The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.
Monday, November 30, 2009
It feels like I'm at a plateau--like when you're trying to lose weight, or trying to exercise at a certain level, and you hit a place where your results don't change anymore, and it feels like that's where you're going to stay. It feels like I'm at a place where my reach is permanently doomed to exceed my grasp. Now, you could say it's Murphy's Law--people rise to the level of their own incompetence--or you could say it's a plateau and you can break through it if you keep trying, keep switching things up, keep trying to think outside the box you've put yourself in. I'm going to go easy on myself and say it's a plateau that can be broken out of, and not my own particular level of incompetence.
And I'm going to keep on just doing what I'm doing, writing out pieces I like while waiting for lightning to strike. I'm going to the Vermont College residency in January, so I'm hoping to see and hear things that I can use to shake my brain up and maybe kick my abilities up a notch.*
I wonder how Megan Whalen Turner thinks. I'll bet she thinks like one of my writer friends, who writes in a straight line, and whose brain has a natural ability to combine character and plot at the same time. I can't do that. I don't know if it can be learned--but if it can't, there surely is some way for a confirmed non-plotter to achieve the same results while coming at it from a different--and perhaps more labor-intensive--direction.
*Not that the book that might come out of all this angst would be great literature or anything. It's not about writing a master work, it's about being able to do something I'm unable to do right now:
"I would rather have the two hundred fifty-six imperfect books that mark the vectors of my journey through my art form than to have one perfect book that marks nothing but its own perfect self."--Barry Moser
Friday, November 27, 2009
By creative organization, I mean pulling the story parts together in a way that rises and builds. I mean looking at the pieces I have and being able to see ways to link them into one big, connected picture. I can't see squat at the moment, as far as that's concerned. Dunno why, but it's probably to do with the multiple other things going on in writing and real life. Sometimes a creative part of your brain just gets drained, and all you can do is wait for it to fill back up.
I wrote a new beginning for the swordfighting ms, pulled together from old beginnings and one made-up new part. I backed up and started in the middle of action again, and at the moment I have three POV characters, third person past limited for each. I did this because I know I want to play around with structure and timeframe to see if I can get something about this story to work. However, with the creative organizational part of my brain on vacation, I can't move any farther than that on the ms. So today I'll probably write a "thingee," backstory or whatever I feel like writing from the pov of one of the three characters. He could end up being a POV character. Or not. But today will probably be freewriting along those lines.
It did occur to me yesterday that if I had a lot more skill than I do now, I could probably pull this ms into something really cool, like some of Louis Sachar's work that I admire for his plotting and POV changes. I love the way Holes' plot fits together, but my favorites of his books are Sixth Grade Secrets and Boy In the Girl's Bathroom. Oh, and the Face one--Boy Who Lost His Face? Is that the title? Anyway, I wish I had Sixth Grade Secrets, but I lent my copy to one of the neighbor kids who never brought it back. But I remember while I was reading it that I thought it was cool the way Sachar kept changing POVs yet never lost me. I'm a very easy reader to lose, so the fact that he didn't says something.
The fact is that I've got this swordfighting story down. I just don't know how to tell it. If I start with the exciting part, the emotional arc is dead. If I go chronologically, it's boring and overstuffed (to me it is, anyway). So: how do I make it work on all fronts at the same time? I do not know.
