Tag Archives: writing advice

Writing with a Motivational Calendar

13 Apr

My life has changed quite a bit over the past year. Between moving and starting (two) new jobs, I’ve had to adjust my writing life and the way I think about my writing life. As many of you know, I currently work full time at the library and then work part time as a freelance editor. Suffice it to say, I don’t have a ton of time to pursue writing, but I try not to let that get me down (because I definitely don’t have extra time to feel down about it either, though it happens from time to time).

So what does a full-time working adult do to feel like they’re still pursuing their writing dreams?

Well, write, of course, but I also keep a motivational calendar.

What’s a motivational calendar?

Technically, it could be whatever you want. Mine, in fact, has changed over the years. A couple years ago, for instance, I liked to have a “future” motivational calendar. Meaning, I would write down goals for that week, and then get it done. Now my calendar is focused on the past. Every day, I take the time to record everything I did to pursue my writing goals. Mostly, I write down my current word count, how many queries I sent, how many writing-related jobs (such as a literary internship) I applied for, and other miscellaneous info. I also make sure to outline where I started on Day 1 and then I update that info on the last day. That way, I can see progress. Oh, and my favorite part, I highlight major accomplishments, like a full request from an agent. 

Here’s a snapshot of my January calendar.

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Since it’s small, here’s some facts. I started 2019 with my WIP “The Girl With The Thousand Faces” being 26,996 words in first draft/plotting. At the end, it was 31,533 with significant world building being finalized. My other WIP “The Pharaoh’s Daughter” started at 53,633 in its second draft. It ended with 81,938 words and completed. In that time, I also applied for four jobs and sent out five queries on my YA sci-fi “Immersion.” Most exciting of all? I received a full request from an agent for “Immersion” and won the Secret Agent contest with my historical “The Pharaoh’s Daughter,” which also resulted in a full request from an agent. (P.S. Both are still pending, so keep your fingers crossed for me.)

It might seem tedious or silly to keep track of all the ways you pursue your dreams, but to me, it keeps me motivated. It helps me remind myself how hard I am working – that I haven’t given up my writing dreams because X, Y, or Z in life – and that I will keep trying. Plus, it’s easy to forget all that you do on a day-by-day basis, and by having a physical representation of it, you won’t forget. You’ll know how hard you work (and also know it’s okay to take a break). You might notice, for instance, that I don’t write every day, or do anything some days. And that’s okay. 

One word at a time, one day at a time, right?

Oh, and one more note of importance.

My calendar is definitely cat-themed.

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~SAT

 

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Is it Possible to Read Too Much as a Writer?

5 Jan

Last year, I read 167 books according to Goodreads. Granted, this is a mixture of everything under the publishing sun: adult fiction, YA, MG, graphic novels, and, yes, even picture books. My job at the library has definitely broadened my reading sphere, for which I’m super grateful. (I never knew picture books could be so extensive—and gorgeous! When I was a little, I feel like we had two options: Dr. Seuss and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. But that’s beside the point.)

I read a lot, and lately I’ve wondered if I read too much.

Is that even possible? (Especially for a writer.)

I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think this question has a simple answer, as it depends on the writer’s life: how much free time they have, their access to books, how reading affects them, their writing goals etc. If, for instance, you are on a serious deadline, you probably need to put writing ahead of reading in order to meet that. In contrast, if you’re a new writer, it’s recommended you spend more time reading in order to understand storytelling, the market’s needs, etc. As Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.”

But what happens when you spend all your time reading and not writing?

When I look back on 2018, I know I read a lot more than I wrote, which is fine. Between starting two new jobs and having to move, writing often felt like too much. But I could handle reading. It was my reprieve from everything else. Writing usually is as well, but almost every time I sat down to write, I felt way too weighed down by everything else. Now that I’m more adjusted to my new life, though, I feel a bit burnt out on reading—and yet, I’ve struggled to tune down my reading time to make more room for writing. Why? Maybe I got used to reading more and writing less, and now I have to readjust again. Who knows. One thing that’s helped me is taking my laptop to work and writing during my lunch break; then, when I come home, reading. It’s still a lot more reading time and less writing time, but I’m hoping the slow adjustment helps my writer’s brain turn back on.

