Category: For Writers (Page 2 of 13)

Tips for the Long Run

Ironically, as we come out of lockdown and into a semblance of normal life, people seem to be experiencing more stress than ever. The formerly cheerful checker at the grocery store scowls and tells you to wait while she santitizes her station. The server who was glad to get his job back, is grumpy about wearing a mask. And all those self-appointed behaviour police who rant and rail and ramp up the fear quotient about perceived health code violations don’t help. The attitude of “we’re all in this together” seems to be crumbling at the edges. 

Perhaps people are just tired. Tired of uncertainty, tired of zoom, tired of trying. But I think there is more at work here. I think we have a case of thwarted expectations. Even while health officials warned us that we were in for months and maybe years of doing things differently, we subconsciously thought when the lockdown ended we’d go back to “normal.” Now the reality of “not-normal” is setting in and we’re finding it hard to take.  Kind of like we were promised a puppy and we got a goldfish. Nothing wrong with the goldfish, but it’s not what we wanted. Some would just like to flush the fish.

So, how do we go about coping for the long run? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Read

 Especially read fiction. Fiction is story and story is filled with characters and characters  take us out of ourselves. For a little while we can be someone else, live in a different  world and experience family and friends and (maybe) happy endings. We could all use   happy endings these days, so pick up a romance — or a mystery, where justice prevails.  That’s a kind of happy ending too. While we are keeping distant from our real  life   friends, we can get up close and personal with these fictional characters. We can    laugh and sing and hold hands.

  • Look for the Upside

Amid all the civil unrest, the tragedy of racism, the pain of death, there is still good news in the world. There are people performing good deeds, making music, telling jokes, volunteering, making the world better. When you’ve seen enough of the bad news, go for some good news. Our local television station, CHEK, has made lemonade out of lemons by turning the sports segment — there are no sports at the moment — into The Upside. Here the sports caster and the weatherman collect quirky stories from around our Island and broadcast them on the nightly news. It’s silly and kooky and a lot of fun. It brings people together and it generates lots of smiles. When you’re feeling down, go for the Upside.   

 

  • Walk 

Or run or bicycle or turn handstands. The point is to move, thereby releasing    endorphins, our own little happy hormone. If possible exercise outdoors. Don’t wear   earplugs. Shut down the artificial world and tune in to the natural one. Birdsong,  crickets, rustling grass, soughing boughs, barking dogs — all these things help to restore   our mental balance. In Canada, our national broadcaster, has created “Hello Spring” to lift people’s spirits. If you can’t hike into the back country yourself, they’ve brought the back country to you with clips of bear cubs emerging from their den, a hummingbird  feeding her young, fox kits discovering the world, and many more moments to remind   us  that the natural world is bountiful and open to all.        

  • Work 

In her post in Writer Unboxed,Sandra Callender  about the importance of writers in a time of social turmoil. Violence, she posits, comes from a lack of human connection. When our physical human connections are severed, our fictional connections become even more important. Writers create an antidote to violence. 

If you are a writer, write.   If you are a musician, make music. If you are an artist, paint. If you are a knitter, knit, if you’re a doodler, create the most elaborate doodle of your  life.  In the comments section of that same post Vaughn Roycroft shares a bit of folksy  wisdom about work. Nothing good comes of worry, he says. At least if you’re working, you are getting something done.                                                                                                                         

I subscribe to that belief myself and even used it in my first book of the Prospect Series, The Man for Her.  Whenever Lottie felt overcome by her problems, she worked. She got  something done. She got through it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                           

So, I was “working” in the garden the other day, removing diseased leaves, down on my knees with my face mere inches from the thorns when I spied this beauty hiding behind a branch. Working not only got something done and released my endorphins, it surprised me with unexpected beauty–the upside to a tedious chore.

Hang in everyone. We are all in this together and we’re in it for the long haul. 

Please share your upside stories in the comments below.

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Post Avoidance

I’m happy to report that I’ve made progress with the list of chores I’ve dodged in the past. The sewing room has been dusted, scrubbed and organized. Yippee! Only problem is now I don’t want to start any project and mess it all up. Since the weather is changing, I’m sure there are summer clothes that need mending or pressing or new buttons, but I’ll continue to avoid until the crisis point is reached. 

