Stuck? Ask this Question by Rochelle Melander

DSCN9491To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. —Aristotle

No one loves criticism, rejection, or failure. But if you’re going to be a writer, you’re going to get a hefty dose of all three. Expecting it doesn’t make it easier. Every time I encounter one of these roadblocks, I stumble. I want to eat chocolate, drink wine, and wallow in self-pity. And that’s just fine—for a day. But a steady diet of self-pity won’t help you move forward.

Next time you experience criticism, rejection, or failure, ask: what’s next? Then do it. Take one step forward. Just one. Send out a query letter, write a blog post, sign up for a writing class. Do anything to stay in the game. In time, the sting that comes with criticism, rejection, or failure will fade. You will move forward, toward success.

 

 

 

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Protect Your Creative Energy: Three Tools by Rochelle Melander

file0001808462945Every single day she fought a war to get to her desk before her little bundle of energy had been dissipated, to push aside or cull through an intricate web of slight threads pulling her in a thousand different directions… —May Sarton, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing

May Sarton published Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, a novel about a poet and writer in the early 60s, long before cell phones and the Internet. As a poet and novelist herself, Sarton knew that writers and artists had to fight through distraction to get to their desks and create before the threads of life pulled them toward both crucial and mundane tasks of the day.

The war to get to our desks—and stay there—involves many small battles. We struggle to turn off social media. We scuffle with our own egos: Does this work matter? Do I matter? Will anyone read this anyway? We battle our sense of duty: I should be taking care of stuff around the house. I need to be earning more. I should do more in the community. We confront the millions of ideas that float around our head: Oh, that’s a good idea! Perhaps this isn’t the right project? Maybe I should work on the other one for awhile.

As writers, we work hard to wade through all the distractions and write. We need to conserve our creative energy and spend it freely on writing. But when you can’t get to your desk first thing, what then? How do you protect what little energy you have? Try these three tools:

+Share less. Talking, tweeting, and facebooking about writing—and especially about our work in progress—spends our storytelling energy. Use your social time to share about other stuff—and save that creative buzz around your story for your writing time.

+Forget Feel Like. I rarely feel like doing the things I need to do—writing, exercising or even cooking dinner. Next time you get to your desk feeling no energy for writing—do it anyway. Like inspiration, our energy for writing often appears after we begin and not before.

+Ignore the critics. So, we already have this robust committee of critics living inside our heads. If you read online at all, you’ll run into plenty of writers who apply the famed Henny Penny/Chicken Little phrase to the writing world: The Sky is Falling! Oh My! No doubt you also have a few real-life naysayers to cope with. If you listen to even a smidgen of this oh-my-literature-is-in-danger and you’ll-never-succeed stuff, you’ll deplete your writing energy. Ignore it all and keep writing.

And a bonus tip: immerse yourself in art. It doesn’t matter what kind—music, dance, even sidewalk chalk drawings. When we nourish and nurture our creative spark, it grows into a vibrant flame. So spend at least a few of your free hours connecting with the work of other artists.

A final word. In case you forget this on the way to your desk today, your work matters. You matter. Write.

 

 

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Writers@Work Interview with June Melby by Rochelle Melander

file501312045872Around my birthday, I wandered into my favorite Indie bookstore, Boswell Book Company (just blocks from my house!) and looked for a signed copy of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I’d been eying it for weeks, waiting for an opportunity to treat myself. But I’d waited too long—they were sold out.

Boswell owner Daniel Goldin took pity on me and handed me June Melby’s new book, My Family and Other Hazards: A Memoir. I loved it! Melby’s book turned out to be a funny and poignant dive into family life and miniature golf courses. Plus, it’s set in Wisconsin. I grew up here, playing miniature golf while fighting enormous mosquitoes. Today I’m delighted to interviewing the author of My Family and Other HazardsJune Melby. Welcome, June!

Talk a bit about your background as a performer. What did your work as a performer teach you about writing?