It’s such an isolating feeling watching your fellow writers crank out chapter after chapter when you’re only reading them. But reading is definitely good for writers too. That being said, I have a goal of reading less this year. I spent so little time writing I feel like I need to re-fill that well in my life. So far, writing during my lunch breaks has helped me write more than when I was trying to sit down at home. Even if it’s only a couple hundred words a week, it’s enough. I can see my word count moving again, and I can feel myself getting into the motion of writing more. I’m being more critical about the books I take home, and putting down ones that I don’t want to finish (instead of forcing myself through them).

In the end, I don’t think I spent too much time reading this year, because of my circumstances. It was right for me at the time. But I definitely can see how reading can take over a writer’s life if they aren’t careful. (I mean, most of us started writing out of a love for reading, right?)

In the end, I think a writer can spend too much time reading. But they can also spend too much time writing, or querying, or editing, etc. It’s all about balance and figuring out what works for you.

So what do you think? Can a writer spend too much time reading?

~SAT

P.S. I’m blogging again. Thanks for your patience! To be honest, I have a very small goal of posting once a month (on the first Saturday), but I hope you enjoy them regardless!

P.P.S I’m also posting TAKE ME TOMORROW on Wattpad again, with the plan to follow up with the sequel. I plan on blogging about the decision, but you can read more about that on Wattpad by clicking here. A new chapter goes up every Saturday! I hope you’ll stop by and support me.

2018: The Year of Writing Limbo

29 Dec

Last year I wrote this article—2017 Wasn’t My Writing Year—and I talked about failing my top three goals. Those goals were wanting an internship at literary agency, working for a library, and signing with a literary agent.

Every year, I write an article like this. But this year, despite struggling to find time to blog, I had to make myself follow up about this year. I mean, come on, I succeeded at one of my major goals! Two months after my past article, I was hired by the library, and last month, I was promoted and became full time. In regards to my other goals, I actually had the opportunity to speak to two literary agencies about internships this year, but with all my life changes going on, I had to back out. But hey, I’m still in contact with them about a future opportunity once life settles down.

This year, I didn’t make any goals for myself.Mainly because I realized how hard I was on myself last year due to the goals I created. In fact, I took a long, hard look at those goals and realized I shouldn’t have goals with uncontrollable results. Ex. “Signing with a literary agent” shouldn’t be a goal dependent on one year. The goal should’ve been “finish writing that new book,” or “query X amount of good fits this summer,” or “take a query workshop to improve your skills.” So, yes, signing with an agent is still a dream of mine, but I’ve learned how to redefine my goals overtime.

So what did I do this year to achieve my dreams?

To be honest, I barely wrote. I sent out a limited number of queries. I didn’t have a single publication come out for the first time in six years.

I could concentrate on the negative, or I could concentrate on this:

I was hired by the library, one of my dreams, and I was promoted eight months later. We moved into a better, healthier house and neighborhood, and my health is improving. I was featured in YASH (the Young Adult Scavenger Hunt) twice! I was invited to speak and sign books at the LitUp Festival, a YA festival run by teens. They were amazing, and I had so much fun. I even got to meet one of my memoir heroes, Ishmael Beah. Clean Teen Publishing released  Bad Bloods: November Snow as an audiobook, narrated by Jonathan Johns, and Minutes Before Sunset also released as an audiobook, narrated by Sarah Puckett and Steve Campbell. They were a blast to work with. I also signed books at the Local Author Fair here in Kansas City, and saw my books in a library for the first time. And I never stopped writing. I finished writing my first historical fantasy during NaNoWriMo, worked on lots of beta reader notes, beta read many books myself, and began writing my next sci-fi.

2018 highlights

So you know what? I did just fine, new publications or not, agent or not, internship or not.

I did my best every day, and I’m going to continue doing my best every day, and I feel pretty good about it in retrospect. Now, to be kinder to myself on a regular basis. I think I’d be a much happier, healthier person.

This is my only goal for 2019.

~SAT

Why I’m Not Blogging Right Now

22 Jun

Hey, folks! I know I’ve been absent from the blogging world for longer than ever since I began in 2012. Some of you might have noticed that I returned to social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter), so I thought I’d post a short (okay, so I tried to make it short) explanation as to why I haven’t returned to my weekly writing tips posts.

