One-Way Love Affair

I have a one-way love affair with Amazon, and this worries me a little. Okay, maybe a lot.

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It started out small back in “the old days”. Amazon sold mostly books, and when I wanted an author’s back list and couldn’t get it at Barnes and Noble, this is where I’d go.

Then, they started selling more stuff. I was skeptical at first, but the free shipping for a $25 purchase at the time really helped me get over my skepticism. I was working full time, newly married, and going to grad school at night. Time was a premium.

Best thing was Amazon’s prices at the time weren’t any higher for the things I was buying at brick and mortar stores. Sometimes, they were even a lot lower.

Another few years rolled past, and we were expecting our first child. I’d been buying a lot from Amazon at that point, but they hadn’t lured me into their Prime club yet. I actually thought it was pretty ridiculous to give $89 a year to get stuff a few days sooner.

But, they knew exactly how to get me.

They gave a free one year subscription to Prime to all new moms who enrolled in their mom’s reward club (the club has since been discontinued). Along with the Prime membership came a sizable discount on diapers and wipes, things I was about to need a lot of, and they promised to deliver in two days. I figured it was free, so I had nothing to lose.

Yeah, they had me after the first few months.

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Like there’s any better transformer to be!

More years later, and I’m still a Prime member. A paying Prime member. Not only that, but we now get monthly Amazon shipments. We tune in to their Prime streaming service, and our kids have loved several Amazon-created children’s shows. Once Netflix lost Sesame Street, we turned to Prime.

I even got my kids a Kindle and was super impressed with the yearly subscription that lets them play a slew of the most popular kids apps, and with the subscription, all the in-app purchases are included. Want another life? Click the button, no fee required.

Amazon was luring me deeper and deeper into the Amazon morass.

Then, this year at Christmas, I was shocked at the deals Amazon was running on popular kid toys. They were running 20-40% toys that my kids wanted. Even if other stores had the items on sale, most of the toys were still cheaper at Amazon.

I look at all of the plastic stuff invading my house, and a lot of it came from Amazon.

I do my Christmas shopping early, so the two day shipping was nice but not necessary. Then Amazon started running specials where if you were willing to wait five days to get your packages, they’d give you $2 or more towards a digital purchase. Hello more Kindle books!

Now I’ve been reading about the struggles of so many bricks and mortar stores to stay open.

I squirmed a little.

That’s somewhat my fault, right? I would way rather pop onto Amazon and have something magically appear at my door two days (sometimes in less than twenty-four hours) later than actually drive to the store, wade through the merchandise, hopefully find what I want, then wait in line to pay for it. About the only thing we get at the store anymore is toilet paper and paper towels because Amazon can’t touch Target’s pricing.

Yet.

My first thought was that Amazon was servicing a time-strapped American population. Sure, a lot their products don’t go on sale like they do at Target, Aldi’s, or wherever you shop, but I don’t usually bother with sales. Sounds stupid, I know, but if I need paper towels, I’m not driving 20 minutes out of my way to get them a dollar cheaper. My lack of frugality on this drives my poor mother insane, but I’m willing to pay $1 to keep 40 minutes of my time.

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Or a good idea to drive two towns over to buy it.

 

I am careful on Amazon lately as there have been instances where Amazon (no, not a third party seller, but Amazon), is quite a bit more expensive than other stores. Last year, when DD1 wanted a pony castle for her birthday, Amazon was $20 more expensive than Target or Toys R Us. Yeah, $20. They came in line a few weeks later, but I’d already bought it from Target by then.

Once you start talking third party sellers, all bets are off. Might as well be eBay.

So, I always check an Amazon purchase with other stores’ online offerings.

But what happens if those stores go out of business? Does that mean Amazon can get away with charging me $20 more than I would’ve paid at Target or Toys R Us?

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I don’t know.

But it worries me.

I’d love to say anti-trust laws would come into play to prevent a monopoly like that, but I have no faith or trust in our government to enforce such rulings. Especially not recently.

Will this concern change my behavior? Yes. I have been regularly checking Target.com for things and ordering if I can wait the few extra days for them to arrive. I love Amazon, but I’m not sure I’m ready to pay the price of assimilation just yet.

