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Follow the journey of a hopeful writer

ALONE IN THE DARK

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I thought by now, I’d  have a few books under my belt. My dreams are still there but each day I swallow reality and it looks as if it may never turn out the way I imagined. I went through some of my short stories today. I like to do that now and then. Often they inspire me to keep writing. I have so many little pieces that I decided I will post them on my blog.

This story contains an exercise. Maybe you would like to try it.

 

“I have an assignment for you,” she said. I wanted to knock her teeth down her throat.  Every Tuesday, she sits there in one of her French suits staring at me with condescending eyes. She hates that she can’t get in my head. Sure, she smiles that fake bright red smile but I know she thinks I’m hopeless.

“Reagan, if you don’t do this assignment I will have no choice but to let your parents know you are not cooperating.”

I peered at her. I wanted to jump out of my chair and scratch my initials into her face so she would always remember that she pissed off the wrong girl. But, I knew I didn’t want to be shipped to a boarding school half way around the country. My friends wouldn’t survive without me. Lyn would get beat up the second I wasn’t around. Sam would do something stupid again like getting caught slashing the principal’s tires if I wasn’t there to keep an eye out for her. I had to agree to the assignment. My friends needed me to stick around and I had to prove to my parents that I am not influenced by my “troublesome friends,” if anything they are influenced by me.

“What do I have to do?” I mumbled.

“For one week, I want you to lie in your bed with the lights off and think.”

“Are you for real?” The sarcastic reply raced past my lips before I could stop it.

Her shoulders arched and her chest flared. “Yes, I am.” She said before forcing that annoying smile.

“You will need to set an egg timer for twenty minutes. “ She lifted one from her desk, “During the quiet time, you are to reflect on your thoughts and behaviors then record them as they come.”

She won’t give up until she has my thoughts. I should have guessed that she would have figured out a way.

“At first, you will probably feel uncomfortable, but by weeks end you should begin to feel free.”

“Free?” I laughed at the ridiculous comment.

“Yes Reagan, our minds are very complicated and keeping thoughts and feelings in will affect everything you do.”

I was surprised when she handed me a small black recorder. “I bought this for you.”

I couldn’t believe I actually felt guilty for wanting to scratch her skin off. I have never felt guilty for anything I have done. But, for the first time I think I felt remorse. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to thank her for it.

“Okay, the assignment starts tomorrow. I suggest you do it when you feel most awake. You don’t want to do it when you are sleepy because you may end up falling asleep.”

“Are you going to let my parents hear this?”

“Absolutely not. To make it a little easier, I have written topics on index cards. Each night you will pick one of the cards and record what your feelings are based on the topic.”

 

“I guess I’ll see you next week.” As I was about to slam the door she rushed up to me. “No, Reagan we will meet every day this week to discuss the topics you recorded.  I have arranged it with your parents. I will see you tomorrow at the same time.”

I couldn’t help but laugh and then I slammed the door.

Wednesday Night, I speak into the recorder.

     This is stupid. This is stupid. This is so friggen stupid but here it goes. I am alone in the dark. The only light I can see is the tiny blue light on my ipod charger. I hate the dark! I’m not afraid of it, I just hate it. I hate my voice too, so I doubt I will ever listen to these dumb recordings. Okay, the timer is set. I didn’t set no egg timer, how stupid is that. Why would I get an egg timer when every cell phone has an alarm on it, duh. Wow, twenty minutes, do I really have to talk for twenty minutes?  I wonder how many minutes have passed.

     I picked the first index card tonight and the topic is hate. I guess it could have been worse. I hate a lot of things so talking about them for twenty minutes should be fairly easy. I will start with myself. I hate that my arms don’t look good in a tank top. I hate that I can’t wear shorts. My legs are fat. I hate that my voice sounds like a transvestites. I could definitely pass for a man if someone only could hear my voice. I hate that I have things to hate about myself. I hate that right now I am talking so much. I guess I figure it will make twenty minutes go by faster.

