hot breath into her mouth. Her throat burns, she’s decapitated, and her head swings at Godzilla’s crotch for a good long moment.

Yes, I love a good bitch-choking visual. I can’t get enough violence against women for shock value in the entertainment industry. Divergent’s added rape scene didn’t do enough for me a month ago. I need more. GIVE ME MORE!

army wife portrayal in godzilla sexism feminism

With the monsters gone, the movie skips to a happy-ever-after ending, with the main character’s son in his arms and the mom rejoining the group with all smiles. She doesn’t question her priority or shun him for all his empty promises. She’s the perfect military wife. She knows her place.

The end.

I walked out of the theater madder than I should’ve been. I hated all the people who cheered during the heroic parts of the film. They weren’t heroic. We just had the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #DiversityIsNot trending on Twitter for a week straight, and we can’t see the problems when they’re right in front of us.

We need strong female characters, multiracial protagonists, and other countries outside the US taken into account in our art. Our sentimental boy children shouldn’t have to turn macho. A genius, let alone a looney-tune, doesn’t always have to solve the problem. Women shouldn’t be reduced to accessories or sex symbols.

We can do better, writers. Let’s not be lazy. Let’s be change.

Why Writers Should Take Breaks

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My entire childhood, my mother told me my idiosyncrasies were due to my Type-A personality. I recently self-diagnosed myself with acute Asberger’s, and here’s why.

I grew my seeing my dad work really hard – he worked late, at home, in his sleep, during dinner, in the bathroom, everywhere. This made me, a child who took things very literally, grow up believing work required a lot of brainpower and intelligence, which I reasoned was why people went to college.

Now after working a steady advertising job as well as writing as a hobby, I see that (among other things) isn’t true. Work isn’t hard like rocket science. Work is hard because it’s time-consuming.

A lot of what makes working hard is waiting. Waiting for the solution to a plot hole. Waiting to get over writer’s block or through the mucky middle. Waiting to hear back from agents on submissions. Sitting. Waiting. In a chair.

Waiting is waiting is waiting which leads to more waiting.

It’s not hard to come up with ideas. It’s not hard to find spare time. And, contrary to what I read from agent rants, it’s not hard to follow submission guidelines. It’s difficult to sit down and actually do those things by putting in the time.

It’s hard to cut away that TV show from your weekly schedule. It’s hard to translate the ideas to a blank page. It’s hard to learn how to write better. And it’s hard to take the time to research agents.

For those who self-publish, the rules still apply. It’s not difficult to publish something on Kindle. It’s difficult to make good cover art, market well, edit well, and continuously add to your career. They take time. Time most don’t want to “waste.”

This is why I think the phrase, “Those who work harder succeed” should be changed to: Those with self-discipline go further.

When I learned this little fact, my whole world flip-flopped. People with degrees or careers better than mine weren’t as scary. Published authors don’t necessarily write better or worse than me. They might not even have a better writing, editing, or outlining process. They just put in the time.

They didn’t give up after six rejections. They waited for the seventh. They didn’t wallow at the plot hole. They took their time unraveling it.

So the next time you think you aren’t working hard enough or are getting yourself physically sick, take a step back. Think about all that you’ve neglected (family, health, friends, etc.) instead of what you didn’t finish writing or editing. Did you take your time? Did you wait?

Get out and do something to boost creativity

Sometimes writer’s block and lack of creativity doesn’t stem from not working hard enough. It comes from not doing enough off of the office chair. I know you want it to be fixed now, but it can’t. You need to take a break.

Don’t let others tell you that you have to write every day to be a good writer. “Writing” comes in many forms – typing an outlining, revising a section, worldbuilding (on paper and in your head), thinking about a scene, daydreaming, vacationing to new areas, etc.

Make waiting part of your daily writing regiment. Go do something else, put it aside, and see what you can do outside your character’s head.

Why I’m Wary Diversity Will Be Reduced to a Fad

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Diversity. What a word to throw around as we come into spring – the season of change and starting anew. It was almost like it was planned, but marketing wouldn’t do that, right? It’s too blatant. Everyone will notice.

