To Write Confidently, Cut These Out…

These are verb qualifiers: 

  • Sort of
  • Tend to
  • Kind of 
  • Must have 
  • Seemed to 
  • Could have 
  • Used to 
  • Begin to

They allow you to present a level of uncertainty for your character’s actions. Use them with caution, because verb qualifiers may only add little information and cause confusion.

When I’m writing action sequences, I simply ask myself: Did the characters do the action or did they not? 

Take a look at this modified paragraph from Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (Amazon): 

Chipper sort of fell silent. His eyes kind of went around and around his plate, but he must have not been provident and there was nothing on the plate but woe. He began to raise his glass and silently half urged a very small drop of warm milk down the slope to his mouth. He stretched his tongue out and seemed to welcome it. 

Notice how there is a lot of uncertainty in that paragraph? These little sprinklings of doubt spoil your credibility as the author and mess up the flow of your story. Take a look at the original version without any of the added verb qualifiers. 

Chipper fell silent. His eyes went around and around his plate, but he had not been provident and there was nothing on the plate but woe. He raised his glass and silently urged a very small drop of warm milk down the slope to his mouth. He stretched his tongue out to welcome it. 

Your first draft is often loaded with these verb qualifiers. This is understandable. You aren’t certain of every detail when you write the first draft. But now that you know how it all ends, be more confident and remove those pesky verb qualifiers and give a more assured image of the story. By removing them, you’ll see how much more clear and precise your writing becomes. 

Writing with confidence doesn’t mean your content needs to be bold or dramatic, it can be done by merely trimming off the excess that fog up the details. Don’t let your important words be overshadowed by verb qualifiers. Keep an eye out for them and cut them out. 

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I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party (an animated short)

At the start of the pandemic, I decided to buy some long books (600+ pages) to read. The thinking was that by the time I finish, the pandemic will be over. Well, I completed Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (Amazon) this summer and the pandemic is still going strong. In fact, during the summer the virus got a second wind with all those variants spreading, so bring out Tolstoy, there is more time left. 

Still, that didn’t diminish what I’ve accomplished. I read a big book. Infinite Jest was a tough read, not something I’d recommend for bedtime or at the beach. There were some very good parts, sure, but overall, it’s not one I’ll reread soon, at least not again during this pandemic. 

Also during this pandemic, I’ve found time to revisit my childhood passion for animation. When I was a kid, before I wanted to be a comedian, I wanted to become an animator. As an adult — thanks to technology and free time in the evenings — I could. 

Wanting to commemorate the achievement of finishing a book while seeking an idea for an animation project, I decided to pair the two together and present a scene from what I’d imagine a moment at an I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party would be like. 

Please enjoy my animated short: I Finished Reading Infinite Jest Party

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Writing and Submitting 4 Short Stories in 4 Weeks

In October 2021, I decided to challenge myself to write 4 short stories (between 2000-4000 words), polish them to quality, and submit it to a credible publication. What inspired me to pursue this project was after reading a passage in Ray Bradbury’s writing memoir, Zen in the Art of Writing (Amazon):

All during my early twenties I had the following schedule. On Monday morning I wrote the first draft of a new story. On Tuesday I did the second draft. On Wednesday a third. On Thursday a fourth. On Friday a fifth. And on Saturday at noon I mailed out the sixth and final draft to New York. Sunday? I thought about all the wild ideas scrambling for my attention, waiting under the attic lid, confident at last that, because of “The Lake,” I would soon let them out. 

In addition to 4 completed short stories that I’m proud of, I was also hoping to develop a repeatable process where I can produce a piece under a strict timeline. If you are interested in seeing how my experience went, please check out this video here:

Participating in writing challenges, whether it be something like NaNoWriMo or a 30-day writing prompt, has been a fantastic way of overcoming writer’s block and pushing myself to produce something. We, as writers, often overthink what we are creating. Writing challenges like these get us going and keep us going. There is no time to contemplate whether or not I am a good writer… there is only time to write.

If you are currently in a slump, I encourage you to try your own version of this Ray Bradbury writing challenge. Can you do it? Can you write a draft on Monday, edit it during the week, and submit it on Saturday? Give it a try and let me know how it turns out for you!

