Thinking like a writer

Learn to start thinking like a writer even when you can’t actually write.

Writer’s magazines often set out to tackle what they see as the biggest elephant in the room: lack of time. How do I find enough time to get my creative work done?

I won’t attempt to tackle that topic here, or anywhere else for that matter. For one reason, any answer that I give you would not be an original. I don’t want to recycle. There are literally hundreds of blogs, magazines and books that give writers advice on how to steal 10 minutes to an hour to get some writing in.

The second and most important reason I won’t tackle the subject though, is that I believe having enough time is not the main obstacle in transitioning from unrequited desk jockey to literary provocateur.

While time is a frequent barrier, the biggest challenge most writers face is their mind set.

How do you start thinking like a writer and in turn acting like one? Here are a just few very easy techniques you can use to think and feel like a writer when you can’t write.

Listen To Dialog:

Unless you live and work in a monastery, you are surrounded by people talking. If there is a consistent area of feedback on new writing it’s this: the characters sound like they were written.

Sit down at a bar. Put down your phone in the line at the grocery store. Use your imagination in the next share holder’s meeting you are forced to attend. These are your characters.

Listen to how they talk. They’re telling you how to write them.

Describe The Scene (In Details):

I do this a lot. It sounds silly, but I walk into a room and describe the scene I encounter in various terms. Kitchen. Newly remodeled kitchen. Newly remodeled kitchen with a retro feeling.

I don’t often do this exercise aloud (unless I’m alone). If I did, I think the people in my world would assume I am much crazier than they already do but finding the myriad of ways and access points to describe an ordinary space and seeing the details contained broadens descriptive powers that every writer needs.

About Details:

Find them. Everywhere. Leave no stone unturned.

Good writing sees the surface but great writing delves deep and churns constantly. Colors. Ornaments. Textures. These create the rich tapestry that readers love.

How do you do this? What color is the tie on the man across from you? Does the woman’s coffee cup beside him show lipstick stains? What does the clerk at the store do while you search for exact change?

The power of observation is a necessary skill. Become a master of all those small things. Your readers will thank you when your bored housewife character does the little things they can relate to.

Form An Opinion:

Maybe you sit down at the end of the day and relax with a TV show. I do. Often. In many of my previous blogs, I proudly reveal TV as a major point of reference for writing and character development.

Don’t watch passively though. Instead, make comment on what works. Ask the person you’re with. What works for you? Why this and not the other thing?

Why do people gravitate to watching Glee like my wife is right now? I’ll advance a theory: it is not simply because of the songs. Form an opinion about what works in the shows, episodes and scenes you watch. That critical eye will go a long way in discerning what works on the page when you finally sit down.

Simply paying closer attention to the details in your everyday can help you start thinking like a writer. You may be reading this either because you’re at an impasse or ready to take the next step. Either way working with a professional ghostwriter can help you and your writing get to the next level.

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Will My Book Sell?

Will My Book Sell?

One of the constant struggles that writers find themselves embroiled in is the clash between craft and marketability. Often preliminary discussions about a manuscript, whether in the edit or ghostwriting phase, arrives at that very important question: After all of this work, will my book sell?

Any ghostwriter who pretends to have an easy answer to that question is sorely mistaken (or they’re overselling their abilities, we’ll tackle that later on). Even casual observers these days are armed with more marketing numbers and analytics than ever before, but still, we can never tell.

The element of surprise remains a strong part of the publishing game. No one knows what will hit and, consequently, no one can predict a miss either.

What I like to tell clients is that with a properly executed plan for their manuscript, we can narrow the wide range of outcomes. You wouldn’t build a house without an architect. You wouldn’t prepare a top shelf cut of meat without knowing cook temps and times.

Why would you attack your book publishing endeavor without a plan?

One of the pillars of a successful book is a properly handled manuscript. You simply cannot fool readers. Here is where the craft versus marketability argument becomes absurd.

These are not mutually exclusive. These two aspects are actually symbiotic. Attention to craft is the first and most critical element of marketability.

The second pillar I believe is defining your audience. It isn’t enough to say, my book is for “readers” or “fiction lovers”. I would go so far to say that simply targeting “fantasy” fans isn’t enough.