Alright, enough of my insider skepticism with the advertising industry. I work in social media and search marketing. I know how it works. Whoever’s running this Twitter campaign has great engagement rates, but do they mean anything if it doesn’t produce change on the other side of the publishing door?

Minorities are people too and should be represented in fiction

It’s no secret authors and readers alike on Twitter are ranting and raving about this hash tag; I’ve even participated in it myself. And it worries me how we are flinging this new word around for three major reasons:

Is Diversity going to be the next fad?

We had our fair share of vampires, zombies, and now I’m ready for faeries and urban fantasy to curtsy off stage. What does that leave to be the next big thing? Please tell me we aren’t going to reduce diversity to a new trend.

Writing diversity into novels isn’t changing a character’s skin color or giving them a non-stereotypical characteristic like we do in fantasy with purple eyes, blue hair, etc. If we’re going to embrace diversity, it has to be done right. It has to be realistic and represent true equality.

No blatantly effeminate Asian men, sassy African American woman, and illiterate Spanish-speakers. Do it justice, or don’t touch it at all.

Diversity in books is trending on social media

Agents promote the idea, but will they take the initial risk?

From my personal experience of shopping around an LGBT thriller with a sexually fluid main character and transgender partner for the past six months, it’s not easy. You don’t know whether the form rejections are based on the one-sentence character description or the agent’s preferences on story. Especially if you are a debut author.

Integrating more QUILTBAG, LGBT characters into present day fiction

The risk is too high. While I understand their wariness, I’m afraid to continue shopping around my novel during this marketing campaign. I don’t want my novel picked up for the wrong reasons. Diversity shouldn’t be a fad – it should be a constant and it makes me wary that agents are promoting their open-mindedness but sending form rejections hours after submitting.

Will publishers buy books that aren’t based on borders, slavery, and intelligence stereotypes?

I honestly have never been a fan of slavery books and movies. It’s an important part of history and shouldn’t be downplayed, but there are different/better ways of incorporating people of color in literature. So much has happened since then.

While THE HELP, PRECIOUS, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE were very successful, I would like to see more Rue’s (Hunger Games) that don’t die, Sulu’s (Star Trek) as main characters, and interracial couples.

why we need interracial couples in fiction

I’m in an interracial relationship. I don’t wake up every day and think to myself, “Ai’s Asian.” I wake up next to him so glad I met him. We need that in literature – an accurate representation of those in loving interracial relationships.

We cannot fetishize race, or describe their features and personalities with stereotypical characteristics. We must treat those things like clichés because they are. Describe characters – personal ticks, sins, hearts, souls, flaws – and make race secondary.

This isn’t an excuse to throw it in as a twist or a selling point. We need to create something beautiful and unforgettable with rich characters, not flat cutouts with painted skin.

Book Review: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

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Let me preface – I didn’t know who John Green was or what he did online. So my review will not take into account the misogyny of LOOKING FOR ALASKA, the nerdfighter-mentality of his online presence, or his intelligence level.

My opinion will come strictly from his book THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.

cover of a fault in our stars by john green

Now that we have those assumptions out of the way, I will also say I’m not a huge cancer book reader. I have read almost everything else by Jodi Picoult besides MY SISTER’S KEEPER. Sympathy books are not my kind of read so when I decided to read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, it was an undertaking.

I remember staring at it in Barnes and Nobles for many months, wondering how a book with such an awful cover became a best seller. It looked like it was made in Microsoft Paint, but as I’ve been told since then, I guess that’s what you get when you crowd-source talent.

When I finally caved, I settled on downloading only the sample. But God, did it not rope me in? The new voice of “smart” teens, where we don’t speak down to the YA audience, roped me in immediately. Yes, I saw in the first few pages that everyone sounded the same, with Hazel Grace being the most boring, but the nano-details got me. So I purchased it, a whole $8.

Gus Waters smoking cigarettes as a metaphor in a fault in our stars

And I read. I read wholeheartedly until I got to the blatant metaphor. I hated that metaphor, not because it’s a bad one, but because Green had to reinstate it to make sure we got it. I realized even those who try to treat the YA audience like smart individuals talk down to them sometimes (see what I did there?).