If you are interested in another writing challenge, try writing the same thing every day for a month. This is a great practice to get over a plateau in your creative writing.

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Why Squid Game Episode 2 Is So Interesting and Important

When Squid Game was first described to me, I heard comparisons with The Hunger Games. After watching it. I understood. Both had the word Game in the title. Both shared some themes: poverty, control, survival. Both were global successes and tapped into the zeitgeist of what we were all thinking about which was killing each other. 

I’ve seen these types of every-person-for-themselves action dramas before. After watching the first episode I was satisfied. It could have ended there and have been a chilling end to an intriguing short film. Of course, it didn’t end there. There were eight more episodes in the season. And sure, the writers could have kept the story going with each episode being a game, with characters being sacrificed, and the protagonist making it to the end. That’s all easy to predict. But then Episode 2 happened. 

If you haven’t seen Squid Game yet… I must warn you that there will be spoilers. With that being said allow me to quickly sum up Episode 2, Hell: 

After surviving the first game of Red Light, Green Light, the remaining 201 players vote to decide whether they want to continue playing or forfeit the money and return to their normal lives. With one person left determining the vote, the old man, number 001, votes to go home. Back in Seoul, the contestants attempt to survive a different game. In addition to the protagonist, Gi-hun, the story now follows an additional five other players from the Game, as well as establish a B plot with the police officer, Jun Ho. The episode follows the characters as they confront the challenges of their lives whether it’s getting money to pay for surgery, evading arrest for fraud, getting a sibling out of an orphanage, avoiding unpaid debts, or fleeing after horribly mutilating a corrupt boss. In the end, all six characters decide that their only choice is to return to the game and try their luck. 

Episode 2 is pretty straightforward. It’s the characters jumping out of the pan, but into the fire. It’s one of those episodes where we follow multiple characters’ storylines with multiple story arcs. However, this episode is critical for us to continue to watch Squid Game. It’s this episode that made it an international phenomenon. Without this episode, it would be another gimmicky violent thriller, a derivative of many others. So while I understand the comparison with The Hunger Games, it is this episode, for me, that makes Squid Game something unto itself. 

Enhance the Viewer’s Participation

We might not be the VIPs, but every one of us watching Squid Game is making a bet subconsciously. We wonder who will make it to the end. We can safely guess that Gi-hun will be there; he’s the protagonist, after all. But who would challenge him in the finale? 

Like the tale of the tape, we need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the contestants before we can make a solid decision. That is why before we watch a boxing or MMA fight, we often follow the little documentaries and listen to the interviews of the fighters to see what drives them. 

Episode 2 branches out, and allows us to examine the five other contestants in a familiar environment. What are their values? How risk-averse are they? What do they have at stake? How do they treat others? 

This is what makes the show so appealing because it taps into the psyche of so many of us during these trying times. Some of us have made bad decisions, some of us are feeling vengeful, some of us are desperate, but all of us are struggling. We can all relate to one of the six characters that the show follows. We all see positives and negatives in these characters that we can attribute to ourselves. 

This episode, allows us to make an educated guess and understand these characters. Yet, this episode still retains the unpredictability of the story and keeps the viewer invested, as much as a sports fan would when cheering for their team. 

Present the Alternative

Episode 2 shows us a completely alternate show. If they were to never return to the Squid Game, we could continue following these characters in this hellish world, and it will probably still be entertaining. 

Would it be an international sensation? No, but it would still be a respectable show with complex characters surviving thrilling scenarios. 

Episode 2 doesn’t only show the characters how terrible their realities are, it shows us, the viewers, something we are familiar with. Episode 2 has rules we all understand. Episode 2 cleanses our palettes before we start the main course. Episode 2 prepares us for all the violence and bloodshed that the show has left to offer. Episode 2 gives us time to tell ourselves… “Okay… I could stop here… this isn’t my thing.” 

By allowing this little moment for us all to breathe, we can brace for all the drama and tension to come. If you open with a bang… you don’t follow up with another bang… you follow up with a breath. Episode 2 is a lesson in pacing.  

Reinforce the Theme

Squid Game is a show about making choices. Making choices to join, making choices during the games, making choices with alliances, making choices to give mercy or kill. 

