Listening to Music While Writing

Hey, everybody. How’s it going?

A post today on a writing tweak I’ve started back up this year. As you know, I try to analyze my writing a little and figure out new tweaks that help me become more productive. At the beginning of this year, I said I would try writing with music again.  Well, I am and it’s going well.

 Headphones

Here’s the setup: I just go to the café, get my coffee. Sit down, plug in my laptop and put  on my headphones. Sometimes, I just cruise through my favorite tracks on YouTube, but usually I just dig into the tunes on my PC and press play.

The music does two things, blocks out noise and sets a mood. First, it blocks out the most distracting thing of all: ambient conversation. For a writer, there’s nothing worse than when two people  sit down next to you and start a quite conversation in a language you understand. My ear just latches onto the conversation and can’t let it go. You can forget the dialogue, the details, the prose running through your head! It’s all going to get garbled with bits of dialogue from the REAL humans sitting right next to you. I know it’s  completely NOT these people’s fault, it’s just a natural response. I can’t help it.

Music also sets a mood. So, if I’m writing something dark or brooding, I’ll queue up some Renaissance music (Tallis) or some slow, mellow Hip Hop (2 Chainz). If I’m writing something adventurous or fun, then something Pop (Grouplove, maybe) will do the trick.

So, why do this? Well, I would only do it if it:

  • a) Enhanced productivity (word count).
  • b) Improved quality (better prose).

I feel it does both. Of course, a) is easier to measure. And it does seem that my word counts are higher this year. Music somehow gives me focus or, more correctly, puts me in the (psychological) Zone and keeps me there better than writing without the headphones. And as far as b) goes, I do sense that the prose is better, improved. But that is very hard to judge. I have come to that conclusion simply because I have sneaked back to peak at my writing and I feel it’s solid. At any rate, at the end of this year, I’ll have a perspective on word count.

That’s about it. Something basic I wanted to report. Another tiny thing I do that I’ve noticed enhances productivity and prose. Something you can consider next time you sit down to write.

Until next time. Keep Reading, Keep Writing,

Darius

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The Craft: Theseus in the Labyrinth

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

The young king staggered back and stood alone in the darkness. The great beast’s chest heaved one last time and stopped forever. He wiped the bloody sword blade on the hem of his tunic and grabbed a torch from the wall. And in that moment, gazing down at his vanquished enemy, he realized that the real Minotaur, the real man killer of Crete, was not the beast itself, but the labyrinth. The beast that he must slay was not the dead creature on the ground, but the tons of mute rock and wall surrounding him.

Minotaur

The young king walked to the edge of the room, grabbed the rope he had laid on the stone floor, pulled it until it was taut and began to gather it up in his hand…


And cue: today’s hackneyed metaphor…I think writers, like Theseus, have to tread carefully in the labyrinths of their own works. Unless you take the requisite precautions, you run the danger of getting lost and tripped up by your own plot. And perishing deep in a labyrinth of your own making.

Unless you’re one of those lucky few (the “Pantsers”) who can sit down and write a whole work by just “seeing” where it starts, where it ends and some vague scene in the middle, you’re best plotting out your work. (I leave it to you to determine if you’re one of the Elect Pantsers). How do I know this? I’ve learned by bitter experience. I have forged ahead into the heart of labyrinth many times, slayed the beast and then thought…Wait! How the hell do I get out of here!!!??? But it was too late! I had written myself into a corner where only a lame contrivance or a Deus Ex Machina could get me out. And you don’t want to do that!

So…To avoid this situation I always bring a rope (metaphor continuing now!) with me on my writing expeditions. Something I can tug on, in case I get lost deep in the labyrinth. It’s what I call my outline (actually I call it my CSP + K outline). Now, my outline (like the U.S. constitution) is a living document. It’s not written in stone. I can modify at any time, given new developments in the story. And, VERY IMPORTANT POINT: I don’t have to follow what is says at all costs. If a character decides to do something different than I intended (as long as it’s in character), I let them do it! If a relationship between characters matures or develops in unexpected ways as I write—I let them do it. If a scene falls flat, I let it fall flat and think about axing it later. BUT BUT BUT…I always take a few minutes AFTER I’m done writing the scene to see how it affects the outline and where I intend the piece to go. And what I’ve discovered is that these “living changes” tend to have little or no effect on where the piece is headed.

