What is #52Stories?

 

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Happy Tuesday, friends!

I thought I’d take a minute–just sit right there–and explain this year’s blog project: #52Stories (formerly #100Stories, because I tend to set overly ambitious goals).

I first started writing fiction in grade school, turning 10-sentence vocabulary homework assignments into 2-3 page serialized adventures, featuring explorers and spies with surprisingly advanced word-usage. My teachers encouraged me to keep writing, and I did, even if it wasn’t for class credit. I wrote short fiction throughout high school and shared it with friends and family. I loved exploring ideas or scenarios in this format. In college, that creative itch shifted toward poetry and dramatic scripts, and eventually a few false-starts on full-length novels.

In recent months, I’ve been thinking about turning my attention back to writing some short fiction (as I try to rebuild a writing rhythm), and that has me thinking: What can I learn about the craft of short story writing by reading (or re-reading) a ton of short stories suggested by everyone I know? 

That question is the inspiration for my 2019 personal reading/blogging challenge: #52Stories.

My list will be based on the recommendations of my blog readers, social media circles, and friends/family, along with a few of my own additions. I’ll be reading all across the dial in terms of genre, while trying to maintain a mix of classic and modern. I don’t purport to have a perfect demographic representation of human writing or experience (my social circles are admittedly limited), but I have tried to open things up as best I can (and I’m absolutely open to more suggestions!).

My plan is to read each story and write a reaction post with 3 parts:

  • a one-sentence blurb about the story’s plot/idea (“the Set-up”);
  • my possibly-but-not-necessarily spoilery reaction to how well it unfolds (“the Pay-off”); and
  • something I can take away from it in terms of how to write better stories (“the Lesson”).

If the story is (legally) available online, I’ll post a link for you to check it out, and if it’s not, I’ll tell you where I found it.

I hope you enjoy #52Stories, and that you find it as fascinating and useful as I expect to. I’m excited to get started–which is a good thing because, at one story a week, I’m already behind! Gotta get cracking! Talk to you soon!

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Any suggestions for #52Stories? Post them below!

#FridayFive: Five Goals for 2019 (12/28/2018)

Happy Mid-Holiday Week, friends! (Or if you prefer, Happy Fourth Day of Christmas–hope you are enjoying your 4 French hens, preferably in a warm and delicious soup!)

Since we are fast approaching the start of a new year, everyone in the world is ready to post their resolutions for 2019, things they hope to accomplish in the next 12 months. Well, call me a bandwagoner if you like, but I also came up with a few goals for the next year that I hope to pursue (and would appreciate your encouragement for, if you don’t mind!). These aren’t quite set in stone, yet–they’re just some ideas I’m considering:

I want to kick the sugar habit. Y’all, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs, but sugar and caffeine are my addictions of choice–and I’m not giving up caffeine anytime soon. I was doing pretty well on the ketogenic diet for about 5 months this year, but I used some life circumstances as an excuse to slide off the path. I quit working out, I started eating carbs again like I used to, and I’m probably staring at a gain of 15-20 pounds in the last 8 weeks. So I’m going to enjoy the holiday treats and sugary cereals for a few more days and then toss what’s left on Tuesday. It’s time to get serious again. I have a specific weight loss goal in mind for this year and next, and the clock is ticking. Cutting out the processed sugars and carby treats is a big, big part of that.

I want to pray every day. Last year was the first year that I read through the Bible between January and December, and while it would be neat to do that again, I think a better goal for me (besides daily Bible intake) is daily prayer. This is an area of my walk with Jesus that really needs to grow, especially considering the new ministry opportunities I may be stepping into next month. I know there is no tip or trick other than just doing it. I’ve downloaded the apps, I’ve read the books, but unless I’m willing to do it, really do it, nothing will change. So I’m praying for the desire to pray more.

I want to use Twitter to benefit others. Some of you may remember that many of us recently mourned the passing of Donna Guy, the “Kindness Ninja.” Her example of using social media to be a blessing to others has really stayed with me, and I want to make an effort to use my social feeds, specifically Twitter, to be an encouragement. I’m still trying to figure out what that will look like, but I want to make sure that anyone reading through my tweets comes away wanting to know Jesus better, not just wanting to win giveaways or read my online content.