I moved to California to become a “rich and famous rock musician”—and I put that in quotes because that’s what I really told people. I was very determined. I landed in San Francisco with no job, no connections, $1300, and my grandfather’s accordion. What I discovered:  it was terrifying.  But of course, I didn’t anticipate that, I was incredibly naïve. So maybe the first thing I learned was how not to panic. Ha. I’m joking, but honestly, finishing a book takes a lot of courage. And maybe that’s a good lesson to learn when you are a writer. You’ve got to build it up somewhere!

I switched over to standup comedy shortly thereafter, and wrote funny songs. I loved doing standup and the other comics were great people—all writers. All very idealistic. Ten years later, I got sucked into performing poetry—the performance was very similar, but the audiences were different and had different expectations. I performed at national poetry slams and on toured quite a few times in Europe. It was wonderful experience.  What you learn from performing is timing, which is not just about pauses, but about word choice and syllables. You learn how to use exactly the right number of words, no more, no less. A very good lesson.

MyFamilyandOtherHazardsWhat a fun book! Was it the sale of Tom Thumb that inspired you to write this story now…or something else? And how did you get your family to agree to it?

I’ll answer the second part of the question first…. Agree to it?  Were they supposed to agree to it?  Hmm…. That’s interesting.  Don’t tell them that they could have chosen to opt out!

But what inspired me…well, yes, the sale. I was  40 years old and living in Hollywood when I got the phone call with the news that my parents had sold the miniature golf course which had been in my family for 30 years. And I will never forget where I was when I got that call –it shook me up that much.  It was a hand-built course dating from 1959. It had been around for almost 50 years, and I suddenly appreciated the beauty of that. It was a piece of folk-art, and loved by so many generations of tourists. Apparently, in the back of my mind, I had assumed I would get rich and then return to the Midwest and take over the business. So during the final days of that last summer, I lingered at Tom Thumb and took pages and pages of notes. I tape recorded conversations and interviewed everybody. I knew that some day in the future that I would have to write a book about it. Because I was the only writer in my family, I felt this great responsibility to tell the story.  But I didn’t plan on doing it right away. I was a poet. I had never written anything longer than half a page; I had never taken a writing class. I just figured that some day, maybe twenty years down the line, I would somehow feel capable.  I was going to wait until the day, when I might feel confident. During graduate school at the University of Iowa, the story started coming out, and then I couldn’t stop it. The only way to save Tom Thumb was to capture it on the page.

What books inspired and instructed you as you wrote My Family and Other Hazards?

Well, first I need to give a nod to My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. Obviously I liked the book—I stole the title! It’s about an eccentric English family living in Greece. Nothing tragic happens, and yet as a reader you are totally engrossed.  That takes great writing!

I hugely admire Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Kevin Brockmeier’s The Truth About Celia, which is a novel told in short stories.  And The Mezzanine by Nichoson Baker, which gives you permission to consider the importance of our ordinary lives.

What is your daily writing practice?

I’m on tour right now, so I’m craving a daily writing practice, the way you crave your favorite cup of coffee when you’re away from home and have to settle for motel-brew…   But I will say this, I’m a firm believe in making yourself sit there. The biggest challenge is just getting yourself into that chair. When I start my writing day I really love opening up a blank page and just typing. Anything. I love a blank page. It’s fun because I know it “doesn’t count.” Sometimes my daily warm-up will really be just random garbage—quite literally—but sometimes halfway down the page, it will reveal itself to be a short story or short fairy tale or weird-ass poem. It’s how I have fun. It entertains me. Starting out this way helps me remember who I am, creatively speaking, before I get to work on the thing I am “supposed” to be writing. I save these warm-ups in a file I call “Raw pieces,” and never look at them again. But you’ve got to have fun! But I love a blank page.

What are you working on now? 

My next book will be a collection of short fiction I have written over the last ten years, some of which has been published, others from my early days of prose.  I was terrified when I first started writing stories. But when I look at the early ones now, I realize how free they were—maybe it’s easier to be free before you have any idea what you’re doing.  Now that my memoir is done, I am really enjoying the chance to dig through these old documents, and the file of “Raw stories” I have saved over the years. It is like opening up boxes in the attic and finding treasures you had forgotten about.  The next book after that will be a memoir will be about my years in standup comedy, tentatively titled, Bombing.

