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Missing Motivation

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Missing Motivation

When my tweens neared the end of their school year back in June, I was in the practiced habit of settling in at my desk once they were off to school. As someone who struggles to not lounge around in my pajamas all day, I recognized that to get them up and going required that I get myself up and going. 

And then, suddenly, they were always…here. Lounging in their pajamas. The momentum that getting up and going early in the morning gave me was gone.

I advocate hard for writers to schedule their work in advance, to know which of their writing tasks they are going to do when and where. This is a practice I started about a year ago, and it has made a world of difference in my productivity. 

But when the end of the school year was looming, I thought, “Let’s just see how the summer plays out. I’ll just write when I find the time.” 

In other words, I didn’t take my own advice. 

I stopped planning ahead. 

I stopped blocking out time in my schedule. 

I stopped breaking my writing into manageable pieces in advance so that – when I did have the time – I knew exactly what to work on. 

And what was the result? I didn’t write one single word all summer. 

Now had I planned for that to be the case, that would have been one thing. But instead, I expected to write and then let myself down by not doing it. 

Which feels terrible, by the way. 

Today, as we settle back into our school-year rhythms, I’m reflecting back on the summer and my lack of writing productivity.

It is so obvious to me now. 

Break apart writing tasks into manageable pieces. 

Block writing time on the calendar. 

Assign writing tasks to the writing times. 

My kids are 11 and 13. It’s not like we hadn’t had summer vacations before. If I had followed these three steps, I would have gotten a lot closer to where I wanted to be with my current writing projects. I wouldn’t be playing catch-up now. 

I’m not looking at this as a failure, but rather an epic learning opportunity. 

Motivation doesn’t just happen. Motivation is the result of momentum. 

I didn’t keep up my momentum, I lost my motivation, and I didn’t write for three months. 

That won’t be happening again. 

Lesson learned, Self. 

*   *   *   *   *

When you look back on times when you didn’t write despite having the time, what do you learn about your own habits and rhythms? What helps you maintain motivation when schedules and routines change? Come over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook community and tell us what works for you. We can all support and encourage one another.

Photo by Александар Цветановић from Pexels


Stop wondering what to work on and where to start, and start making real progress toward a finished piece of writing.

Take one sitting to plan what you will do – and when – and your first draft is as good as done!

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    Your Story Matters

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    How to Believe that Your Story Matters

    Why would anyone read this?

    There is someone out there who needs this exact story.

    It’s not very interesting.

    It’s interesting enough that you feel compelled to write it.

    But who am I to think I can write this? I’m nobody.

    You are somebody with a story to tell. That’s who you are.

    It is too hard to get started.

    All you need is a plan. Decide what you are going to work on and when, then get to work.

    I’m not sure what to work on first.

    There are no wrong decisions.

    I can’t make myself sit down to write.

    That sounds a little aggressive. Try inviting yourself to sit down to write instead.

    I’ll never get it published.

    The only reason it won’t get published is that it’s not written. Once it’s written, there are endless publishing opportunities.

    *   *   *

    There are so many things that we tell ourselves, each of which keeps us from moving in the direction of our writing goals.

    But what we have to remember is that these thoughts are NOT FACTS. They are thoughts that our brain is generating because we are scared.

    Scared of failing, of rejection, of vulnerability, of [fill in the blank].

    People who skydive sit in the plane terrified.

    And then they have a choice.

    They can jump, and experience the exhilaration they have signed up for


    They can return home in the plane, never knowing what might have been.

    Which one are you going to choose?

    *   *   *   *   *

    Fear is a perfectly normal part of the human experience, one to which we all relate! Come over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook community and tell us what your fear is telling you. We can all support and encourage one another.

    Photo by Stokpic from Pexels

    Stop wondering what to work on and where to start, and start making real progress toward a finished piece of writing.

    Take one sitting to plan what you will do – and when – and your first draft is as good as done!