I want to write a lot more than I did this year. I was able to get into a bit of a blogging groove toward the end of this year, so I’d like to keep that going, but beyond that, I want to get back to my first love of writing fiction. Part of the reason I’m kicking around this #100Stories idea is that I want to explore the short-story format and work on some short material that I can offer to you (via a mailing list or something like that) and/or compile and publish as an e-book. In any case, I’m looking forward to making writing a daily practice instead of a 2-3-times-a-week exercise.

(I think) I want to become an early riser. I’ve read over and over and over again that people who make a habit of going to bed early and getting up before the sun often find the time to accomplish their goals and become more successful. For years, I considered myself a “night owl” and found that staying up late seemed to work best for me. But now as a husband and father, I’m realizing that late nights are just not tenable when you have a toddler, and it may be better to claim a few extra hours at the start of my day to pursue my goals (like the ones above). My noted hesitation is that I know making this circadian shift isn’t easy or fun, but if it’s worth it, then I just need to push through until I get it right.

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Did you accomplish any 2018 resolutions? Do you have any goals for 2019? Any advice for my 5 goals above?

Let me know in the comments below!

What’s Next? (My 3-Step Plan)

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Happy December, friends!

After finishing #30ThankYous in November, I have to admit, I’m feeling a bit of pressure to top that with something even bigger. But that’s totally bonkers and just not feasible at this point in my life.

Instead, I’d like to use some of that energy and momentum to make this site better than ever, heading into the new year. So, how can we do that?

Step #1 is Consistency. This was the beauty of the #30ThankYous project in November–it forced me to publish on a daily basis (albeit imperfectly so!). And while it wasn’t the home run I was hoping, you know what? I posted 22 out of the the 30 days. I’m proud of that, folks. Because in recent years, it would have taken me months to post that many times. And while I’m not going to keep up this blistering, Challies-like pace, I can see now how a 3-posts-a-week process is a very realistic goal. So that’s what I will be shooting for, starting this week.

Step #2 is Content. According to my internal metrics, you folks really enjoy book reviews and Bible discussion, so I’m going to make those weekly features for the next several months. Along with that, I’ll keep posting the #FridayFive, but starting this week, I’m going to mix in some themed “top-five” style lists to mix it up a bit.  I may even post some fiction or poetry here or there throughout the year. No matter what, my goal is to produce content worth reading, posts that matter to you and bless you for having read them. The best way that you can help me be successful in that is by telling me which posts are actually helpful to you, so that I know I’m on the right track. Which brings me to Step #3.

Step #3 is Conversation. Here’s where I make my big ask: I want to interact with you more. Along with producing interesting and helpful content in the coming years, my plan is to be more intentional about posting questions for discussion and responding to your comments. These days, I think most of us are really uncomfortable and anxious about interacting with ANYONE online, and hey, I completely understand that. But I would love to create a forum on this site to talk through ideas and provide suggestions and feedback. So I’m inviting you to engage with posts, interact with me and each other, and join the conversation. I welcome your comments–even your critical ones. (My only request is that you keep things respectful and watch your language.) More conversation may make this a richer experience for all of us.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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Your Turn: Three posts a week means I need some great ideas STAT. So what would you like to talk about? Is there any topic you’d like me to address? Let me know in the comments!

#30ThankYous “Day 27”: You.

Dear reader,

I have been blogging on and off since 2002. When I first started blogging, I was on the cusp of a job-and-relationship-collapse, and unfortunately the internet bore the brunt of my overblown emotions. After a while, I found my groove, I think. I talked about pop culture, church life, my feeeeeeeeelings, and other trifles. For some reason, people kept reading. (What shocks me beyond words is that some of you are still reading, after all these years!)

My online writing has evolved, as I have grown and (hopefully) matured. I’m learning how to write things that actually benefit others, rather than treating my online presence like a public diary with which to vent my spleen. Over the last few years, I’ve had more and more people follow my progress and subscribe to my site–as of yesterday, The4thDave.com is almost up to 100 followers!

