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The Power of Perseverance

Since I already did my post on what I constantly screw up for this month’s theme, I’m going to use this post to write about something that’s important for any writer: Perseverance.

If you want to make it in this business, you need it. There’s no denying that. You will constantly face obstacles and challenges—not to mention rejection—and it’s important you keep on keeping on.

This is the second year I’m a mentor for Pitch Wars, a writing contest where hopefuls submit their work to a limited number of potential mentors, vying for a slot as mentee. If chosen, there’s two intense months of rewrites and revisions under the guidance of a mentor, leading up to the agent round.

Right now, it’s selection period. The mentors have been researched (hopefully), their wishlists scrutinized. The submission window has closed, during which the hopefuls submitted their polished work, and now they’re all waiting with bated breath, hanging on the tweets of the mentors to see if their MS will be selected.

As I was trying to figure out what to write for this post, I put out a call on twitter (as one does) and asked what the Pitch Wars hopefuls would like to see. I got several tweets, but the one that stuck with me was, What should we do if we don’t get picked?

Well. I’m glad you asked. Grab your marshmallows, gather around the fire, and let Auntie Brighton tell you a little story…

August 2013, I submitted my query and the first 250 words of CAGED IN WINTER to a contest (I can’t remember which one…I thought it was Pitch Madness, but the timing doesn’t work, so just make one up) and then I waited. And I hoped. And hoped some more. I was so sure I’d get picked.

And then I didn’t get in. (Dun dun dunnnnnnnnn)

Did it suck? Hell, yeah, it did. Did I give up and never write again? (Spoiler alert: my sixth book released last month.) So, uh, no. I didn’t give up. I picked up my bruised ego and my dented pride, and I kept going. I continued on the path I’d intended. I was fortunate in that my path wasn’t much longer. Two weeks after that rejection from the contest, I received the first of four agent offers on CAGED IN WINTER.

So what does this tell us? A few things: one, everyone’s path is different. Some get in contests and land an agent immediately and their book sells at auction. Some get in and don’t get any requests. Some don’t make it in and get a dozen. Some don’t do contests at all and query for a week and get an offer. Some find an agent after years in the trenches. No two paths are the same–your path is your path for a reason.

Two, some manuscripts just aren’t made for contests. There’s not enough room for them to breathe. They can’t shine. From 140 characters to 50 or 250 words…or even one chapter, sometimes that’s not enough to get to the gold of your manuscript.

Three (and this goes for more than just contests, but for errrrrrr’thing in publishing), reading is subjective. Ridiculously so. Every person who reads your MS is bringing their life circumstances and their baggage with them, and that affects their reading experience–for better or worse.

Lastly, the power of positive thinking didn’t kill me. It hurt a little after my hopes got crushed when I didn’t make the cut, but the main reason I was able to wallow for an hour, then shrug it off and keep going is because I believed in my work.

I feel like I need to repeat this while putting it in all caps, bold, italic font, so I think I will: I BELIEVED IN MY WORK.

If you want to persevere in this business, you have got to have faith in what you write. Because if you don’t? Who’s going to?

During the 48 hours, give or take, since the submission window closed for Pitch Wars, there has been an influx of tweets on the hashtag, most mentees biding their time chatting while they wait to hear. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of negative thinking hanging out over there, too. Many are certain they’re not going to get in. So certain of it, they’ve pretty much written it off. Meanwhile, I still have approximately 30% of my subs to even open, let alone read. They’ve thrown in the towel before we’ve even had a chance to read their name on a submission form.

I’ve always been a believer in the power of positive thinking. I get excited over things that may never happen, but I do it because it makes me happy. I like looking forward to something, thinking about all the good possibilities. Is it disappointing? Well, sure, sometimes. But, hey, life is disappointing sometimes. At least this way I got some genuine happiness from hoping.

Here’s the real truth: this industry is chock-full of disappointments and rejections and many, many no’s. That’s just a fact. You are going to face it every leg of this journey from finding agents to publishers to working with editors. The good news is it’s also full of lots of good news! But you’re going to sometimes have to wade through the bad to get to the good. One thing that helps is to remember you’re not the only one to go through this. Head on over to the good ol’ google and search for famous author rejections. There are a lot. Pages and pages of them, and many of them are classics or beloved books, ranging in category and genre. But what do they all have in common?