Boswell Book Company Appearance. June Melby will read from her book at Boswell Book Company on Tuesday, July 22nd at 7:00 PM. Hope to see you there!

© Parker Deen

© Parker Deen

About June Melby. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’sLA Weekly, and National Lampoon Magazine, among other places. In 2011, June Melby was a Writing Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and in 2003 received the International Artist Award and residency from the City of Hamburg Kulturbehorde (Cultural Affairs Department). In 2002 she was the winner of the Children’s Poetry Award at the Edinburgh International Poetry Festival. She lives in Decorah, Iowa.

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Writing Through Chaos: Three Tools by Rochelle Melander

file0001591236156The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn’t behave that way you would never do anything. —John Irving

Last week during the class I taught online (Three Shifts You Must Make To Succeed As An Author), a participant mentioned that she’d tried scheduling time to write, but it never worked. She asked: how do you write if your work or life schedule is too chaotic to depend on?

It’s a good question. All of us experience times in life where it’s hard to find time to write. Here are three ways to make time to write when life is crazy:

+Piggyback. Attach writing to an established habit, the stuff you do every day or week. Even in the land of crazy, you do a few things every single day: get up, brush your teeth, eat breakfast, check email, go to bed. You also do a few things every week at the same time: go to yoga class, stop by the coffee shop, visit a family member in the nursing home. Take one of these constants and attach writing to it, either before or after.

+Drop everything and write. In my daughter’s school, they have DEAR time every single day—drop everything and read. In her school, not having a DEAR book is an offense punishable with detention. How many times do you find yourself stuck in time, with nothing to read or write? Despite owning a smart phone, it happens to me more than I’d care to admit. Take a moment to consider what you’d need to carry with you if you wanted to be prepared to drop everything and write at all times. Then do it.

+Social Media Steal. Use your social media habit to write.  According to a 2013 article, we spend about 3 hours on social media per day.  Wow. For the next week, note the time you spend on social media. Pay attention to what tool you use to surf—are you on your computer, smart phone, or tablet? At the end of the week, ask: how could I use some of this time to write? Find a writing app that works best on your surfing mode of choice. Then, next time you log on to Facebook, Tweet, Tumble, Pin, or Link: use that app to write first.

Your turn:

 

 

 

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Overcome Unrealistic Expectations and Write by Rochelle Melander

W4473 WriteAThon-1Dear Writers,

Today at 7:00 PM CDT, I’ll be speaking at Nonfiction Writers’ University. I’ll be talking about Three Shifts You Must Make To Succeed As An Author. The class is free, but you must sign up here.

We’re still in the middle of the July Write-A-Thon. We didn’t get enough people to do the weekly calls, but I am posting daily at the Write Now! Coach Facebook page! Check in and update us on your progress.

Today’s tip talks about how to write forward in the midst of crazy days and unrealistic expectations!

Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

 

Autumn morning Oct 06 2013_1014 (5)Overcome Unrealistic Expectations and Write by Rochelle Melander

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day. —A.A. Milne

Years ago, I read Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, M.D. In the book, he identified ten common cognitive distortions—unhelpful thinking patterns that leave us feeling miserable.

While I don’t subscribe to the idea of the crazy writer, I do believe that many of us are done in by cognitive distortions. We apply unhelpful thinking to our writing goals, holding ourselves to unrealistic expectations. We think or say things like:

+If I don’t have the whole day to write, I might as well do nothing. (All or nothing thinking)

+I only wrote for ten minutes today, I’m such a loser. (Discounting the positives, Labeling)

+This sounds like crap. No wonder the agent rejected me. I’m a bad writer. (Jumping to conclusions, labeling, emotional reasoning)

Yikes!

