6 ways to make your writing pack an emotional punch

I’m reading a book right now that is making me feel things. This, from a writer’s perspective, is an awesome accomplishment. He, the author, has created characters that make me hurt. He has put me in scenarios that scare me, all despite it being based in a fantasy world that couldn’t possibly exist. Even so, it moves me, and carries real world weight for me as a reader. How cool is that?

Pretty flipping cool from the view of a writer, but super inconvenient for me, the reader. I am an emotional sponge. If I am already upset, knowing others are upset (even for completely unrelated reasons) will only intensify my emotions. On the flip side, if I am in a depressive mood, but surrounded by happy people, I will easily perk up. One of the worst situations, though, is when I am in a good mood, then a character’s emotions drag me into depression with them.

I wanted to take a moment and figure out what made this character real to me, and gave him enough emotional weight to drag me down with him:

The character wasn’t built on negativity
Any time I recall a “mary-sue” or “gary-stu” character, I can’t think of a time their character wasn’t enduring some tragic event. There are plenty of compelling stories where real people have lived mostly tragic lives, but the key there is “mostly.” There must be highs to know how low the lows go. If we are always wallowing in the valley, we don’t really know how far down we are. If we start at the top of the mountain, then we can see how far we have fallen and how much there is to lose. This is the key to developing a real character.

The supporting characters are well-developed and matter
This is probably super obvious, but it is worth mentioning. While it is of utmost importance to focus on and develop the main character, don’t let those supporting characters fall to the wayside. Relationships are hella important in both life and in your writing.  Relationships can bring your character down, as well as help build them back up.

How others react to your character can be just as powerful
There is a point in this novel where a supporting character reacted in such a gentle and kind manner to the main character that it made the main character’s emotions much more real to me. So just like you don’t want to have an underdeveloped supporting cast, you also don’t want to forget who is in the room with your character when something is happening. If the main character is in a bar and hears word of his mother passing, how does he react? When he reacts, how do those closest to him react? I don’t even mean how do his friends or relatives react. I mean within reasonable proximity to your character when they get the news. How do they react to the character’s reaction? This can create a wonderful reflection of your character, as well as help intensify that emotion.

There is more than just sadness
I think a lot of writers forget about other emotions. Sadness is so powerful and is very easy to visually represent in writing. However, some of my favorite novels explore many layers of emotion. Anger, jealousy, happiness, etc. All these emotions are powerful. Of course, don’t hesitate to give me some sadness, but that sadness is so much more poignant when we know how the character acts while feeling all the other layers of emotion.

Don’t discount the small stuff
Of course a character’s parents dying is going to be painful for a reader. Of course, the birth of a baby is probably going to be a joyous moment for the reader. These are major, life-altering events that many people can probably empathize with in some way, but you know what else a reader may empathize with? The feeling of finishing a really good book, the feeling after hearing your supposed friend make fun of you, the feeling of stubbing your toe on your bed post, the feeling when a close friend moves away. etc. These small events may not illicit strong emotions, but it creates different levels of emotion for your character. It’s easy to show a baseline, content character, and it is nearly as easy to show a character reach a deep level of any particular emotion. It is just as important, though, to show varying levels of these emotions, so the character is real to the reader.

Life isn’t convenient, don’t make the bad stuff convenient
How many times have you heard of people getting into car wrecks on their way to their last final for the semester? There has been so much build up, so much riding on this, and the person is either super confident or super terrified, but all that changes in an instant when they get into a fender bender on the road. Now they are worried about paying to have their car fixed. Now they must make up the final. Now they must worry about insurance going up. Suddenly, the anxiety from before seems much more insignificant than it did when it was the person’s only focus. That’s how life works. I feel the bad stuff almost always happens when we are already dealing with a lot. It is shocking in real life, and it will be just as shocking on the page, but, again, you don’t have to always focus on the negative. Maybe something wonderful happens during a tragedy. Surprise us!

Just based on what I’ve read so far in this book, these are some of the key elements in making an emotional sponge like me a sloppy mess. What do you think? Let me know, and comment below!

Lissy

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The teachers are failing. Not us.