     What else do I hate? I hate sitting in the front row of Mr. Townsends class. History sucks, if I was sitting in the back, I could at least nod off but with Hawkeyes staring at me I have to stay awake. Okay, right now I am just going to sit silent for a minute…I guess I should say what I was thinking about in that silent minute. I was listening to the sounds. I could hear my brothers rap music through his bedroom door and I thought about how much I hated rap music.

     I could hear the faucet in the bathroom dripping but I wasn’t about to get up and go turn it off. Then I heard a car drive down the street and I thought about how much I hate that my parents drive a beat up Volkswagen when they have the money to buy two brand new ones. I hate that they are stupid.

The light flicks on, my younger brother stares at me like I am a crazy person. “What are you doing?”

“None of your business shut off the light.”

I hate that my bedroom is the only bedroom without a door.  Hooray, the alarm went off. I don’t hate that I’m done.

Session with Therapist

“Okay, Reagan, I have listened to your recordings. First I’d like to say, good job with your first assignment.”

I nod. There is a smile fighting to emerge but I cover my mouth and pretend to cough. I don’t want her to think I actually care if she thought I did a good job.  She looks different today. It’s the first time I have ever seen her wear pants.  She actually looks less stuffy.

“I am sorry that you hate yourself Reagan. I’d like to help you learn to understand why you hate yourself and maybe begin to embrace who you are. Just by doing something as simple as this assignment you may find the choices you make will be different.”

     I don’t answer. I stare passed her out the bay styled window behind her desk. I can see the train bridge in the distance and I can’t help but wonder if Sam and Lyn were hanging out on it without me. I hoped Jimmy Michels wasn’t there flirting with Sam. She wouldn’t do that to me, I don’t think.

“Reagan, don’t drift off. Tonight I think you should choose Love as your subject. I’d like to know about the things you love. “She rises from the desk and hands me a leather journal with a thin leather strap that wraps around the center. “This is for you. If ever you feel uncomfortable verbalizing your feelings, please feel free to write them down.”

Another gift?  Wow this lady is either super cool or completely determined to learn every deep dark secret I have. She’d probably be disappointed to find out that I don’t have many.

     “Reagan, I also want you to know you can be creative about where you are in the dark. I know originally I said lie on your bed but please feel free to choose different locations.”

 

Thursday-Love

I took my therapists advice and decided to take a sleeping bag out in my backyard and lie underneath the stars.  Good thing my parents know I have an assignment or for sure they’d be shipping me away.

Okay here goes nothing. Love! I was told to start with talking about what I love about myself. Ugh, not much. I guess I love that I’m strong. I love that others fear me and no one would think about hurting my friends because they know I would kick the shit out of them if they did. I love the small birthmark on the underside of my wrist. It almost looks like an arrow. I think a lot of people think it’s a tattoo which I also love. I love that Jimmy Michels thinks I’m funny. I love that my little sister thinks I’m cool regardless if the rest of my family thinks I’m trouble. I love Mrs. Roman’s creative writing class. She once told me I was meant to be a writer which I think was neat. Okay recorder, I’m sitting in silence again be back soon…

     I love the sound of the crickets. I wonder if they are talking to each other in their own special language. Okay, I love some bad things which I guess might make me a bad person. I love sneaking a cigarette with Sam and Lyn on the train bridge. I love skipping school to hang out with Jimmy Michels and his friends who are much older than me. I love pool hopping in the summer and I love the taste of peach schnapps. Twenty minutes is up. Goodnight crickets.

 

Therapy

“Another great job Reagan.”

Today, I smile. I don’t know if verbalizing my thoughts is making me a little bit happier or if I’m just in a good mood. I actually washed the dishes for my mother today. Her face was priceless. I even told Sam and Lyn that I’m planning on doing one good thing a day and they laughed. They said if I did they would. Sam brought her younger brother to the park and Lyn washed her father’s car. I guess I can influence people in a good way too.

“I will not preach to you about smoking and drinking but I do hope you choose to give both of them up.” She shows me a photograph of a beautiful woman with silky brown hair. The woman is sitting under a tree and smiling up at the sky. “This is my mother. She died of lung cancer.”

