How To Beat Writer’s Block Like A Boss

My previous blog post was all about where I get my ideas from so I thought it only fitting to address the problem of what to do when you’re lacking inspiration to get those very ideas written out. Writer’s block is a common foe to us wordsmiths and also, one of the trickiest to overcome. Or so we choose to believe. So how do we go from Exhibit A to B?

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There are a few ways to remedy the infamous block, ones that have proven quite effective for me in the past. Here are a few general things to try when you get stuck.

  • Distract yourself from the distractions: Focus on your writing and writing only. Often times, writer’s block stems from having too many things on your mind that keeps you from finding the space and correct mood to get the words flowing. In that case, get all those prior engagements done with and create a distraction-free zone for yourself. That might require a little more discipline, especially if you have a lot on your plate from work or uni. Create a routine that works for you and stick to it.

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  • Take a break: If you’ve got the time write but you’ve been sitting there, trying to muster up the words to start your next big hit for over an hour – stop. Stop right there. Forcing yourself to get the words out never works because of that big bad P word – PRESSURE. It ain’t good for your heart and it certainly ain’t good for your writer’s soul. Take a moment to leave the words that won’t come out and go out for a walk, play with your pet, listen to your favorite music or make a good cup of hot chocolate (or whatever floats your boat). You might already have the space to write but it certainly shouldn’t feel like a prison.
  • Stimulation is key to get the ball rolling: The innuendo-lover in me is trying so hard to keep her comments to herself but this point is pretty important. Maybe you’re completely in the zone but you just don’t know where to start. In which case, engaging yourself with sources of inspiration could be your solution. Read a book by your favorite writer or watch a TV show or movie in the same genre as the piece you’re working on. Talk to your friends and family and gather ideas from them too. Interacting with the environment around you can often help visualize what you want to do with your work.
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If you’re stuck on a particular scene or can’t seem to get around a certain development in your story, there are a few more writing-specific solutions that you can try out.

  • Rewrite the scene from another character’s POV: I was stuck on a scene where my protagonist comes face to face with the villain for the first time and no matter what I wrote, the interaction between the two just came out chunky and weird. It felt so off. I was so focused on capturing her emotions, I realized what was missing was his part of the formula. So, I re-wrote the scene from villain’s POV and it helped me discover exactly what I needed to fill in the missing parts of the equation. Although that didn’t make the final cut for the story, it helped me get over the speed-bump. If you feel there’s a missing element somewhere, try and find it.

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  • Hit backspace till you’re comfortable to start again: Let’s say you’ve written the first page of your new chapter but you’re finding yourself unable to keep going. Everything was going well right up to that point. Try cutting something out and rewriting that part in different words to get back your flow. Maybe the last paragraph or two, or even the entire page. I guarantee you, your second rewrite will beat your first. It’s like trying on new pants. You just need to find the right fit.
  • Pull a Leo: And by this, of course I’m referring to the one and only Mr. DiCaprio. He’s infamous for his method acting and dedication to stay in character (Django Unchained anyone?). Try and get into your character’s shoes. Live a day of your life and approach everything the way you think your character would, see it through their eyes. Just don’t go extreme and kill anyone or uh…rub a gash oozing your blood over someone’s face. Nothing that’ll get you arrested, basically.
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And if all else fails:

  • DO ABSOLUTELY           .

(Get it? No?)

Do nothing, my friends. 

Sometimes, you just gotta wait it out. If you’re not feeling up to writing at that very moment, it’s absolutely fine. You should allow yourself to suck once in a while. We all need some time to rekindle the flames and if that means giving yourself some time off from the written word, do it.

You might think I’m contradicting everything I’ve said so far but trust me, if there’s a block that none of the above solutions can solve, it’s probably something a little bigger than you think. Got a personal problem? Are you stressed out from work? Did you watch Infinity War and find yourself unable to come to terms with reality after that ending (I feel you on this one)?

Give yourself a break and get back at it when you can but this doesn’t mean you can:

  • use self-pity as an excuse to get nothing done if it’s something you can address
  • procrastinate away because ‘you’re just waiting for your Eureka! moment’
  • find reasons not to get over it

The best solution to own writer’s block is simply: to write. 

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There’s no one out there who can write the way you do – so go. Don’t try to do perfect, just do you.

