Tag Archives: creative process

Lorena Hickok, Journalist

 

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by Story Circle Founder and President, Susan Wittig Albert

Biographical fiction, which toes a delicate line between acknowledged fact and imagined truth, creates its own special research and writing demands. And sometimes, extraordinary challenges.

For Loving Eleanor—the story of Lorena Hickok’s friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt —I started in the usual place: by reading everything I could find about Lorena (Hick, she was called). As it turned out, there wasn’t much readily accessible material, except for brief introductions to her Depression-era investigative reports to Harry Hopkins, a woefully inadequate biography published in 1980 by Doris Faber, and Rodger Streitmatter’s notes in Empty Without You, his collection of letters written by Hick and Eleanor. I had a lot of digging to do.

Hick was a woman who went through life with her elbows out. She began working as a journalist at the Battle Creek Journal in 1913 when she was just 19. She had a gift for telling a taut, well-honed story, and her abilities were quickly recognized. Two years later, she moved to the Milwaukee Sentinel, briefly to the New York Tribune, then (in 1918), to the Minneapolis Tribune, where she earned her stripes as a reporter, feature writer, and Sunday editor. In an unusual move, her editor, Tom Dillon, assigned her to the sports desk. Her breezy, conversational style was new to sports journalism, and as a female sportswriter, her work was groundbreaking.

In 1927, at the end of a failed love affair, Hick went back to New York, first to the tabloid Mirror and then to the Associated Press. She was the first woman to be hired in the flagship New York bureau. Fearless and energetic, she quickly earned a by-line. In her first year at the AP, she covered the sinking of the steamship Vestris, which gave her another first: she was the first woman to have a bylined front page story in the New York Times. As an investigative reporter, she covered politics (FDR’s election as New York governor in 1928); political corruption (the downfall of New York mayor Jimmy Walker and the hugely complicated trial of banker Charles E. Mitchell); and sensational crime (the Lindbergh baby kidnapping). I’ve found her bylined stories in hundreds of newspapers across the country, and almost every story is a standout.

In 1933, at the top of her game, Hick left the AP. It was an anguished decision she felt she was forced to make. Her deepening personal (and very intimate) friendship with the new First Lady made it impossible for her to write objectively about the Roosevelt administration. She believed that she was ethically compromised, and she did the honest–but very painful–thing. She went to work for Harry Hopkins, the director of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. For the next two years, she traveled across the country, investigating government-sponsored relief programs and reporting on Depression-era conditions in 32 states. Her nearly 80 confidential FERA reports, written in bleak hotel rooms late at night, provide us with vivid, no-holds-barred descriptions of the appalling—and yet heroic—plight of millions of destitute Americans. She felt their anguish. Even now, reading her reports, we can feel it, too.

When Hick left FERA in 1936, it was the end of her work as an investigative journalist–but not the end of her writing career. In another post, we’ll take a look at her 15-year career as a biographer.

 

Lorena Hickok, Biographer

This is Part 2 of a two-part series of posts about Lorena Hickok, the journalist whose friendship helped to put Eleanor Roosevelt into the media spotlight–and the central character in my novel, Loving EleanorPart 1 is about Hick’s work as a journalist. But she didn’t just write newspaper stories. After she retired from political life in 1945, she wrote biographies. This post is a quick sketch of that part of her writing career.

In 1952, at the suggestion of Eleanor’s literary agent, Nannine Joseph, Hick undertook the writing of profiles of women in political life–the first book of its kind. Called Ladies of Courage, it was an inspiring account of women’s struggle for recognition in American public and political life in the thirty-five years since women had gained the vote. ER lent the luster of her name to the book and Tommy typed the manuscript, but Hick spent the better part of two years on the research—including extensive interviews with her subjects—and the writing. Before she submitted the finished manuscript, she shared it with ER, who wrote: At last tonight I’ve finished reading your material [for Ladies of Courage] and it is simply swell I think. Much more interesting than I thought it could possibly be made.