Mainly, my schedule is still insane.

It’s easy to send out a tweet here and there. But writing 1,500-word blog posts every week? That takes a lot more time and energy that I simply don’t have right now.

I’m adjusting to my new job at the library. (I’m finally through training, which YAY!) I love it. It’s super fun, and I look forward to seeing where I go with it. But between working at the library and coming home to edit novels, (which I’m still doing btw; please don’t hesitate to contact me about my services), I have very little writing time for myself. And my writing time needs to come before blogging. If you’re interested in what I’ve been up to at the library, here are two displays I created for my branch: Juvenile Fiction for Spring: April Showers and May Flowers, and Travel the World with YA.

Also, unfortunately, I’m still having health issues. Some people on the blogosphere are super comfortable getting into details about these things, but I’m not, and I hope you understand. I will say this, though. I’ve been getting a lot of tests done. I’m actually working with three different doctors right now, and waiting to get into yet another specialist soon. Not knowing exactly what is wrong or how to fix it is a major stressor in my life, and my energy levels have been nearly zapped between work, editing, and being sick. Not to mention how expensive health care is in the US right now. I promise I’m working at getting better though. But again, my health has to be a priority.

With all that being said, I don’t think I’ll be blogging on the regular any time soon, but I promise to keep everyone updated as much as possible.

In other news…

The LitUp Festival went amazing! I mean, check out that fan art of Serena and Daniel from Bad Bloods. My teen interviewer was super nice and extremely brave for being part of a teen-run festival. I had a blast!

The Bad Bloods: November Snow audiobook narrated by Jonathan Johns released! You can get it everywhere books are sold. I hope you enjoy the conclusion of the first duology.

I’ve also had the privilege of listening to the Minutes Before Sunset audiobook narrated by Sarah Puckett and Steve Campbell, and it’s AMAZING. It should release soon, so keep your eyes open. ❤ If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to record an audiobook, watch this behind-the-scenes video! It’s super neat.

Cancer-free kitty

My favorite news? My cat Boo Boo beat cancer this week. We found out he had thyroid cancer a few months ago, and he’s been battling it with treatments for a while now. He had surgery once it was small enough, and then we got his blood re-tested, and he’s cancer-free. He may be 16, but he’s one tough cat. I’m super happy about that.

In writing news, I’m officially working on three books. I’m editing/rewriting my first YA historical, first drafting a YA sci-fi, and brainstorming/outlining a YA fantasy. No publications coming up, but I hope you understand. ❤ I’m really enjoying taking some time to write just for me. But I am looking forward to sharing these novels one day!

Oh, and I turn 27 tomorrow. Crazy, right?

As always, I hope all of you are doing well.

Stay in touch.

~SAT

Can Someone Steal Your Book Idea?

21 Apr

Can someone steal your book idea?

I tend to find there are two responses to this question:

  1. Absolutely! YES! Someone did that to meeee!
  2. NO WAY. Never happens. It’s impossible, because your idea can only be written by you.

To be honest, I think both of these answers are a little too black and white. If I had to share my opinion—which, obvs, I am—I believe “stealing an idea” lands somewhere in the middle of these two responses.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that I agree with both of them. Because, yes, someone can steal your idea. If you hand them your pitch or outline or character sheet, those people can take it and do something with it. Granted, now siding with the second answer, no matter what that person does with your idea, it will never be exactly how you would’ve done it, so one way or another, they will make it their own.

Publishing crimes 101

So is it stealing?

I DON’T KNOW.

I think this is one of those gray, really uncomfortable areas of publishing that many people tiptoe around because they are afraid of looking paranoid or offending others or causing an uproar, but why can’t we talk about it? Why can’t we talk about the fact that this does happen sometimes?

When I was younger, lots of writers were on Wattpad; many of which did blatantly “borrow” premises or literal lines from one another’s work without permission. In fact, sometimes I think this happens a lot when writers transition from writing fan fiction to writing something independent of other works. Fan fiction can be a fantastic place to learn about the craft of writing, but it is one of those blurry places. So is “inspiration.” For instance, we can be inspired by another tale, and recreate it into something new.