I don’t tend to make rant posts (too often, anyway), but while sitting in the lobby of one of my school buildings, I happened to listen in on a conversation between a student and a teacher.

Often times, our teachers don’t meet with us in their offices. Why? I couldn’t tell you, but this particular discussion was probably better placed within the confines of an office.

The student was in a creative writing class with this teacher, and the teacher was discussing her grade within this class. The student was distraught. She had tears in her eyes and was shaking. It didn’t take much to see she was failing.

The teacher presented her with a paper, covered in red marks with a huge red NC (no credit) in the corner. It was her paper.

He reiterated what I assumed was the prompt.

Now, I’m a firm believer in “you earn your grades.” I’m much quicker to take the side of a teacher over that of a disgruntled student. If you fail, it’s because you earned it, but in the case of a creative writing class where most of the work is completely subjective, I have a hard time believing anyone can earn an “F” or “NC” unless they just didn’t do the assignment.

He said, “I wanted aliens. You gave me cyborgs.”

… What?

The girl mumbled something, but I’m afraid I didn’t catch it, too focused on him pointing out his terrible hand-writing on the page.

“Plus, it just wasn’t good. It was too romantic. Too much genre mixing. Cyborgs, though? Really?”

The girl was crying at this point.

He continued, “At this rate, you’ll be lucky to graduate. You’re definitely not a writer by any means.”

And that was it. I couldn’t sit there a moment longer and listen to that man burn every dream and ounce of self-esteem that girl had.

But I didn’t say anything. I just walked away.

I wish I had. I wish I could go back, just wait for that girl to get done with her conference, tell her to drop that class and take a different one next semester. To tell her cyborgs could be aliens. To tell her she could be a writer if she wanted to be, and if she honed in on her craft. To tell her she could do it.

Aren’t teachers supposed to guide us?

Then why are so many of them tearing us down?

You know what, maybe she couldn’t be a writer. Maybe she couldn’t write a full, grammatically correct sentence to save her life.

But that’s when you help her.

Teach.

You’re a teacher, not an executioner.

I hope that girl doesn’t give up. I hope she takes that man’s words and proves them all wrong. I hope she knows there are good teachers out there. I hope she finds one of them and that they guide her the way they should.

I hope she doesn’t give up.

-Lissy

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How to Format a Manuscript

There are plenty of guides on how to do this. Plenty to be found on the internet, but a lot of them, I have found, don’t have examples, which I will be sharing with you all today. If you didn’t already know, there is a general consensus on how to format a manuscript, and this has been done since typewriters, which explains why things are formatted a certain way.

First off, let me disclaimer: Not every publisher will follow these guidelines.

I feel like this is the main problem a lot of people have. They think everyone will follow the same format, but that is just not the case. The majority will use this format, but you should still read their guidelines before sending anything in.

The number one reason for rejection is disregard for the general submission guidelines! Remember that!

Anyway, on to the list and example (which will be at the end)!

First off, if you have Scrivener, a lot of this will be done for you and is set up as default, so you may not have to worry about this. For those of you who don’t, Courier (any of its varieties), is the most accepted font. Times New Roman, Arial, and Garamond are also very popular so make sure to check the submission guidelines. So,

  • FONT
    Most common: Courier (any varieties)
    Other possible: Garamond, Arial, Times New Roman
  • COVER PAGE
    Name (Real, unless otherwise specified)
    Address (Mailing preferred, billing may be requested later, unless otherwise specified)
    Email address
    Phone number
    Agent’s name (Omit when necessary)
    Agent’s address (Omit when necessary)
    Title (Formatting example at the end of post)
    by Name (Pseudonym here if applicable, formatting example at the end of post)
  • PAGE NUMBERING
    In the top right corner on the second page, put the following in formation in the format:
    LastName / StoryTitle / Page#
    This should appear in the header portion of the manuscript.
    Not every publisher will want this, as some prefer anonymous submissions to promote a fair review, so once again, check the submission guidelines before submitting. On the first page, in the same spot you placed the LastName / StoryTitle / Page#, you’ll put your approximate word count.
  • END PAGE
    At the very end of the manuscript, skip a line, then put: <<<< >>>>
    This will signify the end of the manuscript.