The book, which included profiles of Frances Perkins, Clare Boothe Luce, Helen Gahagan Douglas, and Oveta Culp Hobby, was published in 1954. Thanks to ER’s name recognition, it received extensive newspaper attention. Hick traveled around the country, speaking to women’s groups about the book and about the challenges women faced in political life. In recognition of her authorship, ER assigned her the royalties, which cumulatively amounted to about $4,000 (about $35,000 in 2015).

As a journalist, Hick had always been deeply interested in people who had stories, who met extraordinary challenges. In the profiles of the Ladies of Courage, Hick had found a narrative voice that enabled her to tell these stories. After that book was published, she began work on what would be three biographies for young readers in Grosset & Dunlap’s much-heralded Signature Books series: The Story of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1956), The Story of Helen Keller (1958), and The Story of Eleanor Roosevelt (1959). For Scholastic, Hick also wrote a biography of FDR, this one focusing on his early political life: The Road to the White House: FDR, The Pre-Presidential Years (1962).

Of the four books for young readers, Hick’s biography of Helen Keller was the most successful. It was adopted by several school-affiliated book clubs, and sales were boosted even further by the 1957 teleplay by William Gibson, The Miracle Worker, followed by the Broadway play and the 1962 film of the starring Patty Duke. The royalties would help to support Hick for the rest of her life.

When Hick was doing the research for the Keller biography, she became deeply interested in Keller’s teacher, and went on to write a biography for older teens called The Touch of Magic: The Story of Helen Keller’s Great Teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy. The book was published by Dodd, Mead in 1961. Hick felt a special admiration for Macy, who had given Helen Keller her voice. “No author ever finished a book with greater regret,” she wrote in her foreword. “During the months I worked on this book she became as real to me as a living person . . . I miss her.” I can’t help wondering if Hick saw something of herself in Anne Sullivan Macy. Perhaps Hick thought that the empowering help she gave Eleanor—encouraging her to do the press conferences, supporting her early efforts as a writer, urging her to write her newspaper column—was something like the help that Teacher (Helen Keller’s name for Macy) provided her student. Teacher gave Helen her voice and helped to create a place for her in the world. It’s no exaggeration to say that Hick gave Eleanorher voice, as well.

While Hick was working on the Macy biography, she struck up a professional friendship with Allen Klots, her editor at Dodd, Mead. When The Touch of Magic was finished, Hick proposed to Klots the project that became Eleanor Roosevelt: Reluctant First Lady, the book for which Hick is probably best known. It sketches out their most intense friendship without, of course, giving clues to its intimacy. Finished in 1961, Reluctant First Lady was published just prior to ER’s death. it sold well and the royalties from that and her other projects provided Hick with something approaching a comfortable living.

Throughout her adult life, Hick was severely diabetic, and the disease began to curtail her professional activities in the late 1930s. When she finished Reluctant First Lady, she began a biography of labor leader Walter Reuther (also for Dodd, Mead), but her failing eyesight compelled her to stop not long before her death in 1968. That project was completed by Jean Gould and published under the title Walter Reuther: Labor’s Rugged Individualist—with Hick’s name on the cover, as well as Gould’s. That book brought to eight the number of biographies Hick produced in the last fifteen years of her life.

And speaking of biographies: a new dual biography of Hick and Eleanor, by Susan Quinn, will be out in September. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m anxious to read it. I hope Quinn will pay attention to Hick as a writer, as well as the woman who helped to give Eleanor Roosevelt her voice. Hick’s first biographer, Doris Faber, failed her. She deserves a biographer who understands and pays attention to her professional work, as well as her empowering friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Want to read more about Susan’s journey in writing Loving Eleanor? Check out The Secret Story Behind Loving Eleanor.

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Susan Wittig Albert is a best-selling novelist, memoirist, and author of both adult and young adult fiction and nonfiction. She lives on a 31-acre Texas Hill Country homestead with her husband and frequent coauthor, Bill Albert. She founded The Story Circle Network in 1997. Her website:www.susanalbert.com

Permission Slips

by Jude Walsh Whelley

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Every Sunday I meet with my tribe of four women writers for a morning of what Eric Maisel calls Deep Writing. It is a lovely, centering time where we sit side-by-side and write. During occasional breaks we share information on craft, submission, and building platform. The shared writing energy keeps us focused and productive. On my drive home, as I process what I wrote and what we shared, I am frequently inspired. At those moments, I use the voice memo function on my phone to record my thoughts. I may listen to that voice memo and tranfer it to written form immediately or, if life grabs me when I get home, the memo may sit for a while.