After that line, it was like those times you are head-over-heels with someone until a best friend points out their flaw (think How I Met Your Mother episode). All the little things started trickling in. I found myself peaking and dipping through the rest of the novel with the nano-things I liked being retracted by the stupid filler.

Isaac was obnoxious, not because he lost his eye. That’s understandable and that bitchy girlfriend should burn in hell. But the stomping on trophies was a blatant way of “showing” he wasn’t as intellectually smart as Hazel and Gus. But this was redeemed by Isaac being the only one to show real relationship turmoil and emotion.

A fault in our stars book review

No girl would go on a first date with a guy they just met two minutes prior. I feel like John Green glazed over this fact with the one-liner about Gus being a serial killer. But yet again, it was redeemed by Green’s beautiful use of little detail. He rounded out both characters’ smarts with dumb decisions. This is shown here, as well as in the things they liked. They both like philosophy but Gus loves video games and Hazel can’t get enough of America’s Next Top Model. Point is, smart people can still like mind-numbing things.

Likewise, I fail to believe both Gus and Hazel’s parents would allow them to go to Amsterdam together, especially since (plot twister and spoiler) he was sick all along. But this was redeemed by their trip to see the author being a complete and utter failure – it was realistic.

Gus Water's cigarette metaphor in a fault in our stars

So in short, the entire novel was like trudging uphill until a redeeming factor let me rest for an equal downhill. But John Green did prove that the details matter and they are something all writers should strive to add in.

I read DIVERGENT but refused to see the movie after I heard about its poor quality and its changes towards shock value. I believe the same will be true with A FAULT IN OUR STARS. It was painful enough to read their philosophical banter, I think hearing it would cause an aneurism. I look forward to my other reads this month, including OCD LOVE STORY by Corey Ann Haydu.

Until next time!

Book Review: BIRD BY BIRD

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I just finished BIRD BY BIRD. That’s the fastest I’ve read a book in years. There’s nothing to review, only discuss.

Anne Lamott, Anne, I feel like I can call her Anne. Those pages made me feel on that level and she didn’t even have to create a magical universe full of postal owls, broomstick sports, and witty gingers. She was real in ways most writers never will be.

Let me preface this by saying I read Stephen King’s ON WRITING and hated it. I didn’t think much of it because I’m not, and never was, a Stephen King fan. We all have our preferences. Obviously he does very well for himself.

But I found ON WRITING to ramble. A lot of the life experiences in the beginning of the book had nothing to do with writing and, because I wasn’t a fan, I didn’t really care what happened in his earlier life. With Anne, every ramble or memory had a point and it tied back to the chapter. It showed the randomness of thoughts, writing, and life while still having structure and a point. And while some of the technology might be a bit outdated, all one has to do is substitute her index card obsession with the Notes app in their phone.

Viola, still relevant in 2014. I can’t say the same about reading how King got poison ivy on his no-nos.

She touched on every insecurity a writer has throughout the course of writing a novel in less than 300 pages. If you needed to sum up her novel in one sentence, you could. It would be:

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Every time you worry if you aren’t good enough, realize that getting an offer of representation has close to the same odds as winning the lottery.

Every time you think your novel is lost beyond repair and you are two feet from chucking it in the trashcan, remember that everything can be fixed after a month in the drawer and a serious reality check.

When you have writer’s block, write about the first thing you see even if it’s your dirty snot rags left over from your sympathy party. And above all, find a way to replicate her broccoli metaphor. Everyone needs to listen to their broccoli, for sanity purposes or pure entertainment.

Writing is just as much a writer’s job as is constantly serving yourself daily reality checks. We all lament our failures but we need to give ourselves credit for making those failures. We took a risk. We continue to take a risk with each word written and each query sent. We gamble with drafts, handshakes, meet-and-greets, conferences, writing classes, and peer groups.