Side note: I don't think I mentioned I heard that a fellow writer who has been reworking the same ms for maybe a decade finally figured it out. Thus raising (if rumor is true) what was a perfectly good publishable ms to a great one that achieves the potential the author has been holding out for all along. This is awe-inspiring, but it also makes me wonder if I have this kind of intestinal fortitude. I'm thinking I may not. I'd like to hope I do, but I'm not sure I have the strong sense of writing self it would require to look at a good, publishable ms, and say, "No, not yet--I can do better." I mean, I know I kind of do this a little bit already, but not anywhere near the degree we seem to be talking about here. Maybe. Will have to read the book when it comes out.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I've also got a bazillion pages of health insurance stuff to fill out because the company I've been with is pulling out of my state, so I have to find a new one. I mention this because it reminded me of something, no idea why. The "something" is that I got pretty annoyed with some commentary I heard about how writers should never make any changes requested by book fairs, because that's censoring, and writers who censor themselves for filthy lucre are basically sell-outs and money-grubbing wh*res. Obviously the people who say this have no idea that self-censoring is something we start considering the second we start revising, and continue all the way till the galleys leave our hands. And sometimes later. Book fair decisions are just more of the same. Usually the changes for book fairs aren't huge moral issues (that's a different ball of wax), but cutting a "d*mn" or "h*ll"--the same words we've been cutting out and putting back in and cutting out again all along during revisions, trying to weigh out whether the words distract the reader more than giving a sense of the character.*
The money an author makes from book fair sales is some ludicrously small amount, I can't remember what. A few cents per copy, maybe? Nobody's changing their text to get rich. They're doing it because they've looked at the changes asked for and decided that it won't mess up anything, and that it will put the book in the hands of thousands more readers. If they decide that it will mess up something about the book, they don't make the changes and usually you never hear about it. Most of the time authors don't get any kudos for standing by their beliefs. What usually happens is they get quietly downgraded in one way or another--the marketing department gets p.o.'d at them, for example, or they miss the word-of-mouth that would have come with those thousands of poorly paid book fair sales.
So anyway, not to get off on a tangent, but my mind went this direction because once again I hear an underlying assumption about authors raking it in. But authors don't get company benefits, and they have to take health insurance plus taxes plus social security plus agent off the top of whatever they get for a book. If you suppose a moderately successful midlist author gets 25K for one book, then take away all that out-of-pocket stuff, you've got somebody who can't afford food and shelter.
And I say all this not to excuse myself for making editorial changes to suit my finances--because I don't, not in my own writing--but to tell everybody who's not trying to make a living at it to climb down from their moral high horse and stop being so freakin' judgmental. For cripe's sake, I've seen people lining up to praise an author for basically not taking a moral stand--clearly without knowing that's what they're doing. All I can figure is that people don't really understand the full range of choices involved, the implications, or the consequences.
So, anyway. I'm working on other stuff besides my WIP, but in the back of my head I'm waiting for some epiphany that will help me bring it all together. Because at the moment it looks like a mess of disparate pieces that aren't going to be interesting to anyone except me.
*Full disclosure: I speak as the author of a YA book with a more-than-liberal sprinkling of the F-word throughout. I am not a priss when it comes to profanity. I also know that different readers can tolerate different levels of it (and therefore its resonance changes depending on the reader), and that "being true to the character" is already a lie when it comes to dialog. You can't transcribe what somebody would actually say in real life, word for word; it would be nearly unintelligible. So profanity is one of those things (same with sexual references) where there's not one easy answer to whether it goes or stays.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Haven't worked on my own ms in a few days. Today I watched reruns of America's Next Top Model and tried to think a little during commercials, because I feel a bit overwhelmed. I feel I need a stronger connecting thread that runs through the story from start to finish--something that pulls all the very different sections together, something that makes a point that's memorable. Right now I think each section makes a slightly different point, so they don't build to an ending where you want a certain thing to happen. You need to want something for the character, by the end. Not like a Perils of Pauline ending, though; you need to want the character to do a certain something. I need to get a clearer picture of what it is I'm supposed to make the reader want my MC to do. That's the connecting thread that's weak--so weak I keep losing sight of it. I need to find it and draw it out--strongly.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
As I was doing that I saw chunks that were notes and explanations to myself about theme (what I want the book to say), so I added "theme" to the list of main ideas/plots points and moved all those together, too. Somehow as I was doing this, I saw that I could use some of the theme chunks to end the previous section and make it stronger (it has been just fading out because I didn't know where I was heading). From there I started to see how the middle might fall into line and make sense on a thematic, character, and plot level. I think it helped seeing that extremely annoying blog entry yesterday, because my mind is on readers who need things spelled out. I've been reading too much Heian literature, which is crazy because they don't use names, or care about time and order of events, and they don't like to say anything straight out when they can hint at it or just leave it blank. And I mean that literally; I know I exaggerate sometimes for effect, but really Heian literature leaves most stuff out. The degree of trust in the reader is astronomical. And I think that's very cool, and it's definitely influencing me, but I'm writing a thousand years later in a more specific language to a different potential audience, so I have to remember that spelling things out is good. Compared to Heian writing, anyway.