Episode 2 maintains that theme. It’s all about characters making choices. In the beginning, they choose whether to leave and in the end, they choose whether to return. Scene after scene, in between, we witness characters making key decisions.

Yet… wait… at the beginning they ask to leave and at the end, they return? Wasn’t it all kind of pointless? Does any of the choices even matter? 

One of the greatest questions in philosophy is whether free will exist. Is everything already pre-determined? Are we merely floating through space and time at the whim of the universe? Does any of it matter? 

At the end of the season, we hear the contestants being referred to as horses in a race. This reminded me of a saying I heard once — and I consider it when I think of free will: Horses don’t know we want them to go faster, they just know they’re being whipped.

Episode 2 is so brilliant because like all great philosophy it’s a bit of a contradiction. 

If you like Squid Game, Episode 2 probably wouldn’t be your favorite episode. But Episode 2 is the summation of the story’s thesis. Episode 2 is the one episode you can skip and you wouldn’t miss any of the trademarks that make the show. However, you’d lose a layer of character development that takes the show from another gimmicky concept to a multi-layered character piece. And with that, the audience feels as though they are involved. 

How did you feel about this episode? Do you think another episode was more critical? Let me know in the comments below.

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How to Write Better Sentences and Paragraphs | The 2-3-1 Rule

The position of words in a sentence matters. Generally, you want to place the most important words or images at the end, so the idea hangs with the reader. Consider examining your work through the lens of The 2-3-1 Rule, where you have your most important part at the end, the second most important at the beginning, and the next most important information in the middle. 

Take this example and see how the order of words and images affect the tension of the story

The door was locked and after knocking two or three times he was sure the apartment was empty. He had rapped loud enough to make someone on the floor above rap back, like an exasperated ghost. But he would have to go in and make sure, and he didn’t have a key. He turned to go down the stairs to Mr. Freeman’s apartment, and that was when he heard the low groan from behind the door. The Stand, Stephen King

The 2-3-1 Rule is great for building suspense, but it can also be useful when you’re trying to evoke emotions such as fear, shock, and hopelessness: 

I was alone and orphaned, in the middle of the Pacific, hanging on to an oar, an adult tiger in front of me, sharks beneath me, a storm raging about me. Had I considered my prospect in the light of reason, I surely would have given up and let go of the oar, hoping that I might drown before being eaten. But I don’t recall that I had a single thought during those first minutes of relative safety. I didn’t even notice daybreak. I held on to the oar, I just held on, God only knows why. Life of Pi, Yann Martel

The 2-3-1 Rule can be used in many ways, regardless of what you’re writing. However, what I believe is the most powerful use of the rule is in misdirection and humour: 

For thousands more years the mighty ships tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the first planet they came across — which happened to be the Earth — where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Have you tried The 2-3-1 Rule? Did you find it useful? Let me know in the comments below. 

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This article was inspired by the tip from Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark (Amazon)

How to Write Clearly: Right-branching Sentences

He replaced the receiver in its cradle without answering her, turned off the ringer, and pressed his face into the doorframe. 
– The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

This is a right-branching sentence, where the subject and the verb are at the beginning. Right-branching sentences are great for guiding a reader through an idea with clarity and narrative energy.  

Check out this 76-word sentence: 

He’d solved the problem of family Christmas gifts on the last possible mailing day, when, in a great rush, he’d pulled old bargains and remainders off his bookshelves and wrapped them in aluminum foil and tied them up with red ribbon and refused to imagine how his nine-year-old nephew Caleb, for example, might react to an Oxford annotated edition of Ivanhoe whose main qualification as a gift was that it was still in its original shrink-wrap. 
– The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (Amazon)

Because it began with the subject and verb, we were able to follow along through all the descriptions and details, without losing track of what the character was doing — solving the problem of family Christmas gifts. 

It’s common to keep the noun and verb separate. Many times, we’d begin by describing the subject and then moving to the verb much later on, but by separating subject and verb we increase the possibility of confusion. This delay in important information can be risky depending on the length and complexity of the sentence. 

However, you should not rely solely on right-branching sentences. By using a structure where the subject and verbs arrive at the end, aka a left-branching sentence, you create suspense. 

