December 31, 2009

How To Create: Motivation for 2010

the assumption el greco.jpg
he didn't finish it either

This is what's stopping you:

1.  The fantasy workspace.

All artists-- and probably all people-- have in their minds the fantasy workspace.  "If I could only work in..."    Forget it.  This is always going to fail.  Always, every single time.    They are distractions, they sap emotional and creative energy.  You may be surprised to learn/assumed that this blog is written mostly in airports, hotel lobbies (wifi), and on my Blackberry.

Here are some famous authors' spaces.   At first glance you might say, cool! but look closely, these are basically cluttered (or bare) offices and areas.  They're created out of ordinary necessity.  They weren't set up, they evolved over time.

You may try to wave this photo at me:

joe haldeman.JPG

"Look, he's writing in his fantasy studio."  Really? 20 books, with a fountain pen and oil lamps?  I investigated:

Real life at home follows a fairly consistent pattern. I get up between three and four in the morning and brew a pot of tea. In the cool months, I make a fire in the fireplace and sit down there to write. When it's warmer, I go out on the back porch. We live on the edge of a few hundred acres of pine forest, and it's pleasant to have the trees and birds and animals out there in the dark while I work.

I do my first drafts in longhand, writing with a fountain pen into blank books. I like the freedom from machinery, and I seem to write more and faster that way than with a computer. It also gives me a definite first draft. Like most people, when I compose on a computer I keep jumping back and forth; by the time I print out a "first" draft, it's actually been worked over a bit... There's no electricity on the porch, so I write between two oil lamps -- making up stories about the distant future, using medieval tools.

Much of this set up is necessity, but in any case he doesn't do it for very long:

After I've finished about 500 words, I quit, and retire to the actual study, which is a book-crammed labyrinth of computer and office equipment.

He has a real study, but writes elsewhere to get the juices flowing.  Worth noting that he started writing this way only after he had already published several books.

This is what you are thinking:

"If only I had those kind of materials." 

"If only I had better canvas." 

"If I only had the Glengarry leads." 

"If only I was rich."  

Then you'd fail.   Creative success is taking what's available and rising above that.  The "that" doesn't matter, you'll only be credited with success if you go beyond it.  Maybe Picasso had good canvas but he had to transcend an entire way of painting, that's what made him great, not the physical painting itself.  Otherwise we wouldn't be buying prints.

Stephen King, On Writing:

For years I dreamed of having the sort of massive oak slab that would dominate a room.... In 1981 I got the one I wanted and placed it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study... For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind.... A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity... got another desk -- it's handmade, beautiful, and half the size of the T. rex desk. I put it at the far west end of the office, in a corner....I'm sitting under it now, a fifty-three-year-old man with bad eyes, a gimp leg, and no hangover....It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around.

2. Not starting.

A common piece of advice is "just start!"/don't procrastinate, etc.

Let me explain, however, why this is a cognitive necessity.

No matter how carefully you plan something in your mind-- work through details, procure materials, etc-- it can't take into account everything that happens. Try imagining having sex with Paz de la Huerta; and then try actually having sex with her.  The first is masturbation, the second is very tricky, although rewarding, business.

Every creative idea is a dialogue between you and yourself (masturbation); every creative act is a dialogue between you and reality (sex.)  You can't account for that other half of the dialogue until you begin it.

Reality takes many forms: the light of a computer screen, the need for the "great phrase" to be surrounded by words that are less inspired; hunger, the need to pee, fatigue, caffeine headaches, hangovers; relentless, crippling, blackening self-doubt.  You can never account for these except through action.   I don't mean they are necessarily obstacles-- they don't necessarily hold you back-- but the are real success of any creative act is that it transcended reality not by bypassing it, but by going through it. 

Or you can just go back to masturbating.

3.  "I need peace and quiet!"  Not exactly.

