Mammas, Don’t Let Your Novel Writers Grow Up to Be Bloggers

canstockphoto16357376.jpgI just finished reading a collection of essays by a much-loved and well-respected novelist. And it just made me sigh. All writing is not equal. It’s a new thing, taking a disparate group of blog posts, slapping them together, and calling it a book. Rarely has this been done well.

The struggling writer could only wish for a day when they are so honored and revered as a writer, as a name, that someone would be happy to compile their scraps of writing, make a pretty book cover, and sell them to a large base of established fans, ready to eat them up. The reality seems to me, to be just a little sadder, like the honoring of a formerly beautiful building, just before it’s torn down.

canstockphoto20266965So often these collections are a hodgepodge of journal entries, ordered in such a way that it is like binge-reading a blog. That seems like a fairly unedifying way to spend one’s time and it doesn’t get any better in hard copy. It is not just the ordering or grouping of blog posts that can be jarring in a book format, it is the quality and nature of the writing.

As I write more and more offline, I’m finding out something about myself as a writer. I don’t do the long game well. I write in short, disconnected spurts, even over the course of several hours. This is what blogging has trained me to do. And it’s not good for the purposes I intend.

It’s an indicator of what I’ve spent more time doing over the last five years. There are writers who write books who do not blog, or do so sparingly. Their writing skills are already strongly established. But if you’re coming at it the other way round, your struggles may just be beginning. Mine are.

canstockphoto9394573Writing has changed so much over the last century. I think about the impact of cameras and televisions – the communal knowledge of images. No longer needed were the lengthy descriptions of a sycamore tree or satin dresses propped up by crinoline or Times Square. Scenery is not painted for the reader, but merely referenced. Everything is written in technological shorthand.

This is not to say that change is bad or that we should stay rooted in nostalgia, but it does speak to our attention span and how we process what we read. The trend towards more information and fewer curators, means that our writing is vying for attention in an increasingly scattered collective.

With the advent of social media, or writing in an endless array of formats, it’s a necessary thing to think about what kind of writer you wish to be. It is important in the sense that who you are is what you do and read. Or at least what you spend the majority of your time doing and reading.

canstockphoto6307881Some would say, “Well, hell, I’ll do any kind of writing that makes me money, or gets me published.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the kind of honesty that keeps you from frittering your time away trying to be literary or artistic. To say that I want to produce good, solid work offline that has a few readers, doesn’t make me anymore highbrow or respectable, but it is a reminder about how I need to balance my time.

It’s been too easy for me to feel like I’m getting somewhere, when the kind of writing I’ve been doing is not what I intend. The kind of writing I do on a blog is not the same needed for a novel. I am learning this the hard way and the dissonance can, on occasion, be disheartening.

There are writers who switch easily between mediums and their blog compilations aren’t herky-jerky. I’ve read John Scalzi’s Whatever blog for many years and am amazed how quickly he can go from writing a novel, to blogging, to Tweeting and back again. But he has worked for years, established his credentials and skills, as well as having an understanding how to integrate all his platforms. Shit. I have to learn how to work on one scene without creating 25 subplots.

canstockphoto3436262As I put more and more time in on fixing my train wreck of a novel (that’s some good publicity, isn’t it?), I have become more cognizant of what I am accustomed to doing versus what I need to do. There is, despite the struggle, a spark of happiness in my brain about this. It means I have so much more to learn and explore.

I’ve started late. I will not have a lifetime career in which I am honored and lauded because of a large body of work. The opportunity to be blog-compiled will likely never be presented to me, but I’m okay with that, because I have to believe that my best work is still ahead of me.

Are You Doing the Kind of Writing

You Intend to Do?

59 Comments on “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Novel Writers Grow Up to Be Bloggers

  1. I’ve been having a hard time with this as well, so this post resonated for sure. I have eliminated my FB newsfeed from my life, which has been a huge time saver and I also just feel generally more relaxed. The writing though, herky jerky. So I guess, no, I am not doing the writing I want to be doing, so we’ll work on that 🙂

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    • There are couple fronts I’ve found myself having to work on: reading longer form/novels and now, just trying to stick with writing one scene and take it as far as it can go without introducing spinoffs. In the creative process, all that incessant rambling about is likely good to find out where the story wants to go. But I’m trying to fix what is now a fourth draft and I need to corral myself a bit!

      As an aside, I’ve cut out some things that eat up time and I, too, have felt more relaxed – which seems to correlate with how much more writing I’ve been doing. You just never know what the results of making slight changes will be. Best wishes for getting yourself on the track you want to be on!