Be your own muse. 

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Where Do I Get My Ideas?

From everything and everywhere.

^^ That would be my answer in its vaguest form, but honestly – there’s not much more to say.

Growing up, I had this little jar which I proudly dubbed ‘The Imagination Sanctuary’ consisting of story ideas I came up with on the go scribbled onto bits of paper which were then neatly rolled up and placed inside. Whenever I felt like working on a new project, I would reach in and grab a chit, and get to work.

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A little Jack Sparrow never gets old. 

Over time, the jar was tossed and replaced by a Word Doc spanning several pages. Not nearly as magical, but it did the job and continues to be sanctum to hundreds (I’m not kidding) of novel ideas I’ve come up with – ranging from fantasy to sci-fi to romance and even childrens’ books. Whether I get them all written out is another story.

I draw inspiration from everything I see on a day to day basis and leave my brain to do the rest of the work. A lot of my stories are imaginings I concocted while being bored out of my mind in the middle of a lecture in school.

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Others are rooted in dreams I’ve had that I jotted down the moment I woke up so I wouldn’t forget the potential they had to be written out. One of my sci-fi story ideas consisting of an alien invasion and intergalactic characters with special abilities was spun from a visit to the dentist and my lack of fondness for modern medical equipment.

So there’s absolutely no restriction on where inspiration can strike from. Although I do have a few tips on how to cultivate a more ‘idea-friendly’ environment for yourself apart from the ones I’ve already mentioned:

Knock yourself out with bingeing on TV shows and movies: this can do wonders. What better way to gain inspiration than from successful and entertaining productions that have engaging characters and good scripts (I hope)?

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Read, read, read: consume the written word like nothing else before it. I used to read a  lot as a kid (the luxury of time having robbed me blind of this satisfaction now). Read genres you love, classic and well acclaimed writers to see why they’re so good and new ones to discover what’s happening in the genre as of late. I’m heavily influenced by the books I read and it helped me become better at the genre I dabble in.

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Your social circles: a lot of the oddball humor and witty dialogues that come out of my characters are directly in relation to my interactions with my close friends and parents. I even based Helena, a supporting character in my story The Closer off of my best friend. It helps to observe the people in your life. After all, your characters are human too. (Or not in case you’re writing about shiny blood-sucking vampires or something. In which case, I sincerely hope yours will be more interesting.)

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The news and whatever’s up in the real world: fun fact –  Suzanne Collins came up with The Hunger Games when she was flicking between two channels; one showing some reality tv show similar to The Bachelor and the other broadcasting latest news about the Iraq War. She fused the two together and BOOM: a worldwide literary sensation was born. Of course, she had to squeeze in a-looot of work in the middle somewhere.

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Writing communities really do help: I talked in detail about this in my previous blog post but being part of one can boost thinking levels to a whole other planet. You get to mingle with writers in similar genres and absorb feedback and criticism on your writing. This not only helps you grow more ideas but improve as a writer too.

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And to save the day if all else fails, Google it: this is self explanatory but a search engine that can produce an endless list of helpful resources is pretty much a modern day magical wizard substituting as one’s muse (except it’s really no magic here but next-level algorithms and mathsy stuff).

In short, like I said at the start, I get my ideas from everything and everywhere. It’s really just a matter of paying more attention and being receptive to your surroundings. Heck, the next time you’re at the bus stop or in a cafe somewhere, I dare you to eavesdrop a little on the conversations people are having around you. There’s bound to be a hidden gem somewhere.

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Why Writing Online is the Best Decision I’ve Ever Made

I remember having a conversation with a classmate once back when NaNoWriMo was happening. She asked me how I manage to write so much while still managing to ‘be a nerd’. She was under the misguided notion that writers get into the zone by isolating themselves from the outside world, locking themselves up in a room and punching in words into their keyboards. Maybe some writers do that (the 1% I bet you) but that definitely does not apply to me. If at all, my writing has grown immensely over the years by doing the exact opposite.

/flash-back begins/

July 9, 2009 – 12 year old Beatrice returns home from school and settles into browsing her Facebook feed (she was super interested in the mechanisms of social media back then *cough* especially MSN messenger *cough*). She notices a cute little advertisement to the right corner of the page for a writing community called ‘Protagonize’ and decided to explore and give it a shot. Little did she know it would change her life f.o.r.e.v.er.