In a recent burst of decluttering energy, I decided to review those waiting memos. I found this gem and want to share. I was looking for ways to honor my muse and prioritize time for writing. These are the permission slips I wrote for myself. Perhaps you might like to take a few moments and write some permission slips of your own?

I give myself permission to do what I love

I give myself permission and encouragement to pursue my writing dreams

I give myself permission to devote time to my writing first

I give myself permission to buy the things I need to help me accomplish my goals

I give myself permission to say no to favors or meeting someone else’s needs that distract me from my purpose

I give myself permission to do this without guilt

I give myself permission to write my truth without concern for how it makes anyone else feel because it is my truth, my writing, my story, and no one is going to keep me from speaking my truth.

I give myself permission to put myself first

Jude Walsh Whelley writes fiction, memoir, and poetry. She lives in Dayton, Ohio. This post was previously published on her blog, Writing Now.

Beyond Rain Man Gives Unique Insights: Excerpts from an Interview with Anne K. Ross

By B. Lynn Goodwin

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It takes courage to write a memoir about family. An author exposes herself and her loved ones to observation and criticism as well as appreciation. Anne K. Ross has taken a close look at her family’s unique situation in Beyond Rain Man. She looks at his condition as both a mother and a school psychologist.

An accomplished writer who looks at the diagnosis from a unique perspective, Ross brings a full gamut of emotions to her observations. She compares her own reactions to the parents of students on the spectrum. This is the story of how they cope, survive, and come to terms with a condition that was barely recognized when her son was born.

LG: Tell us a bit about your writing background. When did you become a writer and how do you balance the lives of a school psychologist, a mom, and a writer?

AKR: I’ve always written, starting with a diary in fourth grade and then writing for my school newspapers. Later I got busy with my career as a school psychologist and always wanted to get back to writing creatively (school psychologists write thousands of words a year crafting psycho-educational reports, but it takes a different part of the brain to do that writing).

Then I had my kids and it was even harder to find time to devote to writing. But my eldest son’s behavior was so challenging—tantrums way past typical ages for them and resistance to certain types of clothing—so I started writing again, in a journal. I wrote it all down because I felt like I was a bad mother and I was going crazy. But as I learned more about the autism spectrum through my work, I became a better mom. And as I understood my son more and more, I became a better school psychologist.

LG: What is Beyond Rain Man: What One Psychologist Learned Raising a Son on the Autism Spectrum about and why was it important for you to tell this story?

AKR: It’s about my partner and me raising our two boys, our eldest who finally got the diagnosis of Asperger’s at age eleven, and our youngest, who is neurotypical (doesn’t have an autism spectrum disorder). It’s about all the things we learned along the way, how we did cope, how we raised two boys who have turned out to be wonderful young men.

I wanted to tell our story in order to help other families who are going through this extra challenging parenting journey so they wouldn’t feel so alone and so they could learn how to get the supports and services their children might need at school and in the community. Since I’m a school psychologist, I know the ins and outs of special education and wanted to share that knowledge.

I also wrote Beyond Rain Man in order to help educate professionals in the field—pediatricians, therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists—about the breadth of the autism spectrum and how not everyone on the spectrum fits the type made famous in the movie, Rain Man.

LG: What was the most challenging part about writing this memoir and what was the easiest?

AKR: Probably the easiest part was writing it all down in my journals. The harder part—and it took me about eight years—was to form that writing into a true memoir, with a solid structure, well-developed characters, and a narrator with an appealing voice who has some distance from the events and who could look back with a balanced perspective and be both self critical and forgiving.

AKR: Be ridiculously tenacious. Find a writing community in person or online. Ask for and accept feedback. Write for the pleasure it brings you and not for any dreams of fame or riches.