      Liked by 1 person

    • When I get down (which happens way more than I’d like), I too go for a walk. But in daylight, since there are no lights around where I live. Which is usually pretty nice, but not so much at night. I have been shutting off my NPR and listening to books on CD lately. It’s a conscious effort to not get upset to the point of anxiety attacks. I’m also trying to work on what I can change and put my focus on what I can do. Sounds like I’m sticking my head in the sand, but I’m still informed, just not crazy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m guessing that the gist of your essay here is that blog/journal writing can be detrimental to more creative writing? My thought is that it may be a time distraction to more artistic pursuits, but it’s nevertheless helpful. Good blog posts may not need character and plot development, but they still require structure, theme, careful word selection, and creativity. Any kind of writing is better than no writing. I look at my blog as interval training in preparation for a marathon…it keeps my writing muscles well-toned. Also, writing a good nonfiction essay is an art form itself. Diarists Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn were celebrities in their day.

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    • I think there are a lot of positive things about blogging – a writing habit for starters. I’m just hitting the point where the short, albeit structured, writing does have a deleterious effect on the kind of writing I want to do. That must be countered by making sure that I spend more time writing off line than online. The scattershot/mood-driven method for most blogging (at least mine) is not particularly amenable to the cohesiveness needed for a book. And at least in my case, the posts mimic nonfiction essays, but are not strong enough or well-developed enough for print.
      Of course, this may all point to my age and my preference in reading, in that I give higher esteem to published works, as opposed to online writing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Getting published was traditionally for people with writing talent (and even the most innocuous fiction writing requires aptitude). Not so much anymore, particularly with the ease of self-publishing. But you’re right: there’s a mountain of trash online, and much less in a bookstore! I find that, although blog writing keeps me sharp, the instant gratification aspect is an impediment to more serious, long-form writing. But at least I no longer have the distraction of Facebook, which I assassinated several months ago!

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        • I always hesitate about being too critical of a lot of online content being rubbish, lest my own finds its way to the pile! There is something to be said of the gatekeepers of old. I miss the presence of editors and proofreaders. On the other hand, where there are gatekeepers, there is also subjectivity about what gets seen. A lot of extremely gifted writers might never have seen the light of day in the past.

          Facebook is one of those non-starters for me after I tried it a couple of times. Too much noise, not enough moderation or control. But I hear from more and more people that they’re letting it go.

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  3. You raise some very interesting points, Michelle. Both reading and writing have changed dramatically over the years. I’m currently rereading Crime and Punishment for the 3rd or 4th or time. I first read it when I was 16 and I was absolutely transported by it (and, in fact, ended up majoring in Russian & Soviet Literature as a result). Nearly five decades later, I am still entranced by the writing and the ideas, but I notice I am also struggling with the lengthy introspections and the seemingly unnecessary details. Language that used to electrify me now sometimes nods me off to sleep. This reflects on my changing attention span and how accustomed I have become to quick scene changes and lightening-fast dialogue. I still think there is a place for the Dostoevskys, the Stephen Kings, and the 850-word bloggers. In fact, the reader who sees value in all of these is likely to be a most interesting person to converse with. And the writer who can span different styles, genres, and media may touch more lives than the bestseller who keeps writing variations on the same theme. Such a provocative subject to ponder….

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    • I suspect I have written a convoluted post with a title that I thought was funny, but not literal. I was surprised after reading a collection of essays of someone with a stellar reputation at how unfulfilling and disappointing it was. The writing was of the patchwork variety, not just in the lack of cohesion, but the writing within the essays was choppy and distracted. It was only after the fact, that I read it was a collection of blog posts and that is what set my whole thought process rolling on this topic.

      Your experience with getting through more dense literature is one I have been experiencing as well and one I’ve been trying to remedy. For most writers, reading is part of learning the craft and impacts how one writes. I’ve been making my way back to novel and nonfiction book reading and stopped reading shorter, less developed work.

      One can see value in all kinds of writing. But most of my blog posts are an exercise in self-talk. Am I spending my time wisely for the intentions I have? It’s tricky to write about blogging with any sort of negative angle – on a blog, but the skill sets are specific to a certain type of writing. And sometimes don’t translate well offline if your intentions are different.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I worry that the urge (and perceived pressure) to press publish on a blog post is preventing me from doing the hard work of making my writing properly thoughtful and connected and… good. Lately I’ve been trying to focus on just getting posts out there, because I’d kind of ground to a halt. It was a useful experiment, but now I feel the need to retreat back into very slow blogging. I.e. spending weeks on a post, to actually eek something interesting out of it.