On the writing front, I’ve made progress there too. For me, editing comes much easier with printed pages, so I’ve run them off and covered them with red ink. Someone famous once said, “I hate writing but I love having written.” That’s the way I feel at the moment. Seeing where I can add scenes, subtract extraneous phrases and tighten up the action gives me a lift. 

It would appear that threat of public shaming is a sufficient goad to get me out of avoidance mode. However, Diana L has some much more fun suggestions in her comments on last week’s blog.Thanks, Diana, for sharing your ideas.

I’ve done a variation of “ten things” but I always include a bribe. e.g. Once I’ve done ten things I can have a piece of chocolate, or knit for ten minutes, or . . .

Seven minutes seems a very short time, but if you set the timer and race until it dings, you’ll be surprised at how much you have accomplished. 

So, here’s wishing everyone a great week of super accomplishment whether it’s done ten things at a time, seven minutes at a time, or inspired by a deep well of ambition within your soul.

To quote Dr. Bonnie, “be kind, be calm, be safe.”

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Avoidance

On this blog, I’ve promoted the use of lists to accomplish tasks in a timely manner.  I have found this a very useful technique for both writing and non-writing chores. Once I’ve itemized a job and added it to a weekly list, changes are pretty good, I’ll get it done.

Except. . .

Clean the sewing room has been on my weekly list for the past four weeks, and still the stacks of fabric, missing buttons and lost threads accumulate in corners. I have become a master of avoidance when it comes to a deep dive on organizing my sewing room. Can’t explain it, but the many times I’ve transferred to task from last week’s list to this week’s is testament to a deep-seated resistance. Mind you, the little clip at the top of this post is another reason the sewing room is not decluttered.

Decisions and Fear

Perhaps it’s the need to make decisions that holds me back. To really tidy the room I’ll have to decide on what to keep and what to throw away. Fear of making the wrong decision keeps me from making any decision and the detritus grows.

The Discovery Stage

I’m also resistant to writing the “romance” in my romance novel. I’ve finished the plot line days ago, but cannot arrive at a logical happily ever after, because I haven’t built the love story into the middle of the manuscript. This is a common failing of mine. I should be used to it by now. 

Because my first draft is more a voyage of discovery than a charted journey, I’m afraid of locking myself into a bad idea, of picking up a theme that I cannot sustain throughout the novel. So, I hedge. I leave my options open, hoping that somewhere in this flight through the mist, I’ll stumble upon the key to the romance. Usually I do. Usually it is not until I’m about to smash into the mountain. The clouds lift and I see where I’m going.

Resolution

Having reached the crisis moment where h/h must chose each other or the story turns from romance to downer, I finally have a clue as to what the big issue between them is and how to resolve it.

Hint:  It is not the issue that seemed to be the stumbling block at the beginning of the story. That first conflict is never big enough to hang a novel on. 

Promise

So, my promise to myself and to you, dear reader, is that this week I will face the challenge of both the laundry room and the romance. I post that promise here to give myself extra motivation. Having publicly made a declaration, I don’t want the humiliation of admitting I dodged the issue once again.

Conversation

So writers and readers, how do you cope with avoidance? Is there a magic formula that will get that closet cleaned out? Do you have to be stuck at home amid a pandemic before boredom drives you to the neglected recesses of your home and your mind? Does avoidance make you feel guilty or clever?

Use the comments section to share your wisdom or your frustration.

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A Little Levity

In this time of world crisis, we could all do with a little jocularity. (Remember Father Mulcahy on M.A.S.H.–jocularity, jocularity?)  The calico cats bring you lots of purrs and a little chuckle.

 

 

This is a sweater I’ve been working on for months. The knitting, in the round on long circular needles,

is awkward and slow. I’ve had to rip back over and over.

 

This is a big flaw in the sleeve only five rows from finishing the dratted thing.

 

This is why, there is a big flaw in the sleeve, only five rows from the end.

This is Chloe, having a lovely afternoon nap, that is because she gets up at 5:00 am and insists on going out!

This is Chloe demanding a brushing.