/flash-back ends/

I am not being dramatic

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Joining Protagonize did change my life for the better. I was on the younger end of the writers on  the site but talking, collaborating and sharing my work on the community did wonders for it. Comparing and contrasting my writing from the pre-Protagonize-era versus when it really started to boom on the community, it’s pretty clear how much I’ve improved.

Unfortunately, the community shut down June of last year. It was difficult, to say the least, to bid farewell to that small but golden corner of the Internet that I’d come to call home. My time on the community spanned eight years of friendships formed, collaborations entered into with fellow writers and literary adventures I’ll never forget. I will always treasure Protagonize for what it was and still continues to mean to me.

Since then, I’ve migrated to Wattpad , another writing community much larger in scale than Protagonize was with millions of readers and writers. Wattpad is great, especially in terms of finding a marketing base and target reader segment due to its size, but I feel it doesn’t come anywhere close to capturing the magic of what Protagonize was. Nevertheless, being part of an online writing community is always something you can do to step up your writing skills.

Why?

  • You have a platform to showcase your work and meet like-minded writers and readers that can help cultivate your skills.
  • Constructive criticism is necessary to grow, as tough as it may be to hear. Getting feedback from other writers and reviewers can help you nurture your weaknesses into strengths.
  • It’ll discipline you. Once you get a steady base of readers expecting updates from the other side of the world, you’ll be more motivated to keep the words flowing and it can help establish a routine which could be just what you need to keep your writing intact.
  • You’ll have inspiration in abundance that can help keep writer’s block at bay. When you’re not busy writing, you’re reading other people’s work. This can help form ideas for your own stories and get the ball rolling again!
  • Friendships are formed. I met some of the most amazing people online on Protagonize and Wattpad – some of them very dear to my heart. We became writing partners and collaboration buddies and not only is it fun, it helps you grow and pitch ideas off one another.

The evolution of writing communities has also led to a new wave of self-published authors. Writing online helped me find the confidence to publish my first book, A Midnight Reverie and is the very reason I’ve embarked upon the journey of publishing my second.  You get a support system and you find a place to share your writing. It only gets better from there.

I still believe because of Protagonize – in who I am, not just as a writer, but as a person. If you’re a writer, I urge you to join an online writing community. There are so many to choose from but once you find the perfect fit, there’s no going back.

My Next Step – The Closer

The last blog post I made was on New Year’s day. It’s crazy how much time has flown since then but also to see how far I’ve come in the matter of just four months. I completed my undergraduate degree in March, went on an amazing trip to Kashmir with my parents (it was literally Heaven on Earth and the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen), turned 21 and now I’m getting ready to begin ‘adulting’ with the impending start of a corporate job a week from now.

*le gasp*

It’s all very exciting and nerve-wracking, really. Knowing that the next era of my life is about to begin and this time I’d have no cushion to fall back on called ‘education’ or ‘school/university life’. Apart from my plans on this front, I’ve also started to think about what I want to achieve writing-wise. I have three completed stories, all worthy enough of being sent to a publisher with just a little bit of polishing (in my humble-but-dangerously-confident opinion that is) but it is one particular story of mine that I plan to revamp to perfection: The Closer.

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I am dubbed the ‘Queen of Romance’ by fellow writer-friends. I’d like to think I ‘major’ in writing love stories (if that were even possible). It’s been the genre I’ve focused on since I was a kid. But The Closer was quite different from what I’d written so far. For a start, I wrote it cause of a dare I received from my best friend who bet I could write a sexy, adult love story that could put Fifty Shades to shame (let’s just say she wasn’t a fan of that series). I was terrified. R-rated territory was new to me. But I took on the challenge and had fun with it and produced my best piece of writing in the process: a comedic, sensual and utterly sexy story. I gathered the nerve to publish it on the online writing community I was a part of – Wattpad. My updates started to slow as life caught up to me.

Having been on hiatus for a long time, I decided to make a come-back a couple days ago and was surprised by the popularity that my published work had garnered over the past couple months. My inactivity on the site had translated to an ignorance of just how much the story had blown up online. As of yesterday, it crossed 500K reads.