Not a single one of them gave up when they got that inevitable ‘no’. Will you?

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What You Have To Do / What You Love To Do

Truth time: I hate about 50% of the work of being a writer.

I hate writing query letters. I hate writing blurbs. I hate writing synopses.

I…strongly dislike re-writes. I slightly less strongly dislike line edits.

I hate, hate, hate promotion.

headdesk.gifBut here’s the bigger truth: I love writing.

And if I don’t do the rest of it, I can’t do the part I love.

It seems simple, but getting that figured out in my head was a major turning point for me. For what feels like forever, I dragged my heels on all the “other stuff” a writer needs to do besides writing. I hemmed and hawed and procrastinated, and I agonized over every word of every synopsis and every blurb. Then, one day, I woke up and shook it off, and reminded myself that the writing is what I care about. And all the other stuff is just…other stuff. I do it to support my writing. I have to do it. I don’t have to love it.

I just have to do it.

When you think about it, only hating about 50% of what you do is probably pretty good, compared to most occupations. I hated way more than 50% of my life back when I was a teacher, and probably even more than that when I used to work in advertising. No one loves cleaning toilets, and an awful lot of the time, parenting boils down to a lot of difficult, difficult, messy work. Yet we suffer through it for the paycheck, or for our family, or for the chance at advancement. On a day to day basis, we get it done, probably because a principal or a boss or the threat of two-year-old meltdown is breathing down our neck.

In writing, unless you’re on a deadline, there’s no one breathing down your neck. It’s just you and that screen and that to-do list that makes you want to cry.

So just remember, days when the urge to weep and give up on that stupid, stupid, dear-God-why-must-I-write-you synopsis gets too strong.

You do this because you love to write. If you don’t do this, you can’t write. Not commercially. Not for a living. Not for other people to actually read.

Do what you have to do. Because it’s the only way you’ll be able to do what you love to.

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Writer Reality Check: An Alternate Universe

EMichels did a post a few weeks ago about the reality of being a writer on the traditional publishing path. I’m going to piggy back onto that with the tale of a writer with genre split personality on the path toward multi-pronged publication and God only knows what else.

In 2009, I joined RWA to get serious about writing and get published via pretty much the only way available. *serious face here* Then I got pregnant with Lil Man and there was a great big pause button pushed on the whole thing.

wm_pause

It took another year for me to get serious again and another half a year to finish a book. *return to serious face*

I tell you this to say that while my life changed a lot from 2009 to now, publication changed even more. Four years is a relatively small passage of time, but now it’s two totally different worlds for both of us. My status: I work full time and I’m mommy to a toddler. Publication’s status: wide open with traditional, boutique, small print, digital of every size, and self pubs all finding success. Don’t forget the hybrid opportunities either.

My goal when I set out was to share my stories with readers. That goal hasn’t changed. But since getting back in the game, I don’t have a traditional only goal. I’m open to what works best for reaching the readers of what I write. I will go where they are and here’s the fun part: I write in two similar yet totally different genres. The readerships are found in different places. One is almost exclusively digital; the other is available in every form.  

Right now, I’m published digitally, so I can only speak to the logistics of digital press. I can tell you how I feel about it in two words and, of course, a gif:

It Rocks!

tomdance

I co-write a book a year. We’ve released two books with the same press, had the same editor and cover artist for both, and have had a wonderful experience with all of it. It’s a niche readership, but they seem to dig what we write, so Yay!!! Since digitals don’t pay big advances and rarely contract multi-book projects, the pressure of multiple books due for multiple edits at various times, is gone – unless you choose to submit multiple books. With a digital press, you write a book and send it in. If they say yay, you do edits and release the book. After that, you can repeat the process as you wish. One book a year or five. Pick your poison. The level of pressure is up to you.

The other genre I write is successful both traditionally and digitally. I aspire to do either or both. I like traditional publishing because of the experience and broader market for distribution and exposure. However, my mainstream contemporaries are steamy and, at times, gritty, so I think they’d do well in digital too.