So, along I go through the labyrinth I’m constructing with my outline to guide me…And around each turn and down each corridor I’m picking up the rope, seeing where it came from, and more importantly, where it’s headed. I can’t see too far ahead in the darkness though, so I drop the rope and walk a few more paces on. I pick up the rope again, look up and down the corridor. Yep. Everything looks good. I drop the rope. Walk on again. Pick it up again. No, this is a little off, there’s a turn coming up, so I need to tweak this…and this… and this. OK…Done. I drop the rope and move on…

Got it? The outline lets me see ahead a little and back a little. I use it as guide to where I want to drive the story. It’s not a strict guide—I have to let the characters live and breathe—they drive the action. But the outline lets me make sure the story doesn’t go completely off the rails.

One final note: an outline, paradoxically, is more necessary for a short story than a long piece. I know that sounds crazy! And I do use outlines for both. BUT…A short story is so dense, so quick. You have to know where you’re headed in the first 100 words. You have to bake the plot, character and setting into those first 100. There’s no time to waste! So you need to know where you’re going right out of the gate. I notice that now, when I write a short story, I move quickly from scribbled-down idea to outline to a first draft.  So, if you’re trying to write short stories—don’t skip the outline!

At least, that’s what has worked for me. I’m not saying it will work for you, but still something to consider as you get ready to write or pre-write your next piece.

Good luck and until next time.

Keep reading, keep writing!

,Darius


Apparently, in one variation of the labyrinth myth, Theseus does not even have his sword. He only has his rope/twine. He strangles the beast (though whether he uses the rope/twine to do so is unclear). A very interesting variation of the story!

Where My Writing Is Headed in 2018

Well, here we are. The great summing-up is done, and now, for the plan-ahead.

new-year-2018-eve-greeting

To review: Last time, we looked back at my writing in 2017. And despite not submitting works as much as I wanted to, overall, I was pretty satisfied with where my writing is at. Why? Because I’ve remained productive this year. I’ve kept putting words on paper. In fact, I cranked out about 36,300 words of prose. That’s about 7 short stories worth (if you use 5,000 words as the yardstick for a short story). So, I’m pretty proud about that…But that’s so 2017. What about the coming year?


Well, the following are some things I would like to achieve in my writing in 2018. Ranked in their order of importance:

1. Write more in 2018 (as measured by word counts).
As I said, I wrote about 36,000 words in 2017. I will have roughly the same amount of time to write in 2018. But I want to be aspirational about things…So…How about this goal: Write 40,000 words of fiction in 2018.

2. Work harder to get stories accepted.
If I was disappointed in one aspect of my fiction writing in 2017, it was something which had nothing to do with writing fiction: submitting stories. But as this is a key part of being a writer, I need to do a bit better here.

But as I thought about it, I was struggling with how to quantify this. After all, I have little control over whether editors accept my story. But I do control how often I send out my stories. So, adapting an idea from Aeryn Rudel (who has a great blog all you aspiring SFF writers should read), I will submit a story once every two weeks. I will continue to do so until a story is accepted or it reaches 20 rejections.

I would set a goal of once per week, but I know I’m going to be quite busy this year anyway. And once every two weeks would be a vast improvement.

I already have three pieces that are done, proofed and ready for submission. So, it’s just requires grabbing them and sending them along to the right markets. Finding those right markets is where all the work will reside. 

3. Stretch goal: Get my play in production.
One of those pieces is a complete play. It will be one of those pieces I will be sending out every couple of weeks. Now, I know that a play is harder to shop around than a story. And that its submission package is usually more involved (requires a synopsis, only samples of a manuscript, a Bio, etc.) than a story. So, I’m naming this my stretch (extra tough) goal. In other words, I will submit my play to theatres accepting manuscripts throughout the year.

4. Keep blogging.
Lastly, I will  keep blogging. At the same time, I don’t want to make this overly onerous. I want to be able to share a thought, an insight on writing, or some progress I’ve made. But I don’t want the blog to distract from, or worse yet, eat up time that should be devoted to fiction writing. I definitely want to keep my steely determination in the Distraction Wars and not let the Internet or smart phones or idle conversations with strangers keep me from my main mission: writing fiction. And so,

I will post at least 100 words to my blog every two weeks.