Those kind of numbers don’t really move the needle for the “platform-building” gurus and social media experts. But you know what? They really matter to me.

You really matter to me, dear reader.

I want you to know that I don’t take for granted the time and attention you generously give me. I want to make sure that what I write is encouraging, inspiring, provocative, and entertaining. I want to keep growing as a writer, so that I can be a blessing to you and others through my work.

Years ago on another blog (don’t dive into the archives, it was really terrible), at one of my really low points, I wrote that the reason I blogged was to pretend that I wasn’t alone. While a good deal of that was just the self-pity and lingering break-up hangover talking, there was a glimmer of truth there. That old blog became the one “friend” who always had time for me. Praise God, life kept moving, things changed, I grew up quite a bit, and my heart has healed. Now, my life is full of people I love who love me. Blogging isn’t a lifeline or a drug; it’s a joy and a responsibility. It’s a gift that I can give to others, and a gift that they–you–give to me.

So thank you, dear reader. Thanks for giving me and this blog a chance. Thanks for being patient when my posting schedule has been erratic at best (or, more often, non-existent). Thanks for supporting my work here. Thanks for sharing my posts, and interacting in the comments. Thanks for just being there.

I plan on doing this for a long while, Lord-willing. I’m looking forward to sharing the adventure with you.

Your friend,

Dave

#FridayFive, NaNoWriMo Edition: 10/26/2018

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Happy Friday, gang! 

Well, there’s (finally) a cool tinge to the air down here in Texas, which means the arrival of fall, the ramping up of football season, the near-availability of cheap Halloween candy, and of course the kick-off for  National Novel Writing Month (or, NaNoWriMo)!

If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a worldwide challenge to write at least 50,000 words of a novel during the 30 days of November. You can find more info here.

While I’m not participating this year (next year? Possibly…), I do have a slew of links to help you brainstorm for your NaNo sprints next Thursday! 

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Don’t Waste Your Words: How to Write A First Draft that is Crappy but Usable — If you have ever participated in NaNoWriMo before, you know that the trick is speed, not polish. In this post, Jeff Goins helps those of us who try to perfect every line to get over that habit. He also gives a great basic definition of “planners” versus “pantsers” and provides some useful questions to consider, no matter which approach you take to planning your novel.

Start Writing a Novel Without Having A Clue What to Do — Another Jeff Goins piece, this time providing some useful starting advice about story, genre, and plot. He also links to Shawn Coyne’s “Story Grid,” which is a great resource.

I Wrote A Novel Entirely On Evernote — This post from the Evernote blog by Forrest Dylan Bryant is obviously meant to entice you to use Evernote. But you know what? I love Evernote, and I’ve found it to be incredibly useful for blogging and capturing story ideas. I even have half of a short story on there right now that I’m hoping to finish and share with you later this year. So, if you haven’t used Evernote before, this may be a helpful introduction to the program for you.

How to Construct a 3-D Main Character — A novel lives or dies by how interesting or compelling its protagonist is. This immensely practical piece from ProWritingAid gives you prompts to help flesh out your main character. I’m definitely going to be revisiting this post soon.

Losing NaNoWriMo is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing — You know I love providing counterpoints at the end of these lists. You may want to save this post from Mitzi Flyte in your back pocket in case you need it at the end of November. Let’s face it–cranking out 50,000 words in 30 days is HARD. And if you only get part of the way there but can’t quite reach the finish line, this post is a good reminder that a half-finished NaNoWriMo attempt does have its merits.

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There you have it–5 posts about NaNoWriMo and the craft of writing a speedy story.

If you found these helpful, I’d very much appreciate it if you would “Like” this post and let me know to keep providing content like this.

And if you are participating in NaNoWriMo yourself, let us know in the comments, so we can cheer you on!

Otherwise, I’ll see y’all next week!

“I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout you…”

“Do you think about me still? Do ya? Do ya?”