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      5 Steps to First Draft: Essays

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      5 Steps to First Draft: Essays

      In a previous post I shared a brand-new FREE resource I’ve created, 5 Steps to First Draft…Finally! It’s a quick-start guide to stop procrastinating and start writing in a way that is manageable, fun, and helps you get that first draft written before you know it. Grab it here!

      Today’s post is how to use the five-step process specifically to craft a personal (creative nonfiction) essay.

      Our local independent bookstore sells Yay! Life! magnets. Have you seen these? They are just plain fun. On our refrigerator, we currently have

      Yay! Cats! (my daughter)

      Yay! Ninjas! (my son)

      Yay! Books! (ahem)

      I’d like to offer another suggestion:  Yay! Stories!

      I love creative nonfiction. Whether it’s research-based or a straightforward true story, I immediately latch on to the writer’s vulnerability and willingness to explore the universal truths behind his or her unique experience. I think this is why I love writing it, too. I like to believe that even though my experiences are my own, something within them connects to the rest of humanity.

      All this to say, I feel less alone when I read and write personal narrative.

      But setting out to write an essay can feel a little daunting. I experienced this thing, we might think, but how do I make it interesting for anyone else? Especially if it wasn’t a set of life-and-death circumstances?

      The 5 Steps to First Draft…Finally!  method can come in handy here, getting us out of our own heads and into the chair with focus and a clear path. 

      (If you haven’t read through the free guide yet, I recommend it! What I talk about here will make more sense if you do. You can grab it here.)

      Pre-Step: List every idea you have.

      I don’t know about you, but my stories all blend together. Thinking about a high school football game triggers another memory of a college party triggers another memory of an early date with my now-husband. Thinking about my 10-year-old’s upcoming birthday triggers a memory of his birth, which inevitably triggers a memory of an early miscarriage.

      This is how our brain works. There is nothing going wrong here.

      But it is distracting and can sometimes cause doubt in the topic we’ve chosen to write. So listing every memory that comes to mind – and often – is a really useful exercise. Your brain can relax, knowing that its job of reminding you of things is done, and your creativity can rise to the top.

      Choose a topic and structure.

      In the free guide I encourage this mantra:  There is no “right” decision when it comes to your stories. They are all worthy of being shared.

      Just choose.

      However, when it comes to structure, there are a lot of options and one may be a better fit than others. If creative nonfiction is your jam, I highly recommend making sure that you are reading it. A lot.

      A resource I can’t recommend enough is Priscilla Long’s book Village Books and Paper Dreams” data-wplink-url-error=”true”>The Writer’s Portable Mentor.  It contains an entire section devoted to narrative structures. She also makes a great suggestion:  choose an essay you admire, break it down to where you understand the structure, and then write into that structure.

      Set your intention.

      Do. Not. Skip. This. Step.

      In my mind, intention is what makes the difference between a water-cooler anecdote and a quality personal narrative.

      What are you trying to say?

      There are several things to consider here. Who is your audience? How did the events change you as a person? What do you want to say to your audience about that change?  Answer these questions and it will dictate every choice you make, from the broadest theme to the smallest word.

      Set your completion date.

      My writing group meets every month, but we don’t all share each month. So when my turn rolls around, I think I have the entire month to write something for them to read. And I procrastinate, and I dawdle, and I end up writing it a day or two before I’m supposed to give them my draft.

      When I was using my group as my only accountability, I got one first draft done every 2-3 months.

      When I started setting my own completion deadlines, I upped my output dramatically.

      Since we’re talking here about an essay, not a full-length memoir, I want to push you on this one. You do not need a month to do a first draft. You could probably do it in a couple of hours. There will be other considerations (see the next step) but remember that this completion date is for the first draft, and first drafts are not supposed to be perfect.

      Let it be imperfect, and let it get written.

      List all tasks.

      Free writing is a big one for me. I free write about my intention, but I also write the story – events only – beginning to end. I write about who I was before, during, and after. If someone else was in the story, I write it from their point of view.

      Each essay and each topic will require its own set of tasks. Research may be involved, or interviews with family members, or an hour spent with your photo albums.