I hope that I can move on from here and get the middle at least sketched out. There's no telling, though. Sometimes you look at something that made complete sense the day before, and suddenly you can't understand what your line of thought was. I hope that doesn't happen with this.
(cue drastic doom-laden organ music)
Except I dunno what to do with them. It's another one of those cases where X, Y, and Z have to happen. Another one of those cases where I'm totally clueless about how to approach it. If I push too hard, I'll screw it up. If I get too wholeheartedly into that screwup before I realize it's wrong, I'll be even more clueless than I am now.
This happens to me over and over again. I've got to move through certain plot points, but they won't work unless they mean something in the overall arc of the story. I've got to learn how to conquer this beast, because lately it rears its head every effing time I write a book.
I think I'll make (another) list of the missing parts, just to put them all in my head again. When I try to go through the ms, I get overwhelmed by them because I look at one and think, "Wait, this can't happen till I establish that other part." Then I move to thinking about how to establish the other part, which I usually don't care about anyway, and by now I'm confused about what I was trying to accomplish, so I quit and go work on something unrelated.
Maybe the best thing would be to force myself to stick to character: what does this particular event mean to the MC? Then later worry about how it moves the story and what the reader needs to get from it. Except...they're all tied together. The parts, I mean. The way I tie the end together needs to answer the way I tie the missing events in the middle. In real life they'd be just random events, like one day you dent a fender in the parking lot and the next you find a dollar bill you'd forgotten about in your pocket. In the story they aren't random at all. They have to echo each other and make sense together. And the middle decides which scenes I'm going to keep in the end part, and which I'm going to chunk.
Okay, no. Stop. Clear head. Go back. I can make the list, then from that list I need to think in two directions at once: 1) what does each event mean to the MC, and 2) how does it relate to what I want the book to say?
It's really hard for me to think of two things at once, so I'm going to have to write this down and treat it as totally removed from the ms, like an outline. I don't know that it'll solve anything, but I've got to start digging in somehow. If I can't figure it out, then at least the back of my brain will have everything clearly set down and graspable, so it can start chewing on the problem if it wants to.
Whoa, momentary reality check. Incoming e-mail reminds me that various writer friends are going off this weekend for fun cool author stuff, while I'm sitting here scrubbling uselessly away at the same piece-of-cr*p ms I've been wasting my time on for so many years I'm not going to count them--a ms that's never going to sell so I'll never go anywhere cool or fun because I'm the only one who can't write and I'll be humiliated because I'll never publish another book because my writing sucks and my books suck and I suck and when anybody finally looks at this ms the jig will be up because they'll all see what a sucky piece of cr*p I wasted all that time on, and isn't it sad, really, that any writer could be that deluded.
Okay, reality check over. Back to work.
*I have to. I'm starting to overwrite some of the parts that are closer to being done. I've got to leave those and figure out the holes.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Specifically, I have to spell out: This is what the MC's world is like. This is what she has to deal with. Like the majority of women throughout history, her choices are so limited as to be nil. She has no power whatsoever. Like the majority of women throughout history, she lives in a world controlled by men. The men are not all bad--it's the world view that's bad. The world view warps the men just as much as it stunts the women. Swords would not help this. There are too many swords already, and they're doing what swords are meant to do: butcher enemies and control the balance of power.
So that's the kind of thing I was tweaking today: clarifying the world view, driving home the lack of choices and power.
I really don't know how to keep the reader from expecting some kind of big confrontation or battle at the end. No idea how to keep this turned inward. And really no idea how to make the fact that the solution is brought by a knight on a white horse palatable to a reader. However, that's what happens. No getting around it.
When I think of some of the other writing-related stuff I'm having to consider right now--market-directed writing-related stuff--I'm pretty sure this ms is doomed, doomed, doomed. I'm willing to live with that. I don't like it--but I'll live with it if I have to. No regrets.
I thought we had hit that mark already and were starting to move on with something a little more three-dimensional. For g*d's sake, people, if you're going to push violence, PUSH IT!!!! I've got no problem with most violence in books/movies/video games, and I say Follow your thoughts through to their natural conclusion. Sh*t or get off the pot. That is all.