Bottom line: As a writer, you have to look at what you write and look at your life. (It’s taking everything I have right now not to type “look at your life, look at your choices” – Oops, did it anyway.) If you work full time and have young children, you can still pull off a traditional three book deal or write as a hybrid author, but be prepared for the writer crazy eyes.

crazy eyes

If you don’t want crazy eyes, maybe stick with digital or small print and choose a slower pace.

If I get my wish, I’ll have the overlap, the deadlines, more pressures along with working full time…and yes, probably the eyes. I plan NOT to over do it, but you know how plans sometimes go. Regardless, life is short and this writing thing is a thing I love. No matter what path you choose, there will always be challenges, bends in the road you weren’t expecting. For when that happens, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes. I often apply it to being a writer and I hope it inspires you to dig in and never give up.

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.” 

-Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own

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Bad Girl For A Day: Jenna McCormick – Self Love: Indie Publishing Romance Novels

I tried self-publishing back before it was cool thing to do. When ebooks were barely a blip on the radar and I knew less than nothing about writing/publishing or anything other than I want to be a writer when I grew up.http://www.dreamstime.com/-image23337062

To put it bluntly, I was a dumbass. And by self-publishing my first novel I made sure the entire world knew it.

Now here I am seven years down the line, cringing with embarrassment because I paid to globally distribute that flaming piece of crap. Every once in a while I open the file and go, it can’t be that bad.

And then I see that yes, in fact it is that bad. It’s an overpriced, overwritten poorly plotted, badly edited, crappy cover wearing 110K word mystery full of angst and shallow childish dreams. A one way ticket to Sucksville, population me, myself and I. Hell, I don’t even want to reread it and see if it’s worth saving.

I swore up, down and sideways to anyone who would listen that I would NEVER self-publish anything again. Ever.

And then a strange thing happened. Five years later I’d learned stuff, not just about craft and how to write a good book, but about cover art design, writing blurbs and synopsis, proofreading and formatting. I’d made a sale to Kensington but I still had all these books, books that I loved that I wanted to share with the world but that just weren’t right for a specific line. Sexy mysteries and zany erotic romances that fit n no particular category.  And before you could say, Chicka, what have you been smoking? I did it again. With my 2010 On the Far Side Contest Winner, Stellar Timing.Stellar Timing

Not gonna lie, sales were slow at first, but within a month it had overtaken all of my small press ebooks as my personal bestseller. Why? Not because it was any better than my Laundry Hag books. No, it was price point, the fact that it was a $2.99 in a sea of $5.95 and up. As an indie e publisher I was free to experiment with promotions and cost and to pretty much do whatever the hell I wanted with it. Old cover not working? Slap up a new one! $2.99 not enough for months’ worth of writing? Break the books into a serial and charge per episode. The freedom is both overwhelming and exhilarating.

I found ways of bettering my product and even started up a small press with other writers. Sanibel Moon Books allows each of us to maintain our own imprint and release schedule but the final product is a collective effort. My latest release, In the Bedroom with the Rope sold over 5,000 units on Valentine’s Day weekend. That’s a damn good feeling.

What have I learned from this? That there are no absolutes in publishing, no always or onlys or nevers. If you latch onto them, you’re boxing yourself into a dark corner and denying yourself the chance to flourish. My indie experience went from being the smelly kid nobody wanted to sit next to, to having fans ask when the next one book is coming out. So I guess the moral to my twisted story is to get all the facts about whatever course of publishing you’re trying to pursue before you dive in head first. And never say never again, because hey, you never know.

Thank you for joining us today, Jenna! 

You can find out more about Jenna (and Jennifer) and visit her social media haunts by checking out the links below. 

A little fantasy goes a long way….

Born on Sanibel Island somewhere between the fifth and seventh bottle of Rosa Regale, Jenna McCormick writes big girl romance with a touch of out of this world fantasy. Her hobbies include scouring the Internet for the perfect pair of boots and stirring up trouble, much to the dismay of her alter ego. Her works to date include the futuristic erotic romance series No LimitsNo Mercy, the post-Apocalyptic B Cubed trilogy, the contemporary BDSM serials Caught Up In You and In the Bedroom with the Rope as well as the novella Project Seduction in the Pleasure Project anthology coming in March of 2013.