      Keep asking yourself What else? until nothing remains.

      Put all tasks on the calendar.

      And there you go. Your story is ready to be written. All you have to do is show up and remember that your story matters.

      Are you a writer of creative nonfiction?  Come on over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook group! We’d love to learn about what you write. Also, be sure to tell us what your strategies and challenges are with regards to planning and writing your true, personal stories!

      Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

      Stop wondering what to work on and where to start, and start making real progress toward a finished piece of writing.

      Take one sitting to plan what you will do – and when – and your first draft is as good as done!

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        Screaming into the storm

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        Screaming into the Storm

        why you SHOULD add to the noise

        The Internet is a wide, wide ocean, full of amazing creatures, brilliant colors, tides that pull and flow in different directions, and violent torrents one should avoid for self-preservation.

        (There is also a lot of garbage.)

        When faced with this maelstrom, we writers often ask ourselves…

        … is there room for my voice?

        … will anyone hear me?

        … should I add to the noise?

        My answer:  YES.

        Sure, there is so much available to a reader today. More than she will ever be able to consume.

        But what if exactly what she needed was what you had to say, in your unique way of saying it?

        Sure, media is 24-hour rapid-style, headline-screaming, sensationalistic noise. There is a possibility that your story might get overlooked by many.

        But what if one person sees it, and it impacts him in a profound way?

        I don’t write my blog or essays or stories with hopes that they will go viral or land me a 6-figure book deal.

        I write them with the hope that the people who need them most will find them.

        Could you try the same?

        * * * * * 

        How do you brave the storm and continue to put your words out into the world? Come on over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook group and share your challenges and strategies with us! We are all in this together, and all of our stories matter…yours too.

        Photo by Valdemaras D. from Pexels

        Stop wondering what to work on and where to start, and start making real progress toward a finished piece of writing.

        Take one sitting to plan what you will do – and when – and your first draft is as good as done!

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          5 Steps to First Draft…Finally!

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          5 Steps to First Draft...Finally!

          Writing is hard.

          Sometimes we love it, and sometimes we hate it. (Or as several famous writers have been quoted as saying, we love having written.)

          A lot of us believe that we need to wait for inspiration to strike.

          The problem is, this belief goes against what we know is true, that consistent practice makes us better writers.

          I have personally grappled with this for years. I would sit down to write, feel uninspired, and get up to do something else. Or worse, I would never sit down in the first place. Over my years of experience as a teacher and writing coach, I’ve heard many would-be writers say the same thing, so I know I’m not alone here. 

          What is your greatest challenge? Is it that…

          •  you haven’t been able to find the time to write?
          • you start first drafts but don’t finish them?
          • you are doubting yourself, wondering What if no one likes it? What if it turns out I’m a terrible writer?
          • you have trouble just making yourself sit down and write already?

          Tired of talking about writing, thinking about writing, and wishing about writing while not actually writing, I became determined to make a change, After much trial and error and many cups of coffee, I realized that one small shift made a great deal of difference.

          I could make my decisions about what and when to write ahead of time.

          If I made my decisions ahead of time, then all I had to do each day was show up and do my best on the one small step I had planned for that day. And eventually – small step by small step – a first draft was written.

          Here is my process:

          1. choose an idea and assign it a structure
          2. explore and decide upon a clear intention for the piece of writing
          3. set a deadline for completion of the first draft
          4. list all of the small steps to be taken
          5. put each and every step on my calendar.

          This is the tool I’ve used to become a writer who completes projects consistently, efficiently, and intentionally, and now I’m sharing it with you because your story matters, and I want you to write it.

          Click here to grab your free copy of 5 Steps to First Draft…Finally! >>

          Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

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          How do you want to feel?

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          How Do You Want To Feel?

          Every morning is the same. I become aware first of sounds – the hum of water running through the faucet as my husband shaves. My daughter’s bedroom door opening, soft footsteps going down the carpeted stairs. The rustle of a cereal bag in the kitchen. The cat purring beside me.  I lie there, awash in sounds.