It’s been a while since I’ve just sat down and started typing a blog post. The last few months…I don’t know. When it comes to this blog, I think I started out trying too hard to do it “the right way”–not writing, but “creating content,” not communicating but “building an audience.” And then it started feeling fake, so I pretty much stopped. My words dried up. I want to keep writing, but I don’t know if I want to keep doing it this way, you know? (And it’s not like I’ve been posting that much content, generic or otherwise. We both know I haven’t posted much of anything lately. Every time I sit down to write, I start getting all knotted up over it. Not writer’s block as much as writer’s rebellion. I’m not sure what my problem is.)

While working on something for a friend, I started digging through my past blog posts–I mean the early, early days of my blogs. Have you ever read diary or journal entries you wrote more than 15 years ago? Cringe-y is the word.

And yet, while I’m embarrassed by my emotional immaturity on display in those best-forgotten days, I was struck as I read the posts by how much fun they were to read. (No, I’m not humble-bragging or post-facto-bragging or any such thing.) It was just so clear that I loved writing. I loved writing blog posts, stringing together turns of phrase and pop-culture references and song lyrics. I was much more open and unvarnished and emotive. I bled on the screen.

I think I miss doing that, a little.

Things are different now. Times have changed. I’m no longer a young man in my early 20’s with a keyboard and a broken heart. I’m now a middle-aged man in my late 30’s, with a wife and a daughter and responsibilities–not quite where I hoped I would be by now, but getting there. At this stage in the game, I don’t need to be giving full-vent to my spleen in this format. I’m an adult. I need to act like one. To be honest, I don’t really want to go back to treating blogging like a public diary–that’s what Xanga is for. (Any of you kids remember Xanga? No? Just me? Okay.)

(No, I don’t actually have a Xanga. Actually, I think I did at one point years and years back, but the log-in has been long forgotten.)

[What was I on about? Oh yeah.]

I haven’t posted anything “from the heart” since mid-July, it looks like. And who knows, maybe that’s for the best. Maybe that’s what you readers want: that I should stick to book reviews, interesting-link aggregation, a bit of this and that about writing and freelancing, and some Bible study blogging. Maybe that’s why you’re here, really. Maybe that can be enough.

What I’m getting at is this: the blog is just starting to feel a bit shallow to me. I don’t want that to be the case, but I’m not sure if or how I should change that.

Maybe nothing ultimately changes. Maybe I just need to start writing more and trust that it will start feeling natural again. I don’t know.

I’ve been wanting to say something to y’all for a few weeks, but I kept waiting for some great idea to kick me back into gear. The idea never came.

Here’s the update from my side of the screen: I’m busy with work, with church, with life stuff. I’m still putting off creative work that I am a bit too afraid to really commit to finishing, but even more afraid of giving up thinking about. There are a dozen things right now that need attention in my life and I’m constantly having to assess and reassess which priorities are most important.

But I miss talking to you, gang. So I’m checking in to let you know I’ve been thinking ’bout you (ooh na-na-na). And I hope you think about me still.

Happy October.

#FridayFive: 09/14/2018

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Here are 5 Medium posts to boost your writing/blogging this weekend!

How to Stop Blogging like It’s 2009 — Shaunta Grimes argues that writers and creatives should build an audience using a platform with a built-in audience (like Medium!) and an email list. Hmm… not a bad idea.

3 Minutes, That’s All It Takes To Get Better At Writing — Tiffany Sun provides some EXTREMELY PRACTICAL tips on how to improve your style and punch up your prose. Take 3 minutes and read this.

Forget About Being A Good Writer, (And Do This Instead) — Here’s my weekly recommendation of Jeff Goins (I just have to–his stuff is that good!). In this post, Jeff argues that there’s something more vital than being a “good” writer.

How to Write Medium Stories People Will Actually Read — Quincy Larson provides a nuts-and-bolts approach to improving your readership stats on Medium, and his advice is really useful. This is one I’m going to go back to a few times.

How to Easily Overcome the #1 Problem with Writing Challenges — If you’ve every tried and failed to complete an online “writing challenge” or you’ve just fallen short of goals you set for yourself, Nicole Akers has some great advice for you.

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One more thing before you go: Can I ask you for a quick favor?

If any of these articles was helpful or interesting, can you comment below and let me know? I want to make sure I’m providing content you enjoy and find valuable.

You can find my other work on Medium. You can also reach me on Twitter.