We never call a fairytale retelling stealing for a reason. That’s because those writers are making that tale their own. It’s unique in the way they reconstruct the story and how they tell the story throughout the piece. But what if someone took Harry Potter and retold it? Would everyone be okay with that? I think it would depend on how similar the two pieces were and what was changed. And to be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see something like that happen sooner rather than later.

So let’s talk about those blurred lines. You know, the ones that happen when #PitMad tweets suddenly seem the same, or how similar novels get sold to different editors at the same time, or how novelists will use current best-sellers as influences when writing a piece. We could get into trends and talk about how publishing is still a business and la la la. But I could go on forever about that, so I thought I’d share a story of my own.

I’ve had something like idea stealing happen to me before.

About two years ago, when MSWL was first taking off, I had my first manuscript I felt was ready to query to agents, and I found a new agent on that hashtag that I thought was a good fit. I sent her my work. She loved the sample pages and requested more, and then she asked for an R&R, outlining what parts she liked and didn’t like. I rewrote, but it still didn’t work out. Not a big deal, right? Right. I totally agree that we weren’t a good fit for one another with that manuscript. However, to my surprise (and a bit of horror), when I logged into Twitter that evening, she had tweeted out a near-replica of my manuscript’s pitch to MSWL. Long story short, another author out in the Twitter verse responded to that sort-of-mine-pitch (seriously, I wish I could explain how close it was, but just trust me, it was unbearably close), and she signed that author who later went on to get a three-figure deal in less than six months. Granted, the book releases later this year, so I have no clue just how similar it is. I doubt it’s that similar. That’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is that I felt like there was a direct violation of author-agent trust. She shared my pitch without asking me, end of story.

So did that agent steal my idea? No, not really. Because she didn’t go and shop my story pretending she had written it. She simply reached out to others who happened to have a similar idea to mine already written. But was it shady as hell? Yes, I think so. To this day, I have anxiety around MSWL because of it, even though it was one instance that I doubt would happen again. In fact, I still sent my next manuscript to this agent, because she asked me to send her my next piece. Her response? Form rejection. But did she tweet out my new idea on MSWL? No. How do I feel now? Still a little weird about the whole thing, I won’t lie, but I don’t think any of it was that personal either, even if it feels that way some days.

Sometimes many of us have similar ideas at the same time. Why wouldn’t we? We all live at the same time in this weird world, often influenced by the same constructs (whether it be celebrities or politics or social scandals). So, it shouldn’t be a surprise when a dozen, if not hundreds, of writers are writing similar stories. To be honest, I think this is what happens most of the time. We share our idea, someone already has a similar idea, and we automatically think they stole it rather than thought of it themselves. But there’s truly no way to prove it. And that’s why this topic is such a sensitive, slippery slope.

The masses in publishing have deemed this sort of claim as immature rubbish, but I think that’s super harsh. After my experience with having my pitch shared without permission, I felt a little violated. I actually stopped participating in many Twitter events for most of last year because of it. But then, I realized that I let this one shady experience ruin all the fun times I was having with other writers. So, I started to share again, and I am having a blast.

If someone “steals” my idea, fine. I have plenty more, and so do most writers. In fact, I think writers really need to keep that in mind when considering if someone “stole” their idea or not. Most of us already have too many ideas in our own heads to have time to consider other people’s ideas. Also, most writers need to feel passionate about something in order to write 80,000 words or more, and then rewrite it over and over and over again. “Stealing” an idea is probably the last way to become successful. Why? Well, A) It’s not your story, and B) You will eventually burnout, or C) The publishing gods will sick writing-idea demons on you, and you will forever be on the ominous blacklist.

Okay. So maybe not that last one. But you get what I mean.

Someone “stealing” ideas is probably very rare, but if you’re feeling that way, take a few breaths and reflect on if it’s truly stolen, and if so, don’t let it get you down. You thought it up. You planned it out. You can still write it. At the end of the day, your story will always be your story. 

Besides, your voice will be how you tell your story. And no one can steal that.

~SAT

 

A Writer’s Health + Tips

14 Apr

As some of you know, I’m going through some health issues, and though I’m not really open about what those issues are, the struggles have definitely caused me to appreciate good health a lot more. I also pay more attention to health now, so I thought I’d write up a list of health issues writers should look out for. Of course, everyone should look out for a variety of issues, but here’s a specific list of health issues that affect writers.