Here’s this one for example: 

Earlier in the day, while killing some hours by circling in blue ball-point ink over uppercase M in the front section of a month-old New York Times, Chip had concluded that he was behaving like a depressed person.
– The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

Try putting your subject and verb in different spots in your sentence and see how that changes the clarity, tone, and pace of your writing. Feel free to share it in the comments below! 

This article was inspired by the tip from Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark (Amazon).

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What Is Pejorative Language?

Cynthia was on a work trip. Everyone at the office knew it was an exclusive trip to an International conference with their CEO Lou. This was a big deal for those in the paper clip industry. That’s why her best friend at the office, Emily sent her a message, asking about it as soon the conference started. 

“Well,” wrote Cynthia, “the hotel is in a ghetto. You can tell by the lack of restaurants that it’s a complete wasteland.” 

“Oh my,” replied Emily, “that’s sucks. 😆” 

“On the other hand,” wrote Cynthia, “Lou is consistent: he’s as much a Nazi here as when he’s at the office.” 

“ Heh heh! That’s good lol 😋” 

“Yes,” typed Cynthia, “he keeps insisting that I do the presentation for these foreigners,” 

“Hahahaha well,” replied Emily, “I look forward to you having you back next week.” 

“My husband will be glad too,” wrote Cynthia. “He’s such a loner without me.” 

How did this conversation make you feel about Cynthia? Perhaps you thought she was funny. Perhaps you thought she was cynical. Perhaps you thought she was raw and truthful. 

How did this conversation make you feel about Emily? Maybe you thought she was impressionable. Maybe you thought she was overly polite. Maybe you thought she was completely ignorant. 

Pejorative languages wear many disguises depending on the person speaking those words and the person listening. Sometimes called slurs and sometimes called insults, these derogatory words have the ability to morph between the journey from mouth to ear. But seldom does it leave the story untainted, unbiased, or open for criticism. Pejorative languages are blunt blows of words that carry with them the weight of history. Of course, the past is interpreted by the listener and the impact can be weak or it can be excessive. 

 Pejorative language is not kind. Even when made in jest, it’s designed to give a negative impression of the subject. 

  • The ghetto
  • The wasteland
  • The Nazi 
  • The foreigners 
  • The loner 

Pejorative language acts as a negative filter you can place over your text to criticize, disregard, or slander without going into details. One pejorative word, phrase, or clause is all you need to let the listener or reader know exactly how you feel. 

Calling a place a ghetto gives a certain impression of poverty. Calling a person a Nazi is so much more than just saying the person is bossy or authoritative. Calling a person a foreigner is to exhibit a general disregard for them, saying that they’re the other and are unworthy of being recognized. Calling a person a loner is to say that they are pitiful and pathetic. 

These loaded terms are heavy. They say a lot with little. Like a bullet, they are small but they could do a lot of damage. Depending on who’s aiming these words and whose these words are directed at, it can do more than leave a negative feeling. 

Emily sat there reading Cynthia’s message, influenced by her words. Cynthia became a victim of all the horror and oppression of the world around her. She had propagated Emily’s viewpoints. The city she visited was terrible. Her boss was unfairly demanding. The clients were unworthy. And her husband was inadequate. While this conversation, in the grand scheme of things, won’t affect Emily’s perspective on life. However, it will change her perspective for the convention city, her boss, the overseas clients, and Cynthia’s husband. 

There are no wonderful ghettos. There are no terrific Nazis. There is no genuine basis to call someone a foreigner when you are a foreigner. There is no way to speak of loners without attaching a sense of mental ineptitude. Each of these words lands somewhere upon a scale: some are deeply offensive and some merely ignorant. However, one cannot deny that they always leave you with a certain image

These images rest uniquely within each person. These words can trigger the intensity of these images. We all know derogatory terms for people of different races and we know they are not all equal in weight and firepower. Some barely make dents. Some are explosive. 

So when should you use pejorative words? Simple, when you want to insinuate negativity without any control. When your speech or writing requires an emphasis where a punctuation mark won’t do. When you need to sway a viewpoint in a negative direction. When you need to gain sympathy at all costs. 

How do you feel about pejorative language? Do you use it in your writing and speech? Let me know in the comments below. 