In airports and wifi hotspots, I am constantly distracted, usually by women, occasionally by lunatics.  However, I get a lot done there because both women and lunatics are scared of me and so I am rarely interrupted.  Peace and quiet is valuable, but if every 30 minutes the quiet  is interrupted by a phone call or your spouse asks you if you bought the ham, you'll get nothing done.  Parents tell teens to turn off the FM radio so they can study better, but that act of telling them is far more distracting than two hours of commercial free Hot97.  Sometimes, you interrupt yourself (check email).

This is likely the biggest obstacle to practical creation.  Creativity takes inspiration from everywhere, but working on the creation requires concentration, mental focus.  Interruptions block this.   Imagine again, you are having sex with Paz de la Huerta, and your spouse interrupts you to ask if you bought the ham.  Seriously, how are you supposed to work like this?

4.  90/10

You can do 90% of something, but the last 10% takes years, or never gets done.  How's that novel coming?  Almost done, I'll bet.

It's the same process operational in dating.  Long term relationships that never quite make the obvious and natural step of marriage; or furtive glances in a bar that never culminate in an audition: "hey baby, before you got here I thought I didn't really want a blowjob.  How 'bout some Jaeger?!"

All of those are the same thing: defenses.  Abstractly, they are fears of finality.  Not finishing means anything can still happen, your identity remains intact: "I'm a writer."

More concretely, they are a form of self doubt not about the success of executing the act which is in your control-- the writing of the book, the asking the girl out--  but of being able to manage the consequences which are not-- the publishing of the novel, sustaining a relationship/finding a burn unit.

5. Deciding to finish.

It's evident I am not a writer; but each post takes me hours to write, over days.  I revise constantly, and still the result is-- well, this.    However, at some point I have to overcome my strong wish to revise again (and again and again) and hit submit.  First, even though every revision takes the same amount of time, the improvement from subsequent revisions quickly plateaus.  Second, unless I hit submit, none of the revisions do anyone any good at all. 

I have to decide that it's finished.  Read again: it isn't actually finished, I have to decide it's finished.   Creative acts require a decision to terminate (e.g. sex with Paz) otherwise it can go on forever.

Some creations, like a novel, are large enough that you don't notice you're avoiding termination.   So break a big job into smaller pieces each with definite ends that exist reality.

Example: don't write the novel, blog the chapters.  It worked for Dickens.  The moment the first chapter goes out your relationship to the book will change.  Not just due to feedback, but you'll also find out how much of the novel you really had in you; if it's really a novel or just an idea; if the novel is really a derivative of someone else's.   Etc.

If you're scared of the feedback, turn off the comments.  The important thing is to do something in reality, not in theory.  You can procrastinate a single termination point, but it is very hard to avoid multiple, regular, termination points.

Even for losing weight: "I'm going to lose 10lbs by Valentine's Day"-- it's easy to cheat on your goals and say, "well, I'll just make it up next week."  Try, instead, taking a photo of yourself in a bathing suit each week and putting it on the fridge. Or mailing it to me.  Or putting it on a blog.  Force the idea-- your goal of weight loss- to confront reality regularly, repeatedly, instead of once (at the end). You might say this is going to fail, but if this is going to fail, then you weren't going to succeed anyway.

Happy New Year.  You're running out of time.



Thanks for that. I actuall... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2009 4:56 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Thanks for that. I actually hope you're working on a book yourself, or would consider doing so.

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If you need further motivat... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2009 5:22 PM | Posted by Griffin: | Reply

If you need further motivation for #5 check out the following link:

I don't play videogames, but I can relate to the desire for perfection. Unfortunately, it doesn't exist in the artistic world. To reinforce what LP was saying -- the luxuries of money, time, environment and technology are contrary to the creative process. All you're doing is sticking more variables between brain -> output.