 

How about you? Have you been lured into the Amazon morass? Are you a Prime member? Are you worried about them becoming a monopoly and crushing their competition to the point they can charge us whatever they wish?

8 Things I've Learned About Being a Writer

The one thing about us writers is, well, we write. I’ve been writing on-and-off since I was twelve, but I’ve been known to put it down altogether for long stretches.

Perhaps you’ve even put it aside from time to time, too.

For me, the longest I stopped writing was when we decided to start a family. There was an amazing amount to do to get our lives ready and *so* much to read.

Why don’t babies actually follow what’s in the books?!?  Do you know how many times I showed my infant what the “experts” had written as she continued to never sleep unless she was being held?

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Even with all this preparation, we were totally unprepared for the realities of being parents.

I fell into the routine many new mothers do and spent very little time on myself. If I wasn’t at work, I was with our little one.

After my second daughter was born, I watched a lot of TED talks. They were interesting, and they didn’t mess with my new-mom emotions. This one by Larry Smith , convinced me to start writing again. I literally got an old notebook that afternoon and started jotting down ideas.

I attempted to write that story. I mapped it all out, complete with plot and character outlines, applied bottom to chair, and churned out 50k words in five months.

Then shelved it.

The characters weren’t working. The plot was there but forced, even though I’d diligently followed my outlines.

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Except, you know, when they don’t.

I tried revising it, but my hero would’ve rolled his eyes at me if he could. It wasn’t his story. I’d been so busy sticking to my plot-points and outlines that I hadn’t listened to the characters.

I gave up and started a new novel. I plotted nothing. I let the story unfold as I wrote it. I completed the first 50k draft in three months. It was a rough first draft. Very, very rough. But it worked, and I loved the characters. I wanted to see them get together.

I still remember the climactic ending coming to me as I was driving to work after dropping the kids off at daycare, and I had to pull the car over and write it down before I forgot it. That’s when I knew the story was really working.

I’ve managed to write three more full novels in the year-and-a-half since, in addition to my full-time day-job, blogging, and two small children. Here’s what’s worked for me:

 

  1. Write Every Day – I’d originally thought the more I wrote, the more burned out I’d get. Not true. It’s amazing how creativity inspires more creativity. Writing is a skill, just like anything else. The more you do it, the better you’ll be. Sure, I can still get on a bike and pedal it, but teaching my oldest child to ride a bike made me realize that the elliptical machine does not keep you in shape for bike riding.

 

  1. Carve out Writing Time and Defend It (Even from Yourself) – My spouse has been amazingly supportive of me getting back into writing, and he’s agreed to be the primary parent for an hour each night after the kids are supposed to be in bed (yeah, you other parents out there know that’s a big “supposed to”). But if I spend that hour surfing the net, I’m stealing the time from my writing as surely as my daughter is stealing my patience when she comes out for her third cup of water.

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  1. Keep a Notebook – my mind does amazing things while I’m walking, driving, or when I first get up in the morning. But those thoughts will dissipate like fog in the noon sun the moment I get back inside, the engine turns off, or I swing my legs out of bed. I need a notebook to write these amazing bits of creativity down. My phone works well for this, too.

 

  1. Perfection Is the Enemy – get that rough draft down on paper. If you want to make changes, make a note of it and keep going. You can polish a rough draft. There’s nothing you can do with a blank page. Finish the story. Crappy is still done and gives you a place to start rewriting.

 

  1. Give Yourself a Couple of Months Before You Edit – This is one of the biggest things I learned with my first completed story. I was too close to the characters, the plot, and even the writing itself. I spent a lot of time “editing” that was really just patting myself on the back for what I’d written. When I went back and looked at it two months later, I had a much clearer view of what needed help.

 

  1. Find a Good Beta Reader – a good beta reader is worth their weight in Starbucks. They’ll help you see plot holes, character issues, and other things you’re too invested in your book to see. If you’ve got a good beta reader, of course you’re going to follow their advice even if it means a painful rewrite.