Many of us are in the middle of a write-a-thon. We set a big hairy audacious goal. I know I did. And from the notes on the Write Now! Coach Facebook page, I know some of you are doing well. (Yeah you!) But for those of you who’re having a rough time, let me tell you how it’s going for me: it’s not. My life got the kind of busy that leaves one dizzy. I wouldn’t be able to write a chapter a day. My temptation: give in to all or nothing thinking and give up.

Not this time. Instead, I reset my goals.

Every day, I write for 15-20 minutes on my work in progress. I hold onto what Stephen King said: When asked, “How do you write?” I invariably answer, “one word at a time.”

Writers, don’t let crazy thinking stop you from writing. Instead:

+Identify the distortion. (See chart.)

+Ask: Is this true? Challenge your thinking with evidence from your life.

+Ask: If this isn’t true, what is true? (I don’t have the whole day, but writing for fifteen minutes will move me forward. I’m accomplishing enough for now.)

+Create a new plan.

Writers, remember: every book is written one word at a time. And if you’re at least on the river, or better yet the stream, your little bits will add up and you will get there…one word at a time.

Your turn: How have you beat crazy thinking, redefined your goals, and written forward?

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Why You Need to Write-A-Thon! By Rochelle Melander

Dear Writers,

WAT_participantToday, we’re starting the July Write-A-Thon (and the second half of 2014!), and today’s tip talks about why you need to write-a-thon. If you want more support, follow the Write Now! Coach Facebook page for daily encouragement, and write!

And, think about coming to my class next Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 7:00 PM CDT at Nonfiction Writers’ University. I’ll be talking about Three Shifts You Must Make To Succeed As An Author. The class is free, but you must sign up here.

Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

 

Why You Need to Write-A-Thon

by Rochelle Melander

Be careful what you wish for, because you might not be dreaming big enough. —Dar Williams

2014 Ironman

2014 Ironman

For the last three years, I’ve completed the Idle Ironman at our local Y (and I have the t-shirts to prove it). Although I finished, the idle ironman was a huge challenge for me—a recovering wimp! But by challenging myself to do something really hard, I gained confidence and grew stronger. The idle ironman helped me to see myself as an athlete.

If you’re a writer who wants to write regularly but don’t think you have the time, talent or tools, I’d like to challenge you to take on a write-a-thon this summer. Doing a write-a-thon will help you turn your writing hobby into a habit. And guess what? I’m doing it, too! (Stop by my Facebook page for encouragement every day during July!) On top of that, the creators of National Novel Writing Month have launched Camp NaNo—occurring this July, so you don’t have to write alone.

Here’s how to write-a-thon:

1. Choose a project. What writing project are you most passionate about working on right now? Write what strikes your fancy: a nonfiction book, a poem a day, a memoir, or even a graphic novel. Or write something that has to get done: query letters, that dissertation, or your weekly blog post!

2. Set a goal. This is your write-a-thon, so do what works for you. Your goal can be writing for a set amount of time each day, composing a certain number of queries each week, or writing a few hundred words a day.

3. Choose a cue. In the book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes the habit loop: Cue, Routine, Reward. Wannabe writers tend to depend on inspiration to cue them to write. Unfortunately, inspiration comes most frequently WHILE we are writing and not before.  In order to succeed at the marathon, choose an external cue to trigger your daily writing practice. It helps if you can use a pleasant cue you’re already doing as a cue to write. This could be drinking your morning cup of coffee, walking to the library or local coffee shop in the middle of the afternoon, or changing into your writing clothes at the end of the day.

4. Get rewards. We tend to do the things that provide rewards—whether they are tangible, like a participant t-shirt, or intangible, like the feeling of success. Make a list of daily rewards for the write-a-thon—and make it a habit to reward yourself for writing every day. These rewards might be something as simple as giving yourself a sticker for achieving your daily goal, spending a few minutes on the Write Now! Coach Facebook page to see the daily meme, or taking a short walk outside. Don’t forget to plan a bigger reward for finishing the marathon.