Always consult your doctor about lifestyle/health changes, and don’t forget your yearly checkups. ❤

1. Get your eyes checked

Don’t be like me and wait 26 years to find out your nearsighted. Seriously, I got my first pair of glasses in March, and my life is so different now. My headaches have all but disappeared. I used to get these terrible, debilitating migraines, especially on editing days. Turns out this was mainly happening because one of my eyes is much worse than my other one, and it was causing my eyes to overcompensate, so BAM. Headaches. Granted, I know headaches happen for a variety of reasons, and there are more reasons to get your eyes checked than headaches, but if you spend a lot of time reading, it’s good to keep those eyeballs as healthy as possible.

Here’s some extra tips:

  • Get great eye drops.
  • Take care of allergies.
  • Make sure to look away from the computer screen if working long hours.

2. Check your desk posture

Writers often sit for long hours at a desk typing away at a computer. Make sure your desk posture is healthy, and even if it is, be conscious about checking in as often as possible. If you don’t know what healthy desk posture looks like, here’s a place to startHaving a healthy writing environment in essential for productivity and happiness. This might mean a bigger computer screen, more space, better lighting, or cute cat memes taped to the wall.

Extra tips:

  • Get familiar with stretches that specifically help those who have to sit at a desk a lot.
  • Have a timer that reminds you of breaks for stretches and looking away from the screen. Oh! And snacks. Don’t forget snacks.
  • Joint support: Lots of writers develop carpal tunnel and tennis elbow for a reason. We use our hands A LOT. In fact, I have early on-set carpal tunnel syndrome, and let me tell you, it sucks. But I have wrist supports and know therapeutic stretches that help. Take care of those precious hands. They have worlds to write down!
  • Yoga! So I’m in love with yoga, but if you are like me, you might not have the time or funds to sign up for a class. The best part about yoga? You don’t have to. I recommend the Down Dog app. It’s been a lifesaver for me. It’s completely free, has lots of settings/options, and you can do it right from home. I had never taken a single class before using this app, and it was super easy to use.

3. Mental Health

A lot of artists get their inspiration from dark places, and then they share it with the world, inviting critique and rejection from strangers into a very personal place, so it comes as no surprise that many writers struggle with mental health throughout their life. Don’t get burnt out. Don’t let rejections destroy your dreams. Take breaks. Breathe. One thing that has always helped me is reminding myself why I write in the first place. It’s easy to get caught up in publication goals, but it’s important to remember that I love writing at the end of the day. If everything becomes too much, I still have writing for myself. In retrospect, I think I write a lot about mental health right here on this blog. It might not be labeled that way, but if I scroll back, I find lots of articles that are discussing emotional well being, so here’s some other tips:

In the end…

Health is a personal issue, and it’s important to look out for your overall well being, but I hope this gives a place for writers to start if they want to be healthier about writing. I’ve totally allowed my writing to get unhealthy, either by getting too wrapped up emotionally over a rejection or forgetting to drink more water (rather than another cup of coffee). There’s a reason that artists are the only people who defy Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.We often put art above all else, and it takes conscious effort to put health first. I know I could be better at it, so if anything else, this is a nice little reminder for myself, but I hope it helped you too!

Feel free to share your health tips!

~SAT

Why Some Books Resonate and Others Don’t

31 Mar

I’m here to tell you why some books resonate and others don’t. Why? Because so many publishers/agents/editors are out there searching for the next big thing, and many authors are trying to become that. As authors, sometimes we stare at three or four different projects and wonder which one we should work on next (because we want to know which one would be more successful), and if we somehow knew how to predict that, we could cut back on a lot of work stress (and readers could get more books they love).

So how do you know which books will resonate?

Short answer: You don’t.

But the long answer?

There are numerous “reasons” a book will resonate with millions (or even hundreds) of people, but I put the word “reasons” in quotes for a reason. Most of these reasons are theories. Even if we do “know,” it is not necessarily a fact. Confusing? Stay with me. We’re going to talk about it.

Let’s start with the obvious place. The dreaded M word: Marketing.