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Be A Collector of Your Own Writings and Other Creative Works

During this pandemic, I got obsessed with the show Hoarders (Amazon). This show is full of tragic people and I related with them. I too have hoarding tendencies. I put sentimental values in inanimate objects and find reasons to keep any piece of old thing regardless of how many I already have or whether I’ll ever actually need it. 

When I was young, I collected things. I would collect cards, coins, toys, and programs for events I attended. I still have boxes of newspapers that I’ve written for as a student journalist. If I’m not careful, I’d get carried away with collecting — and have it become hoarding. 

What’s the difference between collecting and hoarding? When you’re collecting, you’re organizing and you’re presenting. You have some system or inventory in place. You can find a piece and showcase it if you have to. Whereas, hoarding is chaotic and disorganized. Hoarding is piles upon piles of stuff. Hoarding is when you don’t even know how many you have or whether it’s in good condition. 

I believe that collecting is an honourable hobby and a fruitful way to spend one’s free time and hard-earned money. In many cases, collecting is investing. Hoarding, on the other hand, is a disorder. Hoarders are not in control of their possessions, but rather their possessions are in control of them. But how does any of this relate to writing? 

As I mentioned, I have hoarding tendencies. Left to my own devices, I’ll end up accumulating one thing after another. Harnessing that knowledge, I decided to collect only things that benefit my life. I asked myself: What things would I not mind having a lot of? The answer didn’t come right away. I had to filter through some obvious ones first: money, property, delicious food. But after that, I wouldn’t mind having a lot of my own work. 

I want a big collection of my writings. I want a big collection of my videos. I want a big collection of my drawings. I want to be a big collector in my creative self. I could do this. I’m happy to create. I’m merging my passions and my compulsions together. I’m using my compulsions to drive my passions. 

Again, what separates collecting and hoarding is organization and presentation. As a collector of my own work, I must have everything properly labeled and organized whether in a physical or digital folder, a paper or plastic box, or on an external hard drive or cloud storage. Having my collection in a place where I can easily access ensures that my life — even if I have a lot of work created — won’t get cluttered. 

The next thing that makes a collector and not a hoarder is the act of showing off the collection. I find ways to present my work whether it’s through the YouTube channel or on my blog or by submitting my work to a publication, network, or contest. The act of showing my work gives the collection a greater purpose than just occupying my time and taking up my space. 

Whether you consider it a hobby or an investment, there are many things you can collect that will give you a broader reason to live. But when what you collect is something of your own creation, that ensures that you’ll always have one person ready to receive your work regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. 

Like a collector of baseball cards or sneakers, when the latest of your work is released, you must have it. This attitude towards your writings, videos, or designs will send positive vibes through you — a rush of adrenaline that collectors feel when they find a rare item. This type of reinforcement will encourage you to show off what you have to the world. You can pick the best and curate those. Who knows, maybe you’ll convince others to collect your work in the future as well. 

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Making A Video As Quickly As I Can

This is a timelapse of me making a video from beginning to end. I love behind-the-scenes content — even if it’s just someone sitting at a desk. Seeing how something is made is such an essential part of learning how to do it yourself, so I thought I’d share my process. 

Also, I’ve been pretty busy recently, so I thought making a video of me making a video would be a good way to kill two birds. 

Writing Script

Writing a script is all about taking an idea and running with it. Don’t overthink, just write. Sometimes I’ll take a break to do some research, but the goal is to get a page and a half of written material. The more — the better. I can always cut what I won’t use. It’s easier to cut during the editing phase than create during the editing phase. So the more you have, the easier the next step will be. 

Editing Script

I realize that each step is all about making the following step easier. Editing can determine whether recording the audio will be a regular painful process or a terribly excruciating process. The editing phase is where you can set yourself up for success and sound smarter than you actually are. Knowing that I’m recording the voice-over after, I make it a habit of reading out loud when editing, which I’m guilty of not always doing. 

Recording Audio

Recording audio is the most draining part. Mainly because there’s nobody around to direct me. Sometimes I don’t know if I’ve said a word wrong or if my tone is off. However, I try to perform the section three times solidly and move on. You must move on at some point, if you’re not careful you can end up working on one paragraph for way too long with no guarantee you’re making it better. Get three good runs and go onto the next part. 

