Choosing Viewpoint in the Novel

I finished the rewrite on my novel last week and sent it off. And so what does a writer do next? Why, start the next novel, of course. But in my case, I am going back to a novel. 

Here’s the story. I have a full-length novel and a loooong novella languishing on my computer. If you guessed I have issues with completing things, you’d be correct. Because–squirrel! Bright shiny object! Yeah, that’s me.  But I’m determined to change, and to that end I’m taking a class that is helping me to do this.  It is called Write Better, Write Faster, available through the Margie Lawson Writer’s Academy periodically, and I’m loving it. The class helps you boost your productivity through figuring out how your brain works. Not the brains of your writing friends.

Anyway, I decided my next project is going to be tackling the rewrite of the full-length novel. So I bought a three-ring binder, three hole punch copy paper, and printed the thing out. I am now in the process of reading it. Which brings me to today’s topic.

Much to my surprise (its been a couple years since I read this story), the book is written in first person. Turns out I like the voice of the narrator.  But. Yes, here come the buts:

–I’m only a couple chapters into my reading and I’m afraid the narrator may begin to sound self-pitying after a while. After all, she loses her job, and her boyfriend after she tells him she’s pregnant. I’d be self-pitying, too. But readers want strong characters who can rise to the challenges we throw at them, not whiners.

–This is intended to be a romance novel-ish. And the standard convention in romance novels is to write in dual third person, alternating between the male and female love interests. I did this in the novel I just finished and I really liked it. I liked getting to be in the heads of both of them and I think readers like that too.

A dilemma, right?

I think I may have solved it, though I’m going to reserve final judgement until I am finished with the read-through. I think I’m going to go with the dual third-person option.  The thing is, there’s a ton of rewriting to be done anyway. I’m redoing the story in such a way that much of it will be thrown out. So might as well go all the way.

I think. The thought of changing it all makes me a bit faint. But I shall persevere! Or at least let you know my final decision.

Have you ever switched the viewpoint of a character before? How did the process work for you? Leave a comment, or come to the Facebook page and chat about it there.

Creative Tension in the Writing Life

Once I had a writing friend who set her computer screensaver to show the words, “Why aren’t you writing?”

And, indeed, that is the question, isn’t it? It is the question at the heartbeat of a writer’s days. Why aren’t you writing? Why are you watching TV when you could be writing? Why are you mopping the kitchen floor when you could be writing? Why are you playing Spider Solitaire when you could be writing?

That question strikes to the heart of the creative tension that drives a writer. When we’re not writing, we feel we should be. It’s a tension that I’m not sure non-writers (or non-creatives, because I’m sure artists of all stripes feel this way, too) get.

Sometimes I imagine how wonderful it might be just to go through life as a normal person. A person who isn’t constantly thinking and worrying about writing. A person who doesn’t wake up first thing in the morning and start planning when she’ll be able to write. A person who doesn’t start thinking about when he will write tomorrow as soon as his head hits the pillow. To not have this constant pull to create something.

But, truthfully, I’d hate it. Because I don’t honestly know how non-creative people get through. Do you? My writing is my constant companion, the page that receives all my worries and joys and brilliant ideas (along with the duds). It’s where I process life, where I figure things out–and this goes for fiction, non-fiction, and journaling. And I don’t know what I’d do without it.

So if the constant tension to create is the payment for the writing life, I’ll take it. How about you?

Leave a comment!

Finishing A Big Writing Project (+Monthly Round-up)

Okay, I did it. I finished my rewrite and sent it off to my agent. And now let us all have a silent moment of prayer that this is the final version. Or at least close. If not, I’ll be hanging my head and reporting back to you.

Finishing is a funny thing for me. When I near the end of a big writing project, I focus so much energy on it that I do barely anything else. Sometime during these periods I think longingly of things I want to do when I’m done. Like take the afternoon off to read or knit. Binge-watch TV. Clean my office. Something, anything, other than writing. But then when I’m done none of those things appeal. I’m witless and rootless as I wander around, trying to find something to capture my interest.

But then, of course, life rushes in to fill the vacuum. Yesterday, I went to pick up groceries I’d ordered because it was my night to cook. Part way home I got a panicked text from my daughter-in-law—could I pick up my granddaughter from school? So I turned the car around and grabbed her adorable five-year-old self. And then there was dinner to cook. And exercise to do. And pretty soon it was just like every other day, with all the life things pressing in on me.