I stare at the woman and for the first time feel sad for my therapist. I don’t know what she is doing to me I’m thinking differently and feeling emotions I often dismissed.

I can’t bring myself to respond. I want to say I’m sorry for her loss but I’m not there yet. Maybe I’ll write about it in that journal she gave me later.

“I want you to write down one thing every day that you love about yourself and one thing that you hate about yourself. At the end of the week, take a moment to reflect on those things and see how you feel and then write that down too.”

She lifts a black rectangular box from her laptop case. “I have another small gift for you.”

I feel giddy. I have never received so many gifts in such a small time other than on Christmas morning.

I lift the lid to the box. A shiny black pen with my name written in gold letters rests upon velvet.

“Verbalizing and Writing is very therapeutic Reagan, it’s how a person learns about themselves. I would love to read one of your creative writing pieces one day.”

“Okay, thank you.” I said thank you. It wasn’t even hard it just came out.

Friday Recording

     I’m in a closet. I know, I’m weird but I wanted to be creative and this felt right. I brought in my pillow and blanket so I would be comfortable. It’s definitely dark in here. I can feel a small vibration underneath me from the ceiling fan below. It’s a bit annoying. Tonight I picked Happiness from the index cards. Happiness. What makes me happy? The first thing that comes to mind is Jimmy Michels smile. It’s wide and beautiful and I feel happy whenever I see it. Knowing that Lyn and Sam think of me as their best friend makes me happy. I shouldn’t be happy when I get away with skipping school but I am I can’t help it. The music of the Beatles makes me happy. It reminds me of being young and dancing around the living room with my parents to the song The Octopus’s garden. It was long ago when my parents still actually loved me. I guess receiving the gifts from my therapist made me happy. I am getting used to recording and I have written a few things in my new journal with my new pen. The alarm is going off. Twenty minutes is flying by. One more thing that makes me happy is losing weight. I lost ten pounds once and I felt great. I need to try that again. Bye recorder.

 

Therapy Session

“Reagan, it sure looks like you are getting the hang of this.” Today my therapist actually has on jeans. They are a pair I might even attempt to wear if I was thirty pounds thinner. They are faded and have small rips in the knee. Each day I think she seems a little cooler.

“So, how did it feel to talk about happiness?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“You know Reagan, your parents still love you very much. If they didn’t they wouldn’t have you here. I know it’s hard for you to comprehend but one day you will understand that everything they are doing is because they love you.”

I have heard that before but I don’t see it. My mom barely speaks to me. I can feel the disappointment in my father every time he is near me. I think he thought by age fifteen I’d be a musical prodigy playing the piano in recitals all around the world. I liked playing the piano but I never loved it the way he wanted me to.

I can’t help but wonder if I get another present today. I guess I’m expecting one, but have no idea what it will be.

The therapist sits in her leather chair and swivels back and forth while jotting down something on her notepad. “Okay, Reagan, I want you to talk about disappointment tonight. We will talk about it tomorrow.”

I stand there waiting for a gift and quickly realize today I won’t be getting one. “Okay, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Saturday Recording

I am back to lying on my bed in the dark.  I didn’t feel like being creative today. I guess I was disappointed that I didn’t get a gift. I didn’t expect one, okay maybe I did. I was hoping for one. I’m sorry; I know you will be listening to this but if I am trying to be honest, I should let you know I was disappointed that I didn’t get a gift from you today. I am disappointed often. I am disappointed every time I step on the scale and see I’ve gained weight. I am disappointed every time I hear Jimmy Michels tell Sam that she is hot. I want him to think of me as hot not just the fat funny friend. I am disappointed when I walk into Mrs. Roman’s writing class and see a substitute. I am disappointed in myself for not being a better daughter but I don’t know how to become one. I can’t stop hanging around with my friends, I love them. I guess I could stop cutting classes and stealing liquor from my parents’ cabinet but then I would disappoint my friends and doing so would disappoint me. Twenty minutes feels like eternity tonight. I don’t’ feel like talking. I am going to be silent longer tonight. I’ll let you know what comes to mind…

     I didn’t pay attention to any sounds. I guess being disappointed puts me in a bad mood. I never realized that before. Hmm, I suppose that’s what the therapist meant when she said I would feel free. That bullshit she said about verbalizing and talking might be working. I think I’m beginning to understand myself a little more. I don’t know how or why.