The book market is a buyers market and readers are savvy — very savvy. Everyone who buys off of Amazon or browses the shelves knows their search terms. Your reader knows the difference between “high fantasy” and “urban fantasy” and there is no way around this reality: you need to know it too.

The last pillar of a successful plan is to think in terms of quality and not quantity. I know a publisher out there (that will remain nameless) and they sell themselves as an all in one book publisher and marketer. How do they market their client’s books? Everyone that has worked with them tells the same story: they send out a single email blast that reaches a few hundred cold emails (and probably gets a few undeliverable kick backs too).

This never works. Never works. A few hundred cold emails is (almost) as worthless as sitting on your book. Just like readers, buyers know exactly what they want. If your dream editor isn’t taking submissions, there is no point in sending them a query email. It’s just annoying.

Similarly, if an editor is looking for “romance” and your “high fantasy” novel only peripherally involves love, don’t send them a query. You will only make them curse you.

Believe me. Go get a drink with a submissions editor and ask them their pet peeves. Blanket submissions are close to, if not the top of that list.

So to the question – Will my book sell? – to give yourself the best shot at success, have a plan. Be realistic. You’ are not the only person out there with a great book. Be the only one out there marketing their great book smartly.

Another thing you can do to increase your chances is to let a professional like me help guide you through the process. Experience counts so don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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How to edit your manuscript

How to edit your manuscript

Or not?

Recently, I wrote a post cautioning authors against the temptation to self edit your manuscript.

Although I stand by the idea that self-editing cannot replace the well executed professional development and content edit phase, I do think that the process plays an important role in the development of a successful manuscript. While you cannot fully develop a manuscript alone, you’re also working uphill if you choose to send material in without giving it your own critical read. Development is a matter of balance.

Here are a few tips on how you can self edit your manuscript to your best advantage.

Be Wise With Time:

This advice applies to every stage of the writing process, but none more so than here. A writer has to be wise with how they use their time. You need to make time to write. You also need time away from writing.

There is an important balance at play.

If your plan is to self edit your manuscript then take time away from it. Don’t edit a chapter the day after writing it. Don’t edit it a week after. Instead, allow the work time to breathe. Stand a step back.

Then when you’re ready, jump back in and make changes.

(Don’t) Be Hard On Your Work:

What I’m trying to get at is a measure of honesty. Be honest about the work. If your gut says it works, don’t overthink it and vice-versa. Trust your gut. If it doesn’t work on the page it’s likely time to make changes.

Again, it’s all about balance. Seems like we keep coming back to that theme.

If It’s Broken (Don’t) Try And Fix It:

This can be tricky for anyone. Creative people are born problem solvers.

The hope is that a proper self-edit will lead to the identification of problems. What do you do when you find a glaring plot hole in the story?

You fix it, of course. Get in there and get it done…

Not so fast though. Being hasty can aggravate a manuscript’s underlying problems. A quick fix is often just that. A gimmick. When your reader sits down with the book, they’ll be able to see a patch job.

Just because you identify the problem doesn’t mean you see the solution. These two are not necessarily linked items. Sometimes the solution takes a substantial amount of time to develop.

Give yourself that time. It’s worth it.

And when you’re ready, get in touch. You’ll be relieved that you followed all the right steps ahead of time.

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4 Truths About Rewriting Myths

4 Truths About Rewriting Myths

Rewriting myths can bring an end to an unfinished process. Read on so you can stay on track and avoid the pitfalls.

Few aspects of the writing life come with more ugly myths attached than the rewriting process. So often I hear writers give wrong headed views about what comes once they face a rewrite of their manuscript.

This post is aimed at writers who have a completed fiction or non-fiction manuscript, or screenplay, that needs a rewrite but who have been fed a lot of malarky about the process through the years.

Here are four real life truths about rewriting myths:

Rewriting Myth 1: Rewriting Means My Manuscript Is Bad:

On the surface, I can understand this fear. There simply is not a better word than “rewrite”.

I’m sure some readers have visions of other “re” words, like “remodel” which implies more radical process. Tear down. Strip bare. Start over.