5. Get support. In the middle of the idle ironman, when finishing seemed insurmountable, I depended on the encouragement and support of my workout buddies at the gym. Often a simple, “How’s it going?” or “Keep at it!” was all I needed to stay motivated. Invite a friend to share the write-a-thon journey with you and give each other daily support via email, phone, or in person contact.

Here’s my prediction: after you finish your write-a-thon, you will boldly claim, “I’m a writer.” And it will be true—because the write-a-thon will help you create the habit of writing every single day. Happy writing, writers!

Your turn: Share your write-a-thon goal below!

 

 

 

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The Secret to Writing Success by Rochelle Melander

file000251965952“…I had formed the habit of working in my studio almost every single day. Rain or shine, eager or dragging my feet, I just plain forced myself to work.” —Anne Truitt (Daybook, p. 126)

When I was in second grade, I read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. The novel taught me to think beyond what teachers, parents and ministers said was real. Because of A Wrinkle in Time, I embraced my imagination as a gift instead of the thing that made me odd and often got me in trouble with grown-ups.

I met L’Engle several times during her lifetime. At the first event, she said something that still helps me write every day:

“Success is thin unless we can be committed to drudgery.”

Wow. The woman responsible for the book that opened my mind also had to slog through the boring parts.

Being a writer is about showing up and writing, whether we feel like it or not. We scribble down the words before they disappear from our heads. Then we change them. Sometimes we get lucky, and while we’re wading through the muck, inspiration hits and sets our imagination on fire.

Both the artist Anne Truitt and the author Madeleine L’Engle found the secret to success: work hard. For them, making art was a habit. They created daily, no matter what.

My advice? Go and do likewise!

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Three Secrets to a Happy (Writing) Life by Rochelle Melander

W4473 WriteAThonNote From Rochelle

Dear Writers,

I’m beginning to panic: only a couple of people have signed up to Write-A-Thon with me in July. I don’t want to do this alone! If you’re contemplating writing your book this summer, here are three quick reasons to join us:

WAT_therapy1. Writing is cheaper than therapy. I don’t care if you’re writing fiction or the story of your life: you’ll feel better afterwards. (Promise!)

2. You’ll write more than you thought possible! (Remember—you can set your own goal, so don’t freak out about having to write a gazillion words!)

3. You won’t be doing it alone! (Visit my Facebook page and say hi to the others who are writing in July!)

How does it work? Set your goal, follow the Write Now! Coach Facebook page for daily encouragement, and write!  If you need more support, check out the announcement at the blog and sign up for group calls or a one-on-one coaching session with me.

Today’s tip offers some lessons for writing and life from the great B. B. King.

Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

 

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I never use that word, retire. —B.B. King

Last summer, we attended a B. B. King concert. As the night began, King shouted: “I’m B. B. King, and I’m 87 years old!” (He’s 88 now.) Then he launched into a song with his deep baritone voice. As I reflected on the concert later, I realized that King had some lessons to teach me about writing and life. Here are three of them:

By Tom Beetz [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Tom Beetz [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

1. Do not let your age define you. In our age-obsessed culture, we need to learn this lesson repeatedly. No matter what your age, no doubt someone has told you it’s wrong for what you want to do. When I was in my 20s, many more experienced people from my profession told me I was too young to have important ideas or write books. Just a few years later, in my early 30s, some of my colleagues told me I was too old. Wow, from young and useless to old and washed up in just five years! I love what the Indigo Girls say about this in their song, Go:

Did they tell you, you would come undone

When you try to touch the sun

Undermine the underground

You’re too old to care

You’re too young to count

Take away: Stop using age as an excuse. If you really want to do something, do it.

2. Get a great team. When B. B. King came to sing, he brought a band that rocked. Literally. Every member of his band could (and did) play solo. Together, backing up B. B., the sound was magnificent. None of us can do it alone. Writers need colleagues, critique group partners, editors and more. When I look at my writing career past and present, I am constantly grateful for the people who have supported and comforted me along the way.

Take away: Look around. Do you have writing colleagues to support you? If so, say thank you! If not, join a critique group or writing circle.