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  1. Read, but Read Critically – Lots of writing advice says you have to read a lot to be a good writer. I think this is over-simplified. Reading is helpful only if you take the time to figure out why one author engages you but another doesn’t. Why do you like a character, hate them, or think they’re too stupid to breathe? Why are you on the edge of your seat reading this thriller but not that one?

 

  1. Take What Works for You and Toss out the Rest. Writing is a creative endeavor. What inspires my muse may drive yours away. Some writers swear by an outline, whereas it brings out my type A personality.

 

 

How about you? Any good writing tips you’d like to share? Anything that’s worked for you? Anything that hasn’t?

 

Top 5 Reasons Science Says Why We Lack Patience

Throughout life, we’re told to be patient. It’s a virtue, after all.

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Patience is especially touted for authors when what we want to get paid to tell stories. Instead, we must be patient and:

  • Write book after book, without any promise of being published or paid. But be patient as you have to write a lot to get better, and it takes a large backlist before (read if) you can quit your day job.
  • Commit to social media to increase your presence, but be patient as you have to invest a lot of time before you see any rewards.
  • Commit to blogging to connect with other writers and potential readers, but be patient because it takes a long to time to be “found”.

 

If anyone had told me any of the above about “breaking into” my day job, I’d have laughed at them so hard I’d have had to wipe away the tears as I changed majors.

One thing I’ve learned about virtues from raising my own children is that they are not the natural state of human beings. They are something sought after, something you aspire to achieve.

The amount of self-help articles out there professing to teach patience is impressive. But one thing I’ve learned is that the more articles there are to learn how to do something, the harder that something is and the less likely those articles are to help. Google “how to tie a shoe” versus “how to lose weight” and you’ll see what I mean.

So, why is patience so hard?

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Patience is putting off something you want right now for the promise of a bigger reward later.

Think of your dog. He doesn’t care if you promise him three treats tomorrow if he doesn’t eat the one balanced on his nose right now. He’s going to eat the one on his nose as soon as you turn your back. You see that across animal behavior, and as this study shows, humans aren’t that far off from our canine friends.

I wanted to understand more about why we aren’t patient to see if I could figure out a way to be patient. Top 10 reasons according to science of why we aren’t patient:

 

1. Evolution – Our instinct is to seize the reward now, and resisting our instincts is hard. Check out any infant or toddler. We believe survival favored those that took immediate rewards. It wasn’t like there was a grocery store a mile away that we could stop at after work and get a tub of triple chocolate ice cream whenever we wanted. You took what came your way when it did.

 

2. Uncertainty – If you’ve been taught throughout life that waiting gets you better things, you might learn to wait. But if you’ve been taught that people aren’t going to follow through, that you can’t trust them, then you’re more likely to grab for the sure thing. All those stories about “living like you’re dying”? They are a case study in lack of patience because you’re now uncertain how much of a future you have.

 

3. Age – The younger you are, the less patience you seem to have. Toddlers and impulse control, anyone? But life teaches us (most of us, anyway) to control those impulses. The more life experience you have, the more patient you become. Until you’re facing your own mortality, and then you’re back to point two above.

 

4. Conceptualization of Future Self – Ever stay up way too late knowing you were going to regret it in the morning? Being impatient has a similar root cause. The inability to connect your current self to your future self. The more you can visualize your future self either suffering (after staying up too late) or enjoying a large reward (after exhibiting patience), the more likely you are to choose the path that benefits your future self.

5. Sense of Time – You know how time flies when you’re having fun, but put you in the corporate tax class I took in college, and minutes seem like hours? This has actually been proven by scienceproven by science. What this means is you have to be even more patient to get something you’re waiting for as time will seem to go even slower than if you weren’t waiting.

 

As I look through this list, the only thing that really seems within my control is working to visualize my future self. To know that if I keep plodding away now, that future self will be happier.

Can apply this to things other than writing. Like parenting. Losing my patience with them gives me a momentary outlet for my frustration, but my future self pays for it with more intractable children and a damaged relationship. Not that I should give into them, but losing my patience is not the right choice.

 

How about you? Are you patient? Impatient? If you’re naturally impatient, anything you do to try make yourself more patient? Does it work?