Sometimes that radical process is the case. Sometimes we have to tear down a manuscript completely in order to find the book inside. That is only sometimes though.

Most often rewriting is a process of orderly streamlining. It’s more of a face lift rather than a tear down.

Rewriting Myth 2: That Will Happen Later:

Right… one way or another, you are going to rewrite your manuscript. Whether that comes after fifty slow arriving rejection letters or in preparation for fifty submissions is up to you.

The writing is on the wall. If you read the calls for submissions in trade magazines, publishers are seeking polished manuscripts from first timers.

You’ll see it in the description. Polished prose. Developed scenarios. No first drafts.

Don’t be the writer who tests that request. It never ends well.

Rewriting Myth 3: My Story Will Get Lost In The Process:

I love when a writer tells me that they are reluctant to rewrite because they are afraid to lose their story. This is such an unfortunate misunderstanding shared by all too many novices.

A first draft is simply a first draft. Core themes are often buried and obscured under what amounts to a writer’s search for meaning on the page. Often when I work with writers on their first draft we discover the most valuable elements under the surface and we work together to draw them out into the open.

Odds are a development editor will help you find your best story in the rewrite process.

Rewriting Myth 4: Editors Are All Out Of Work And Now They Need Money:

This is, at least in part, true… Big publishing houses do not staff editors like before. There is no longer a legion of ink stained and print addled editors agonizing over copy at your dream publisher’s office.

Those editors are not out in the cold freelancing world because their jobs were deemed irrelevant though. Those editors are out there because publishing houses are counting on you, the writer, to do more of the heavy lifting than ever before.

The truth is that editors are more necessary than ever because the competition to push through the slush pile is more fierce and cutthroat now than at any other time.

These myths are just that. The process of rewriting doesn’t have to be so painful but it is a necessary step in the evolutionary process that is your manuscript. I have helped many a nervous writer through the process and I know I can help you too. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you feel stuck at this or any other stage in the process.

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DIY Publishing

DIY Publishing – One Way To Bring Your Work To Life

Amazon and other on-line publishing platforms have given rise to an exciting DIY publishing revolution. By many measures, we haven’t even seen the zenith of where this is all going to. Through a newly liberated publishing process, a new culture of fringe authors and publishing entrepreneurs can bring work to life.

For all of the do-it-yourself freedom that Amazon provides an air of caution needs to be taken. Simply because you can put your manuscript up on-line does not mean you are truly “book ready”.

The steps to a polished book are the same as through the traditional means. All that DIY publishing means in this instance is that authors are more liberated to undertake those steps on their own terms.

One of the ways new authors attempt to get around the editing process is to “self-edit” their manuscript. What do I mean by “self-edit”? Frequently, when faced with the prospect of cost and/or time, or the simple mis-perception that editing is an obstacle, a new author will try and edit/rewrite their book on their own.

I do some self-editing on my articles and manuscripts. After I write and re-write a chapter or a book section, I will often go back and make a few logical changes. I take notes on story elements that don’t make sense. I axe repeated words. I tie in dangling story lines that are either extraneous or underutilized.

I am aware, however, that this process of self-editing can only go so far before it works against me. I know what my character is supposed to look like and feel like. The settings are vividly laid out in my head, so I am able to fill in the gaps, allowing my descriptions to convey that picture. Even when I read dialog or internal monolog out loud, I tend to change the natural flow, adding inflection to words and phrases to ensure that they capture the meaning I want them to. In a sense, self-editing keeps an author in the echo chamber of their own voice and vision at the expense of broadening appeal.

I cannot be as honest with myself as a professional can be. And editing is your manuscript safety net. If something doesn’t work on the page, I need to know.

A writer needs that second set of eyes… and more of the time, a third and a fourth too. Self-editing can catch basic mistakes, errors and repetitions… but bringing a manuscript up to book level? Not very likely.

I am a firm believer in Ira Glass when he says that people get into creative work because they have a heightened sense of taste. If you are already far enough into your manuscript that you are thinking of publishing it, you very likely have read enough to know what you like and what is good.

Don’t fall into the trap, however, that you are an objective arbiter. A writer is a person whose imagination exceeds most, if not all, other personal attributes. When it comes to improving your manuscript however, don’t let your imagination get in the way of improvement.