3. Have fun. At the end of the night, B. B. King said, “I have a curfew and I’ve already gone past it, but I’m having so much fun.” And he was. His whole body radiated joy. I don’t always feel that way when I’m writing. Sometimes writing feels like slogging through knee-deep mud. But I also have moments when I’m so engaged in the writing, I don’t want to stop. I feel like a kid at the playground who can’t understand why it’s time to go home. In those moments, writing feels so absolutely right that I cannot image doing anything else.

Take away: Doing what you love won’t be fun every day, but it also won’t be a drag. If you’re not having fun, poke around at why. Maybe you need to be working on a different project? Maybe you need to lower your expectations or slow down? Once you figure out what’s not working, you can get to what is working again and enjoy it!

Rock on, writers! 

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Writing Outside the Box by Rochelle Melander

Out of the box and into the labyrinth!

Out of the box and into the labyrinth!

Instead of thinking outside the box, get rid of the box. —Deepak Chopra

In a study published in Psychological Science, Angela Leung of Singapore Management University and her coauthors enacted the popular metaphor thinking “outside the box”. They created two comfortable work environments, one literally inside a box and one on the outside. Then they gave participants a test used to measure creativity. Those who worked outside the box performed better.

My first thought: well good thing I don’t work in a cubicle. My second: I kind of do. I have a great home office with loads of books, supplies, and light. But it’s still an office, with desks and walls. So I decided to work outside my box. I worked in several places: my home library, the porch, and a local coffee shop. All of them provided what I needed: a non-office space to think and write “outside the box.”

After my experiment, I remembered that many of my clients and colleagues like working outside the box, too. They found success working at parks, bookstores, and fast food joints.

The takeaway? Work somewhere other than your office. See if it helps you break out of your rut or—if you’re not in a rut—explore new levels of creativity.

Your turn. What other writing metaphors do you take literally? Do you think better on your feet—that is while walking or standing at a desk? Leave your comment below!

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Are You Ready to Write-A-Thon?

W4473 WriteAThon-1Join the summer Write Now! Coach Write-A-Thon and get that project started or finished or anything in between.

How does it work? Set your goal, follow the Write Now! Coach Facebook page for daily encouragement, and write!

What kind of a goal? Do I have to write 50,000 words?

Nope. This isn’t NaNoWriMo. You can choose to:

+Write a defined number of words each day (you decide how many)!

+Work toward a month-long word count goal.

+Write for a defined number of minutes each day or week.

+Write for a number of days each week.

What kind of a project? Do I have to write a novel? Nope. Write what you want: a memoir, a nonfiction book, a bunch of blog posts, a series of poems, a few picture book or … anything else that seems right.

What if I need more support than posts on a Facebook page? Join our weekly Write-A-Thon Mastermind group. We’ll meet every Monday in July at 12:00 PM CDT on the phone. The price is right at just $100 for all four calls. You can sign up at our Group Coaching page.

What if I need EVEN MORE SUPPORT? Sign up for a 45-minute get-your-act-together call with Write Now! Coach Rochelle Melander. She’ll help you focus your project idea, set a daily writing goal, and find the time to write. How much? $100—but sign up soon. We have a limited number of spots available for this.

What if I’m already doing Camp NaNoWriMo? No problem! Think of the Write Now! Coach Write-A-Thon as the extra box of treats you bring along to camp just in case you get extra hungry.

So how do I sign up?

EVERYONE!: Head on over to Facebook and like the Write Now! Coach page. If you want, you can add a comment to the post about this Write-a-Thon to let me and others know you’re in!

Weekly Mastermind Calls: Head on over to the group  Write Now! Coaching page and sign up. You’ll receive an email with instructions for the weekly calls.

Individual Get-Your-Act-Together Call: When you purchase the group coaching, add an individual  Write Now! Coaching session for $100.  I’ll be in touch about scheduling our call.

What if I have more questions? Leave a comment below.

Anything else? Yes! Whether you plan to write or not, enter to win a copy ofWrite-a-Thon.

 

 

 

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