This actually did have to do with my writing today, but I'll move to a new post so this one gets at least a little buried. Or who knows, maybe I'll take it down. Or...not.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
The reasons I'm thinking of cutting this character are:
1) The end of the Menelaus section is confusing to me; I can't quite get a feel for how events build.* If I take this piece out--although I like some of it very, very much--the section may suddenly make sense.
2) It's causing me grief to try to get this character introduced properly in the beginning without making the story drag (even more than it already does).
3) I'm at a point where I'm trying to think "What does this story want to say to the reader?" Not to me, to the reader. That means all my personal blah-blah-blah needs to be secondary to clarity: What do I want the reader to take away at the end of the book? I'm thinking this character's stuff isn't needed to give that message, and in fact it's clouding the points the story could be making.
3) I think I might be able to give more power to the stuff that's already there without this thread. I think it may be diluting what's there.
So, will see what happens today, whether this makes things better or worse.
*In fact, I seem to be using this character's thread as an excuse to add stuff I like that doesn't have anything to do with the story.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Yesterday was better--no big progress, but I went through a big hunk of the ms, straightening and tidying and making things flow more clearly.
Still, I would like to do some more work tonight so that I can feel I accomplished something today, but it's been one of those days, family-stuff-wise, so maybe I'll just blow it off, tell myself I'm rewarding myself by blowing it off, and start afresh tomorrow.
Side note: Samurai Gold Seekers is on tomorrow. This was on not too long ago under one of its other titles, Sword of the Beast. That's okay, because I liked it and don't mind seeing it again. Something to think about: the story opens with the MC being chased/hunted. We don't know who he is or why. Then, for a while, all we hear about him is the bad stuff he did that makes him an outlaw and fugitive. Only later do we find out his side of the story. So the movie opens with a chase--tension and conflict--and the story comes after, and then the real story and backstory and character development comes later. I think this may have been what I was trying to do in the first version of my swordfighting ms--but it didn't work. I wonder why it works here, but not in my ms.
I think it must be easier for me to notice these things when a movie isn't in English. Something about not having to listen frees up other parts of my mind or something.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
I started switching up some of the language, rephrasing so it's less write-y and more speak-y, and looking for words that are evocative but not concrete enough, and dropping them. Also tried to be really hard@ss with my thinking: Does this have to be here? Is it necessary for understanding what's going on? I also took a good hard merciless look at where I paused slightly while reading. Those times aren't very noticeable, but when a reader does that, the choice is to refocus and keep reading, or put the book down. Ideally there wouldn't be any of those times.
I cut maybe eight pages total and dragged them all to the back of the ms where they will sit till I can figure out where to put them.
It occurs to me that I'm having the same problem lately, over the last three books. In Night Road, this book, and the swordfighting ms, I'm having to do world-building--and it's eating my lunch, pacing-wise. I'm having a h*ll of a time getting the world built, and the backstory that's necessary for character, and the story moving, all at once. In fact, I'd say that I'm failing at it. I seem to be able to do two at once, but not three. I need to notice/find out how other people handle this. I need to figure out what my problem is. Maybe my character-driven mind is lending too much importance to minor things, the way it does in transitions. In transitions, I have trouble not taking the characters through every little interim step in my head. Maybe I'm doing the same with world-building and backstory.
If that's so, then the answer is probably is more merciless hard@ss self-editing, plus when I get readers I'll have to ask them specifically to look for places where they can live without the info they're getting.* And otherwise, I guess just keep moving stuff around till I find an order in which it works. I don't know what else to try.
Now I need to figure out what I want to do today. I'm in great danger of overworking the beginning, if I haven't already, so I'm leery of heading back to that section. Dunno what I'll do. Must think.
*The problem with that is, I'm the most impatient reader I know. Most of my writer friends will read though something I'd have started skimming pages back.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Due to lack of laptop access, I had to take a printout of the first 80 pages to the library. I don't like the smarmy fake voice of the first 40 pages. I don't like the way it tells a bunch of cr*p and nothing happens. And I don't know what to do about it.