Therapy Session

     “Reagan, I want to explain a few things to you today if you don’t mind.”

     I shrug my shoulders.

“Most people never pay attention to what’s inside their heads. If you are happy, there is a reason for it and if you want to remain happy you must know what makes you happy and seek it out.” She holds up a cd. “I know you were disappointed yesterday that I didn’t get you a gift. But, today I did. It is a Beatles cd and the song The Octopus’s Garden is on it. Anytime you find yourself going into that funk of sadness or disappointment I want you to promise you will play this song so you can get back to your happy place.”

Immediately my feeling shifts. I know trying to hide my happiness would be pointless. “Thank you,” I say again. It’s becoming easier to say thank you.

“You’re welcome Reagan. I am happy to give it to you. But, Reagan, I want you to take a moment later on and ask yourself why it took me buying you gifts before you would give me a chance.”

The recordings were complete and my therapist Miss Raven assured my parents that my behavior was nothing more than teenager antics and I was normal. She encouraged them to practice the “Alone in the Dark” exercise so they would gain a better understanding of love, hate, happiness, sadness, disappointment and a whole laundry list of other emotions.

I still record my thoughts once a week and write in my journal and whenever I need a spirit booster I visit the Octopus’s garden and dance.

I stood at the front of Mrs. Roman’s class and watched the mouths drop when I shut off the recorder. There were looks of horror, compassion, sorrow and even ridicule. I cleared my throat. Mrs. Roman nodded in encouragement and then I began…

 

Alone in the dark

As I sat alone in the dark I heard my thoughts

Happiness sang, Disappointment cried, Love hugged and Hate punched

As I sat alone in the dark, I came to understand who I was and who I no longer wanted to be

I’m a teenager doing the things we do. It doesn’t make me bad, troubled or crazy

As I sat alone in the dark I paid attention to sounds I have often ignored

The chitter chatter of crickets, the beat of a musicians song, engines from cars roared

As I sat alone in the dark things jumbled within my mind began to make sense

I can’t love others without loving myself.  I can’t ask not to be judged when I’m filled with pretense

As I sat alone in the dark something cool happened to me

I don’t know exactly when or even how, but, all of the truth I faced set me free

 

I walked back to my seat feeling proud of my poem and myself. I could tell by Mrs. Roman’s eyes that she thought I did a great job. There were some awkward stares from some of the kids but Lyn and Sam both gave me thumbs up which made me feel good.

“Class, for the first time in a long time, I have been inspired by one of my students,” Mrs. Roman said after I was seated. In her hand was a stack of index cards. She walked up each row and set one card on every student’s desk. “Reagan was very brave in sharing her recordings with us.” She looked directly at me. “She didn’t have to share something so intimate and I told her that, but, she said the poem wouldn’t be as good without them.”

I picked up the index card she placed on my desk. The word Anticipation was written on the card in bold black letters.

“I have decided to make the Alone in the Dark exercise a part of this writing class. Once a week you will be given an index card with a word. I want you to sit alone in the dark for twenty minutes, just as Reagan did and think about the word and what it means to you. You will then be required to write a short story based on the word and the emotions it evoked.”

I felt flushed.  Dozens of heads spun around. I was surprised to see most of the faces had smiles. I couldn’t be sure but I think the class actually thought it was going to be cool. I thought about my word Anticipation, I wondered what would come to mind when I shut off the lights. Then I thought about the gift I bought Miss Raven, a vintage French ormalu picture frame for the photograph of her mother.  I knew for sure I would think about her reaction when I shut off the light.

I know one thing; I don’t hate the dark anymore.

 

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I FEAR SUCCESS

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I don’t fear rejection, I’m used to rejection. I’m familiar with the sensation that rejection brings. The stomach sinking, tears in your eyes, fists in the air type of feeling that I’ve experienced too many times to count. I’m an expert when it comes to rejection. I expect rejection.