Now, the high rollers don’t always play the game the best, but the more one throws themselves at the craft, the higher his chances are to move his piece. Whether its backwards or forwards, doesn’t matter, so much as they moved which means they had a chance to learn and improve. If you don’t take risks, your piece remains in place. It may never land in anyone else’s hands.

Anne helps us remember that writing is an art. You don’t learn it once. There’s always something new to tinker with.

So the next time you feel stuck or are drowning in a pile of rejections, remember to not take yourself too seriously. Remember your odds. Remember your position. Put down your WIP and pick up BIRD BY BIRD.

You might realize you’re only holding feathers.

Reddit Woes – Top 3 /R/Writing Posts

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I’m an avid Redditor. I’m subscribed to a number of sub-reddits but my favorite has become /r/writing.

As with any forum, there are people who piss you off but there are more who stimulate your creativity and motivate you to do better. Those are the people who keep me coming back. With them, we trek written mountains.

While I may be giving myself away, I want to recap on a few great discussions we’ve had this week:

Discussing Menstruation

Someone asked the sub whether or not menstruation should be addressed during a scene where four characters are trapped on an island for over a month. I found this intriguing but this detail didn’t serve any purpose to the plot other than a minor detail.

Therefore, I told him “Don’t.” I was shocked when hundreds of other people agreed with me.

While details may be emphasized by agents and editors, there is a line and not all of that line is drawn for discretion.

Unless one plans to write about many uncomfortable details, such as how everyone on the island smells, breath is horrible, pooping and peeing, masturbating, yeast/bacterial infections, chaffed nipples from sweat, unshaven armpits/legs etc., menstruation shouldn’t be included. It doesn’t serve a higher purpose to your story other than a minor detail, unless someone misses it because she’s pregnant or miscarries on the island.

Plus I can see it going horribly wrong if the writer accidentally focused on the moodiness of it. I’ll give him some leeway because he’s never gone through cramps, but as a women, if I was in survival mode, cramps wouldn’t hold me back from saving my life.

Remember, we love George R. R. Martin, but details have to serve a purpose.

Rewriting the First Draft

Many times a week, redditors will post about their writer’s block or the corner they’ve backed themselves into. But one poster asked if rewriting your first draft chapter-by-chapter means one is a bad writer.

The weight of the universe collapsed on my heart. I hate when writers feel bad about themselves for something they shouldn’t.

Don’t ever feel bad for failing the first time. Or the second or third. It means you’re learning. You’re improving. If you’re rewriting, congratulations. You are one of the few people who have the strength to view their story like clay, and know when to not settle with handing in your drivel.

Reworking chapters is completely normal. Sometimes, all you’ll do is grammar check or add in a few details. Other times, you’ll scrap and start from scratch.

In my experience, it doesn’t matter if you outline or are a pantser, the editing process is near the same. While it is really hard, you are doing yourself a tremendous favor and not settling. Just know when enough is enough. When you are pushing words around, that’s when the editing should go to someone else’s hands (beta reader or professional editor).

Pantser/Gardener

This is posted and debated a lot. Frankly, I don’t think one is better than the other. While Stephen King is a famous pantser and wrote a book about writing, it doesn’t mean you are a bad writer if you don’t follow his process to a T. You don’t even have to follow his process. Just do what’s best for you.

There are plenty of people who do not like Stephen King’s writing. They find his characters flat and his plots typical. There are also people who find issues with George R. R. Martin’s writing or J.K. Rowling’s writing, and we know how much planning went into those series.

Do what works for you. If that’s taking a year to outline and then pumping out 80,000 words based on your notes, you go girl. If you want to start with a main character and see where your pen takes her, all the more power to you too.

I’ve read great stories from both types of writers, even hybrids. Don’t be afraid to be different. Be you.

Your confidence will spill onto the page.

Letter to A Perfectionist

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Dear Self,

I’m writing you to tell you to say that you’re too critical of yourself. You can’t write a single word sentence without editing it to perfection. You get so tired of correcting your mistakes halfway through writing that your creativity drains. You worry abut how something’s worded before even saying it, writing it, thinking it.