Each Step Counts

If you remember my post from a while back, you’ll know that my Fitbit and I have a rocky relationship. It tracks my steps, or my failure to take steps, and reports it in glorious color.

I learned very quickly that I didn’t suddenly love exercise, nor did I suddenly have an extra hour a day to exercise.

My first week of wearing the Fitbit taught me how few steps a desk jockey really takes. It then taught me that squeezing in a 20 minute walk at lunch took me from deep “F” territory (read sub 5,000) to “D” territory of around 6,000 or so steps.

I was stymied how to get more steps, so I tried adding in a few here and there whenever I could. Park in the back of the parking lot and walk in. Play “chase” with my toddler for a few minutes in the morning. Walk around the lunchroom while I’m waiting for my lunch to heat up. Walk down to someone’s office to have a chat rather than drop an e-mail.

Believe it or not, a lot of these small changes added up. I have now averaged an “A” two weeks in a row at 9,400 steps or more a day.

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Not sure if the habits will stick, but they’re working right now.

So, I started trying this approach for my writing. While it doesn’t work for hard edits or revisions, much like my few steps won’t prep me for a 5K, dropping in a few lines here and there has started to add up. I have a thought, and I quick jot it into e-mail and send it to myself. And much like with my steps, these all add up.

And they add up quickly.

Yes, it takes some time to pull these disparate thoughts together, but its something I can do when I’m not feeling creative. And I’m amazed at some off-the-cuff creativity I’ve had. It seems as if ideas are percolating more even if it’s just back in my subconscious.

I still have another few weeks of working on my new story before I turn back to tackling another revision of book two, or of book one after taking a class on learning more about the first 5 pages.

We’ll see how this writing strategy works then. For the moment, I’m going to see where it takes me.

 

How about you? How’s your relationship with your Fitbit? Have you ever found it easier to just do a little here and there? Do you have a better Fitbit strategy? A better writing strategy?

5 Ways I Failed the Social in Social Media

After more than a little nudging, cajoling, and downright shoving, I finally joined social media.

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As an introvert, this was a huge leap. For those of you that are extroverted, imagine spending a month on vacation. By yourself. Deep in the woods. Completely cut-off from civilization. Without cell service or the Internet.

You get the point.

After having spent a few weeks attempting to embrace social media, there are a few things that have come to light:

1. My Life Isn’t Very Post-Worthy DD1 has dance class and gymnastics. DD2 is a willful toddler we don’t like to take places unless they’re very child friendly. DH and I both work full time, then come home and take care of two young children. No restaurants, concerts, or exotic vacations.

2. Being “Social” is a Lotta Work – I have to get up earlier in the morning to check my social media sites, respond, comment, like, whatever. Then, I have to figure out something witty or important to say. See #1 above.

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3. Political Posts are Everywhere – Newbie, remember, but I had no idea some of the ideals certain friends and family held, and I am more surprised that few seem to realize that their posts only appeal to those that already agree with them.

4. Not Really Connecting – It’s social media, so it must be social, but I haven’t figured out the skill of actually “connecting” with people. Again, I’m still new at it, but it feels more like a barrage of stuff comes through my feed, none of which I (or anyone else) spends more than a few moments looking at and then “liking”. Which brings me to…

5. Why Didn’t You “Like” That? – it’s harder to politely ignore or redirect conversations (see #3 and #4). And people know if you didn’t like and share their posts. Never thought I’d ever have to tell someone: No, I didn’t “like” your political post. No, it didn’t make me see things your way. No, I’m not a red commy bastard (I know for a fact my parents were married when I was born). And yes, I still like you and consider you a friend even if I don’t agree with you on this thing you posted.

How about you? How long have you been dong social media? Do you find it easy? How long did it take you to really get into it and understand it? Any secrets to really connecting with people or how you make interesting posts?

 

Guilt

Guilt is an insidious little bastard. Creeping into your thoughts and feelings and making you feel bad even when you shouldn’t.

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I feel guilty most mornings for snuggling with my toddler rather than getting up and exercising. I use my lunch hour to catch-up on work most days so I don’t have to stay late, otherwise I sneak in a little writing. And my evenings with 2 kids are chaotic, and exercising too late makes it hard to get to sleep. So, if I’m going to exercise, it has to be in the morning.