Now for the example PDF: This is an Example

I hope that helped! Did it? Is there something else you’d like to know? Anything that didn’t make sense or that you wish I had covered? Let me know, and comment below!

Thanks for reading.

-Lissy

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Dealing with Rejections, and Knowing When to Quit

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I’d rather fail doing what I love, than succeeding at something I hate.

Call me an idiot, but I’m just telling you the truth.

Writing is a life of rejection. The moment you decide to start on the path of professional writing, you are setting yourself up for a certain amount of failure – some more than others, but there’s almost always failure somewhere along the way. I’ve learned a lot about rejection, and this isn’t the first time I’ve written about rejection. And I’ve always said to never quit, to keep trying, no matter what, to obtain your dream.

But sometimes, it is time to quit.

Now, when I say “quit,” I don’t mean to quit writing. I mean it may be time to move on, to quit pushing that story, that poem, or that manuscript. It’s time to move on to other things and to focus on something that may have a better chance out in the world. While I am a self-published author, I also go out and send out short stories and poems, which I’ve actually had published every once in a while. Self-publishing is wonderful and can be an amazing learning experience, but it leaves little room for learning that painful lesson of rejection. It’s intensely humbling, and can range from mild to intense depression, but there are lessons to be learned, and today I hope to share a few of these lessons with you today. Hopefully, after reading this, if you’re going through a rejection of any kind, you will feel sadness, but know it isn’t the last rejection. You are a creative mind. Keep writing, keep earning those rejections and wear them like badges upon your chest. Be proud of rejection. Some people fear it so much, they never even attempt to be published. If you are reading this and haven’t attempted contests, literary journals, or agents because you fear rejection, let me go ahead and tell you:

I’ve been rejected 104 times as of March 12, 2014. It will probably be even more by the time this post is published. And that’s okay. At least I have tried. That’s what is most important. Now, onward to the list!

  • Markets you may fit best in…
    One key factor in successfully publishing is knowing what market you fit in. Some are better at short stories, others poetry. Some can do fantasy, others can rock out some non-fiction. I’ve had more poems published than I have short stories, surprisingly enough, and I have never claimed to being good at writing poetry.
  • Where you can improve…
    Have you been rejected  in your chosen market? Have you received any feedback or critique? If you’re not making it in your chosen market, it might be time to line up some beta readers, or to read some books in your genre/form. Everyone can improve. J.K. Rowling was rejected PLENTY of times prior to her success in fantasy. Failure can be just as rewarding as success if you let it.
  • You (your work) may need to change…
    In the end, the hard truth may be that you’re not cut out for that market. That’s not to say you won’t ever be. But why focus so hard on one market when there are so many more out there? Not working out with poetry? Ok, while you’re still working out the kinks, try your hand at some short stories, work on a novel, or maybe even try a different poetry form. Blogging may also be your niche! You won’t get anywhere just by resubmitting the same piece over and over and over without working on it and even upping your cred by sending out other stuff. Who knows? You may find your calling.
  • Even if you thought it was perfect, you may need to edit it more…
    I’ve done this plenty of times, especially when I first started sending out manuscripts. When I thought I could edit all of my own stuff to perfection and that I could find every plot hole… Well guess what, I was wrong. Every piece needs work, and could be edited more. Even famous novels can still be found with little errors in them… The point isn’t perfection, it’s getting close enough that people can read your story without distraction. If you find your story still is getting rejected, you may need to take it back to the drawing board and get to editing.
  • Beta readers/Editors/Honest strangers can be your friends…
    Sometimes you need to listen to those you might have brushed off. Beta readers? Ha! What do they know? Except perhaps what they like and what they don’t like, which might be similar to what your audience and your markets like or dislike. This goes for editors and strangers, as well. No one wants to be mean. Unless they’re dicks, in which case that’s all they want to do. But being honest and being mean are completely different things. A good editor/friend/STRANGER will be honest and tell you when something just isn’t working and it might be time to move on.
  • There are always more stories…
    I haven’t heard of anyone who only ever had one story to tell. Life is made up of a bunch of different stories. If one doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean the next will be the same. However, wasting all your time on one piece isn’t getting you anywhere. It could actually be hindering you from finding that piece you actually publish.