    It’s your closing point that’s key: intention. Blogging doesn’t have to be fast and simple and fragmented, but it takes takes deliberate intention to resist the urge to press publish on something that could become more interesting with work. It’s hard when all we hear about is how short attention spans have become, and how the only way to garner attention is to keep regularly pumping content out. But I don’t really get any joy from writing quickly and in disconnected chunks… so I’m reverting to slow work. Or I intend to anyway…!

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Slow work” – this is exactly what I am inclined towards these days. Not only because I recognize that I need to stick with the writing for longer, more focused periods of time, but also because it feels good to slow down the brain, mull things over, let ideas emerge. If we’re always producing, we’re not stewing, ruminating, absorbing, and allowing time for things to evolve.

      I’ve been reading “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer and it confirms something I’ve always felt. What happens in the spaces between is equally or more important than those times when we’re in motion, because that is when our brains are roaming free and making unique connections.

      This post certainly wasn’t meant to be an indictment of blogging. But you make a point about perceived pressures and all the things that go along with it. It’s very easy to get distracted by a whole new series of “shoulds”. I often re-visit this issue, mostly to remind myself about what kind of writer I want to be and what I need to do to get there.

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  5. Food for thought indeed, Michelle, and written with characteristic care, honesty and ultimate optimism. So easy to lapse into soundbites with FB and even blogging, not that you do here, but it’s something I’m aware of.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think sound bites are inescapable in the age of memes. I suppose that I keep trying to cultivate my own awareness of it, so that I can grow as a writer. Sometimes being forced to be brief can bring about an economy of words that is delightful. Other times, it just short circuits a piece of writing, leaving it undeveloped, as if it were ended with a giant ellipses. I find that frustrating as a reader and a writer.

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      • I suppose the worst thing is to lapse into cliché, which is where groupthink can lead. Originality is the holy grail, I think. As to brevity, I always think about Hemingway cutting great chunks out of what he’d written, to make the reader work harder and thereby get more involved …

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        • Your comment reminds me of something a little off-topic – a quote by Mark Twain in his essay “Corn Pone Opinions” about original thought:
          “It was his idea that there is such a thing as a first-hand opinion; an original opinion; an opinion which is coldly reasoned out in a man’s head, by a searching analysis of the facts involved, with the heart unconsulted, and the jury room closed against outside influences. It may be that such an opinion has been born somewhere, at some time or other, but I suppose it got away before they could catch it and stuff it and put it in the museum.”

          That always amuses me, mostly because it has a ring of truth.

          Liked by 2 people

        • In other words, I suppose, there’s nothing new under the sun. Twain himself strikes me as a good example of Pope’s phrase, what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed. He comes perilously close to originality at times! And I suppose artistic expression is the way to make old truths new. As Rimbaud said, it is necessary to be absolutely modern.

          Ha, not sure the above ideas completely hang together – but I really hope there are new things to be said. Our soundbite culture is getting to be a bit of an echo chamber …

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        • I’ve been reading “Imagine” by Jonah Lehrer and how the mind works and makes unique and original connections is fascinating. It does require that we allow time for our minds to wander, not just be distracted.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for taking on this topic. It took me 15-years to gain skill and know-how in writing fiction. I am the scary gate on the publication of my first in a series of Dog Leader Mysteries. Both excited and terrified, yet I keep writing those next manuscripts.

    After having written for most of my life, journals, poems, academic papers, and newsletters the transition in style, form, and content took much study.

    Nonfiction and blogging came faster and gives real-time feedback. Novel writing equates to long-distance running. I know one thing, even in fiction I need a strong ending in mind and some form of an outline or story matrix to refer to, then I’m ready to follow my characters.

    Thanks again, Deborah Taylor-French

    Liked by 1 person

    • First of all, congratulations! What an exciting (albeit nerve-wracking) time for you. I’ve been working for five years on the same novel draft in fits and starts. It’s taken me awhile to really get a grip on how to work on it. I’m on the fourth draft and suddenly everything is starting to feel different and falling into place. But wow, do my skills need practice!
      My background sounds similar to yours, in terms of writing in a wide variety of venues, but the moment I decided to focus solely on writing, it was amazing how many distractions made themselves known. It is an entirely different skill set. I like the running metaphor. I’ve always been a very slow distance runner, so it seems much is the same with my writing.
      Best wishes on your debut and thanks so much for sharing your experience!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Michelle, for your juice reply. Practice is the perfect word. Writing, in any form, takes practice. Skills and problem solving specific challenges expands what next we can reach for. My best to you, Deborah

        Liked by 1 person

      • Luv the running metaphor. It’s true…though my writing is a combo effect of fleeting speed trials on line, and distance races like my novel that don’t seem to have an ending as of yet…hence, the novel that’s been in the works now for about two years!