Jenna loves to hear from her readers. Visit her on the web at www.authorjennamac.com.

Jennifer L Hart on twitter @DamagedGoodsAce
www.jenniferlhart.com

Jenna McCormick on twitter @AuthorJennaMac
Jenna McCormick Fanpage on FB  https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJennaMcCormick
www.authorjennmac.com

Sanibel Moon Books on twitter @SanibelMoonBook
website: http://www.sanibelmoon.com/ 
FB: https://www.facebook.com/SanibelMoonBooks

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Bad Girl For A Day: Fiona McLaren – “Freelance Writing – Taking The Plunge”

First of all, I’d like to say I’m thrilled to be invited to join in and be an honorary Bad Girl for the day (the mimosas and the chance to wear my tiara really help!).

Today, I wanted to talk about what it is like to work as a full time freelance writer and, perhaps more importantly, the steps I took to get to this point.

Writing full time is a wonderful and extremely challenging career.  Yes, it is fantastic to be able to run my own schedule, to dabble in my craft all day long and to spend a good portion of my time researching.  However, there are other aspects that are very challenging.

Firstly, it’s hard to write all day where you have to get the words out No Matter What.  When I have a word count deadline to meet for a client, I can’t just wait for my Muse to sidle up whenever she feels like it.  No, I need to get a rope and lasso her to the ground lest she gets away.  And I can’t just use “filler” word count either.  It needs to be high quality, polished prose that does the job it’s been asked to do.

Secondly, you don’t always get to write what you want.  In fact, if you want to make money you need to be a Jack (or Jill) of all Trades.  Finance?  Real estate?  Horror fiction?  Press releases?  Not your thing?  Doesn’t really matter.  If you want to make a proper stab at working full time from home and earning a decent wage from writing then you need to learn to be flexible with your writing skill.  It’s a rare writer who can make a career out of writing solely what their Muse brings to them.

Thirdly, you need to have a rhino-tough skin.  Clients want edits all of the time.  Sometimes the edits are good.  Sometimes they aren’t.  Balancing keeping your client happy with keeping your writing integrity is a hard task.  You need to know when to compromise and you need to know when to politely stand your ground.

As for taking that leap into becoming a full time writer, I’d advise caution.  Make sure you have at least six months funding behind you or someone who is willing to support your career change.  Also, try to work at it part time for a while first, so that you can build up your connections and writing credits.

I don’t recommend the “write an article and submit it and hope” route.  This is slow, arduous and hit and miss in terms of whether you will find an editor who is looking for exactly what you are pitching at the exact time you are pitching it.  It’s better to go out and source who is looking for what and then write a piece to fit.  There are a lot of resources online where individual companies and publishers post messages about what they are looking for.

It’s also important not to set your goals too high to begin with.  Scoring a big contract takes time.  Start by building up connections and by making sure your work is of an excellent standard.  I worked for some low pay to begin with, so that I could build up my references, writing credits and my name brand.  Now, I can demand higher wages and better clients due to my breadth of experience.

Hand in hand with this is being super flexible on what and who you work with.  Not all clients are big magazines or publishers.  Some are small companies, others private individuals, yet others still websites or online blogs.  Join in with everything you can until you build up your portfolio.  Only then should you look into zeroing down into your target area.  Cast your net wide to start with before you start fishing with a spear!

And perhaps the hardest aspect – there is very little recognition for the freelance writer.  A huge amount of work is ghost written (I’ve done DVD narrations, historical fiction books, entire websites and hundreds of children’s books and yet not one will have my name on it).  So you need to be able to draw a line under what you write for profit and what you write for love.  Personally, I only write for money in areas I don’t write for pleasure.  My own areas of interest are saved for my own work.

Becoming a freelance writer is a tough job and you need to stand out from the crowd.  You need to be flexible, have excellent standards, never miss a deadline and be open to all sorts of revisions and edits that come your way.  If you can do this, you can enjoy a rewarding career that teaches you more about writing than you could imagine.