Hell, this following guy writes brilliantly with none of the "essential" luxuries even the most basic writer takes for granted:

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perfect timing; thank you<b... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2009 6:24 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

perfect timing; thank you
i've been on the verge of writing, for years

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Start looking for all my ha... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2009 6:47 PM | Posted by Vince: | Reply

Start looking for all my half-nekkid pictures in your inbox. I know how badly you're just dying to see a pot-bellied dude in his bathing suit.

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Excellent, one of your best... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2009 7:56 PM | Posted by Annie: | Reply

Excellent, one of your best.

When I procrastinate, it's because I've decided that I'll only start if the conditions are "perfect" which, in my mind, will allow for a perfect end result.

The quest for perfect comes from a fear of what happens when people see/experience/read/recognize non-perfect. So, I put off things I could fail at and substitute them with activities I can't fail at (organizing the necessary office supplies, ordering business cards). Except, there is no business.

Until very recently, I never bothered to actually think of what will happen when "people" see imperfections. Um, nothing?

This post really got to some of the root symptoms and the cure, which seems to be having frequent appointments with reality.

Can't wait to read more in 2010. Happy New Year and thanks for all the great information.

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But, but even if I sent you... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2009 8:07 PM | Posted by demodenise: | Reply

But, but even if I sent you links to the blog I wanted to start, or pics of the weight I wanted to lose, or even the closet I wanted to clean,you wouldn't really hold me accountable. It's just creating a construct that I choose to embody my own sense of accountability.

Thank you for the reminder, though. :)

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Constraint has always been ... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2009 8:35 PM | Posted by Evelyn: | Reply

Constraint has always been indispensable to art. See for example: Shakespeare's sonnets. Or Bach's fugues, Beethoven's sonatas. Give the average person a blank canvas and tell them to paint anything, absolutely anything, with whatever brushes and pigments they want, and what do you get? Paralysis. Nothing. Total freedom is more oppressive than slavery. Why do you think something like religion been so successful for so long? Because it provides exactly this kind of form. The only logical response to infinity: identity. Aphorism for an age of narcissists.

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Wonderful idea about the ba... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2009 10:44 PM | Posted by Chiara: | Reply

Wonderful idea about the bathing suit pictures. I just found your blog yesterday, but I've already gleaned so much value from it. Thanks so much for sharing your views on things that matter.

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Great post as usual, but I ... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2009 11:07 PM | Posted by bi curious chick or hetero man?: | Reply

Great post as usual, but I hope you've used this Paz de la Huerta chick as a tongue-in-cheek example. Didn't know who she was and googled her pictures and came across this:

Dear heavens, no, I don't masturbate to women who look like that.

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ok. So I wonder if years sp... (Below threshold)

January 1, 2010 3:12 AM | Posted by Womders: | Reply

ok. So I wonder if years spent living in theory is what creates a ghost, one of many possible strings caught in the knot I suppose.

Interestingly you've illuminated why I never start my assignment until I am out of time ~ because the fear of what it would look like in the end was over taken by the fear of outright failure ~ I think perhaps the concept of what I wanted to produce was so definite in my mind, I was afraid I couldn't live up to my own ideas. So not starting though I couldn't figure out why avoided finding out whether I might not have the goods and left space for that "me" who could do it easy. Some thing to work on...
The outcome is a theory till its a fact. Thanks and HNY2010.

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I want to thank you so much... (Below threshold)

January 1, 2010 4:04 AM | Posted by Andrew: | Reply

I want to thank you so much for writing this. I was just pretending to start something shortly after the ball dropped, and I immediately fell into at least three of these traps.

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Alrighty then. I'm closing ... (Below threshold)

January 1, 2010 6:56 AM | Posted by Myrtle: | Reply

Alrighty then. I'm closing this window and finishing up my cover letter. No fat pics of me in your inbox, though.

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Right. I'm going to go knit... (Below threshold)

January 1, 2010 1:05 PM | Posted by Lynn: | Reply

Right. I'm going to go knit now instead of messing around on the internet.