I fear success.

I dream of success but the thought of it actually happening terrifies me. I have grown so accustomed to living life in a little corner of the universe that the idea of stepping out from the shadows to share with the world my imagination makes my heart pound faster than normal. What if my dream came true? Could I handle it?

I’ve never been on a plane. What if I did make it, would I be able to jet off to another state to promote my book or do author signings? Could I face that fear?

I have feared success most of my life. It’s a weird fear to have because there is no guarantee that it can be faced.

My fear of boarding a plane can be conquered. I can book a flight today to face this fear. But, there is no guarantee that one will become successful. Being successful means different things to everyone. For me, success would be becoming a well-known author with many published books. This may never happen and if it doesn’t, I can never face the fear.

Yes, I fear success. The thought of it makes my stomach turn and causes my palms to sweat, but the fear of never finding success may be worse.

Do you fear success?

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WHY I NEED PITCH WARS

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Writers know what it means to struggle. We struggle with words. We struggle with plots. We struggle with characters and their development. We struggle with word counts and then we struggle with trying to get our work published.

At the beginning of my journey, everything felt somewhat easy. I was only writing a few months, when a poem of mine placed runner-up in a contest held by the SCBWI. It didn’t take me long to get published in a few children’s magazines. I was over the moon, when a short story of mine was bought by ABC studios for a pilot series they were about to launch. I gained more confidence when another story was published in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

I was receiving many requests for my middle-grade story which my instructor at the Institute of Children’s Literature said he didn’t think would take long for an agent to snatch. I was hopeful. But all those requests turned into rejections. I received many personalized rejections, but they were rejections nevertheless.

I did what a lot of writers do. I tucked my manuscript away and started writing a new one. It was my first attempt at writing YA. The idea came from a dream. Yes, you’ve heard that one before, but honest to God, it did. The dream occurred about a week prior to NanoWrimo (lucky me). I thought, Why Not? I had nothing to lose and some time to spare.

I can’t remember if I completed the ms within the month, but it was certainly on its way to becoming my second completed manuscript.

After many critique sessions and hours and hours of edits, I had a shiny new manuscript. After some encouragement and great feedback, I was ready to bring this new manuscript to a writer’s conference.

I submitted my first pages to a well-known author and a few agents prior to the conference and counted the days until I’d be in their presence hearing their thoughts.

I became giddy when during the one-on-one with the author, she told me that mine was her favorite and she even put stars all along the top to remind her when I came up to her table to receive my feedback. She said she saw this book as a movie and she, like my instructor at the ICL said she didn’t think it would be long for me to snatch an agent.

I also met with an agent one-on-one that day, who also seemed equally excited. She gave me ideas and said to forward her the whole manuscript when I returned home. She explained that she didn’t care if the writing was still raw and the story was still developing, she would help me hash it out.
I was there. I was close to achieving my goal. I imagined my book cover. I dreamed of going on author signings and now it felt like those dreams may come true.

But then, nothing happened. Nothing. The agent and I spoke via e-mail a few times and then she left her agency. My writing partner decided that she wasn’t going to write anymore. Hope turned to despair and I convinced myself that it was only a pipe dream. A silly dream that was never going to come true.

I sulked, I cried, I gave up. But, then I came back. I started again. I was not going to quit dreaming. I was not going to quit writing.

My journey began again. I started sending out queries. Once again, I started receiving requests. But, those requests turned into rejections and the new-found hope was once again starting to diminish. Self-doubt returned.

What I learned through the querying process for both manuscripts is that both have something that catches the agent’s attention enough for them to request, but there must be something lacking that makes them decide not to offer representation.

I need Pitch Wars because maybe the mentors can help me see what is missing. I’m not afraid of hard work. I will do what needs to be done.

Everyone entering Pitch Wars needs it for a reason, what is your reason?

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Pitch Wars, Here I Come

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I have a completed mg manuscript that generated many requests but in the end no cigar!

I have a completed YA manuscript that generated many requests but in the end no cigar!

I BELIEVE in both of these manuscripts. I LOVE both of these manuscripts. I poured blood, sweat and tears into these manuscripts.