I wasn't at all in the mood to work on this part today. And I don't mind if the beginning is a little slow, because that will weed out more immature readers before the R-rated stuff starts happening (why so many parents and teachers think 14-up includes 6th and 7th grade is beyond me). So probably I should take my current cranky attitude with a grain of salt. At least a partial grain of salt.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
But the other day when I was going over it, there was this one particularly long stretch of dialog, maybe a page and a half or two pages of just talking, no tags or anything, and I thought, there's no way to cut this up because it's all one idea. Then I thought, maybe that means I should delete it completely, just get rid of it. It doesn't fit, it doesn't belong.
But now I'm rethinking. Maybe the long dialog stretch wants to be that way (long and flowing). Every time I rewrite it, it stays like that. Every time, I forget that it's not supposed to be like that and get lost in what I'm doing. This also happens with other dialogs in this last section--in fact, with most of the scenes with Paris/Alexandros and Helen. I haven't had this problem with any of the other sections of the book--not even the Menelaus section that also started out as GN. The Menelaus section went easily into the cut-up concise form. And I'm drawn to the thought of writing these last dialog pieces out as fully fleshed scenes.
Would it really be so bad if that part of the story starts looking more like a normal book? Doesn't that parallel what's actually going on in the story? That's what I'm thinking now. My gut is urging me toward it. I know the thought of writing that way feels like a relief. It'll be a relief to not have to be so constricted and careful and mindful and tight. That's how the MC feels, too at that point in the story--her state of mind matches the format. And now I'm wondering if the reader would feel relieved, too. It might feel good to suddenly be able to read a normal page with normal margins and ideas that slop over onto the next page.
It's not that simple, though. Right now the last section has only scenes with Paris/Alexandros and Helen--but other kinds of scenes still have to be written. I've got to finish up several threads that center on other characters. I know those won't feel right in regular prose. I can't even think about them that way.
So...today's thought, while walking Tyson...what if only the scenes with Helen and P/A are regular scenes, while other threads remain tight and constricted? Will that be too disruptive to the reader? Will have to think some more.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
I was thinking I need to get some readers to look at the first part and tell me what they feel by the end of it and what they expect or need next. But I'd have to clean it up some more first, and also I think I need a stronger footing myself, before I start listening to other opinions.
Now today I just wasted too much time driving my morale into the ground by looking at internet cr*p about many new books are out there and coming out soon and how great they are and how much they're selling and just general name-dropping up the wazoo. So. Must shake all that off and get to work. I sure would like to get the Menelaus section set, get the order of the scenes exactly right, and figure out what I can cut, and make it rise and build. If I play my cards correctly, I could make the reader cry. That would be nice--don't know if it's possible, though. One man's tearjerker is another man's sapfest.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Also, I thought of the very last scene. Not the last scene I already have (well, sort of, in my head), but the very last scene of the framework that surrounds the story proper. I know what I want to end on. The only question (well, besides that minor detail of figuring it out and writing it) is whether to match it up to my favorite Iliad scene/revelation. Probably I shouldn't. Probably it's enough for me to know that's where I'm ending, even if the reader doesn't.
Then maybe someday somebody will go look up that chapter in the Iliad to see what happens, and it'll be like, "Oh, no f*cking way--they're dead!!???" Then they'll be all mad at me, even though it's not my fault, it's Homer's. That would be great.
It's one of those days where I'm like, boy, I hope I don't get hit by a bus before I finish this ms. If I have to get hit by a bus, please let it be after I finish. Of course, then I'll be back to the swordfighting ms, so I won't want to get hit by a bus then, either.
I'm not sure whether to print out and read for an overview, or to just skim on the screen and see if I have a better grip now that it's a fresh new writing day. I guess I'll take a quick look and see what I feel like doing.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
I think maybe the thing for me to do is pay particular attention when it's happening, and make a conscious decision on how to handle each particular case. I noticed in one place where I was struggling with this I'd tried to fix it by pretending it was still generalities. ("Blah blah blah," Joe Blow usually says, and then he proceeds to park his car.) Other places I stop and put a marker. (One day Joe Blow is parking his car. "Blah blah blah," he says.).
The thing is, there's not much room for even tiny transitional statements, and if they don't follow naturally from whatever happened in the previous scene, they feel jarring to me. And clumsy.