Have a great weekend, and keep the good folks in the Carolinas in your prayers as they weather the hurricane. See y’all next week!

3 Gifts That Convert Readers into Fans.

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I’ve almost become immune to being “pitched.”

It’s practically a given these days that when you’re consuming online content, there’s a hook–an e-book for sale, an online seminar registration, some sort of monthlycoaching or one-on-one training.

Honestly, I don’t have a problem with this. In fact, at some point, I may be asking you, dear reader, to purchase a novel or two from me (assuming, of course, I actually get around to finishing them).

I’m not mad about it when an article on how to tighten up my blog posts or punch up my Medium headlines ends with a link to the author’s premium content. You know what? You go get your money, baby. (Although, I’ve shared elsewhere how likely I am to pay for premium online content.)

Premium-content pitches have become the highway billboards of blogging: ubiquitous and usually benign, but with the most flamboyant and obnoxious offenders turning away more people than they attract.

That’s why I was stunned and pleasantly surprised when a writer/blogger who’s making a living with his words took a few moments to give me something for free.

I can’t recall how I found out about Jim Woods’ “Finish Your Book” Summit, but I signed up for his mailing list anyway. I figured if nothing else, I’d receive some useful tips and encouragement. I had interacted a little with Jim on a Publishous Twitter chat (shout-out to #PubChat!), and he seemed like a good dude.

But I noticed something unexpected when I received a “welcome” email from his mailing list: Jim asked a question, invited the reader to reply, and promised a personal response.

Confession: I didn’t quite buy it. I figured, if anything, it would probably be a canned response that he had stored in his drafts folder to fire off, depending on the question. But, what the heck: okay, Jim, I’ll bite.

I wrote back with a question about the struggle with balancing family, work, and creative life. To my delight, Jim responded with an actual email. He provided some advice that was pertinent to my situation, and encouraged me to keep at it. And that was it. He dropped a link to his blog at the end, but didn’t try to up-sell me on anything.

In an industry and medium where writers and coaches must self-promote to survive, Jim Woods stood out by giving me 3 things:

  • He gave me his time. Sure, it was just a minute or two, but he made the decision to spend his time helping out a reader. I don’t know how many emails he gets, but I know that even with my minimal inbox traffic, it still takes me forever to respond to people, even my friends. (Also: Sorry, Mike. You should receive a reply by the time this posts.)
  • He gave me his word. It was right there in the email: if you email, I’ll respond. And when I tested him on it, he followed through. I’m reminded of all the times that I’ve told you, dear reader, that I’d post something at this or that time, only to show up, hat-and-excuse-in-hand, much later than promised. I appreciated that Jim said he would respond, and then did.
  • He gave me encouragement. He listened to my question, replied, and encouraged me to follow-through. On his website, he offers coaching for writers who want to finish their books, and I got a taste of that coaching in his correspondence, as he urged me to keep looking for inspiration to write.

These are all small things, to be sure, but meaningful and appreciated.

At the end of last month, I linked to Tim Denning’s Medium piece on building a following through giving. This is just another example of how that works. By just being a cool guy and taking a few minutes to write out a personal reply, Jim gained himself a new member of his digital tribe. Turns out, being a nice person pays off.

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Question: What is one way that a blogger/writer went the extra mile to earn your attention? Post that in the comments below!

 

#FridayFive: 08/31/2018

Here are 5 posts to inspire and challenge you over this long holiday weekend!

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The Secret to Networking? Stop Trying to network. — This piece by Brad Stulberg reminds us not to treat “building a network” like its a competition or game. Those contacts aren’t points on a scoreboard but people we have the opportunity to serve and bless.

The Answer is This: Give It Away for Free. — Tim Denning puts his finger on a powerful principle that I’ve seen play out in my own life: in a world of salesman, being a giver makes you unique and influential. As Seth Godin says, giving your work away produces loyalty with your audience. This is an idea I’m really trying to take to heart and implement in the coming years.

How to Use Your Tools so They Don’t Own You — Bryan Collins reminds us that getting a shiny new “tool” or gadget doesn’t mean much if we aren’t able to put the work in. Sometimes, going simple is the best way to do our best work.