          And then, my brain catches up and sends a rush of adrenaline through my body. The day has started, and I am immediately gripped with anxiety. So much to do. So much expectation that I probably won’t live up to. It’s all too hard. I can’t face it.

          I peel myself out of bed and carry that anxiety with me like a 50-pound weight throughout my day.

          Recently I heard a life coach on a podcast suggest that the way we feel is optional. That we can choose how we want to feel and generate that feeling for ourselves.

          This has been a life-changing concept for me. Intellectually, anyway. I still wake up anxious every morning.

          The difference is that now I can observe my anxiety, pause and ask myself if anxious is how I want to feel. Usually, the answer is no. Then I ask myself how I DO want to feel.

          My response today was at ease. I just want to feel at ease. Like things are okay, you know?

          Then I chose it. The feeling of at ease

          Everything is okay, I told myself. It’s okay to feel at ease. You are safe. It’s okay to get out of bed.

          It’s not perfect. But it’s working. Slowly. One day at a time.

          * * * * *

          My question for you today is how do you feel, when you sit down to write or at any other time of your day?

          Do you want to feel that way?

          If not, how do you want to feel?

          And how can you generate it for yourself? What new thoughts can you think?

          It isn’t magic. It’s a practice, like everything else.

          Be kind to yourself.

          Come over to the {extra}ordinary stories Facebook group and share your strategies for getting yourself through the difficult feelings in writing and life. We’re all in this together. 

          Photo by Jonas Mohamadi from Pexels

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          Future You the Writer

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          Future You: The Writer

          3 questions you must ask yourself TODAY

          What does it look like to achieve success as a writer? 

          Goals are good, right?. They give us something to work toward. 

          But only if they are specific.

          I had a vague notion for a long time. Landing somewhere on some list of notable writers. My name recognizable by some number of readers. Generating some amount of income by producing some amount of published work. 

          My guess is that some aspiring writers are very clear on their goals, but I think more are like I was . . . very fuzzy on the details. 

          Whether you are clear on your goals today or not, I want to offer a way of using our future goals to feel successful – and motivated – today

          Three Questions to Ask Yourself Today

          1. What is your goal as a writer this year? Five years from now? 10 years from now? What do you hope to have accomplished? Be as specific as possible. 

          Of course this will change over time. But what are your goals right now?  If you don’t know, then play with it! What are your biggest dreams? Let the ideas fly! 

          Be sure to word these goals so that they are in your control. This is so, so important. If you are waiting to feel successful until one of the big publishing houses publishes your memoir, what will happen if they all pass on it? However, if you can feel successful by “ensuring that it is published” – perhaps by a publisher, perhaps independenly, perhaps in a hybrid model – that is in your control.

          2.  Imagine you have achieved the goals you listed above. How do you feel?

          Proud? Satisfied? Lucky? Visualize yourself standing in the spotlight, having achieved what you wanted. What emotions are bubbling up in the future you?

          3.  Look at those feelings you listed in the second question. What can you do in your writing practice – today, tomorrow, next week – to produce these same feelings today

          This too is in your control. Why wait to feel those feelings of success? What if just showing up to write on Thursday morning at 6 a.m. when you said you would, or just producing the 500 words that you committed to this week, gave you those same feelings? 

          Being future-focused in our writing is only beneficial if we can use it to our advantage today. Predicting how we will feel when something happens is only useful if we realize that the power to feel those feelings is in our control today. 

          Now what?

          Take your writing dreams and goals and turn them into realistic, actionable, productive, small steps. Remind yourself with each step how you want to feel, and choose to feel that way as you complete each step. This generates motivation that will keep you moving through your projects, even in the toughest moments. 

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          a story by Stephanie Dethlefs

          She reached up to a shelf in her bedroom closet and brought down the shoebox.

          “Here you go, sweetie,” she said. “Have fun.” The door clicked, and I was alone.