And then as I was riding the stationary bike I had a moment of horror in which I knew, absolutely knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the manuscript I’d just submitted was bad. Really bad. Ridiculously bad. That my agent will now release me and I’ll cry and be sad and have to be shamed in front of my whole writing community. But a moment later that feeling passed. It is what it is. I was too close to it for too long to be able to make any judgments about it.

I swore I wasn’t going to start anything new for a while, like, oh, a few days. But already I’m itching to get the ideas I had for new projects into some kind of form. I have a full-length novel and a loooong novella finished on my computer, both of which need substantial rewriting. While I was ensconced in the rewrite, I had good ideas for them both. And I’d love it if they each saw the light of day soon. (One of my goals for the rest of the year is to finish things.)

Oh, and it is June! When did that happen? Geez, the year is going too fast. Yeah, I know you know that. So, anyway, happy June, and check out what I’ve been doing below (a bit light because of the rewrite).

Monthly Round-up

Reading

 Winter Stroll by Elin Hildebrand.  I picked this up at the grocery store last year and never read it, finally decided it was time. She’s a very popular author. I’m lukewarm. Apparently, it is book two of a trilogy and at the end, she doesn’t wrap things up, so you have to read the next one. I mean, I know people do this, but it was so blatant. I was lukewarm-ish about this book, but damned if I didn’t go order a used copy of the next one.

The Abundance Project, by Derek  I have this terrible habit of being enticed by books like this—cheesy self-help tomes ones that promise a more abundant life or increased productivity or instant karma. Seriously, I’m a fool for them. And they rarely pan out.  So I get bored and don’t read them. So far, I’m not that thrilled with this one, but I’m not that far into it, either.

–We took a day trip over the weekend and visited a favorite bookstore where I found a novel about, gasp women of a certain age.  Being one myself, I can’t remember the name of it and it’s downstairs. I’ve only just read the first page so I’ll report next month.

I’ve also ordered or downloaded or have in my queue:

The Café by The Sea, by Jenny Colgan. This author has written five million books and I want to see how she does it.

Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work, by Dan Blank. My friend Angie recommended this and I can’t wait to dive in.

The First Rule of Ten, by Hendricks and Lindsay. A friend/student recommended this to me last year when we were in France. I downloaded it then and promptly forgot about it. She mentioned it again this week and I pulled it up again.

I’ve got my reading work cut out for me.

 Watching

 We’ve not been watching much TV lately and while going to movies is one of my favorite things to do, ever, I don’t do it much. (Go figure.) But we are almost done with Wild, Wild Country, the documentary about the Rajneeshies taking over a town in eastern Oregon. It’s fascinating, especially because I lived through it.

And, late to the party as usual we just started watching Frankie and Grace. Really fun. Lily Tomlin is hysterical.

Loving

 Momentum. As in the momentum you get when you are regularly working on a writing project. When you’re half in one world and half in another all the time because even when you’re living your normal (so-called) life you’re thinking about your book. When all you want to do is get back to it. When you finish a writing session and you’re in love with the world because you feel so good. It’s the best feeling. I had it during the rewrite and I look forward to getting it again. It sometimes takes some work to get into the momentum flow (like committing to writing every day), but it is so, so worth it.

 Excited About

 I had the great pleasure of spending a whole month devoted to writing in Ceret, France in March of this year. Ceret is a town in my favorite French region, the Lanquedoc which is in the south, near Spain.  Leaving was hard, except for the fact that I was eager to see my family, but made easier by knowing that I’d be back to the area soon. Like in September. To teach.

When first I started going to France to teach six years ago, I had half a mind that I wanted to travel all over Europe. But my teaching partner, Debbie, preached the wonders of staying in one place and sinking into it. And now I have to say I agree with her. You get to skip the hassles of travel, for one thing. But for another, you get to really know a place, to have a favorite restaurant, to understand the best spot to get a glace or an espresso, to sink into the rhythms of the place. And that, my friends, is a wonderful thing.

All this and writing, too? It’s the best thing ever. Want to come this year?