Audio Editing

To be as efficient as possible when audio editing, I’d skip ahead and listen to the last take first and then I compare it with the second last. If one is better than the other, I choose that one. If they’re both the same, I choose the last one. If both are bad, I’d go and listen to the third last and so on towards the first take. The first take is often the shittiest. After I’m done with the voice-over, I then get the music. I’m currently using Upbeat for my music. They offer 10 free downloads every month and that’s more than I need. Give it a shot!

Video Editing

Recording only an audio voice-over instead of a video of my face in full talking-head shot is about 20 times easier. Maybe 40 times because I won’t have to watch myself. Instead I get to scroll through stock footage to fill in the visual content. I use Storyblocks. It’s fine. They can use more footage with people writing, in my opinion. 

Polish and Upload

Lastly, I polish up the edit. This part is all about making minor adjustments and cleaning up the cut. If text is needed, I’ll add that here. If colour correction is needed I do that here. I’d watch it a few times to make sure there are no embarrassing mistakes. I don’t always catch them. Especially if I pronounced something wrong. After I give the imperfectionist’s seal of approval, I export, create the thumbnail, and upload to my YouTube channel

That’s it! That’s my current process for creating a video as quickly as I can. What was the video I made about? It was about editing. You can watch it here!

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Word Counts Don’t Count When You Should Be Editing

I used to joke that the worst thing in my life was that George RR Martin still hadn’t published The Winds of Winter. I have this theory that the last two books in the Song of Ice and Fire series are all finished and he’s holding back the releases because the expectations would kill him. He’d rather spend the rest of his life editing, and he certainly could, because editing is an infinite process, and theoretically the longer you spend editing the better the piece will get. Writing a great book, especially when you have enormous distractions like wealth and fame, or a regular full-time job, takes a long time. 

Some lucky writers churn out books after books, series after series like it’s an annual event, while other writers struggle to get one great short story published in their lifetime. This makes me wonder: what’s happening? Isn’t writing consistently the key? The higher your word count, the more books you’ll write, right? Getting the word count up may be easy for some and hard for others, but regardless of how challenging it is to get the words on the paper, the next part — editing — will be twice as challenging.

When we think of writers, we often think of them in the act of typing, creating the words. But what writers are as well are editors. They need to take what they’ve written, all the words they’ve typed, and polish them up so all together it becomes a cohesive story worth reading. Depending on the project this could mean more research or it could mean rewriting the whole story from a different perspective or it could mean restructuring the plot so it’s no longer in a linear timeline. Whatever editing requirements are necessary — and there always are some — this is where the work truly begins. 

There are days where you will stare at the screen and debate whether you should cut a word or the whole sentence. There are days where you won’t add to your word count. There are days where you’ll be losing words. There are days where you’ll feel as though you are undoing all you’ve created, reversing the time and effort you spent writing. There are many phases where a story can die and from the first to second draft is a common place for a work-in-progress to remain in that status forever. You’ve written yourself into a place where it is futile to even edit. Quitting is the natural solution. 

How do you get yourself out of this hell, save your project, and salvage all the work you’ve done? There is no simple answer to this question. A lot of it will depend on you, but be sure of this, the likelihood of you starting a new project and getting it past this phase is unlikely if you can’t get past this phase this time. Yes, it might be a whole new project and you might be able to write yourself clear of any plot holes, but how can you steer clear of these hazards if you can’t identify and resolve them this time? 

Starting a new project and tracking your growing word count is enticing, especially after you’ve been trapped in your current story, and you’re not seeing any progress or movement. But the time you spend struggling to repair your work whether it be by conducting interviews or participating in a writing workshop or just staring at the screen, it doesn’t matter, these experiences are qualitative. It makes you a better writer by examination. The better you become at reviewing your work and not only composing, but you’ll also become a better storyteller all around. 

Counting words on a page may feel great. Seeing the giant document saved onto your hard drive is something to be proud of. However, your dedication to making it better. Your patience to sit in front of the words you’ve written and look at all of it objectively and not get overly emotional or discouraged will be the greatest power you wield going forward into your writing career. 

Are you failing to see any progress in your work? Check out this article about how to stay motivated.

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