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That’s right! My baby’s got over 500,000 reads

I dedicated some time to reading through all the comments on the chapters and couldn’t believe the viewership it had gained. People from all over the world were reading my book. It was crazy!

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Hooooly shizzles.

Some praised my writing style, loved my characters and were rather vocal about it. Others disagreed with plot twists and constructively critiqued some of the character development. I had personal messages and posts from readers who told me they were inspired by my book and they couldn’t believe it wasn’t published already. One fellow Wattpader even went so far as to tell me I was the sole reason she joined the site. I was awestruck and still am to be honest.

Never had I imagined a story I’d started writing on a simple dare from a friend would develop into something so big. There’s potential here and I want to do something with it.

Rereading the first draft, I’ve identified a bunch of plot-holes, character inconsistencies and some elements that require serious touch-ups. I’m essentially doing a re-write and changing the entire conflict in the novel which lacks a lot of back-bone in the version uploaded on Wattpad. I plan on getting the second draft as close to literary perfection as possible, forming it into a manuscript and sending it off to various publishers.

I did a little research and they take a minimum of 6 months to merely review the manuscript and get back with an acceptance/rejection letter. And that’s if they’re feeling nice. That’s a whole lot of waiting so I better get to cracking on this novel.

The challenge? Oh, only the regular. Finishing off my CIMA certification, juggling work when it begins with my (non-existent) social life and just about managing to eat, sleep and survive through all of it. But a little voice in my head said: ‘once you identify something that can open a door for you: you have to pursue it, no matter how difficult the path’.

The Closer is going to be tough to get published in a lot of ways – regarding the actual process of rewriting and editing it as well as the cultural conflicts and ‘image’ that it might put across to some of my personal contacts that I wish to publish an adult book (more on this later). But I’ve got a hell lot of determination and even more support from my readers to do this.

So it’s time to get to writing!

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Life-Changing Plans for 2016

Wow.

It’s funny to think that the last time I wrote in this blog was right before I left off to university. Thursday, June 4, 2015. Now I’m back, I’m in the middle of my second semester with my next round of grueling mid terms right around the corner, and oh yes – busy formulating and executing some life-changing plans for 2016.

But let’s get back to that later.

So much time has passed and I’ve certainly learned a lot of lessons from the wonder that is life. Things like how to survive living on my own and away from home, organizing my priorities and a lot of other adultish stuff, the details of which I am not going to bore you with. (Yes, I consider myself an adult now that I know how to do my laundry and manage money, let me have my moment of glory please.)

There’s nothing like coming from home though, and luckily for me, my parents being the wonderful human beings they are decided to shift to Bangalore and got an apartment. Granted, because of the move, our Christmas and New Year’s celebration wasn’t as grand as normal, it still felt just right for me being able to celebrate it with the two people I wanted to most (minus my brother who I missed terribly). With that under wraps, finally coming from home again opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities I could grasp that I used to take for granted before.

Things like cooking again now that I’ve got my own kitchen. Re-starting my blogs and possibly even my Youtube channel (but let’s not get a little too ambitious) now that there’s no more blocked websites and such under the pain of the hostel WiFi. I can finally get back to having my own privacy and creative bubble to focus on my writing – something I dearly missed and almost completely stopped. All of this got me thinking, and I made a lot of resolutions which I am pretty damn sure I’ll succeed at keeping. After all, when there’s a will, there’s a way! One of these resolutions related to my writing, I’ll be sharing briefly with you guys on here.

So over all, I’m planning on doing the following in terms of my writing resolutions:

I’m also thinking of maybe opening up a section for submissions received from other authors who want to display their poetry or work on the blog. I might also hold monthly contests based on different theme. Maybe even interviews with other authors whose work I’ve read on Wattpad or Protagonize are very good and don’t have the reads they deserve. These are just some ideas I’m playing with for now.

  • Wattpad/Protagonize: constantly update both and do not lose touch with my writing. I’ve got stories like The Sparkle Toofus and Change Is Not Enough currently being updated consistently so that’s awesome. Reads, however, are lacking. So if you’re a member on either site, do go ahead and check out my stories if you’re into Teen Fiction. (You’re still invited to even if you’re not a member!)