LG: Where can people learn more about Beyond Rain Man and where can they purchase a copy?

AKR: The Beyond Rain Man website (www.beyondrainman.com) has links to reviews, an excerpt, and ordering links. Beyond Rain Man is available as a print and ebook.

LG: Thank you for sharing and inspiring, Anne.
Read more of this interview at http://www.writeradvice.com.

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BlynnPB. Lynn Goodwin is the owner of Writer Advice, http://www.writeradvice.com, and the author of both You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (Tate Publishing) and TALENT (Eternal Press). Her blog is at http://blynngoodwin.com. Goodwin’s stories and articles have been published in Voices of Caregivers; Hip Mama; Small Press Review; Dramatics Magazine; The Sun; Good Housekeeping.com and many other venues. She is currently working on a memoir about getting married for the first time at age 62.

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The Secret Story Behind LOVING ELEANOR

 

 

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By Story Circle founder and president, Susan Wittig Albert

Some stories beg to be told; some books beg to be written.

For me, the story of the long and intimate friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok was one of those stories–and Loving Eleanor was one of those books. Of all the many responses I’ve had when I’ve discussed the book (forthcoming Feb 1) with readers, the question I most often hear is some variation of “Why didn’t we know this already?”

The most important reason is the most obvious one: the over 3300 letters that document the women’s 30-year friendship were intentionally kept secret. Most of Lorena’s letters to Eleanor were destroyed, probably by ER’s children, after her death. However, Hick kept ER’s letters (and some of her own).

In 1962, after Eleanor’s death, Hick (then in her 70s), realized that she had to find a way to keep the letters safe. The most important threat came from the Roosevelt children, who would not have wanted evidence of the deeply romantic nature of their mother’s friendship with another woman to become public knowledge. They would have destroyed the letters, as they almost certainly located and destroyed the letters ER wrote to her longtime friend, Earl Miller. Another threat came from Joseph Lash, who considered himself the “official” biographer of the Roosevelt family. If Lash acquired the letters, he would likely solidify his relationship with the Roosevelt sons by destroying them. And of course, publishing them herself was not an option at the time, as you can guess.

Hick chose the best and most prudent course. She had a personal relationship with a curator at the FDR Presidential Museum, who urged her to leave her collection to the library. She took his advice, stipulating that the letters be sealed for ten years after her death. She trusted the professional librarians there to keep the letters safe, and they did–although it is fair to say that they had no idea what was in them. Hick died in 1968; the letters were opened to the public, without any announcement, in 1978.

To be continued… Watch this space for another installment of the story. In the meantime, you can read an excerpt from the novel and view my Pinterest photo collection on the book’s website.

Loving Eleanor will be published on Feb 1, 2016. It is available for preorder now on Amazon. Susan Wittig Albert is the founder and current (2015-2017) president of SCN. Susan is a New York Times bestselling author who is publishing her biographical/historical novels under her own imprint, Persevero Press.

Susan Wittig Albert

Susan Wittig Albert

Susan Wittig Albert is a best-selling novelist, memoirist, and author of both adult and young adult fiction and nonfiction. She lives on a 31-acre Texas Hill Country homestead with her husband and frequent coauthor, Bill Albert. She founded The Story Circle Network in 1997. Her website:www.susanalbert.com

Why Journal? A Look at the Positive Effects of Journaling

Guest post by Story Circle Member B. Lynn Goodwin

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How can a journal help a writer? Journaling allows writers to vent, process, explore, discover, and rejoice. It offers a safe place to explore, express oneself, dig deeper, analyze, and discover truths.

Over the past ten years my journals have been

A record

A place to spew

A place to delve and see where the pen takes me

A place to hone my thoughts

A place to sharpen my craft, and figure out what I really mean to say

A place to make discoveries

A place to find story ideas

A place to find resolution or the next step on my journey

A place to make lists and cross off what I accomplish

A place to look back on what was once important and gain perspective

A place to record my reflections

A place to hone my character’s voices

A place to explore my character’s secret thoughts and private lives

I write my journals in longhand. I like the smooth flow of a pen on paper. I like the progress of moving from left to right, line after line, traveling down one page and on to the next. The rhythm of longhand soothes me.