And don’t make the mistake of DIY Publishing an unpolished work – Instead hire a professional to objectively help you uncover all the necessary edits that your imagination may have obscured.

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Hire A Professional Editor?

Are You Ready To Hire A Professional Editor?

Maybe – but you might consider beta readers as a good first step.

Delivering your manuscript into the hands of a professional editor can be an intimidating step for any writer. It does not, however, need to be the first and only step in improving your first draft manuscript.

You may have heard of “beta readers”. If by some chance you have not, pay close attention. A beta reader is anyone that a writer brings in to give that first manuscript draft a test drive. With the same air of trepidation, a writer makes a dozen copies of their pages and hands them out to a few close friends.

Sounds great right? It’s a great way to kick off the re-write process without hiring a professional editor just yet. Where do I find these beta readers though?

A lot of writers I know work in writer’s groups. They’re great for accountability and networking. Writer’s groups meet weekly (or less often) to discuss new pages, characters and story lines. To many a new scribe, their writer’s group sounds like a pretty good place to test the waters. I would like to offer up a contrary opinion though: I don’t believe writer’s groups are the best place to find beta readers.

While it is true that most writers are voracious readers, I find other writers have skewed views of manuscripts and especially those still in development. All too often, I find that other writers look at your manuscript through a much different lens. They can offer great advice (usually closer to publication) but in those early phases, it may behoove you to cast a wider net and look elsewhere. And here is why.

On the road to publishing success, your book is going to have to impress readers. Lots of them. Thousands of them, in fact. Why not get your book into as many of those genuine book readers as you can? The people who curl on on the couch with a paperback. The passengers who pull out the latest thriller novel as they board an airplane. The person at the library who talks a blue streak about your work.

This is, after all, your target market.

When an inventor comes up with a brand new kitchen gadget, they don’t necessarily test market to the select few chefs who run Michilen star kitchens. However exclusive or skilled, it’s a limited marketplace. To become the new “must have” item, they need to get out to foodies and house wives and the millions of people across the world who prepare meals on a daily basis.

Your set of beta readers needs to amount to a few things. They need to be reliable. They need to be well read and opinionated about books and literature. Whether or not you include your Mom and her glowing praise for everything you do is up to you (I say yes, you’ll need that boost to your confidence).

More than anything though, before hiring a professional editor consider submitting your work to a diverse group that represents your entire market.

Of course, there are some of you I’m sure who are ready for a professional editor. If you’ve done a thorough job in the rewrite process already, then a professional editor can help you bring that final polish to your work and navigate the treacherous industry waters that lay ahead. If this sounds like you or if you’re stuck in any phase of the writing process, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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Manuscript Editing – Ghostwriter Advice

Manuscript Editing

Why Manuscript Editing Is As Important A Picking Up The Pen In The First Place

The temptation is there. Every new author mulls this over and frankly, it is hard to blame them. After months and even years writing their novel, they believe that “THE END” should mean just that.

“I’m done,” they say as they press save. “It’s time to put this book out there.”

Whether an author has chosen the traditional publication route through an agent or publisher, or they are going independent via Amazon (or another outlet) putting a freshly completed writing out into the world does not magically transform it into a proper book without proper manuscript editing. Unfortunately for some there are clear consequences to this assumption. Fortunately for anyone reading this, however, those consequences are avoidable.

A writer must first understand the difference between a manuscript and a book.

Amazon can be a wonderful place. The on-line retailer is a boundless market place where up-and-coming authors connect with prospective readers. The platform allows them an opportunity to publish material on their terms, offering exciting new stories for eager readers who are only a few clicks away.

But even eager readers are not easy to please. Even at a couple of measly bucks a pop for an eBook, competition is fierce and there are expectations. One of the first harsh realities that many new authors learn is that a bargain basement price point does not equate to favorable reader response.

Unfortunately for some authors, Amazon slams as many doors closed as it opens. Whether that story is a carefully plotted multi-kingdom epic fantasy, or a gritty noir thriller, books are open to immediate ridicule. More often than not when a book is sloppy, readers will write an extensive review that completely omits character and plot. Instead, the reviewer chooses to dwell on a few comma splices and misspellings.