 And Also

Join the Facebook group.  Participating in groups is the only way I like to be on Facebook and this one is good. It goes quiet periodically, but then it perks up again. I try to post something of interest every day (or at least every few days). Do join us!

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter. To subscribe, fill out the form to the right.

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On Not Following Protocol or Systems or For That Matter, Anything

I am my own worst enemy. This is true when it comes to writing or living. I cannot follow a system to save my own life. I come up with brilliant ideas that will make my writing easier or more organized or better and then I don’t follow them.

I was reminded of this earlier today when I posted on my Facebook group page about journaling and my technique of indexing journals so I can mine the pages for information. But then I remembered that usually about halfway through a journal I forget to add topics to the index and another few pages later I’m forgetting to number them.

I’ve taught classes on the importance of prepping before writing a novel but the last one I wrote I just launched into without much. (And ended up rewriting it a million times. I should follow my own advice.) Because, of course, every time I start a new novel, I do it differently.

I love putting information on index cards. Until I don’t. Then I love putting it on Evernote. Until I don’t. Then I decide everything should go into binders. Until that becomes too much trouble. Then I switch to file folders. Until I decide I hate that. And the process starts over again.

I’ve been known to buy numerous planners every year. I find one that is going to finally get me organized forever and ever and a month later I hate it and buy a new one.  And that usually happens about 3 or 4 times. Unfortunately for the planner industry, I’ve finally gone digital and use my phone calendar.

And then there’s the whole bullet journal thing.  I tried it once with great success, never to be duplicated again. And now I look at all the elaborate pages people make and I wonder how in the hell they ever do anything but journal.

I have five thousand icons on my desktop because if I file any of them away I’ll never find them again. I decide to get systematic and make folders for everything and then I use names that I can’t remember and so I make a new folder.

I start out the week making a to-do list in the spiral I keep by my computer for notes. But then I turn the page because I have to use a new page for my brilliant idea that just occurred. And then I make notes about the novel I’m working on. And by the middle of the week, my to-do list is buried so I grab a sticky note to write on. By the end of the week my desk is covered in sticky notes, so, of course, I grab a piece of scrap paper and write a new list.

It is kind of a miracle that I ever get anything done. But I do. I’m not sure how.

Do you have any organizing foibles? Please, please share them with me in the comments. It will make me feel better about myself.

Photo from everystockphoto.

Starting is Often the Hardest Part of Writing

Its hard to get started

Starting is the hardest part of writing.

It’s hard when you are a newbie, terrified of the blank page in front of you, that you might not have any worthwhile words to put on it, or that you don’t even know how.

Starting is hard when you are a seasoned writer, with thousands or even millions of words under your belt, for, amazingly enough, the exact same reasons as when you are a newbie.

It is hard when you’re at the start of a writing project, it’s hard when you’re in the middle, and it is hard when you’re nearing the end.

Why is it getting started so damn hard? And what can be done about it?

I don’t know the answer to the first question. Why should it be so hard to get started putting words on the page?  I suspect it might have something everything to do with fear, though even that doesn’t make a lot of sense because: there you are writing, and nobody has to see what you’re working on until you choose to let them.

So what’s the big deal? Why is it possible that every other chore, not matter how trivial,  can take precedence over your writing? How the stupidest of internet articles can suddenly seem like the most vital of things to read when you’re confronted by the blank page?

Maybe it is the fear you’ll get lost. Lost in the wonder of creating a story, lost in another world, gone far beyond the boundaries of your current reality. Which is what writing does for us, right?

Anyway, we could debate the whys all day, but long ago I learned that sometimes there is no why and it is fruitless to waste time trying to figure it out. The more helpful route is to learn what can be done.

How to make starting easier.

The tried and somewhat tired advice is to tell yourself all you have to do is work for 15 minutes. Or 10. Or 5. The theory being that once you start, you’ll get absorbed and go much longer. And this is, indeed, true. But it still doesn’t get you off the internet and working on your writing.

There has to be a spark that propels you there eagerly. Or at least dutifully. Or you’ll never start those first few minutes, right? I have some suggestions, and most of them are what I call foundational work–the kind that creates a backdrop of energy and excitement for the work, so that instead of stalling, you can’t wait to get started.