In addition to the fact that university studies have shown that writing saves lives, here are a few other reasons to journal:

I write to share

I write a pull out secrets locked place in my brain

I write to see what happens if I release my private truths

I write to move to a new level of comprehension or analysis

I write to tweak life and imagine happy endings

I write to tweak life and imagine worst-case scenarios

I write gratitude lists to feel better

Try some of my favorite sentence starts and see what happens:

Today I feel…

Today I believe…

Today I want…

Inside of me…

No one knows I worry about…

I am…

I can barely remember…

I love the smell of…

If I ever talk in my sleep…

What if…

Though it does not always seem like it, my journals have the power to get me out of my head and into action. They are a safe place to heal. Healing does not wipe out old problems or past actions. It washes over them, helping you cope, change your attitude, and move forward.

Heal your spirit and discover the spirits of your characters by writing in a journal.

BlynnPB.Lynn Goodwin is the owner of Writer Advice, http://www.writeradvice.com and the author of You Want Me to Do What? Journaling for Caregivers, which contains encouragement, instructions, and over 200 sentence starts to help you journal any time, even if writer’s block rises up like a granite wall in front of you. She’s also the author of Talent (Eternal Press), which will be out November 1, 2015. 

She teaches through Story Circle Network, welcomes all kinds of editing clients, continues to journal frequently, and is hard at work on a YA novel. Talent Cover

Sweet Mystery of Life: the scent of possibility, naming, responsibility & choice

Essay by Janet Grace Riehl

This is the 75th post for Creative Catalyst.

The Power of Possibility Photo by Janet Grace Riehl

The Power of Possibility
Photo by Janet Grace Riehl

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible… what wine is so sparkling, so fragrant, so intoxicating, as possibility!” ~Søren Kierkegaard, Diapsalmata

 As the holiday season recedes, a time devoted to reveling segues to a time of resolutions. As we know resolutions for a new year or at any time require resolution.  I want to write about that.

Where do we find this resolution in the reaches of our being? How do we greet the New Year with courage and vulnerability? I want to write about that.

But then, I also want to write about:

The power of possibility. It would be so easy to write a tips article: 15 Possibilities for the New Year. What are yours?

I also want to write about:

  • The power of naming. It would be so easy to write an article challenging you to investigate how the power of naming holds you back and propels you forward—both in your work and in your life.

It would be so easy.  But sorting through this list of possible themes—and so many others—is not so easy. Possibility confers power, yes, but to harness that power requires responsibility. The pull of putting possibility into form requires choice. Oh, goodness, how can we possibly resist the pull of the plethora of possibilities that beckon? It would be so easy to write a tips article: 15 Possibilities for the New Year. What are yours? What choices will you make?

But, I don’t what to write a tips article. Is it possible to write something thoughtful and insightful that brings together:

  • Possibility
  • Naming
  • Resolution
  • Choice

I don’t know. Let’s see. I’ll do my best. That’s all I can promise.

Oh, wait! I also want to write a review of “Birdman” which I saw last night and continues to reverberate within me. So many layers! So many themes: art, identity, reality, social culture, sanity…that’s a Master’s thesis for literature, philosophy, sociology. This is just a column. Isn’t that asking a lot of a column? But, that would definitely bring together possibility, naming, resolution, and choice.

Heck, that’s beyond me. I want to write about my father. That’s always a crowd pleaser. I could tell the story of how my father views my smart phone.

1) A thing that finds out what you don’t know when you don’t know what that thing is;

2) A jukebox

3) A mystery

4) A magical something that does things impossible to understand, but grants wishes.

Before our New Year’s family brunch he sat in his lazy boy recliner with his eyes closed. Is he asleep? Is he dreaming? Is he ruminating? These days it’s hard to tell because he can barely see. Then, he eyes opened, and he said, “Janet, have you ever heard the song ‘Louisiana Purchase?” It’s from the light opera ‘Naughty Marietta.’ I haven’t heard that in years.”