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Alright then. I forgive my ... (Below threshold)

January 1, 2010 3:01 PM | Posted by Ken: | Reply

Alright then. I forgive my spouse the crap I invented to be mad at her about. Instead I'll finish the next step of the thing I want to do and have been avoiding. Thanks.

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Inspiring as usual, great p... (Below threshold)

January 1, 2010 4:09 PM | Posted by Harry Potter, who else?: | Reply

Inspiring as usual, great post!
I think I'll try that for the now-young year 2010.

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The best advice I ever got ... (Below threshold)

January 1, 2010 5:57 PM | Posted by Meat Robot: | Reply

The best advice I ever got on creating: "Just do it, asshole!"

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I never tire of this blog.... (Below threshold)

January 1, 2010 6:10 PM | Posted by Bryan: | Reply

I never tire of this blog. Happy New Year doc!

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And yet, more often than no... (Below threshold)

January 1, 2010 11:17 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

And yet, more often than not when I read your blog, I am struck by the masturbatory feel of it.

Perhaps it is still a conversation between you and yourself through the medium of your computer/"reality"? Or perhaps the reality is the anonymous public cheering you on during your self-love adventures.

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Everyone on this blog is a ... (Below threshold)

January 2, 2010 4:28 AM | Posted by Langston Fews: | Reply

Everyone on this blog is a tool. Did anyone chek out Edward Shorter's Before Prozac The Troubled History of Mood Disorders in Psychiatry? Can someone write a book review, thank you. I have insomnia. Goodnight.

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Thanks for ur blog. i hd de... (Below threshold)

January 2, 2010 3:00 PM | Posted by sextheorist: | Reply

Thanks for ur blog. i hd decided to loose weight but was procrastinating it till i got a treadmill and then would fallen to the above traps.

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<a href="http://www.nypost.... (Below threshold)

January 2, 2010 4:15 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I see a connection here, am I hallucinating doc?

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Thank you. Great post. Nice... (Below threshold)

January 2, 2010 7:47 PM | Posted by Dolores: | Reply

Thank you. Great post. Nice to read you revise a lot, and aren't always happy with the result. I happen to think your blog is one of the best ones out there. You're a great writer.

Oh, and thanks for the masturbation/actual sex metaphor. Best one I've heard in a long time :)

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Brilliant! Thank y... (Below threshold)

January 3, 2010 8:50 AM | Posted by thisissakura: | Reply


Thank you ; )

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Great writing! Great advice... (Below threshold)

January 4, 2010 7:22 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Great writing! Great advice!
TLP"Abstractly, they are fears of finality." reminds me of "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
People like the comfort and safety of repetition/insanity/hell.

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awesome. i have many dreams... (Below threshold)

January 4, 2010 10:01 AM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

awesome. i have many dreams and desires where i have made little or no progress. however, in the r3ecent couple of decades, i have had some great accomplishments. mainly because of an understanding of the process of achieving things that is at the hert of this post. i ran a marathon a few years ago. how? it almost doesn't matter how i trained. i will tell you that i did not join one of these training groups, and i did not train the way they tell you to. i did not read or talk to anyone about what clothes to wear, or shoes to buy, or what ipod is best. my high school buddy and i both decided to run a marathon simply because we had mentioned it over the years, and we had hit 40. we never discussed how to train, or pre-run prep, or anything. i never shared any runner's world article or sent him any "tips" from some blog. we made up our minds and did it. i ran one long run a week, most weeks, on saturday morning, rain or shine, for a few months. my buddy was in another town. i have no idea how he shopped for shoes, or "recovered" after a long run, or what he wore when training, ratio of carbs to fat in his diet, etc. absolutely no idea. i do know that we both finished, and we ran without stopping the whole way. i have other achievements. the marathon is an easy example to explain. others are more humanitarian, helping others, and i am not going to brag about those. but running a marathon was enjoyable to have a discreet, clear, recognizable goal with a finish line. it was actually a diversion, a hobby, and i can think of ten things i could have done with two hours per week for eseveral months that would yield a better life for me or others. but knowing that i can tackle such things, and the experience of working it, helps me face the real world of vague challenges and unappreciated, but valuable, achievements. a big part of all of this is exactly what is in the post: getting honest about the myths, lies, and excuses we use to make ourselves feel acceptable about the foolish and miserable way we manage our limited time on earth. i ran one marathon. i am not running another. -stephen king's story is awesome, btw. whenever someoen talks about being a "writer," or "artist," his story always comes to my mind.