You lost a whole night’s sleep over an opening paragraph to a chapter you already knew sucked. All telling, no showing. But there you were, mulling it over and over. Waking up from nightmares about it, getting up to write incoherent thoughts down even when the good ones came right as your head hit the pillow. It’s too much. I know they say you should edit and strive to do better and don’t be afraid to slash your darlings and revise four times. But they don’t account for the people who take that advice literally.

They say line edit by line edit so people will look at a style line. But losing sleep over getting a sore throat because you couldn’t stop trying to think of that fucking synonym that’s on the tip of your tongue, oh yeah, wait, no it’s not – now it’s 6 a.m. and the alarm will sound in 3-2-1… yeah. Other people know when to stop.

So the next time you pick up a best seller and count the amount of twelve “that’s” in the first page, or see filter words instead of action verbs. When you feel the twitch bob your eye as fast as your leg. When you wonder why no one edited away their adverbs or passive voice, realize that it’s OK to break the rules. It obviously worked for them.

There’s beauty in imperfection. You’re stupid to think that someone won’t find something wrong with your work if and when it’s published. Just write. Write because you want to. Write because there’s nothing else you’d rather do. Write because if you died the next minute, you’d be content knowing your last thought made it without squiggles, exes, carrots, and underlines. The way something is worded is not the make or break way to touch a heart.

Start the conversation.

Top Fictional Objects Writers Would Add to Real Life

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Sitting at the bar with a bunch of writers means one of two things: we all take turns griping about our current WIP or we somehow piece together a story that will never get written down but “for sure, would be a best seller.” If only recorders were an essential bar item.

This is why, during our last outing, we came up with the following fictional items we desperately need to add to real life:

  1. The memory pensieve
  2. A large wardrobe (especially us New Yorkers)
  3. Control of water (does anyone get the shower temperature right the first time?)
  4. Wicked witches leaving behind their sick fashion sense (finders keepers?)
  5. Hermonie’s time turner
  6. Truth Chain to help with fact checking
  7. Hand of Midas, because writing isn’t exactly the money maker
  8. A surrogate host body so when you’re sick in one, you can jump to another

Now, I’m sure you can hear the spirit and fried food in some of them, but we couldn’t come up with two more to save our lives. Everything else stated was a replica of the others. That realization swept silence across the table.

So writers, do you have any cool gadgets that would be useful in real life aside from the ones above? What are some gadgets that the new generation, technology at their fingertips, could benefit from? Perhaps a way to do work without being in front of a computer, or being able to go a day without caffeine.

…Yeah right.

Everything I Write Lately Is Drivel

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Feel like everything you’re writing is absolute drivel? Me too. I think it’s because, for once, I have time.

I seem to write the best when I am under pressure. When I know I have that last ten minutes of my lunch break, or an hour before the boyfriend comes home (I love him, but he’s not the Oxford definition of quiet). I write my best when my phone’s about to die, or I know I’m bothering you, hint-hint woman sighing next to me on the airplane. I hear you. I feel your breath on my cheek. You’re iguana huffs aren’t going to make me forget my genius.

I’ve come to terms with my quirks but why is it that these times, the most chaotic and rare bursts, are the moments where my thoughts actually somehow come together and make sense, as opposed to the “I’m going to wake up an hour early and write” lie I tell myself every night at 12:30pm?

Filter. That one word is my answer.

For someone who is type- A personality, OCD, and a grammar Nazi, I cannot write one word without editing it fifteen times. On an iPhone or paper, it’s a little hard to backspace and strike through without developing a twitch. The ink bleeds through, OK, and don’t get me started on smartphones still refusing to learn curse words.

After a long day at work, the last thing you want to duel after clients is auto-correct. So, single thoughts or a paragraph come out raw. When they stand alone, they somehow seem more profound, like the thoughts you get up in the middle of the night to write down.

Maybe when I look back, they aren’t as special as I thought in my drowsy stupor, but I captured them. They’re there. I can use them if they fit. But I feel like scheduled writing sessions just don’t work for me.

How about you? What have you found as your go-to time or place to do what you love?

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