I hauled out my smartphone and inserted a quarter into its jukebox app. I found the song he wanted and held the phone up to his ear. His face relaxed; its lines of character and strength softened and purred.

I could also look up it history on this piece of equipment that grants his wishes.

  • The operetta opened on Broadway in 1910
  • Which led to the classic 1935 MCM film version that first paired Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Never heard of them? Look it up on the time machine, and listen to their fine duettes.
  • I could find out its plot and the history it was based on as reported by that invaluable tool “Wikipedia.” (Don’t forget to donate!)

 Set in New Orleans in 1780, it tells how Captain Richard Warrington is commissioned to unmask and capture a notorious French pirate calling himself “Bras Priqué” – and how he is helped and hindered by a high-spirited runaway, Contessa Marietta. The score includes many well-known songs, including “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life”.

  • I could find out if “Naughty Marietta” continues to be taught, performed, and sung today. It does! It’s a staple of light opera workshops even today.
  • I could look up the lyrics of “Sweet Mystery of Life” one of the best known songs from “Naughty Marietta.”Ah, sweet mystery of life
    At last I’ve found thee
    Ah, I know at last the secret of it all
    All the longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning
    The burning hopes, the joy and idle tears that fall
    For ’tis love and love alone, the world is seeking
    And ’tis love and love alone that can repay
    ‘Tis the answer, ’tis the end and all of living
    For it is love alone that rules for aye
    Love and love alone, the world is seeking
    For ’tis love and love alone that can repay
    ‘Tis the answer, ’tis the end and all of living

    For it is love alone that rules for aye.–Music and lyrics by Victor Herbert

 Now I think that’s all I have to say for now about the power of possibility, naming, resolution and choice.

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Creative Catalyst is written by Janet Grace Riehl. She does her best to choose among the possibilities and impossibilities of her life. Sometimes she can name them. Sometimes she responds to them and chooses. See her blog-magazine Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century  with its mission to create connections through the arts and across cultures.

On Journaling to Keep Writing

by Sheila Bender

I encourage everyone to recognize how they feel comfortable writing and to recognize whatever that is as a valid journaling experience. I once had a retired male botany professor in a journaling class. He complained that he wasn’t disciplined enough as a writer now that he was retired and his wife made him escort her to the mall. I asked what he did there and he said, “I sit on a bench and watch people. I love to do that. I am used to being in the field and taking notes on what I see.”

“And what did you take notes on in the field?” I asked him. He answered that he used three-by-five note cards he kept in his breast pocket. I suggested that he put those cards in his pocket the next time he went to the mall. He came back to class with lots of journal entries.

We all have a discipline, but we think it doesn’t count. It does!

Often people think, “What if I don’t have anything important to write about on a given day?”

It’s not about writing what it is important. It’s about writing. If you allow yourself to write each day or several times a week, you are going to interest yourself at some point. It is hard not to find something of interest when you allow yourself to have some fun writing and don’t feel that you have to write about only “important” things or even make sense.

The best writing comes when we “tell it slant” as Emily Dickinson advised. Our emotional undercurrent is always there. When we don’t try to directly describe something emotional in our lives, but just describe what’s in front of us, our emotional view of the world comes out, making what we are saying interesting.

Just keep writing—that’s always the answer. Write about eating alone and eating with others, about being a stranger at a dinner table. Write about remembering how you learned to whistle or whose whistle meant something to you. Address a letter to an instrument you no longer play explaining what happened. Let the instrument write back to you.

Sit at your window and describe what you see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. Then, imagine someone walking into the scene with something to say to you. This works especially well if you imagine that someone to be a person who really can’t walk into the scene because they have died or are very far away or completely out of touch.

To write well we must always allow ourselves an element of play even when we are writing about difficult topics.

So three important keys to keeping a journal that interests you: recognize your discipline and work from that, tell thing slant trusting the meaning will rise from the images, and allow yourself to play with your writing. Then you will find that keeping yourself writing is not that hard at all.