Sounds harsh? Maybe. The truth is though, this happens all too often. Sadly, this is among the most easily avoidable pitfalls in the publication process. Self-published novels that once had a great chance at building a strong base of readers for an author gets buried by negativity.

Why? The book was still a manuscript. Understanding the difference is critical.

The lesson here? Edit. Your. Manuscript. Make it a book. Although manuscript editing costs money and can be among the more challenging steps in the publication process, if it’s done right, it can lead to the greatest reward.

Sometimes it’s extremely beneficial to have a second set of eyes on your work to maximize the benefits of the editing process. If you feel like you’ve reached “THE END” and are ready to put your work out in the world, get in touch before you do. I can help you properly convert your manuscript into the book it deserves to be!

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Use Of Setting – Ghostwriter Pro Tips

The use of setting can have a powerful emotional impact in your story. But mastering the use of setting to enhance certain elements of the plot can be a difficult process. As a professional ghostwriter, I regularly work with writers whose use of setting falls short of delivering the impact that renders critical moments unforgettable. So let’s take a look at same particularly good writing to expose a few secrets of how to achieve this.

An examination of the use of setting in the Netflix series “Master Of None” eventually leads to a look at Season 2’s penultimate episode. In “Amarsi Un Po” the season’s lone hour-long installments, Ansari and his writing team essentially flip the use of setting from previous episodes.

For the better part of Season 2, “Master of None” thrived using a series of mostly intimate settings. Restaurants. Night clubs and taxi cabs. Apartments. Streets. The show is in large part about a young man’s private interior moments and Ansari found creative ways to bring that to life in Dev’s everyday.

Season 2 tells the story of Dev’s growing love for Francesca and of her ever dwindling ability to believe she can continue on with her boyfriend. That love thing between them is growing out of control and in “Amarsi Un Po” Ansari and his writing team finally use some of the grand settings New York has to offer.

The first act culminates in one of Manhattan’s most recognizable locations, Washington Square Park. After a nice dinner, Dev and Francesca walk and talk, seemingly carefree. This is a seemingly ordinary scene we have seen before, only now it is taking place by the night time glow of the white stone Arch which stands at the park’s northern gateway. Although the conversation between Dev and Francesca is familiar, we get our first sense that something much bigger is in store.

At the episode’s middle point, Dev rescues Francesca from a day alone and escorts her to the Storm King Art Center in upstate New York. Again, the two lovers are simply walking and talking, but now they find themselves amid wide open fields, weaving their way through massive abstract sculptures. Although no one has said as much, setting tells the story that things are quickly getting complicated between them.

Finally, Dev can take no more. He has to say something to Francesca and we get a sense that she is finally ready to listen. When her boyfriend ditches her (again) Dev comes to the rescue (again). This time they take a night time helicopter ride around Manhattan. They circle over the city, taking in a bird’s eye view of one of the grandest cityscapes on planet earth.

And of course, it’s in that helicopter that Dev confesses his feelings for her.

The lesson we take from “Amarsi Un Po” is that sometimes a writer simply must think big. While using grand settings such as these too often can weigh the story down, setting critical moments of large emotional impact in iconic places can enhance their impact.

Ansari could have set these conversations in similar places and still been successful. The writing in “Master of None” is that good. These three scenes are the most pivotal in the series though, and setting them in iconic locations with sweeping views takes those critical moments and makes them unforgettable.

CALL TO ACTION:

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Elements Of Setting In Writing

The Elements Of Setting In In Your Writing

Tips from a pro to help you incorporate appropriate elements of setting to make your story come alive.

Looking at how Aziz Ansari uses elements of setting in his clever Netflix series Master Of None shows why it matters where your scenes and stories take place. In fact, the buzz around the little show that everyone is talking about may be as much the product of setting as it is chemistry between characters.

Master Of None is a program with many predecessors. The protagonist is young. He is a dreamer. He is desperately trying to figure things out as he lives life. As charming as he is, he is unlucky in love.

While the subject matter is nothing unique, Ansari utilizes a fresh approach to tell this familiar story. Take “The Dinner Party” the fifth or middle episode from season two.