That’s it! My goals—my writing resolutions—if you will, for 2018. Simple, easy to understand and easy to measure.

Will I be able to meet my own goals? Or will time management or distraction be my undoing? Will I have self-discipline or will I cave in and go for a walk or listen to a Podcast instead of doing what I really want to do—write?

At this point, it’s too early to tell. You will just have to come along with me on this little journey and see where we net out on Dec. 31, 2018.

Wish me luck! And hope to see you there!

Happy New Year!

,Darius

Five Years of My Blog: A Writer Begins

Well, well, well. It’s a bit early, but this blog has been around for FIVE years. Five years! The first post was on July 20, 2012. And here it is:


My New Novel

July 20 by dariusjones

[This entry is a repost from my earlier, Goodreads blog. It was the first post on “A  Writer Begins.”]

Well, here goes nothing.

My first novel has just been published. It’s on the Amazon Kindle store here. It’s also on Goodreads.

Please take the time to leave a review. And a big thank you to all of you who have already got it and are reading it.

,D


Sarasota Writer

I was so nervous to hit “PUBLISH” on that first post. And I honestly didn’t want to do it, but I felt that’s what a writer should do once they published something in this day and age. So, I did it. The blog has come a long way since then: the posts are longer, have a more conversational tone and have pictures (even GIFs and videos).

I want to use this post to take a deeper look at my blog and my writing over the past five years. I’m going to do this via simple stats and lists.


First, here’s a breakdown of the stats for this blog:

Total posts: 198

Total followers: 188

Comments received: 103

Visitors in the first year: 5

Most popular post: The Craft: Poe’s Unity of Effect

Posting schedule: Once every two weeks.

Not bad, lots of progress there. I’ve also stuck to my established posting schedule of once every two weeks. I wish I could do more, but with my writing fiction, sleeping, working out and…Oh yeah!!!—that full time job—that’s about all I can handle.


Second, here’s a look at my submission/rejection totals for stories.
My first story submission was also in July 2012. This was the rejection letter I received July 8, 2012 (just before the blog began):

Thanks for submitting “The Hatchlings,” but I’m going to pass on it. It didn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way.

Editor XXXX

And yes, I keep all my rejection and acceptance letters. Here’s a deeper look at my submission/rejection stats from my Duotrope listings which I use to track my story submissions. (Hat tip to Aeryn Rudel from which I’m errrrr, “borrowing” this idea of sharing rejection stats. But seriously, you should check out his blog, Rejectomancy!)

Submissions: 102

Rejections: 80

Acceptances:  4

Never heard back from publisher: 8

Withdrawal by author: 7

Pending submissions: 3

Acceptance/Rejection ratio: 3.9%  [Believe it or not, that’s not too bad.]


So, also looking back from the start of this blog…from that moment when I decided I’m going to give this writing thing a shot: What has changed? What’s different? Well, everything is the same, everything is different. I still have the same job, and I still write on the weekends. But certain writing milestones have occurred. I think a Q-and-A format might answer these best, so apologies for the cheesiness, but let’s dive in!

Darius, what writer milestones have you passed in these last five years?

Q: Have you self-published a story or book?

A: Yes. I self-published a novel, The Library of Lost Books and a novella, The Man Who Ran from God on Amazon Kindle. 

Q:  Have you traditionally published a story? That is, has a magazine/publisher published your work?

A: Yes, four times. All of them were stories: The Hatchlings, The Ghul of Yazd, Barabanchik, and So You Found Me.

Q: Have you received payment for publishing a story?

A: Yes, first via Amazon for my self-published work. And also for two of my traditionally-published stories for magazines.

Q: Have you signed a contract for a piece you published?

A: Yes. Twice for the same pieces I received payment for.

Q: Which of your published pieces are you most proud of?

A: The Ghul of Yazd. Its characters, its structure, its dialogue and its tone have that “unity of effect” I’m always looking to create. And it’s simply a good yarn.

Q: Have you attended a Con with a writing track and participated in writer events?

A: Yes. Attended writer panels and workshops at two RavenCons.

Q: Have you written a play?

A: Yes. Something titled The Sludge Ship Chronicles.

Q: Have you had a play staged/performed?