        Though to be honest, a lot of that time it was on-hold, sitting in my laptop, waiting!
        I got discouraged and took time off from it to regroup. Am ready to go at it again now though with the new year! Must re-boot and get back in the salt mines, so to speak!

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  7. I never thought of things this way. but after reading it your points make so much sense. Having always journaled, and then moved to the blogging world, I’ve run into problems with writing longer form. I thought it was just me and lack of talent. But now I’m wondering if it’s actually a lack of the proper practice. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You sound like me – no matter what the conditions are, it’s got to be my fault somehow! I’m getting some comments from a few experienced writers that confirm that practice is indeed the path for any form of writing you wish to do. It seems so simple, and I feel a little foolish, to come to terms with the fact that blogging is blogging and novel writing is novel writing and they are not interchangeable skill sets. Best wishes to you!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Writing is exercise, and like any exercise, different forms work different muscles. I write in spurts as well. If I can get 1000 words accomplished, I feel pretty good. I do a lot of working out scenes in my head, though. Also a good way to procrastinate, FYI.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’d think, as someone who writes and works out, I’d spot these metaphors right away and just “get it”. But I am a slow learner. By the way, I should have mentioned this awhile ago, I have A Hole in the Ground on the shelf next to my desk and will randomly grab it, especially when working on dialogue. I really enjoyed your book, Ross. Having some knowledge of the author has made it more relevant as a reference for me. I also should say that I am juvenile and giggle just a little whenever I write A Hole.

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      • Thanks, Michelle. I was fairly pleased with the dialogue in the piece, so this comment tickles me. In fact, I recently finished working on a play — all dialogue! I hope to have it produced locally, maybe next year.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Powerful thoughts! After reading them, and the comments so far, I’m glad I spent thirty years writing books before the delights of blogging were made possible. Because you’re right, the skills and purpose are utterly opposed in most cases. I’ve noticed that those whose blogs are book-worthy tend to know it from the start: they blog full blown essays — a different sort of pleasure from the keep-in-touch, thought-of-the-day flavour of most personal blogs. But not always: sometimes a very focused blog hits the spot with an eager audience that demands that the writer produce a book. However, I’m betting the editor has quite a job doing the conversion.

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    • I think the word “Editor” is key. That must be a skill set unto itself – to take a bunch of disparate blog posts and make it seem intentionally ordered in book form. It is fortunate that you wrote books before blogging. People who start out in short form and social media can certainly learn the long game, but so much of it is fighting back against distractions and not deluding oneself about the nature of what you’re writing versus what you’d like to write. Of course, I’m speaking for myself. Although delusion is how I managed to start a blog and write a novel draft in the same year, so perhaps I shouldn’t cast aspersions on it!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m so glad this is where your post ended up. The title had me ready to defend blogging, but really, you just wanted Mamma to keep her Blogglings from deluding themselves.
    Long fiction (or long non- fiction for that matter) does require a different skill-set than blogging. It takes a Long View most of all (in my opinion).
    I’ve done both, and I’ve found satisfaction in both. That’s enough for me.

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    • These posts are usually me talking to myself. I figured I’d catch a little flack for the title, but the cost of amusing oneself is sometimes to be misunderstood. I got there in the end. It has just hit home with me how different the skill sets are and for a long time, I did delude myself into thinking any kind of writing would do, even if it was not ultimately what I really wanted to write.
      Happily, despite my low mood, working on my novel this week has gone well and I’m finally seeing some forest for all the scraggly and misshapen trees.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Not all bloggers are aspiring novel writers, but I appreciate what you are saying. For me, blogging is a hobby, form of expression and a platform to exchange ideas. I have seen career writers withdraw from blogging or not engage with their audience. I imagine it would be hard to do it all.

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    • I would guess that the majority of bloggers are not writing novels, but there is a sizable minority who are and I would imagine, like me, are challenged in getting writing priorities to align with personal goals. It’s too easy to get tangled up in the aspects of social media platforms and lose sight of practicing whatever type of writing one intends to do.

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      • I suppose there is also pressure for all types of entrepreneurs to blog as part of exposure and marketing. That must make it especially difficult.