I want to understand what’s wrong with them. I want to understand how to make them better.

So, I have decided that I’m going to participate in Pitch Wars again this year. I’m still deciding which one of my babies (manuscript) to enter.

Wish me luck. If you are participating in Pitch Wars and want to swap pages or bounce ideas off of each other, leave a comment or find me on the Pitch Wars forums. I posted the first 250 words of both for review.

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Renewal Giveaway

 

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UPDATE: Congratulations Barb, your name was chosen to win the bookmark. Thank you so much for commenting. I hope you like your bookmark as much as I like mine. If you send me your address to my email maribethpgraham at comcast.net I will forward your bookmark to you.

Somewhere along my travels of the mundane days of work, I got lost. I stopped dreaming. I stopped envisioning a life other than the one necessary to survive. I stopped trying. I stopped writing.

And when I did, I lost myself. I betrayed myself. I am a lot of things to a lot of people, daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend, employee but in order to be good at any of those positions, I must first be true to myself.

I’m a writer. I’m eccentric at times. I have a weird sense of humor (and usually connect best with those who share it.) I’m a daydreamer. I’m an empathetic human who can see myself in everyone I meet. I can be an air head at times but also a force to be reckoned with. I’m silly but intense and will not apologize for my imagination. It is the gift I was given.

We all have a purpose. We all have struggles, self-doubt, moments of self-hate, but we all possess, beauty, talents and share collective thoughts. We need to inspire each other to become the best versions of ourselves. We need to help one another see the gifts within. When we start to do this, small parts of the world will change.

I may have taken breaks through my writing journey,but, I always seem to come back to the craft that makes my soul feel at home.

To celebrate my renewal of spirit and my newfound excitement to get back into what I so adore, I’m having a giveaway.

These hand-crafted book marks are made by Trades of Hope. These women have faced many struggles. They use their talents to help support their children and community.I’m in love with these bookmarks. I want to share one with you.

All you must do is comment on my blog a positive word. I’m old-school, the list of winners will be thrown in a hat and picked at random.

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THE THOUGHT OF A WRITER

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I want to get lost in my own mind. I want to walk through my thoughts and pluck out ideas that inspire me to write great stories. I want to daydream of different lives and different situations then piece them together to create characters and circumstances. I want to revisit childhood, experience emotions, appreciate nature and traipse through the minds of others.

I want to understand people and once I do, I want to share with the world how to understand people too.

 

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How’s Your Writing Going?

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April fried my blog writing brain. I took a month or so off from posting but I’m back. When it comes to blog writing, I like to be inspired. The thirty day challenge used up a lot of the ideas I had stored away in the blog post bank. So, I allowed my mind to chill and waited for my next post to surface.

Here in the writing world, it’s easy to share our accomplishments, rejections, ideas and everything else writing related. We get each other! But, sometimes it’s the people outside of the writing world that impact our thoughts and push us to become the person they believe we will be.

My family, circle of friends, co-workers and many acquaintances know by now that I’m a writer with a dream. Everyone is encouraging and supportive. They keep me in check and won’t allow me to give up (not that I ever plan on giving up).

Today, a co-worker asked me a question that she asks often, “How’s your writing going?” I know by now what she’s really asking is, Are you working hard to make your dream a reality?
There were times in the past that I would answer this question by saying, “This week has been busy.” Each time I’d give her this response, her eyebrow would raise and she’d give me this look that summed up her thoughts. I’m pretty sure she was thinking, Excuses won’t get you to the top. (Or something similar)

I’ve shared my dream with others. I’ve allowed them to read my work. They’ve crossed their fingers for me when I told them I got requests. They wrapped their arms around me when I became discouraged, but never once did they stop believing that I have the ability to become successful. There’s something that happens when you know someone else believes in you. You start believing in yourself. You begin fighting harder and when you feel knocked down you get up because you want to be able to respond with “I’m fighting hard,” when they ask you “How’s your writing going?
I’m a dreamer but with a little help and encouragement from my friends I’m determined to be the one telling others Yes, dreams do come true.

How’s your writing going?

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