 

Here are the calico cats curled up together in the shower. I don’t know why this is their favourite spot, but I have to get there ahead of them to wash my hair. Of course, I couldn’t possible boot them out.

kr

Hope you enjoy these glimpses of my cats.  They do keep our lives interesting, even while we are physically distancing and missing our usual activities. Are your pets keeping you sane?

 

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COVID-19 Lessons in Perception

Perceptions of time.

In my part of the world we are beginning our third week of shut-down. On the calendar the past fourteen days look like nothing at all, but in real life it feels like forever since I attended a church service, met a friend for coffee, or popped into the grocery store without lining up.

Perception of reality

I feel like the news reporters at CBC   are my new best friends. I spend more time with them than my actual friends. Interesting to watch the fluffy-haired blonde reporters turning into bed-head brunettes. Vik Adhopia is bald so his style has not been affected. Who knew hair loss would be an advantage?

Our Prime Minister (who is practising self-isolation because his wife was infected with COVID-19) appears on television every morning with the latest word from government. There have been missteps along the way, but when one considers the enormity of the task I have to take my hat off to the elected politicians and to the civil servants who are rolling out massive bailout packages at a phenomenal speed.

Websites must be built to handle millions of applications all at once.

Personnel must be deployed to process all those millions of applications within ten to fourteen days.

When one is waiting for the money, that seems a very long time, but from the administrative side, that is lightning fast.

Perception of Nature

At a time when the virus is making us close in, hunker down, and worry, spring has still come to my part of the world. While the virus narrows our outlook, spring appears with open hands, flinging beauty far and wide, free of fear or restraint.   I found this lovely lady at the end of my street yesterday.  I share her with you and hope your heart will lift as mine.

 

Perception of Kindness

There are many examples of kindness to be found just now. Children put hearts in the windows to say thank you to essential workers. Residents bang pots and pans at shift change at the hospital, to say thank you to medical staff. Our local distillery started making hand sanitizers instead of gin and a local delivery company offered to distribute them to fire halls and emergency rooms. Neighbours are helping neighbours — I’ve picked up groceries for some of my housebound friends–families are finding imaginative ways to keep in contact with relatives in nursing homes. 

Perception of WritersInternational Women's Day

On the writerly front, many authors and groups of authors are offering free classes, free critiques and free jokes to help writers through this trying time.  Close to home, the creative academy, has thrown open their virtual doors and opened up conversations with authors–about writing, about selling, about covers, about self-publishing — just about anything you can name. Three cheers for them.

Another example I found is on Writer Unboxed — you know I’m a fan of that blog. They have taken up the blight of debut authors who have had their book launch events cancelled. Under the tag of Helping Fellow Authors in the Age of COVID 19, they have invited debut authors whose events have been cancelled to pitch their book on Writer Unboxed.  Writerly kindness in spades!

Perception of a hero

A crisis brings out both the best and the worst in people–those of you emptying the shelves of toilet paper, just stop it!

But there are many more examples of individuals, companies and governments going flat out to help their neighbours. Kudos to all of you, and especially to authors. While we’re all stuck at home, we need stories. We need writers to take us on a journey of the imagination. We need writers who make us laugh, writers who make us cry and writers who show us the possibilities beyond today.

As I heard a closed restaurateur remark from his closed business, “chin up.”  

If you’ve got a COVID-19 story–it can be funny or profound or heartwarming– please share in the comments below.

 

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Social Distancing Blues

flatten the curveSo, how are you all doing with this social distancing thing?

 

 

 

Here’s how I’m coping.

  • As soon as someone says, “stay home,” I want desperately to go out.  
  • I wander about the house looking at the chores I could do, but not actually doing any of them.
  • I find myself compulsively watching newscasts repeating the same information over and over.
  • I should be glad of the extra writing time, but can’t settle at my computer.
  • I sleep too much in the day, then can’t sleep at night.
  • I want to go out for lunch even though I don’t “do” lunch on weekdays.
  • I whine that the library isn’t open, even though I have a stash of books at home.

You get the picture — I am the opposite of a heroine!