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        • That’s true. The conference I attended last year was full of writers wringing their hands over social media marketing. So many of them, myself included, are introverts, so the whole prospect of marketing oneself sounds horrifying! And yet, it seems to be the standard advice now. I started blogging just to kick start a writing habit, but it creates other habits as well – not all of them supportive of creative work.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Understandable. One saving grace about social media is that it does not require face-to-face. Before all these technology platforms, I suppose it was required to seek out speaking engagements and talk shows for self-promotion.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. This is how I am as well: “I don’t do the long game well. I write in short, disconnected spurts, even over the course of several hours.” I have been working on my books for years because I am better at short stories and blog posts. I can write an 8K word blog post that would make most run and folks will read them and comment to me in email and social media, but there is something about sitting down to continue writing something I already started working on and put down that I struggle with. I could do it for others – and have done it for years as a ghostwriter, but for myself with my own thoughts, I struggle. As I force myself to sit and edit and finish my book, I see my inefficiencies as a book writer for my own thoughts. But I press on in hopes i will overcome. Look forward to hearing more about your book – whether train wreck or well-polished arrival. (Smile) ~Shell

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    • As I struggle through some restructuring issues, it makes me very aware of my weaknesses as a novel writer. But that struggle is where it’s at – it’s how we learn. I’m trying very hard not to get discouraged and to not derail myself again. I always think of Pema Chodron’s words about leaning into the sharp edges, instead of avoiding them. It’s a reminder to stay with that discomfort and that struggle, because that’s likely where you’ll do your best writing. Best wishes to you on your work-in-progress!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Good question. I don’t know. I think I do best with the short essay type of writing, but I don’t know if that’s because I’ve trained myself to do so–mainly through blogging–or if that style is best for me. Maybe I gravitate toward it to keep within my comfort zone.

    I’ve started and outlined several book length works but haven’t gotten around to actually writing more than a few pages of them. I lack discipline for the long distance effort, it seems. I also lack the energy, frankly, after working full time 5 days per week. I feel like I’m writing/drifting with no clear end in sight.

    Thought provoking as always, Michelle. Good luck with your book!

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    • I’ve been drifting for a long time, too, Peg. I think I’ve gotten to the point of being tired of thinking about/avoiding The Novel, that I just want to get it done. And you mentioned about what you might gravitate to and I suspect the shorter form might be my forte as well. I just feel like I won’t know that until I make a solid attempt at a long piece. Perhaps that is a little masochistic, I’m not sure. Thanks for the good wishes!

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  14. To your question, yes, I believe I am writing what I intended. I use my own voice in how I use the English language. I also write stories with my own imagination, rather than using ideas from books I’ve read. When I read, I look at the writer’s grasp of language then I listen to his/her storytelling. Sometimes I try to see what they were seeing in their head while writing incredible scenarios and emulate that in my work.

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    • That’s great – some of us are obviously on task. I find it more challenging than I expected and can easily be distracted away from the novel. As many commenters have said, practice is really the only way to go. Best wishes to you in your writing process!

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  15. Ma’am may I just say I enjoyed reading your article and the comments are so enlightening as well. Wow. I just started a personal blog few days ago but I occasionally write offline on my laptop. I had this thought that maybe blogging can be my way to write a book someday and funnily enough I came across this article and hit me right. My intent is to write non-fiction someday but with blogging, although it helps me to expres my thoughts on a personal level, I fear that it might kill the kind of creativity that is needed for writing a novel. I think I have to be firm on what I intent to do. Wish me luck and thank you.

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    • Congrats are starting a blog. I think the main point I was trying, in a roundabout way, to make was that blog writing is great for building a writing habit and depending on what kind of writing you really want to do (or not do), it may very well serve that purpose. I’ve found it a little too easy to feel like when I published a blog post, I had done the writing I needed to do that day and would often not push myself to write what I needed/wanted to write offline. I think it’s possible to keep one’s hand in a wide range of writing venues, but the doing piece is the most important – making sure not to delude ourselves along the way about what we’re actually writing. Good luck with your writing ventures!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I can totally see your point here, Michelle. I don’t have any desire to be a great novelist so I am just simply enjoying blogging. I like to write in short bursts and blogging pushes me to improve my photography skills. Great post, enjoyed it!

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    • Hi Helen, I missed your comment on the first go-round – sorry! It’s such a good thing when we each figure out what our forte is and what we enjoy doing. It seems odd at this point in my life, to still be trying to find my way, but I think that is likely my nature. I take a long time to get anywhere!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. You have accomplished one of the largest obstacles for aspiring writers–you’re not afraid to put words on a page. Audience is an aspect of any writing goal. Writing children’s books? YA? Adult science fiction? A blog? A sermon? It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, if you’re stymied by a blank screen, you go nowhere. You are beyond that hurtle. It won’t take you long to adjust and the story will unfold.

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