A: Alas, no. But it’s ready to go! Finished, and proofed and everything! If anyone out there can help market it, let me know! It can be produced cheaply, I swear! Anyone? Anyone???

Q: Have you had a novel traditionally published?

A: No.

Q: Have you received an advance for a novel?

A: Oh God, no.

Q: Have you got an agent?

A: Nope.

Q: Have you done a book tour or an event promoting your own work?

A: No.

Q: Have you quit your day job because you thought: “Let’s make a go of it as a pro?”

A: No!


So, there you have it. Five years of this blog, five years of submissions and five years of writing fiction. I’ve come a long way, especially when you consider I’m doing this on the side, catch as catch can.

The most fundamental thing I’ve done in writing and the one thing I’m really sticking to now is: Writing what I want to write. I can not emphasize this point enough. It is absolutely key, as I discussed in this post and many other places. In the end, picking the right story is easy. You know that strange, enduring story? The one that doesn’t let you sleep at night? That has you imagining the main characters as you sit through yet another PowerPoint presentation? That’s running through your mind as you’re on the bike at the gym doing Cardio? That’s the story you have to write! That one, right there! Get it out, and trust me, you’ll feel a lot better.

Well, that’s about it. Thanks to you, the blog readers, for tuning in. And a big thanks to friends, family and my partner for supporting my writing in ways big and small, spiritual and material. It means so very much to me to have you in my life and know you support what I’m doing.

With that, I’m off to write some fiction.

See you guys next time,

Darius

How to Write in a World of Distraction

Distracted from distraction by distraction…” –T.S. Eliot

Feeling a bit distracted lately?sIIwU

No?

Really?

Lucky you. I admire your self-discipline. What with the constant news, smart phones, websites and more and more media choices, the human beings of this world are being distracted half to death. It’s also shortening attention spans, among other things, but I’m not here to talk about the larger ramifications of this trend. Instead, I’m here to share a bit about how I tune those voices out when it gets time to write.

Here is what I do every weekend when I go to write and I need all those voices to STOP:

Head to a Public Place
It doesn’t matter if it’s a café, library or rented cube farm. Get to a public place where the cultural expectation is that people are coming there to work. And  then settle in and get going…

Why go out to write? First off: peer pressure. If it’s a place where everybody is expected to do mental work you’ll feel the pressure to do the same. It’s one of the situations where you can use peer pressure, the desire to conform, to your benefit. (It’s on the page where you need to stand out and go your own way!)

Second, home has all those distractions, doesn’t it? Internet, TV, books, reading the mail, doing that project, mowing the lawn. Well, if you’re at a café, you can’t do any of that stuff…But there are other things which can distract, which brings us to.

Put Your Phone on Airplane Mode
I always bring my phone with me to write. But as soon as I get to the café, I put it in flight mode. I understand if all of you out there can’t do this (families, kids, etc.), but I highly recommend it. There is NOTHING that ruins a great writing groove like a call from a friend you haven’t heard from in awhile, or someone trying to sell you something. Believe me, because it’s happened to this writer. And once that groove is gone, you ain’t  getting it back, at least not that day.

At first flight mode silence was difficult for my close friends to accept, but now they know this is what I’m doing on Sundays and they anticipate it. The few times I have accidentally left the phone on during my writing sessions, I have not gotten calls. People have adjusted and learned to work around it—and I’m very, very grateful for that.

Kill the Wi-Fi on Your PC
Most cafes these days offer Wi-Fi which is great—unless it’s a distraction. I usually have the Internet handy as I write in case I need to do some research. I have also found it useful to read a little news before I dive into writing to loosen up the brain. But it can also become a distraction. When I find myself reading too much and writing too little, I press the F2 key and turn off the Wi-Fi. Suddenly, all the distractions are gone.

Any I’m sitting there in a world without cell phones, the Internet or  TV. There’s nothing to distract me…almost.

Put in Your Headphones
It’s only other people or the ambient, piped-in music that will distract me at this point. Usually, the music is ok, but some days there are people (or their children) who dial up the volume a bit. Or, like last week, there was that woman with the high-pitched, squeaky voice. In that case, I bring out my final, secret weapon: ear buds.