In the end, just keep writing. Write until you can’t write anymore, even if you never publish a single thing. Writing is about the journey, about learning and growing as a writer, and in general just doing what you love. Write because you love it.

Love what you do.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know, and comment below.

Thanks for reading.

-Lissy

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Beta Readers – The Ultimate Guide for Writers

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  • What is a beta reader?
    A person who reads a work for context, plot, and continuity. Not to be confused with an EDITOR who looks for mechanical errors as well as context, plot, and continuity. Is usually not paid. Can be done for any piece of writing, including, but not limited to: blog posts, short stories, poems, novels, etc.

 

  • Where to find them?
    Google+, Twitter, pretty much any social media site you can think of. Local libraries may have info. Friends (the honest, brutal kind, preferably), family (also honest and brutal), local college campuses (plenty of brutality there). Take the time to ASK people! There’s no time to be shy when you might be published.

 

  • Are there bad ones?
    Yes.

 

  • Are there great ones?
    Yes.

 

  • How to tell the difference?
    Good give you concrete reasons why they didn’t like it.
    Good are honest.
    Good mark up your work.
    Good give you more than just: I hate/love it.
    Good give you reasons why they like it.
    Good read what you give them.
    Bad will promise to read it, then never will.
    Bad will give you butt pats and sugar coat everything.
    Bad will analyze you as a person, rather than the work.
    Bad will make changes, but won’t explain why.
    Bad will tell you its garbage and that you’re an idiot.
    Bad will comment on your work without reading the whole thing.
    Bad will usually start with, “No offense, but…”

 

  • How to be a good AUTHOR to beta readers?
    Know that you don’t have to use all their suggestions, but you should still listen to them
    Thank them even if they say they hate it. They took the time to read it.
    Never send them a rewrite unless you asked them beforehand. Don’t take advantage of their kindness.
    Don’t argue with them. They have an opinion. You asked for it. Take it, regardless if you use it or not.
    BE. HUMBLE. Stephen King started as garbage, you started as garbage, EVERYONE started as garbage. Your shit don’t smell like roses.
    EDIT before you send them work. Editors and beta readers are two separate things, though one person can be both. Don’t assume a beta reader is also an editor.

 

  • When do you seek a beta reader?
    When you’ve edited the piece to the point of near-publication readiness MECHANICALLY. Edit out typos and ensure grammar is near-perfection before seeking beta readers.

 

  • What’s the purpose of a beta reader?
    To be your pre-audience, audience. These are the people you let read your work before all of society has access to it. See what they say, take it to heart, and then decide what you need to do before publication or sending it off to a judge/final editor.

 

Once again, and I can’t stress this enough, beta readers are here to help you. You actively seek them out yourself and ask them to read it. They didn’t force you to let them read it. They aren’t forcing their opinions on you. It’s your work. You can do what you want, despite what they say, and that’s okay. But remember they are only trying to help (most of the time). Just thank them for their time and effort and move on. What do you think? Anything you agree or disagree with? Let me know, and comment below!

Thanks for reading.

-Lissy

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Want to Guest Post?

Do you have fresh, innovative ways to write, edit, or get published?

Want to spread your knowledge and help other aspiring authors out there?

Want to establish a long-lasting literary relationship through simply doing what you do best: writing?

Then head over to my HOME page and submit a contact sheet requesting to guest post! I just need your name, a general topic you’d like to discuss, and then a general timeline of when said content will be complete. If you’d like, feel free to add a short bio and links to your main accounts so readers can easily find and connect with you, too!

And I’m always up for interviews or trading guest posts, so don’t hesitate to ask.

Happy reading!

Happy writing!

-Lissy

P.S.

How do you all feel about guest posting? Love it? Hate it? Is it worth the time and effort? Let me know, and comment below!

Thanks for reading!

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Self-Publishers Beware, Some Deals ARE Too Good.

With the rise in self-publishing, traditional publishers are scrambling to keep their side of the market afloat. They’re beginning to approach self-publishers, presenting them deals they may not have received otherwise. Self-publishing has opened doors for creative minds. With the addition of #pitmad and #askanagent on Twitter and G+, self-publishers and aspiring authors are able to pitch directly to the people in the business without forking over loads in travel costs and convention fees.