Okay. So. Here's what I'm going to do about it: keep an eye peeled for these places and when they come up, be deliberately mindful of my choices about how to handle them. Maybe there are more choices, too. Now that I think about it, this transitional problem could signal a place where I'm veering off into something unnecessary that could be cut, and that's why it's not fitting. Must keep an eye out for that, too.
Monday, November 2, 2009
One thing that's really bugging me is that I need to crush all the self-indulgence out of it. I can't really do that until it's closer to the final version, though. You have to allow some self-indulgence while you're figuring the ms out.
Anyhow, I can't remember what I did yesterday, except that I worked for a long time. Today I know I worked on the middle, taking the pieces that I know need to be there--I already had them more or less together--and thinking about them and pulling them more into place. I've got maybe four or five ideas or plot points or whatever they're called. The brothers need to leave. The mother needs to die. The suitors need to come. The sister needs to leave. Inside these ideas I need to add in some smaller ideas/points: the maid is getting senile, the father is checking out, the brother-in-law is cousins with the murdering brute, plus family history of the murdering brute. The patches of all this are laid out now, which is more than I've ever had done on this part before.
I'd like to have a full working draft before I start focusing on other writerly related stuff that starts in January. However, I usually don't meet goals once they're stated, so I won't call that a goal. I'll just say it would be nice.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
In discussion of another book, a writer friend was saying something that touched on a point that's already been nagging me in the back of my mind. WF says, basically, that book characters are sometimes tagged as being worth caring about because they have some kind of artistic sensitivity (my words, not WF's). I agree with this. (think Girl with a Pearl Earring, A Northern Light, and a million other books that aren't popping to mind right now.) Also agree that often in YAs and midgrades, the artistically sensitive MC is stuck or trapped somewhere, and the unspoken implication is that everybody else who's stuck or trapped with him/her, but who doesn't have this sensitivity or gift, is basically cannon fodder. We're rooting for the MC get free from his/her present situation because clearly this person is one step above and deserves better.
So what I'm thinking is that this gifted MC who's stuck or trapped is a shorthand tag writers sometimes use to make the stuck/trapped situation more touching. And it's used so much, and it's so accepted, that the reader's probably going to wonder why an average MC who doesn't have any special "gift" deserves to be freed or rescued. This speaks directly to the former GN ms. The MC isn't super smart and has no particular talent. Also, since she's a girl and I'm the one who wrote her, she's probably not very likable, either. What I'd like to do is focus on the situation being wrong, for everyone--not make somebody the star who deserves to be free. Everyone in the story deserves better.
Thinking about it, what the shorthand does is work backwards. It invests you in this clearly very special character so that you then start considering the actual situation more deeply. But I don't like that. It's a tool a writer can use to good effect--but I don't like what it implies.
As I see it now, the only choice is to get raked over the coals for having a MC that isn't special or outstanding enough and therefore I didn't give the reader a reason to care. However, you can do a lot by stating things straight out in the ms. I may be able to find ways to get the reader to focus on the system, the situation. Will see. I'm a little leery because that's what got me off track yesterday, was letting my thoughts overwhelm the story.
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- Did family and house stuff all weekend. Today I wr...
- Yesterday I had other things going on, but I decid...
- Haven't worked on my own stuff at all. I've put so...
- I've been working on several things that need to b...
- Today has been one of those days where in the mid...
- Today's approach worked out pretty well. So far, a...
- Okay, the bottom line is that the rest of the ms i...
- I was reading a blog post decrying the lack of str...
- A writer friend sent a link to another one of thos...
- I was a bum all day yesterday, writing-wise. Today...
- Today in the former GN I tried to develop one cert...
- Yesterday I only had about an hour to write, so I ...
- I am extraordinarily displeased. Due to lack of l...
- Worked on Menelaus today. Towards the end of the w...
- Been thinking about the last section, the one that...
- Yesterday I poked tentatively around in that gap i...
- I ended up taking out a spiral and sitting in fron...
- Yesterday I only got to work for about an hour. I ...
- Something's really bugging me about this ms. I'm h...
- I seem to be making fairly steady forward progress...
- No writing on Thursday due to family stuff, but lo...
- ▼ November (21)