I plug in my headphones, access my music library (or Pandora, if I still have Wi-Fi) and crank up the tunes. It has to be something I’ve heard many times or which doesn’t have English lyrics (Brazilian pop and instrumentals work) and I’m back in business. Bring the screaming kids, I don’t care! Just as long as they don’t knock over my coffee, cause then, it’s on!


Now, this doesn’t guarantee you’ll actually get down to the writing. There have been writing sessions in my past where I just stared at blank screen for four or five hours and didn’t produce a thing. But that’s very, very rare for me now—I haven’t done that in over 10 years. I think I just naturally grew out of that and will eventually force myself to write/edit even if I’m feeling out of it. Usually I write between 800-2,000 words per day, with any day over 1,000 words usually considered “good.”

So what’s my point? Even in this world—the modern world of smart phones, 24-hours news cycles and all sorts of content engineered to hook you—you can still turn it all off, quiet your mind and settle down to do hard, mental work. You just have to have the will, time and energy to do it. I hope those tips above will help you have a productive writing day next time you sit down to write.

See you next time,

DJ

The Craft: Research, How Much Is Too Much?

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

I’m trying to get the balance right between research and writing. One thing I don’t want to do when writing fiction is research too much.sketch

The other day, I read an interview with Tom Stoppard, the playwright. I haven’t been able to track down the exact one again. But the important point was: can one over-research before sitting down to write a story? Is there  a point where you should be begin writing before you know too much about a given topic? In the final analysis, Tom says yes, you shouldn’t wait to become a total expert, but dive in.

Now, I’ve written my fair share of stories in historical settings. And the question is: where do you stop? I don’t know the exact answer, but I do know you can overdo the research. You have to go into a work still a bit ignorant about it. You must choose the difficult middle path.

Over-research or over-plot your story/book and you risk making it stale. You’ll sit down to write and have nothing to say, it’s almost like you’ve written yourself out. Written the idea out. On the other hand, research too little, plot too little and you could soon lose yourself in a trackless forest of options and alternatives. There’s nothing to guide you back to the kernel of the story. And your world’s details are flawed or inaccurate.

So, when do you put the research down and begin in earnest? As always, there’s no hard and fast rule, you just have to make a gut decision. Right now, I think of it like a sketch of the human body. You want to have the skeleton and its position complete in your mind, but you don’t need all the organs in place or the skin. You just need a basic idea of how the thing will look on the page. That’s not to be dismissive of research or world-building, but you have to know when it’s time to stop and begin to write.

Everyone will have their limit for this, my only point is there is a danger in doing too much research, too much plotting, too much thinking. Your research and plotting has to be a foundation. The story itself is the building. When the foundation looks good, you have to start putting the walls in place. And in a writing a story, the writer is the only one who can make that call. It’s your world, writer, you have to build it.

Good luck and see you next time,

DJ

The Writing of the Fiction

Guys, getting into the writing…of the fiction…this week. So, I’ve got to post and run.

I thought I would like to talk about events at large, and I started this writing day fully intending to do that, but it just melted inside me…and was gone. I almost threw down the book I was going to quote from. It just no longer worked and I had no motivation to write about it.  

But in fiction writing, it’s whole different story. I’m reading, absorbing, researching, submitting, writing. All good stuff, but it means not much time left to blog. I hope to have more substantive posts in the future. Until then, I’m working and doing this fiction writing stuff.

Now back, to that writing/submitting stuff. 

giphy Ren

See you guys next time,

DJ

Where My Writing Is Going in 2017

It’s a little late for resolutions, but I wanted to post this before 2017 gets too far away from us. writing headphones

First, let me say I’m pretty pleased with where my writing is at. So, these are more like adjustments than “resolutions.” Overall, I’m keeping disciplined and writing “what I know and love.” So, all’s pretty good. But I was noodling on what to change and these three things came up. So, here are my writing resolutions for 2017.

1. No More Novellas
Well, well, well. Here’s the deal: I love writing novellas. I’ve never been comfortable writing short stories: I always feel things are just starting to get good when I get to about 5,000-7,500 words—the upper limit for a short piece. So, I always feel like I have to stop just when things are getting going. It’s very, very frustrating.