But writer beware, publishers and agents aren’t the only ones drifting through the waters.

There’s a separate sect of publishing known as:

Vanity Publishing
*cue hisses and dramatic music*

In the past, they’ve masqueraded themselves as traditional publishers, offering their services to every writer they come across. Now, with the increase of self-publishing, they’ve morphed into new and improved self-publishing facilities. They offer you professional-grade covers, editing, and even offer both paperback and eBook to all major retailers, all royalties earned included, but there’s a small catch.

There’s a nominal fee. And when they bring up that fee, you better turn tail and run. A fee is the key in distinguishing a real publisher or publishing house from a vanity publisher. Don’t let your excitement of FINALLY getting published cloud your judgement. And believe me, what they call a “nominal” fee turns out to be a small fortune. And while this may seem common sense, their new platform as “self-publishing service” costs much more than the average self-publishing platform. To put it in perspective, I’ve made a list, detailing the many differences between the three publishing options and how to spot the dreaded vanity publisher.

  • Real publishers get paid when YOU get paid
    Never. Never, never, never, never will a traditional publisher ask you to pay for their services. They take their money from your royalty payments. Same goes for self-publishing services. Use your best judgement. $100 for a cover design is one thing, $5000 for the whole pie before you even get to taste it sounds like a bad deal to me. Don’t confuse actual services with the over-inflated scam artists.
  • Self-Publishing services offer you services, you don’t pay for them immediately
    This goes along with the first point, but I feel it needs its own separate bullet. Createspace offers cover designers, formatters, and bells and whistles ALONGSIDE their free, do-it-yourself services. Never will a self-publishing service only allow you to pay for things you could do yourself. If the self-publishing service is asking you to pay for something and is unwilling to give you the chance to do it yourself, then that isn’t a self-publishing service. You’re being swindled into a vanity publisher.
  • Most vanity publishers will actively seek you out
    Most traditional publishers ask you to send things to them for consideration of publication AFTER you’ve already contacted them. Only special circumstances will dictate a traditional publisher contacting you without former inquiry on your end. If you haven’t been doing the #pitmads and you haven’t been shopping your work around for a while, but end up getting contacted by a “publisher,” a little red flag should go up. It’s not unheard of to be contacted if you have previously published before, but to have never been published, self or traditional, and you’re getting contacted, is something to be wary of.
  • A publisher won’t advertise to you
    If you are contacted and are given a whole list of pros and services if you choose to publish with them, then you’re probably looking at a vanity publisher trying to con you. A traditional publisher would give you the minimum of what they have available, such as:
    eBook publishing,
    Paper/Hardback
    And that’s basically the gist of it. You may also see awards and authors they have published. A traditional publisher will want to advertise their prestige to you, so that you may send your work in. A vanity publisher will tell you that you will get all your royalties and will have all these pretty shiny things given to you if you’ll just send your work to them. They will also guarantee publication to every manuscript sent in. You know why? Because they’re going to take your money first. It doesn’t matter if the book sells. You’ve already sent them $1,000+ to them. What do they care if it sells or not?
  • If it makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it
    Like I’ve said before, never let your excitement of being published cloud your judgement. If you notice certain things that make you question the integrity of a publisher, whether they’re vanity or not, don’t publish with them. You’ve worked too hard to just sell your work to a crap publisher.

Be careful with your work. Love what you do, keep trying to publish or publish yourself, but be smart.

Have you ever been in contact with a vanity publisher? Have you published with one? What are your thoughts? Let me know, and comment below.

Thanks for reading.

-Lissy

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How to Map Your Plot

As we all know, I’m a huge proponent of outlines, lists, etc. including during the writing process. As such, I thought it would be cool to take it one step further and let you all in on a new process a friend of mine has for mapping out her stories.

Unlike me, she is a pantser, one who couldn’t give a crap about lists, especially when it comes to writing. She finds them stifling to the process, and would rather be shackled and chained than to be stifled by a list of plot points. However, she is like me in that she craves organization in her stories, and she’s actually quite good at keeping everything in line as she writes. As such, I asked her how she did it, and this is the “list” she gave me.