Know where you’re going. If there is any one thing that will help you get started, it is knowing where you are going. If you don’t know where to go next in your writing, you’ll wander before you even get to the page. How to make sure this happens? Make notes when you end your previous writing session so you know what’s up next. If you get to a place where you don’t know (this happens), take time to write notes or a journal entry to figure it out. Because this will lead you to:

Power of momentum.  The magic “M” word.  Can’t beat it. Once you get momentum, you are off and running, baby. You leave off your writing session sadly and can’t wait to start again next time. Which is what we freaking want. Momentum happens when you are writing regularly. Which is why every writing instructor on the planet encourages you to do so.

Follow the juice.  Go where the energy of the session takes you. Maybe you’re all excited about writing the wedding scene, but the funeral scene comes next and you are a strict chronological writer.  Don’t force yourself to write what you think you should.  Follow your excitement. (For the record, I have a hard time doing this, but I’m always pleased with the results when I do.)

Write everywhere in the piece.  I often take sketchy notes in the body of the file for the next scene. These may cover a lot of ground.  Similar to the above point, it can be tempting to force yourself to start at the beginning and trudge along. But you don’t have to–read your notes and start where you know what to write. It may be the middle of the scene, but who cares?

Write around the work regularly. By writing around, I mean taking notes and journaling about your work in progress. I could not write anything without doing this. I am constantly making notes to remind myself and using journal entries to figure out plot and character ideas. When I’m in the thick of it, as I was yesterday working on my rewrite, my desk is covered in sticky  notes. Come to think of it, I couldn’t work without sticky notes, either.

Okay, those are my thoughts on starting. Got any others to add to the mix? Leave a comment!

Writing a Better Draft (A Love Letter)

You probably know, because I’ve been whining about it incessantly, that I’m in the throes of completing the umpteenth rewrite of my current novel. I am determined to finish it this long Memorial Day weekend if it kills me. And it might. Kidding. Sort of.

Anyway, I had dinner with a couple of writing friends this week and we talked about how to write a better draft. As in, getting more of your vision for the book on the page in the first place so that you don’t have to go through the torture of rewriting it so many times.

I want to learn how to write a better first draft. I am good at writing fast and I’m a big believer in it. But the last two novels I’ve written were both lightning bolt ideas I was so excited about that I just started writing. I wrote a loose outline and did some minor character work, but that was about it.

Yes, I am the self-same writer who has taught and preached the wisdom of prepping to write the novel. As in taking time to think plot and structure and arc and character and motivation through. Two examples of how this didn’t work so well for me: A. the above-mentioned torturous rewrite, and B. the novel I started writing on my month-long idyll in Ceret. I stalled out on that one after 30,000 words, without a clue where to go next.  I got bored with my main character. And if I’m bored with her, my reader will be also.

I do know there is a thing that only happens in the actual writing—and that is that the writer begins to understand the story better as she puts it on the page. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement beforehand. So here are the things I’m doing to get better at first drafts:

–I’m going to do tons and tons of prep work.

–I’m studying story structure. Again. It’s one of my favorite topics, and it is time to return for a refresher course.

–I’m actually taking a class! It’s full, or I’d link to it here, but it is designed to help you figure out your best route to writerly productivity based on brain science (for which I am a total wonk).

–I’m reading obsessively in my genre. I always do, but right now I’m stepping it up.

–And finally, I’m not being too hard on myself—and vowing to remember that sometimes you just have to let the magic come in the writing.

Do you have any tips for writing better first drafts? Leave a comment and tell me!

**You might want to come to France with me, right? You do, don’t you?  Find out more here.

Intensifying Motivation

A couple weeks ago, I taught a class in motivation and also wrote a post about it. The genesis for class and post was multiple discussions of motivation and how difficult it is to deal when there’s a lack of it during my time in France.  Since then, I’ve had my eye out for motivation techniques.

I’m reading a book in galley and in it, the  the heroine worries about dating a younger man. This is her main motivation for resisting him. (And, you know, the heroine must resist the hero or there is no story.) I thought it was a pretty lame motivation, to be honest. But then she takes it a step farther and tells why. Because in ten years the age gap will be worse.  Because she’ll be old and infirm long before him. In truth, I can’t remember the reasons, because I was so excited to see the technique.