I’m also planning on starting a new story offline that ISN’T going to be young adult romance. *le gasp* Beatrice writing something other than romance? Shocker, I know. But I’m looking forward to branching into fantasy and sci-fi this year so it’s definitely happening.

  • A poem a day to keep writer’s block at bay: a new poetry collection under the name twenty sixteen has been started. I’m going to try and aim for writing a poem every day this year. Let’s see how long this resolution lasts though (hopefully at least half the year).

  • The Project: as you guys might have noticed, I’ve been rambling on and on about this ‘exciting new project’ I’m starting off for this year. Wattpad members have a better idea of what this is about as I’ve made it public on there already.

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I’m planning on publishing my novel ‘I Promise’. But before it gets to a publish-worthy manuscript that I can ship off to different publishing houses, a lot of revisions will have to be made. And this is the part where YOU come in. Confused? I don’t blame you as I’m being terribly vague but just gear up for the next blog post. I’ll be giving out all the details then.

If you’re not already, make sure you are following me on Twitter, and Facebook where I will be posting most of the updates. Keep your eye an out on the blog too. You don’t want to miss this opportunity!

So yes. That was a very ‘brief’ plan of my year ahead in terms of art and literature. That was as brief as I could get. But I see a wonderful year ahead and I’m definitely grabbing onto every opportunity to make it awesome so that I have something great to look back on. It’s going to be hard work but I can’t wait to get started!

I hope you all had a great Christmas celebration filled with presents and family hugs, and an even better New Years Eve. But now that 2016 has arrived, let’s get the ball rolling and paint a new ending.

I definitely will be.

Why I Stopped Writing

Until quite recently, I had been at war with myself, although that should come as no surprise to any of you. I’m constantly at war with myself. My mind can be a bit of a hellscape, you see. But the thing is, it’s rare for writing to be the reason behind my struggle, and most importantly, for so long.

I’m both a writer and a perfectionist (among other things). And let me tell you right now, when you factor in my perfectionist streaks with the part of me that holds on to writing like a life-line, it is not a fun combination. Handy at times, yes, because that means I never settle for anything less than ‘perfect’. But what is perfection? What is a ‘perfect’ piece of writing? Is there really a combination of words and techniques that can  flow across a page in a way that leaves no possible room for improvement? I’ve been trying to find the secret behind attaining such a standard with my own writing.

But let’s get real: there is no such thing. There is always room to grow, to get better, to be capable of greater things. If a single artist on this planet believed that even one of their works was absolutely perfect as could be, would they have continued to produce more? No. Even if there was, I doubt I’d ever reach that standard because I am never 100% satisfied with anything I produce. Over the years, I have learned to somewhat suppress my overly analytical voice and just write. But like your typical villain popping up in a novel when things seem to be going picture-perfect (pun? ha), it struck again.

It all started about a month before I published my debut novel, A Midnight Reverie. I wrote the book during NaNoWriMo of 2014, and was delighted when I ended up with my first completed novel. Excitement pursued when, upon sharing my works with friends, family and on writing communities, I received good feedback. They all encouraged me saying, ‘you should totally publish this! It’s such a wonderful and heartwarming story!’ I was very skeptical – after all, I wrote this book at the tender age of 14, and I knew my writing had a long way to go before it was anywhere close to being publish-worthy. But the positive feedback continued to keep coming in and I figured – ‘hmm, well, I guess it couldn’t hurt to give it a shot? After all, it’s my first book and I’m only self-publishing it!’

Fast-forward three years later and through the several change of hearts that I went through before I finally hit the ‘publish’ button during late-2014. The book was officially in the market, available for order. And I felt so good. I kept touching the laptop screen, with my name written as the ‘author’ in disbelief. I’d just published my first book. One of my biggest dreams just came true! ‘This can’t be real,’ I kept thinking, and I think that disbelief is what my writing dilemma really stemmed from. Although it was more of a happy disbelief at the time, the seeds of doubt had been planted.

A month after I’d officially published A Midnight Reverie, I started to wonder if I’d made a good decision. I hadn’t been expecting that I’d become a best-seller or something over night. I wasn’t that foolish but…this book would mark my first in my journey as a published writer. Was it really good enough? Was I?

I pushed the thoughts aside and decided to work on my next project: the prequel to A Midnight Reverie. I already had 110,000 words written of the first draft and decided to dedicate my time to completing the story, editing, then finally publishing it. The deadline I set myself for all that? June/July 2015. Why that time?