  • Write the chapter first
    Despite my need for outlines prior to writing, she demands letting creativity take its course however the characters see fit. Write it out chapter-by-chapter and let the natural plot and characters lead you.
  • Once you’ve completed a chapter, write a short synopsis
    This would be a great time to use my notecard method, especially considering what will be done with the notecards afterward. Once you’ve completed a chapter, write a synopsis for that particular chapter. Mark down every important event, any new characters and any information pertaining to plot movement. Write it down on a notecard, then move on to the next chapter. Do the same for every subsequent chapter.
  • Every time you finish a synopsis, tack it on the wall
    Wherever you do your writing, or if you have a place you come back to, to write your synopsis, go to that place and stick your notecards somewhere they are in plain sight. That way, you’ll have a visual representation of your book. Somewhat of a storyboard, if you will. This will help you visualize pace, plot devices, and major events you have going on and allow you to move forward in a way that follows the storyboard.
  • Use the storyboard for organization and plot editing
    Once you’ve finished writing the book, look at your synopsis wall. Maybe synopsis #2 (Chapter 2) would be better after synopsis #3 (Chapter 3), etc. It makes it much easier to just select notecards and move them about than digging through your document and deciding which should go where.

All-in-all, I think this is a great method for pantsers and planners alike. And while she didn’t want me to use her name, as modest and shy as she is, I will say that all these ideas came from her. I only take credit for my posting of them. Thank you so much, friend, and thank you so much reader for taking the time to read this. I hope it helps you just as much as it has helped me. Anything you see here that you’ve used before? Anything you plan on using? Let me know, and comment below!

Thanks for reading.

-Lissy

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The Strangest Music to Write to

Today I had the strangest experience. I was writing a short story for my next short story anthology, just doing my daily thing when I realized what was playing in the background while I wrote.

Now, just a bit of background, I always write with music playing. I usually put on my writer playlist, but after upgrading my systems, I lost a good bit of my music, so I’ve resorted to playlists from the good ole days.

When I was intensely dedicated to the rap scene, if you can believe that.

But I found myself writing a story about a girl whose own self-reflections turn her into the ultimate masterpiece.

What was I writing to?

Hypnotized by Plies ft. Akon.

If you’re curious about what this song is or if you’ve just never heard it, here is a particularly “clean” part of the song. Just to give you a taste:

WARNING: VULGAR LYRICS NEAR, PROCEED WITH CAUTION

You got me so hypnotized, the way yo’ body rollin’ ’round and
Round, that booty keep bumpin’, titties just bouncin’, up and down

Yep. That’s the tamest lyric in the song. If you’d like to hear the rest, you can look it up really anywhere on the internet – it’s a fairly popular song, though the tamer version is probably easiest to find.

Regardless, it had me writing like mad, so maybe such vulgarity is what I needed. What strange songs have you written to before? Let me know, and comment below!

Thanks for reading.

-Lissy

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Writing For Yourself

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As a writer, I find myself writing more and more to appease others. I write for themes I wouldn’t usually write for, for journals I would’ve scoffed at not too many months ago, and for people I have never met and probably will never meet in my entire life.

None of that is necessarily a bad thing, as it is good to push the boundaries of our own skills – to go outside of our comfort zone, if you will.

Yet, if you’ll look at the picture above, you’ll find the title of a piece I have never published. I’ve shown it to a handful of people, and I’ve debated publishing it too many times to count. I’m still debating it today, and probably will for a long time until I finally decide one way or another.

Or perhaps I won’t.

Regardless, I wrote that piece for myself. I wrote it because I had feelings I felt were best kept on paper. I wrote it because it was what I wanted to write.

Everyone wants to write a piece which will change the world, or will mean something to someone else. I believe that is a noble cause, necessary in a world so open and ever-changing. It’s nice to know someone you may never meet has certain feelings and aspirations akin to your own. Though, is it not just as important to write for ourselves? Must we always write just to publish? Must we always write just for the readers?

I believe we should write for ourselves just as much as others. We can fulfill the duty to others while fulfilling a duty to ourselves.

Yet, I often feel myself losing the answer to those questions. What do you think? Let me know, and comment below.

Thanks for reading.

-Lissy

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