But, I want to do my part to flatten the curve, so I’m staying put. I don’t feel vulnerable for myself, but I have a lot of older friends and others with asthma or on chemotherapy. No way will I be the one that spreads the virus to them. I also have family in the healthcare system, sure don’t want to add to their workload or put them in danger if supplies of masks, etc. run out.

Now, after a week of moaning and avoiding my fellow humans–I don’t have little ones or elderly relatives in my home– I’ve resorted to my failsafe coping mechanism — lists.  

I’ll share some of mine here in hopes they’ll help others find peace at home.

  • Gratitude  — I’m warm. I have enough to eat. I have a roof over my head.
  • I have endless ways to “socialize” electronically.
  • I have some new, unread books and several shelves full of old favourites.
  • The cats are endlessly amusing and nice for cuddles.
  • There’s more, but you get the idea.
  • Chores — Adapt the old housewife’s routine. Monday is wash day, Tuesday is ironing, Wednesday is mending(sewing),Thursday is shopping, Friday is cleaning, Saturday for baking and Sunday for church. I may substitute “exercise” for “ironing” or rearrange the shopping and cleaning,  but you get the idea. Make a schedule and write it down.
  • Reach out to friends. We can’t go to church physically, but we can watch a service on television, or get one on-line. Our minister sent out a youtube of his prayers and sermon on Sunday morning. I watched it during our regular church time. Then, as if it was coffee hour after the service, I telephoned several church friends just to check in. They were all grateful for the call.
  • Keep my family close. My brothers live four provinces away, but we all managed a phone call last week. They are healthy, I am healthy, and we are reminded that we are family–a blessing like no other. 
  • Write. Just like in the days before COVID-19, my writing  benefits from routine. I’ve resolved to watch only one newscast in the morning, then go to my desk.  Somedays I stay there until I’ve reached a certain word count, other times I set a time limit. I’m not inflexible with my “rules” but it sure helps to have personal guidelines in place, especially in times of stress.

We are having beautiful, spring weather. Gardening isn’t on that list of housewifely chores, but I’ve been outside, digging in the dirt, encouraging the crocus and daffodils. I’ve walked around the property and made plans for the vegetable garden. I’ve pruned the roses and the fruit trees. Like all gardeners and farmers, I’m convinced that next year,  next month, next week, will be better. The world needs optimists!

Keep safe, everyone. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Stay home with a good book.

If you have a great way to keep calm and useful during this pandemic, please share in the comments section. It’s a safe way to be social.♥

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Be a Better Blogger

blogging for authorsBefore the order to stop all public gatherings came down, my writer’s group, VIRA, met with Barb Drozdowich. Barb is a writer with 27 books to her name, but not romance, or even fiction. Instead, she writes technical books for writers. The topics cover websites, mailing lists, blogging, self-publishing and various social media platforms. In short, she wants to ease the technical challenges that face authors so they have more time to create stories.

What with family issues, COVID 19 fears, and travel requirements, we had a small turnout, which was disappointing for all of us but Barb handled it with grace. For those of us who were there, we got a very personalized lesson on how to manage our on-line presence. I gave myself a pat on the back because my website name matches my author name and ends in .com. I’m smarter than I knew. 🙂

I bought her book on blogging. I’m a real slacker when it comes to social media, so I thought I concentrate on something I already do and look for ways to improve. The first advice in the book is to think of my blog as a conversation. Look for me to be more chatty and less expository. Now that’s a non-chatty word but one I love! 

Since leaders around the world, including our own Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, are urging as all to stay home even if we haven’t travelled and we’re not sick, we’ll all have a lot of time for reading. Since all the major sports leagues have cancelled events, even my husband has nothing to do but read. As well as spending time with my favourite books, I plan to spend time reading Barb’s advice.

I think this blog counts as writer kindness. Kindness from Barb in offering her wisdom to a handful of authors. Kindness from me for telling all of you about her workshop and her books.

Stay safe everyone. Wash your hands often. Don’t touch your face. Enjoy guilt-free reading time.flowering tree

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5 Sports Techniques for Writers

Canada’s national men’s curling championship, The Brier, is underway and I’m glued to my television set. Sadly, my favourite team is losing. They are making brilliant shots, putting rocks in impossible places, but at the end of the game, they are one point away from the win. They may even begin the final end in the lead, but lose the game. It’s not fair.