          I lifted the lid to find two of the few toys my grandmother kept in the house, two small dolls that she inexplicably kept tucked away among her sweaters and blouses. One, a vintage Barbie which had belonged to my aunt, clad in a cotton sweater, pleated skirt and sensible shoes. The other, a plastic figure of a little girl, nearly and tall and twice as wide as the Barbie, dressed in a school uniform.

          The little girl doll was the main character, immediately inhabiting all of my own traits save her undeniable sense of adventure and confidence. I lifted her out of the box and propped her up against the pale blue pillowcase without making a dent. The sounds of adults talking from the next room rose and fell, muted through the walls.

          Photo by from Pexels

          The Barbie was the teen sister, tasked with babysitting. She rolled her eyes as their parents left for the evening, and promptly told her sister to leave her alone. Her bedroom door clicked shut with authority.

          Little Girl doll made a grilled cheese sandwich, then watched some TV.  Bored with the five channel options, she rose to turn off the television set, freezing mid-stride. A boy’s voice was coming from her sister’s bedroom.

          Little Girl doll was not worried, only surprised it had happened so quickly. She recognized the voice as her sister’s boyfriend. She took her plate into the kitchen and placed it in the sink, then walked down the narrow hall to her sister’s room, where she slid down the wall and rested, elbows on knees, listening through the door, as Barbie teen sister removed her clothes and lay side-by-side with her invisible boyfriend in the shoebox.

          To read more of my writing, visit this page

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          The Tie That Binds: Pinpoint a story’s theme

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          The Tie That Binds

          How to Pinpoint a Story's Theme

          I was furious. I slammed kitchen cabinets, whipped the dish towel, made weird gutteral noises in my throat to keep from screaming. 

          What happened? My husband hadn’t done the dishes. 

          Yeah. I know. It wasn’t about the dishes. It was ridiculous, in hindsight, because he does the dishes every night after dinner and this one time he had delayed. He probably would have done them, had I not walked in and started slamming things around. 

          I was not angry at him at all, actually.  This sudden outburst of rage was a compilation of issues that I’d been collecting over the day. Seeing dirty dishes all over the sink and counter when I just wanted a drink of water, well, it was one too many things. 

          I am old enough to realize quickly that I was throwing a tantrum like a toddler, stopping just short of falling to the floor and pounding my fists and feet. I walked out of the kitchen and out of the house into the cool evening air. I asked myself this question:

          What is this really about? 

          This is the same question we have to ask when we begin to work on a new writing project, whether it is a full-length memoir or small, like a blog post or an essay. 

          What is this really about? 

          The question is getting at the theme of the piece. The theme is the big idea or concept that all of us – as humans – can connect to. Trust. Betrayal. Friendship. Loss.  There are thousands of themes to choose from, which makes it all the more important that we identify what our story is really about.

          Identifying the story’s theme early on offers us several advantages as we get to work.

          1. It will help us identify which details to include and how to shape them. 

          2. The project will be more focused and intentional. 

          3. Because of this focused intention, the reader will likely feel the genuine connection that comes through shared human experiences. 

          In writing about this temper tantrum, for example, I could have chosen one of several themes. Marriage. Household responsibilties. Anxiety. Anyone reading will have some sort of connection to any or all of these options, just by being human. But choosing one intentionally, ahead of time, allows me to decide how I want to shape the entire story. 

          What is this really about? 

          So how do we make the decision? The more complex the story, the more possibilities for themes. Who is to say which is the right slant, the best lens? 

          There is no “right” theme to choose, but we must choose. Here are some steps you might try next time you begin a project. 

          > List all of the possible themes embedded in this story, even in the most inconsequential ways. You may come up with three, or you may come up with twenty-seven. There is no right number. 

          > Ask yourself, “What is this really about?” 

          > If stuck, choose the two or three themes themes that you are leaning toward. Talk or journal through the details of the story that illustrate each. Where do the most impactful details point? 