In my current WIP, the main character’s motivation for resisting the dashing love interest is her business ethics. She’s a matchmaker, and she’s sworn never to marry a client. Never mind that said client is rich, charming, and perfect in every way. She cannot marry him because–business ethics. Yeah, I know. Every beta reader, as well as my agent and all her readers, thought it was weak, too.

So part of how I can solve the problem, which just occurred to me after much pondering and wringing of hands over motivation, is by intensifying it for the reader.  Not just saying business ethics but saying more. In Bridget’s head, she goes into all the reasons that falling in love with Cade will  destroy her integrity and impact her business.

This is illustrative of a thing that happens in writing: you either pare things down or add to them. Sounds obvious, but sometimes you think you have to dramatically change everything, when really what you need to do is intensify it.

And here’s another way to intensify motivation: have other people comment on it. For instance in the galley I just finished reading, the main character worries about dating a younger man, as mentioned above.  And what happens is that other people comment on it. Like a more “appropriate” aged policeman says, “Isn’t he a bit young for you?” and then hits on the heroine himself. This happens, in various guises, a couple of times in the book. It’s enough to drive home the point.

In my book, I could have people question Bridget’s decision to date Cade. As in, “But isn’t that sort of against the matchmaker’s code of ethics?” Or, it could be as subtle as someone asking, “Do you ever date clients? Or is that considered a bad thing?”

You get the drift, right?

Like so much in writing, these are somewhat subtle techniques, but very, very useful to put into effect. And, I came to them through reading. Which you should be doing as much as possible of, right? You are, aren’t you?

How do you deal with motivation in your characters?

And might you be motivated to come to France to study writing in September? We are getting close to full, but still have a couple of spots.

Arc in Your Writing

Does your writing show clearly defined arcs? In story, scene, and character?

I spent last Saturday afternoon teaching about arc and it has gotten me thinking about it a lot. Whenever I teach, I do a lot of research to add onto what I already know. That research got me paying more attention to the arcs of my own scenes (more on that below), and re-examining arc in my own work.

It is a useful concept that can help you with the macro–the overall story–and the micro–individual scenes–as well as characters. So let’s take a look.

What is Arc?

The purpose of arc is to show change, whether that is in plot, the overall story, or character.  Because, in most cases, a story or character that doesn’t change is flat and, well, boring.

Arc in Story

Here’s a blurb from Wikipedia: 

Story arcs in contemporary drama often follow the pattern of bringing a character to a low point, removing the structures the character depends on, then forcing the character to find new strength without those structures. In a story arc, a character undergoes substantial growth or change, and it ends with the denouement in the last third or quarter of a story.

Note how story and character are intertwined in this explanation–as they will be  in your story itself. Think about it this way: your story will end in a different place than it started. And I don’t mean location, though this might well be true. You start out with a bored frustrated attorney who hates his job? By the end he will have found his truly calling as an organic farmer. Or something.  And yes, I’m veering from story to character here–because story is character, character story. Unless you are writing an obscure, plot-less novel of some sort. Good luck to you–but I’m not going to read it.

(Although, it must be said that tons of people have lapped up the Elena Ferrante books, which to me were essentially plot-less. Okay, I only made it through the first one and that because I was trapped on an airplane with nothing else to read. But they were pretty formless.)

Arc in Character

The basic idea is that your main character is faced with conflicts that take her away from her normal life and things she can depend on. This is change. But then your character has to deal with this change–and it is through doing this that she is transformed. Because of the need to confront the conflicts in her life, she is different at the end than she was at the beginning.  I especially like Michael Hauge’s statement that this transformation is from identity to essence.  All of the heroines of any novel I’ve ever written have followed this path, from trying to be somebody they are not to their true selves. In one way or another, it is a journey we all take.

Arc in Scene

As Robert McKee says, every scene should turn. This means it starts one place and ends up in another (sound familiar?).  A scene can have rising action or falling action. Here’s McKee on the topic:

Look closely at each scene you’ve written and ask: What value is at stake in my character’s life at this moment? Love? Truth? What? How is that value charged at the top of the scene? Positive? Negative? Some of both? Make a note. Next turn to the close of the scene and ask, Where is this value now? Positive? Negative? Both? Make a note and compare. If the answer you write down at the end of the scene is the same note you made at the opening, you now have another important question to ask: Why is this scene in my script?