And one of the biggest bonuses?  When you finally snag that dream agent or publisher, you will already be professional, easy to work with and well on your way to becoming a successful author under your own name.

 

Find out more about Fiona on her page on the Corvisiero Literary Agency website or visit one of the social hubs below…
Twitter: @BookOmnivore
Blog:  http://yabookcase.blogspot.co.uk/
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/FionaMarieMcLaren?ref=hl

 

*  I’d like to offer 3 query and elevator pitch critiques to three random people who comment on the blog.

(Pssssst! This is a great opportunity to get feedback from a phenomenal writer and one of #PitchWar’s mentors. xoxo Darcy)

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Stand Up Or Suck It Up: Being An Advocate For Your Book

I know most of our focus on this blog is about writing and querying, but I’m fast-forwarding just a smidge to talk about a little of what happens after that magical ‘yes’. Because the simple fact is that the work isn’t done just because you have an agent or a contract.

Your book is your child. You conceived of it. You brought it into this world, raised it, disciplined it when it tried to get out of hand. And now, even though it’s ready to sail on its own, it’s still your job to stick up for it and to advocate for it.

When a content-editor wants you to change the very heart of the book and destroys your entire vision for it. When a line-editor adds mistakes to your manuscript. When a blurb writer completely misinterprets your query letter and implies the book is about something vastly different from what it’s actually about. When the cover comes back and it’s awful.

In all of these cases, it might be time for you to step in. To put on your bravest, most fierce momma-bear face and say ‘no’.

Let me tell you from experience, it’s nerve-wracking as hell. You’ve waited years for the chance to publish a book – surely these professionals know better than you. Surely you should follow all of their suggestions. Surely you don’t want to jeopardize this amazing, fragile chance you’ve been given.

But it’s still your book. It reflects on you. When people do wrong by it, it’s time to take a deep, objective look at their suggestions and decide if it’s in the best interests of the book. And if it is, no matter the consequences…it’s time to stand up.

I’ve only worked with small presses at this point in my career, but I’ve found editors and cover designers and blurb writers to all be surprisingly easy to work with. The few times I’ve put my foot down and calmly explained the reasons I disagreed with what they wanted to do with my book, in general it’s gone very well. They’ve listened. They’ve discussed. And more than once, after consideration, they’ve said, “You’re right.”

Shocker of shockers, though, it’s not always time to stand up. Part of parenting a book is realizing when your book is being a stubborn brat and it’s time to take it over your knee. The people helping you shape it and package it are trying to do just that—help.

When a content-editor wants to change the very heart of your book and it makes the character arcs stronger and the theme more profound. When a line-editor calls you on your pretentious bullshit and wheedles that gorgeous thirty-seven-word sentence down to thirteen. When the blurb comes back and is a total one-eighty from what you envisioned but still encapsulates your story while making it accessible. When the cover isn’t quite what you had in mind but it’s eye-catching, damn it.

Sometimes, it’s time to stand up. And sometimes, it’s time to suck it up. Get off your high horse, swallow your pride, and realize that this collaborative effort is designed to make your book better, and that letting someone else’s work help shape your story is all part of the process of improving.

It’s a hard distinction to make sometimes, trying to decide which pieces of feedback you should take and which you shouldn’t. It requires a lot of introspection and a lot of thinking about what you want your book to be.

The moral of the story is that you are the advocate for your book, and no matter who tells you what to change about it, it’s still your job to take every single suggestion, give it a long hard look, and decide: Is this in the best interests of this book?

And then, depending on the answer, either stand up…or suck it up.

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Selling Yourself As A Writer: Tell ’em Exactly What You’re Worth

There’s something about creative types. We live in this world where we need to believe in what we do, because how else could we drag ourselves out of our caves and keep doing it in the face of so many obstacles and distractions and naysayers? At the same time, we need to acknowledge our flaws. In order to get better, we have to recognize what needs work, we have to accept criticism, and we need people around us who will tell us what we’re doing wrong.

(Plus, who hasn’t met the asshole who thinks he’s God’s gift to writing / art / theatre / underwater-basketweaving? So not a good look on anyone.)