It is no spoiler to reveal that Dev (Ansari’s character) has recently returned to his native New York from a cooking internship in a small Italian village. At the end of season one, he left his NYC problems behind to learn the art of making pasta by hand amid romantic locations steeped in ancient history.

And, as all love lost protagonists do, Dev also befriends Francesca while overseas and they hit it off.

But Dev and Francesca can only be friends because she has a boyfriend. In “The Dinner Party” Dev invites Francesca, who is visiting the states, to a Manhattan soiree put on by one of his new buddies, a producer for the cooking network where Dev works as a host. This is the place to be. Everyone is going to be there and the party is so posh that John Legend gets up and plays piano at the behest of his host.

Writers Ansari and Alan Yang expertly utilize what amounts to a simple apartment setting. One of Dev’s oblivious actor friends happens to be at the party too and he’s constantly interrupting their banter. When they do get to talk, Dev helps Francesca overcome her stilted use of English with loving charm. Of course, it’s a foodie party, so passionate opinions about the myriad plates of food crop up between them. No one can simply like or dislike a dish. They have to argue about it. As the evening wears on, Dev opens the debate on flavor notes in a glass of wine (which Francesca charmingly describes as tasting like shoes). When the moment is right, the flamboyant host butts in and upstages Dev’s humor.

Five obstacles to Dev’s goal of Francesca. All of them arising naturally out of the elements of setting in the episode.

“The Dinner Party” is about how two people can be so close yet remain far away from one another. In order to accomplish that goal, Ansari and Yang had to create an organic setting that provided ample interruption. What better than a dinner party? How about a dinner party put on by professional foodies?

The episode culminates in the two characters sharing a cab after the long evening. This is the episode’s (and maybe the series’) golden moment. Dev is charming as always. Francesca listens to him and laughs at his little quips but… they just cannot execute the kiss they both so plainly want from the other. There is a genuine love between them but after an evening of missing they cannot get where they need to go.

Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl proves elusive. The formula is stock. Ansari is not content to write out a cliche he knows will work. Instead, he freshens the bittersweet story line using setting.

Give me a call or email me if you want to talk about how you can leverage my skills and experience to make your story come to life. It can make all the difference in the world!

 

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Writing A Good Scene

On Writing A Good Scene

Writing a good scene (whether that scene be for screen or fiction or memoir) requires keeping audience attention fixed on key information. The challenge in writing a great scene is keeping the audience glued.

There is nothing more stale than a fiction scene that features two characters sitting in a room and talking. Heard this before from one of your beta readers or your feedback group?

Remedy this with the tried and true, “Pope In The Pool” method.

The term “Pope In The Pool” comes from a script called (somehow fittingly) The Plot To Kill The Pope. Screenwriter George Englund understood that he could not afford a dull scene in his hot, breakneck thriller. Setting his characters in a room drinking tea would have been downright boring.

What did Englund do to remedy his drab original idea? He devised a scene that conveyed the exact same dialog and information except he placed the Pope, his central character, in a swimming pool.

Now rather than watch the same stuffy old men sit around a dark room talking dark room topics Englund presented his audience with an interesting set of images and ideas to reconcile.

Who knew they had a pool at the Vatican?

Even you somehow knew this, does anyone really think of the Pope out taking an afternoon swim?

By putting his central character in an interesting and unexpected place, Englund made a memorable scene out of what may have been dismissed as simple exposition. While this kind of thinking won’t necessarily remedy problems with pacing, it does allow those droll necessities an opportunity to live and breath.

Much like fiction, life is a lot of walking into a room and talking to someone. You’ve done it today. I’m about to do it right now. That reality doesn’t make the ordinary moments in life cinematic or memorable though. We can, however, look at necessary scenes in new ways if we shake up what the focus character is doing.

Can your love addled heroine be out walking an enormous dog while talking on the phone?

Would it work if your edgy hitman was trying desperately to figure out how to work a juicer in the safe house kitchen while sharing his menacing backstory?

The trouble with slow scenes doesn’t necessarily come from limited locations. The trouble comes from looking at your locations in a limited way.

 

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