But that means giving up precious snuggle time. Time I won’t get in a year. I love the way she cuddles, and when she’s finally ready to wake up, she leans over and gives me kisses. Then she sits up and starts babbling. We “talk” for a few minutes then get up and start our day together. I work full time away from her, so these mornings are precious.

To hell with morning exercise and what I “should” do. Not giving up morning snuggles. And not feeling bad about it so it diminishes the experience. I’ll have to be more creative and figure something out at night. Or squeeze in a short walk at lunch. Something is better than nothing, and I’m not compromising my precious time with DD2.

And I’m done feeling guilty about it.

Just like I’m done feeling guilty about “not writing”. I’ve finished one book including rewrites and finished a second book including a first rewrite. All in 1.5 years. With two children, a spouse, and a full time job.

I should be proud, not guilty. And if I want to take a week or two off to percolate ideas, I’ll consider it a creative rest.

No guilt.

It robs me of enjoying a few weeks to let the creative juices flow, to let new and interesting ideas percolate, and to recharge my battery.

I’m going to enjoy my time thinking about new characters, just as I am going to enjoy morning toddler snuggles.

Failure of the One Week Ban

I completely failed not reading for a week. As a matter of fact, I failed within 24 hours of making the post!

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Resolution up in flames.

It’s just too easy and too enjoyable to kick back and open a book while I sit with the kids and they play. So much better than Sesame Street, let me tell you.

And once I’m into the book, I want to see it through. I want to know what happens, and will usually keep on reading even if the story is a train wreck. That’s something I need to be better about, but then I do sometimes learn something from the bad as well as the good. I just don’t need to spend quite so much time with the bad.

Perhaps the ease is part of the problem. My Kindle app has made it so easy to get new books, and so easy to read them that I am perhaps spending more time reading that writing.

Okay, I am definitely spending more time reading that writing.

Not that it’s an entirely bad thing for a writer, but it’s still a thing.

I won’t lie and pretend it’s research or that it will make my writing better by simply reading. I know that it takes thought to turn what you read into a lesson of what to do or not do with your writing. Best of all worlds is to have someone to critique it with, especially if they don’t agree with all of your views.

While I don’t have a critique partner, I do try to force myself to think through and write a review. Still working out the best review format for others to decide if they want to give the book a try and for me to get the most out of writing the review.

I suppose there are worse things I could be doing than reading.

Or better. Like reading while on the elliptical. Or actually writing.

Another Rejection

I still have yet to have an agent ask for a copy of my manuscript. I am not certain if my query is terrible, my subject matter unappealing, or my work genuinely not publishable.

Another rejection. Another standard form letter.

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I have spent over 6 months now sending out queries and being “lucky” to get a form letter back.

At least it’s e-mail so I’m not paying postage.

Perhaps I should sign up for one of the expensive classes through Writer’s Digest. At least they’re somewhat reputable.

But that gets back to the issue of writing as a hobby. Do I want to be published? Yes. Do I want to be a best-selling author? You betcha. Would I love to be the next Stephen King? Of course.

I know the likelihood of any of these things is right down there near zero.

Sure, I finished a book, but lots of people manage that.

I put together a blog.

Need to get a Twitter account, I guess.

But the actual business of getting published? I am starting to see it as an impossible dream.

I have a good-paying day job. Two wonderful kids and an awesome spouse. All the time I spend writing is time I’m not spending with them. It’s time I’m not spending reading, or playing video games, or going for walks. Or doing any number of other things I enjoy.

It takes a long time to write a book. A longer time to edit it, rewrite it, and edit it again.

After 20 months of working on my two novels with nothing to show for it other than a couple handfuls of e-mail rejection letters, I’m growing weary.

The writing itself has been hard lately, too. So many things in real life keep getting in the way that there isn’t enough room in my head for my characters to talk anymore.

I have heard some people tout self-publishing. But that gets back to trying to sell your work, and I am awful at that. I already know that about myself.

So where does that leave me?