On the other hand, novellas are fine, but they have one big problem. BIG  PROBLEM. No one wants to publish them. Well, I can’t say no one. But I can say there are far, far fewer markets for novellas than short stories or novels. And it’s really tough finding just the right market for just the right stories. (If you think I’m wrong about this, please reply in the comment section, I’d love to learn about more novella markets).

So, this year I’m going to concentrate on NOT writing novellas. I’m going to go short/long this year. NO MORE NOVELLAS.

2. Listen to My Music While I Write
Back in the day, I used to write with music on. I mean I would ALWAYS write with my music playing in my apartment. Nowadays, I write at a café and  listen to whatever they’re playing. And this can be distracting or annoying, especially when the music doesn’t fit the  mood of the scene you’re writing. I think it can also overpower your brain if it’s too loud or too complex. For some reason free-form jazz seems to be quite distracting for me—and  that’s a fairly common genre for cafes to play.

So, I’m going to try something different this year. I’m going to buy some headphones and plug those in. Then, I can select the music I need to write by. This usually means instrumental music or something sung in a language I don’t know. I’m interested to see if this will help or hurt productivity. But hey, this  is part of the experimentation I talked about, the tweaks you need to make to see if they help or hurt your writing.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

3. Go to One Con
I have messed up this one  again and  again. It feels  I haven’t gone to a Con in ages. I need to change that now. So, here’s my commitment to go to ONE Con this year. I think I should be able to do one.

I’m looking for a mid-size Con with a good writing track. You know, one with lots of workshops and seminars on writing. Maybe with some filking on the side. I’m thinking about going to BaltiCon in May, but haven’t decided yet. I’ll keep you posted.


So, that’s it. Three easy pieces. Going to start making this happen right now. See you out there, fellow writers. And best luck to all of you in 2017!!!! Let’s do this!

,DJ

New Flash Fiction Story Published

Hey, everybody and Happy New Year! We’re starting 2017 off right: a new short-short So-You-Found-Mestory of mine has just been published. It’s about a self-conscious story. This is how it starts:

So you found me. Well done.

Don’t think for a moment that I’m merely a story. Oh no, not even close. I have thoughts, feelings, ideas, just like you. Just like any other sentient being…

If you want to read the rest head over to Between Worlds magazine and read the story, it’s called “So You Found Me.” You can also read the full new edition of BW magazine which has new stories from a bunch of up-and-coming writers. And, as always, I encourage you to contribute to the magazine which you can at the bottom of this page. Between Worlds is a paying market (for short stories, not flash) and we need to preserve and nurture these markets. Thanks!…Enough promo!

Hope you enjoy the piece and please leave a comment there or here on my blog. Would love some feedback on it. And thanks to Between Worlds for considering and publishing the piece!

See you again soon.

,DJ

Ending (the Year) Where I Began

Just a short post today. Feeling good. Not about the world so much, as my place in it. For what that’s worth…I was going to post about my resolutions for next year, but that’s going to have to wait. Here’s what I’m doing today, not tomorrow.

Prepping a story for publishingOcean Dawn
Good news: my flash fiction (less than 1,000 words) story “So You Found Me” will be published over at Between Worlds magazine. I loved this little piece from when I first sat down and wrote it, so it’s nice having it see the light of day. I will post when the story goes live.

This morning I sent my Bio and some other stuff along to the editor, so we should be all good to go. Nothing like starting the day off with a positive bit of literary business.

Wrapping another story
Right now, I’m in the café, hooked in and ready to start editing (as soon as I finish this post). With that, I should be done with “The Number Thief” a short story/novelette that I started working on this fall. It’s taken awhile, but I feel it’s a strong piece. I can’t wait to get this finished, proofed and off to editors.

Submitting finished stories
Well, this one might have to wait a day or two. I have a couple of other stories I need to send back into the arena. “Pacha-mama,” a play and a couple of other pieces will have get back in the fight and see how they do. I’ve been so slammed lately I haven’t had a chance to get them out there. Hope to submit them tomorrow.


So…I’m exactly where I started the year, in a sense. I’m living and writing fiction when I can. It’s a great experience and one that helps keep me balanced.

I know this year hasn’t been the easiest for everybody, but I want you to remember this quote from Heraclitus.

“The Sun is new each day.”

Remember, the sun will be back tomorrow and with it, a new day. The question is…What will you do with it?

Until next time…

Keep reading, keep writing,

Darius