It’s easy to see popular authors and their huge marketing budgets and think, “No wonder they are so successful! Who wouldn’t be with a billboard on 5th Ave?” But let’s chill out for a minute. Most authors started somewhere small. Most authors, even the current NYT bestsellers, did not get a huge budget on their debut. Their publishers decided to use a huge budget after the sold well the first time. Granted, marketing definitely has an effect, but it’s not the end all be all. Thousands of books get huge marketing deals a year but still don’t become the franchises everyone on the team was hoping for. Some books get very little marketing budgets, but then ARCs go out in the world and readers start clamoring for them and publishers have to rush to get a bigger budget behind it. (A great example of this is Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones. She talked about it on the Pub(lishing) Crawl podcast, so go check it out if you want to hear that story. It’s very informative.) Basically, having backing will definitely help get your books in front of readers, but that doesn’t guarantee those readers will fall for the hype.

So now let’s look at books that did succeed.

Twilight! The Hunger Games! The Harry Potter series! Fifty Shades of Grey! Do you know what these books had in common? Lots of rejections. Lots of closed doors. Lots of what ifs. So clearly, “predicting” the books that will succeed is not obvious, not even for the professionals.

Some of the biggest books of our recent times were not expected to be HUGE hits. But there are some reasons that they succeeded that we can discuss.

So Twilight didn’t just have great timing; Hollywood had great timing too. It was arguably the first time Hollywood acknowledged the potential of a female-focused film fan base and they ran with it. Harry Potter, on the other hand, was a book that resonated with everyone between the ages of 8 and 50+, so it was another perfect option for the books-to-film boom. Not to mention all the new tech, with graphics making chasing sci-fi and fantasy films better than before. Granted, these books were already super popular before they were films, so let’s talk about The Hunger Games, because I think that one has an interesting study behind it. 

Looking back on The Hunger Games boom, many theorists believe it took off because it was published at the same time that the teens reading were the same people who were in middle school when 9/11 happened. And I think that study might be spot-on. (I say this as someone who fits into this exact category.)

Teens at that age in that time were searching for books that explained war and government and tragedy, and The Hunger Games gave not only a safe place to explore those themes but a modern place. What do I mean by “modern”? We all grew up on The Giver and Logan’s Run and all the other dystopian classics, but The Hunger Games was the brand-new dystopian my generation was itching for.

But again, that’s just a theory.

Maybe it was just a fantastic book, but there were millions of fantastic books that came out that year that didn’t take off the same way, so I tend to agree with some theories presented.

Timing is everything, and yet timing is rarely predictable.

Lots of editors and agents and publishers and authors want to have great timing (or think they know what the next trend will be), and maybe they’re right, but no one has ever predicted the HUGE breakthrough sellers with extreme accuracy.

To be honest, sometimes I don’t know if there is a reason to it. Everyone says retrospect is 20/20, but maybe we only say that because we can look back and justify the path that it took, rather than truly understand how that path happened in the first place.

At the end of the day, I look at book sales the way I look at my blog posts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve researched and spent hours on one blog post that goes nowhere, while in comparison a blog post I slapped together last minute pulled in hundreds more viewers than I ever expected. I can try to track it as much as I like. My website host will show me where my posts are shared (Pinterest, FB, etc.) and what was Googled to get others here, but even then, most of the stats are nonsensical at the end of the day.

Sometimes things just resonate, and sometimes they don’t, so what I do?

I stopped worrying about what resonates with others and started focusing on what resonates with me.  

As the author, if I’m not enjoying what I’m writing, I know my readers won’t. The first step with any book is to write what you care about first. Finish that. And then worry about editing and getting a publishing deal.

Maybe your next piece of work will resonate with the world. Maybe it won’t. But at least you know that it resonated with you. And if it resonates with you, trust me, it will resonate with someone else out there. So if I would leave you with anything, it’s this:

Write what you want to write, always.

~SAT

P.S. I’m in YASH Spring 2018 this year! If you don’t know what that is, it’s the Young Adult Scavenger Hunt, and my post goes up April 3. This also means my usual blog schedule is getting moved around a bit. I hope you’ll stop by on April 3, because there’s tons of prizes to be won. My regular blog posts will return April 14! 

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