Back where I was a few months ago, I suppose. Considering quitting this nonsense and refocusing my time.

DH encouraged me to keep writing if I love it.

While I do enjoy the character creation and storytelling of writing, the constant edits, revisions and rewrites? That’s work. And I already have a day job. One that actually pays me.

I’ve considered sending it out to a professional editor to review, but that’s extremely expensive (think cost of a used car expensive) and not in the budget right now.

I asked myself what does it cost to be done with trying to get published, load my baby onto Amazon, mashable, or whatever other platforms are out there and call it a day?

I’m not sure. Maybe that’s why so many people do it.

And maybe I’m just feeling contrarian and don’t want to be like other people.

For now, I’ll give the query letter another try and at least consider the class.

One Week Ban

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I am putting myself on a one week book ban.

Why?

Because I have been spending all of my writing time reading. For science, of course. To study how it’s done.

Okay, because I love to read and it’s so much easier than writing.

Even after the last 2 weeks of daily book reviews, I still have a small backlog of reviews to post. Yeah, I love to read.

And I make myself write a review for most of the books that I read. That is more for the discipline of really looking at the book and figuring out what I like about it and what I don’t. Making myself think through that in hopes that it will improve my writing.

But it’s also easy to get lost in a book. I love stories. I love characters. I love curling up with my iPad and being transported to other worlds.

Fantasy romance is my favorite, followed by science fiction romance, and finally historical romance.

I also struggle with series. I like books that take place in the same world, but I am never thrilled with picking up a book only to learn I need to read the twelve before it to really get it.

I actually have a rule. I won’t pick up a series until the whole series is written. Back when I was a kid, there was a series I was eagerly devouring. The author was amazing . . . and then he died. The series was “finished” by another author, but it wasn’t the same. Really jaded me.

But as I work on my own stories, the first two I’ve written are in the same world. I see how it can be appealing to write a series. However, the stories I’ve written are completely independent. No need to read one to “get” the other.

Struggling

I have really been struggling with my writing lately. I thought I had it beaten, but its back again in all its glory. I keep struggling through the revision I’m working on, and I did absolutely no writing this past weekend. First time in ages that’s happened. Nothing. Not a sentence. Not a word.

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I am struggling with several things at the moment, and I just can’t seem to get my writing past them.

I love lists, so here are the top 4 things pushing aside my writing:

  1. DD2  is struggling with some health issues. Not the kind that go away with a round or two of amoxicillin. We’re looking at 3-6 months to deal with them, if we’re lucky. Add to that our insurance doesn’t want to pay for treatments, and I am trying to find a way to get her to her treatments which only occur during my work hours. We’re fighting insurance, I’m working with my boss, and we’re looking at alternative treatment options, but this isn’t easy. So worry has been eating a lot of my brain space.
  2. Summer is finally here. For those of you that don’t live in the far north of the US, well, you might get more than 2-3 months of the year where it’s nice enough that you want to be outside. I mean, we had sleet last weekend that killed a bunch of plants, and we pulled out the heavy coats you never really put away. A birthday party DD1 was attending had to be moved indoors because it was so cold. Nice weather begs you to be outside, not hunched over a computer.
  3. Growing project list – there are a lot of things that need doing when you have a house and two children. I think my open project list hit 40 this weekend.
  4. Doubt – I have poured so many hours and so much of myself into my writing, and for what? I deleted the e-mail rejection letters, but that’s about all I have to show for it. Great, I have a book written that I’ve spent months revising. So, it seems, does half of America. I don’t know if I have the skill, or if I ever will, to write well. Perhaps I should put it aside and pick it up again later in my life (as I did 10 years ago when I quit writing the last time). Maybe writing is what you do when you’re retired if you hate traveling. I feel like there’s very little chance of getting my work published, and I’m not sure it’s worth the effort to keep at it. I regularly feel like more money is made off of people trying to become published authors (see the constant bombardment since I joined Writer’s Digest) than there are people making a living as a writer. I don’t have to write to enjoy these characters and their stories in my imagination. Sure, I’ll want to write again later. And I might again regret the years I gave up. I don’t know. But doubt isn’t helping get words on a page.