The cry “it’s not fair” is one we all recognize from childhood, but even when we are grown ups, that complaint can play silently in our minds. As writers we’ll see a published book that just doesn’t live up to our standards. The characters are one-dimensional, or the conflict is contrived and shallow, or the plot is too thin to carry the story. Yet here is that book on the store shelf while other manuscripts, our own included, languish unseen and unloved. “It’s not fair!”

My chosen curling team are champions. I doubt they waste much time whining about “not fair.” As athletes they know that failure is inevitable and just one more step to winning. Of course, they’ll have sports psychologists to help them “park it” as the saying goes and step onto the ice for their next game wearing the confidence of champions, not the shame of failure.  As writers we can do the same. Here are some suggestions to employ when faced with rejection or dismal sales.

    • Use Imagery.  Athletes learn to imagine themselves at the top of the podium. They great the image of themselves clearing the high bar, or landing a perfect triple axel, or making the final draw to the button. Writers can imagine their book on the shelf, complete with beautiful cover, and a book-signing. They can go deep inside their own minds to know the satisfaction of penning a beautiful sentence, or crafting a page-turning plot. In other words, use the power of the mind to create a “win.”
    • No such thing as perfect. It is easy to focus on our shortcomings — I’m not clever enough, or experienced enough, or dedicated enough, or “I can’t write like Nora Roberts or–fill in the name of your own icon here.” <g> Usain Bolt, widely acknowledged as the greatest sprinter of all time, finished third in the IAAF World Championships in London last year. Even the greatest, are not perfect. You, as a writer, won’t be perfect all the time. You’ll have flashes of brilliance, and with practice those flashes will come more often, but you won’t be perfect. That’s fact, not shame.
    • Motivation. Athletes are driven to succeed by both internal and external motivations. Externally they want the medals, the money, the fame. Internally they may want to be the best at their chosen sport. That internal desire to be “the best” at something gives them the drive to work out until they drop from exhaustion, then get up and do it again. It gives them the willingness to sacrifice time, relationships and money to reach the pinnacle of their sport.  As a writer, what motivates you? Is it the money? That would be nice, but it is not something you can control. All the external accolades of being a successful novelist, come from others. For motivation that won’t be defeated by rejection, look inside yourself. Do you get a glow when you craft a beautiful sentence? Do you go to bed smiling when you’ve had a good day writing? Use imagery to create those moments in your life as well as the ones that see your book on the best-seller list.
    • Learn from failure. Re-read that rejection letter. Did the editor give you a reason why they passed on your book? A favourite line from the rejection desk is “doesn’t fit our needs.” That may look like an easy out for the editor but it might be a hint that you should research your market.  Once you’ve had a sulk about the unfairness of the writing world, try reading some of those best-sellers and compare your work to them. What have they got that you haven’t. I guarantee there will be something you can learn.
    • Take a time-out. In 1991 Monica Seles was number one in the world rankings and the youngest woman ever to reach that pinnacle. But in 1993 a deranged man plunged a knife into her back. She was out of the tennis scene for two years. In 1995 she won the Canadian Open and six months later, won the Australian open. I would hope that none of us is ever the victim of violence that forces us to take a break from our chosen careers. But it is instructive to realize that even grievous injury did not stop a determined athlete. For those of us with less physical goals, a sabbatical can be helpful. Sarah McCoy writes about it here  https://writerunboxed.com/2020/02/25/sarahs-simple-pleasures-sunset/

I’m still hoping my favourite team can make a miraculous comeback at The Brier, but whether they do or not, they are still champions — just like you.

 

 

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Celebrate Writers

authors rockValentine’s Day was twelve days ago but it’s never too late to celebrate. On Saturday my writers group, VIRA, held our annual luncheon. At one time, we held a formal ceremony with volunteer awards, writing awards and mentorship awards.  Over the years we’ve simplified. We’re all volunteers, so we all got a box of chocolates. Instead of a few door prizes, we all took home a party favour. I got a painted stone that says “Authors Rock.”