The Top 4 Mistakes Every Writer Makes (And How To Avoid Them) — It feels like I can’t make one of these lists without including a Jeff Goins piece. Here, he points out four simple but powerful concepts that can help anyone write more compelling and meaningful work.

I Want to Quit. Right Now. — Jon Westenberg’s writing is visceral, searing, and insightful. This piece is a prime example, and every single word of it resonates with me. He gives us a peek into his inner battle over whether to persevere or give up on his passions, and in so doing, reminds us that all of us face that same battle. (Content warning: some strong language.)

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There you go, friends. Five posts to fuel your creative efforts on this Labor Day weekend.

May your labor be satisfying and your rest be refreshing, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Freelancer Diaries: Week 1

[This may or may not become a recurring segment on the blog, but hey, it could be fun, right? Meanwhile, the #FridayFive will return next week!]

 

I’m So Excited, I’m So Excited, I’m So–Scared!

I’ve never been very entrepreneurial. I’ve always been the dedicated worker bee, doing the “smart” thing, the “safe” thing.

However, I’m on the verge of starting a side-hustle (to supplement my income, not replace it), doing work as a freelance writer/editor/proofreader. I feel both a growing eagerness to get after it and a nagging worry as I realize how much I don’t know about all this. I want to dive right in, but I don’t want to be a buffoon and do damage to someone’s else’s work.

All this nervous energy has me a bit scattered. I signed up for Lynda’s online education resources, and immediately bookmarked 37 courses to check out before the 30-day free trail expires. I’ve checked out 10-12 books from the library on side hustle basics, resume writing, grant writing, freelance writing, editing technique, and plot structure and development for fiction writers. I want to watch and read all of it NOW, RIGHT NOW, so I can work right now.

This is not counting the usual “boring” stuff, like my day job. And my family. And sleep.

It feels like I’m caught in a riptide of my own making, dragging me further to sea, into deeper and deeper waters. If I don’t recognize the tide’s pull, I’ll very soon be in over my head. No one wants that.

Not Even For A Klondike Bar

A few nights ago, I suddenly stopped negotiations with a potential client, turning down a project that I had been pursuing for a couple of days. Why? Because I found out that the proposed manuscript would be full of pseudo-Christian theology, and it just didn’t feel right to say yes to that.

Don’t get me wrong–saying “no” was hard, too. This would have been my first paying gig! Nevertheless, I would have been miserable working on it. Even if only 10 people ever read it (a definite possibility), I would have felt partly responsible for confusing or even leading astray those 10 souls.

Maybe I’m over-reacting a bit. But I don’t think I am.

I believe every freelancer has to answer this question for themselves: What are my limits–not just morally, but professionally? What kinds of projects am I willing to turn down?

I can name a few things right off the bat that get a hard-pass from me:

  • Other people’s homework. It became immediately clear that several people seeking work are looking for “substantial editing” on their unfinished school assignments. Uh, no. I don’t do that.
  • False religion or lousy theology. I just don’t feel comfortable working on things that contradict my core values. That’s not to say I would limit my work to the precise theological/worldview positions I hold. But when something is blatantly outside the bounds of what I believe to be true, it’s hard for me to work on that. For example, yesterday at my day job, I had to edit instructions for a meditative yoga program, chanting, namaste, the whole nine–and it felt…gross. If I have the ability to choose my clients (and I do), I want to avoid things like that.
  • Sexual content. Exactly zero shades of grey for me, on this question. Just…no.
  • Ghostwriting. There is a market for it, to be sure. But helping someone take credit for my words as if they were alone responsible is lying, plain and simple. If I haven’t been able to write a book for myself, I certainly won’t write a book for someone else.

My goal is to help people sharpen their ideas and express their perspectives, even ones I disagree with, as clearly and effectively as possible. But I have to feel good about the work I’m doing, or it’s not worth it to me. I’d rather deliver pizzas with a clear conscience than bank huge fees and feel ashamed of the results.

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Question of the Week: Do you have any advice for me as a rookie freelancer? Do you know of any pitfalls I should avoid? Please let me know in the comments below!