So we do it. We live in this milieu of security and insecurity, self-confidence and realistic acknowledgement of flaws. We make it work and we embrace the duality.

But sometimes…sometimes we need to let all that uncertainty go. We need to sell ourselves. We need to tell someone exactly how awesome we are, and we have to believe it.

And that’s never more true than at a writer’s conference.

This past weekend, at Georgia Romance Writers’ Moonlight and Magnolias Conference, I had to do just that, and most of my Bad Girlz did, too.

Here’s the story I told them the first time I heard one of them letting the self-doubt win:

One of my many hobbies is making pottery. I’ve been doing it for about four years, and at this point I’m pretty good.

Some of the pottery I’ve made.

I have a friend, T, who also makes pottery and has been doing it for about as long as I have. He is also pretty good at it.

Here’s the thing, though: I have never sold a single piece of pottery I’ve made, while T has sold at least half of it. He sells his work to co-workers, to friends, to family.

And I was trying to figure out why. Then it hit me.

When someone comes up to me and says she likes one of the vases I’ve made, I tell her, “Oh, well, thanks, but the glaze is a little messed up here, and it’s kind of off-center, and the handle slips, and I think the foot is too narrow.”

She then says, “Oh,” and that’s the end of the conversation.

When someone comes up to T and says she likes one of his bowls, he says: “It’s fifteen dollars.”

She then buys it.

And that right there is all you need to know about selling yourself as a potter, as an artist, as a writer. When someone expresses interest in your work, keep all that self-doubting bulls*** to yourself.

Tell them, “It’s fifteen dollars.”

Then let them decide for themselves.

Chances are, they’re believe you’re worth all of that and more.

Disclaimer: The Bad Girlz are in no way, shape or form implying that anyone is worth only fifteen dollars. It’s an allegory, damn it. Look it up.

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The Business of ‘A Whole Lot of Crazy’

If you can sell Goldendoodle and Puggle puppies for $1000+ in a recession, you can sell anything!

At least, that’s my theory after working eight years in retail. Out of all the crappy jobs I’ve been paid to do (Literally. I’ve worked in two kennels and a stable.) none can compare to the time I spent at an independently owned pet store. The owner was nuts, the customers were crazy, and the ridiculous return policy scarred me for life. I almost lost a finger to an African Grey! Fitting harnesses constantly put me in danger of bites and scratches. No body wash in the world seemed to wash away the smell of cat liter and bleach. But I survived and the experience taught me more about business than any college course or seminar.

Keeping a small business going for 20+ years takes guts, balls, and yeah, a lot of crazy.

Being a writer is great. Writing allows you to expel your inner demons, live out your fantasies, and make a wonderful story come alive on the page. It’s a beautiful art and writers are artists. They need to craft words like they need air and caffeine.

Yeah, that fluffy crap is all well and good, but here’s the other side of the coin. Writing is a business. If you want your words to reach an audience and get paid for it, then writing is your business.

From the first query letter to the hard road of post-publication marketing, you’re selling yourself. “This is who I am, this is my brand, and this is my book.” Your words are a product and it’s your job to sell product. If you don’t sell product, you won’t move forward in your career. No one else is going to care as much about your business and your writing than you. Own it. Go hardcore or go home!

For writers fueled by the need to see their name in print and nothing more, the business side of publishing may seem daunting. But I believe if you had enough strength to finish that book and sell it, you have will power to tackle getting copies out there and pushing your career where you want it to go.

You’re not even in danger of losing a finger. Wink!

Earlier this week, E. Michels talked about branding. Everyone should go read her post! Branding is a key element to this business and every business. What I love about my fellow BadGirlz is they get it and they face the challenges of the business with excited determination. E. Michel’s post inspired me to write this one, but I was also in part prompted by my own love of this subject.

In the spring, I intend to go back to school with a focus on entrepreneurship and marketing. Not only do I want to help expand my knowledge base for my own publishing career, but I see myself sharing information in more blog posts and workshops. The business of writing is my passion. Fingers crossed to dissuade disaster preventing my plans. But if I don’t make it back to school, I’ll follow the path of experience. When it comes to selling, by now I believe I’ve gotten pretty good at turning “life” into streamlined knowledge.

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