We used to arrange a set meal, now we all order individually from the menu. It makes life easier for the organizers and each attendee gets her own choice of food.

What hasn’t changed is the good will and good wishes. With 27 women and 1 man in a small room with bare floors, bare walls and a bare ceiling, the din was deafening. But it was a cheerful din, punctuated with bursts of laughter and lots of cheers.

We heard from a writer who wrote her first book while living in the Yukon with three small children at home. The weather was too cold to go outside and the view from her window presented only a landscape of white.

In search of her sanity, our author decided to write a book. She composed at twenty-one words per minute on an electric typewriter. By the time the book was finished, she’d achieved 60 wpm and a request from a publisher. Major celebrations followed. Sadly, the publisher decided to pass on the finished ms.

More stories followed and life went on. With the children grown and gone, our author re-edited her masterpiece. This time, 37 years after she first put fingers to keys, her book was published with a traditional publisher.

From the joy in the room when this tale was told, one would think we’d all been offered a writing contract. Writerly kindness in abundance.

It’s been said many times that writing is a lonely and often discouraging business. That’s why it’s important to celebrate even the smallest of steps, and to find a group of friends who “get” what it means to be a writer.

It was a lucky day for me when I found this group of authors. There is so much kindness and encouragement — and the most interesting people.

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How to Solve your Story Puzzle

jig-saw puzzle I love puzzles — crosswords, Sudoku, word wheel, scrabble and jigsaw–I can wile away many hours happily studying the clues. When I find an answer I get a little buzz of satisfaction. One of the traditions in my house is a jigsaw puzzle at Christmas. Guests know it will be on the kitchen counter and all are welcome to fit in a few pieces. Sometimes I have a hard time prying people away from the puzzle and getting them to the dinner table. It’s a fun pastime and well suited to the holidays. Usually the puzzle is complete by the second week of January.

It took me until the second week of February to complete the one shown at the top of this blog because I had “help” from a calico cat. Her form of help is to sit on the pieces so they can’t be used, or to roll around on the completed bits, totally disarranging them, or, as a special treat, she’ll pick up the pieces in her paw and run away with them. I had to resort to covering the puzzle when not in use, that’s what that rolled up white sheet is all about, and only working on it when the cat was asleep or outside.  So, my frisson of gratification has been all the sweeter for being delayed.

Constructing a story is a bit like solving a jigsaw. The writer starts with a few ideas about what might happen — the pieces of the puzzle. Then she has to figure out where to put those pieces in the story — the timeline. Often a writer will know the beginning scene and the end scene, but the stuff in the middle is a bunch of jumbled pieces, some don’t even belong in this story. As she sorts and fits the pieces together, inevitably the author will realize that there are missing pieces. She has to go back and write more scenes. The entire process may take longer than expected –usually it takes longer. Some happy writers find the pieces fit together quickly without a lot of holes or leftovers. Most of us have to try the bits in different places, turn them one way or the other to get them into the overall design.

Just as I find having room to spread out my jigsaw, I find having a visual “board” for my story helps me see the overall shape. If you have a lot of wall space and a white board, this initial phase of solving the story puzzle might include a few trusted friends. If drawing on the walls doesn’t suit your lifestyle, you can do what I do, and use a large file folder to layout the pieces of the story.

I draw in big squares to represent the chapters in my book, then use post-it notes to itemize the scenes I know will be in the book. The ones in this example are all yellow, but you can refine the system by colour coding –pink for the heroine’s scenes, blue for the hero, yellow for narrative, etc. I gave up using the colours because there was so much overlap. Hero, heroine and exposition all ended up in one scene and I wasted hours worrying about the colour of the post-it. Still, some authors love coloured paper, coloured pens and pretty little stars. Laying out this “storyboard” is also a great excuse to run to the stationery store and buy new pads of paper, new pens, stamps and stickers. Kind of like getting new supplies for the first day of school.

However you lay out the story, on post-its, on a whiteboard,  on a corkboard, or in a computer program, doesn’t really matter. It’s your puzzle, play with it as you will. But I do encourage you to try the “puzzle” method of composition. It makes for a change and change can spark creativity. And aren’t we all chasing that will-o’-the-wisp, creativity?

 

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