This is a brief intro to the topic, but I hope it helps you see how important arc is, in every aspect of your story.

Some books and links that might be useful:

What is Narrative Arc? A Guide to Storytelling Through Story Structure

How to Create a Satisfying Story Arc 

Plotting Your Story Arc (book)

Story (by the above-mentioned Robert McKee)

Creating Character Arcs (book)

What do you think of the concept of arc? Leave a comment!

**We have a couple of spots left in the writing workshop in France this September. Check it out here.

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Ah, The Writing Life (A Love Letter)

And this week, for something completely different, some random writing thoughts:

Writing. My constant companion, my best friend. Until I decide I hate it.

Because it’s hard.

But sometimes it is really easy.

Most of the time, though, it is hard.

It’s the best life in the world.

But it’s hard!

That feeling you get when you finish a project.

The even better feeling you get when you start one!

Waking up early and going outside to write on a soft June morning.

Traveling to writer’s conferences and retreats.

Or staying home and meeting with my local writing tribe.

A new idea! It’s the best idea ever. It will make me a million dollars! I’m soon to be rich and famous.

But oh yeah, first I have to write it.

And that’s hard.

I never have any good ideas.

An editor likes my work!

Writing is so fun and easy.

I got a rejection.

Writing is too damn hard.

Oh God, I want to be done with this.

So that seems like a good time to procrastinate. I wonder if anybody emailed me?

But wait. If I just tweak that sentence a tiny bit…

What? Two hours have passed?

Writing. I love it.

(With thanks to Jimsy Jampots’s newsletter for the idea).

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter,  along with a compendium of useful and interesting links for writers. I also offer my list first crack at sales and books and cover reveals. I’d love it if you joined!

 

 

How To Get Obsessed

Writing, like so many creative endeavors, is a strange gig. We writers do everything we can to avoid working on our projects, but then when we finally get to it, we don’t want to stop. While in many arenas, obsession is not considered a good thing, we creatives tend to cultivate it. I’ve recently written about the strange paradox that the more you do of something, the more you want to do and can do.  Which leads to…dum dum de dum….obsession. So here’s a handy guide on how to make it happen. (And let it be known, I’m talking about the good kind of obsession here.)

How to Get Obsessed

Make a commitment to your work and then follow through on it. I know no better way than this to get obsessed. Go to the page every day, or as often as you can, and you’ll find yourself gaining momentum.  So often, you find what you need in the writing itself. You may not think you know where the scene is going, but once you start writing, it shows you. But you won’t find it if you don’t sit down to the page. So do it, even when you aren’t inspired. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself obsessed. You’ll be thinking about your work all the time.  Using every few spare minutes to work on it. Coming up with brilliant ideas right and left.

Why You Want To

Because there is no better feeling on earth than that which you get from working steadily on a creative project. Have you ever focused intently on your writing, and after your session felt like you were in love with everything in the world? That’s the writer’s high that you get when you’ve got momentum in your work. When I’m on a roll like this, everything in my life works better. I smile at the cranky grocery store check-out clerk and let all the negativities of the day slide off me.  All the things on my to-do list get done–because I’m so happy I don’t mind doing them.

How to Get Un-obsessed

Okay, honestly, being obsessed with your work all the time is not the best state of being. For a couple of reasons: first, you need to get out from behind the computer to experience life so that you have second to write about. (In other words, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Or Jackie a dull girl.) And second, that old myth about the tortured writing staying up all night to work ends up with said writer collapsing and then not being able to write for another month. So the key is to get a steady burn going. Step by step we travel far, as my Mom always said.

It’s a good idea to take breaks often. And by breaks I mean intentional breaks. Not lollygagging across the internet, but doing an activity that means something to do you. That will refresh you. And for God’s sake get up from you chair and walk and stretch once in awhile. (Which I have a difficult time with, partly because of pain in my knee.)

And also, know that at some point, your obsession will end. It just will. That’s part of the creative cycle. You can’t go full out all the time, and nor do you want to (see first paragraph in this section.) If you’ve suddenly lost the urge to write, maybe your brain just needs a break. Listen to it and give it one.

Are you obsessed with your writing? Leave a comment or discuss on the Facebook page.

Photo from everystockphoto.