  • I would begin first year of university in June. Uni sucks up a student’s time, and I, being a very studious one *cough* geek *cough* would make studies my top priority above everything else.
  • It doesn’t help that I’m opting to do a double-degree course: a Bachelor’s and Master’s equivalent combined into the time-span of three years.
  • I’m voluntarily stepping into academic hell. And yes, I am aware of the fact that it sounds like complete insanity. ‘But do not worry, Beatrice! You can surely find a way to squeeze in some writing time amidst a busy course like that! After all, you’ve got the weekends!’
  • I very recently learned that I’ll have classes on Saturdays as well. I get just Sundays off. 

I started to worry about how much time (or lack thereof) I would have for writing that I forced myself to work my ass off on my next book, and to do it fast. There are two F-words in that sentence that are absolutely abysmal for a writer to do: ‘force’ and ‘fast’ (shame on you if you thought anything else).

As I continued working on my novel, I started to grow a little paranoid. I didn’t like what I was producing. I read over the whole 110K I already had, and what I had added to it, and didn’t like it. I needed it to be perfect, and all I saw were flaws.

So then I decided to scrap the 110,000 words (I wish I was kidding) I’d written so far and start from word number one. I started, then stopped again. How could I forget the research? The story’s taking place in ’80s America and to get the descriptions spot-on, I need to know more about that time! Plus, I need to make my characters’ sob-stories realistic.

I did a heck-lot of research, made detailed character bios and chapter descriptions so I wouldn’t go wrong anywhere. I planned everything, almost to the details of what color undies my characters would be wearing (okay, maybe that’s pushing it a tad and completely irrelevant but this goes to show how stressed I was feeling).

After I completed all the research I needed and felt I was ready to start the actual re-write, I sat down and decided to do just that. For four days, I kept a Word Doc open. For four days, I stared at the screen, fingers settled on the laptop keyboard, 100% ready to get this novel written and yet…not able to get the first word out. That’s when I realized what I’d been doing wrong all along.

Writing should never be forced. It should never be a source of frustration and anger, the exact opposite of what it’s been to me my whole life. I’ve always loved creating characters, and discovering who they are and who they’re meant to become along their journeys. They’ve taught me, their creator, as much as real, living people have. After all, these characters are fragments of who I am. Writing out of desperation than actual passion wasn’t just destroying my love for the art, but it shattered my self-confidence and respect for myself as a writer. I was trying to force the story out – and that’s why I couldn’t do it anymore.

I stopped writing. 

I stopped because I didn’t enjoy it anymore. I was too paranoid about making every little detail perfect to actually cherish these characters the way they were meant to be cherished. For several months, a separate struggle had been raging on whether or not I should un-publish A Midnight Reverie. I started to deem myself unworthy to be called a ‘writer’, and a published one at that.

I took some time off to think. It did me a lot of good, and I found a solution to the problem that had been plaguing me for several months.

 

I wanted to write again, simply because I loved doing so.

I wanted to write again, without restriction, without any bounds.

I wanted to write again – just for myself.

So I silenced the voice in my head that kept telling me I wasn’t good enough, that my work would never be good enough and poured my heart and soul into writing again. Into a story that brought me tears of laughter and joy, into characters that never told me to quit writing them unless I could make them perfect. They just wanted me there, and are, till today my life-savers.

This doesn’t mean I give up on the re-write of my novel. I will get around to it when I feel like I’ve gained a healthy balance between my love for the book and my perfectionist side. That story awaits, and I know that when I get around to writing it, I won’t fail the characters. I want to do them justice, but before all that, I need to relight the fire (such a cliche, I know, but it applies)!

For now, I am going to write without a deadline pinned on my calendar. I am going to write without worrying about if I’m ‘good enough’. I’m just going to write because it makes me happy.

Oh, and I’m definitely not going to un-publish A Midnight Reverie. A Midnight Reverie clearly isn’t a master-piece but it’s the first step and effort I’ve made into writing one in the future. I’m not going to take a step back. In fact, hopefully someday when I’m an accomplished writer, I’ll look back on it and see how much I’ve grown.

After all, we all start somewhere. This is just the beginning.