          > Once a theme is identified, keep it in the front of your mind as you draft the story. Shape your details through that lens. This requires an element of trust:  it will make a huge difference in the impact your writing will have on the reader. 

          My volcano of emotion was about self-care, or rather lack of it. I was tired from not enough sleep, felt icky from eating poorly, had consumed a bit more wine than I should have, and had been beating myself up mentally from morning to night. If I were to write this as a stand-alone story, it would have been about my realization (over and over and over) that my own self-care impacts my interactions with my environment and those in it. 

          Identifying the theme makes a difference, both for us as writers and for our readers. It is a simple decision that impacts the entire story for the better. 

          Photo by from Pexels

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          How do you WANT to feel?

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          How do you WANT to feel?

          Create Your Own Writer's Mindset

          In 2014, I went back to elementary teaching full-time after working part-time and parenting my littles.  I was already 15-20 pounds over my natural body weight, as I had been since college.  In that first year, I gained 30 pounds. The second year I gained 10 more.  

          I blame none of this on the job itself, only on my inability to manage intense emotions without eating Doritos and chocolate. So. Much. Chocolate.  And suffice it to say there was a lot of self-flagellation. 

          • I can’t lose this weight. 
          • It is too hard.
          • I don’t have time to plan meals. 
          • I haven’t ever lost this much weight before. 
          • I’ve let it go on for too long. It’s too late to change.

          Finally, about six months ago, I decided that I wasn’t going to hate myself thin. I was only going to reach a healthy weight – and maintain it for the rest of my life – if I decided to do it with ease. 

          Ease is not the same as easy. I committed to myself that I would go all in, plan ahead, make the best decisions I could, and – most importantly – when I mess up, I will pick myself up lovingly and start again. Ease is about the choice not to create drama around Doritos or whatever else is presenting itself to me.

          The change has been amazing. I actually have lost only a few pounds, because it takes time to undo decades of negative beliefs. But my mental weight is shedding faster than I can keep up with. Most importantly, I genuinely believe that I am going to accomplish this goal with ease.

          I share this story with you because I believe that this process can work with our writing lives as well. So many of us think these thoughts so often that we are assuming that they are facts. 

          • I’m not a good enough writer.
          • I don’t have time. 
          • It’s too late for me to get in the game. 
          • I can’t because _____

          These are not FACTS. They are THOUGHTS you are having, and your mind is finding evidence to support those thoughts. But what if, what if you could change the thought? What might happen? 

          Because this can feel abstract and unlikely at first (it’s not that simple! our brains argue)  I would like to offer you a series of questions to respond to. I recommend taking a couple of minutes per question and really sit with it before responding. Allow this to be possible. 

          Questions for Crafting Your New Writer’s Mindset

          1) How do you WANT to feel about your writing, your writing life, and yourself as a writer?

          This question is getting at emotions. What emotions do you want to feel? (excited, motivated, capable, etc.) 

          2) What thoughts would produce that feeling? 

          So often we attribute our feelings to what’s happening around us, but that isn’t really useful. We can’t control whether someone likes or wants to publish our writing, we can only control how we think about it. So, these might be thoughts that start with I am. I am a consistent writer, for example.

          3) What is your inner critic saying to you as you write and think about these new thoughts? 

          It’s important not to resist the inner critic. Let her speak. Hear her out. 

          4)  How do you feel when you hear what the inner critic is saying? 

          Again, emotions. Ashamed. Tired. Depressed. 

          5) Do the emotions in #1 and in #4 match? 

          Probably not. This is important to notice. If we put our feelings into the hands of the inner critic, we will never feel the way we want to feel about ourselves as a writer. We have to practice believing something new. 

          6) What can you commit to thinking and doing this week that will get you closer to believing the thoughts in #2? 

          Small actions and neutral thoughts are like taking baby steps away from the inner critic and toward the new mindset you want to create. 

          Like my weight loss journey, this is not easy work. But it can be done with ease. 

          With ease, you can create a writer’s mindset that will provide you everything you need to achieve your goals. 

          Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

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