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I'm going to copypasta #1 t... (Below threshold)

January 4, 2010 11:58 AM | Posted by Mae: | Reply

I'm going to copypasta #1 to a friend of mine who cries out that he needs all sorts of things in order to be creative.

#4 is me. The novel's done, but I'm revising the beginning. Still. STILL.

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"Every creative idea is a d... (Below threshold)

January 4, 2010 1:49 PM | Posted by Kyle Hollasch: | Reply

"Every creative idea is a dialogue between you and yourself (masturbation); every creative act is a dialogue between you and reality (sex.) You can't account for that other half of the dialogue until you begin it."

While not what you intended, this is very Hayekian. The essence of the Hayekian refutation of central planning is not that there isn't a computer or bureaucracy big enough to manage an economy, but that the information they are looking for doesn't exist until it is acted upon.

Thanks, I will use this metaphor, carefully, in the future.

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Since this blog has become ... (Below threshold)

January 4, 2010 2:20 PM | Posted by brainchild: | Reply

Since this blog has become one of my preferred ways to procrastinate (aka divert myself while not starting or finishing) this post couldn't be more apropos and timely for me. Thanks!

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Thanks, great post. I've wr... (Below threshold)

January 4, 2010 5:41 PM | Posted by RambleOn: | Reply

Thanks, great post. I've wrestled with all of these over the years (both in writing and other projects) and have ever so slowly learned strategies to overcome them. Except for #4 -- not finishing because I'm afraid of the consequences (even the good ones). I've (grudgingly) come to recognize when I'm doing this, but haven't found any way to combat this. When I get within spitting distance of finishing a project, I inevitably find some way of shutting it down and moving on.

It's a little bit heartbreaking, especially right now, as I've got two projects (one writing related, one not) that feel like they are turning out really well, and they mean a lot to me, and yet it looks like I'm scrambling to sabotage them, and I have to keep stopping myself from starting something new to displace them. I just flaked out on someone a few months ago on a similar project and I don't want to do that again.

LP, or any commenter, if you've got any advice for me, I'd love to hear it.

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RambleOn: this is a great s... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2010 12:54 AM | Posted, in reply to RambleOn's comment, by Langston Cues: | Reply

RambleOn: this is a great song by Led Zeppelin-perhaps a listen could aid you in your quest to complete one of your good ideas. timidity is for faint of heart lukewarm boring person.
You could die soon, so maybe you should focus. on what you want. in your life. And have some fun.
pick 1 project, dedicate, finish. Go out for a drink, eat, flirt, take a lover, through the night, sunrise, breakfast etc. Repeat.

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I actually pulled off writi... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2010 2:33 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I actually pulled off writing, two books actually. But I think they need rewrites as people have reservations about my writing so far. They however are complete stories as they are, beginning. middle and end.

Sorry I hope I'm not thread jacking here...

But its worth a peek. Should any of you buy a copy I would be glad to sign it somewhere down the line.

Send off an email if any of you have questions about Lulu or sign up to the forum even! Including yourself LP!

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What if infomania is keepin... (Below threshold)

January 13, 2010 6:39 PM | Posted by DrFeelAwesome: | Reply

What if infomania is keeping you down? LastPsy, I think I've read everything you've done - have you covered this topic yet? I wonder if it's why my students are non-motivated, and can't stay focused...

Have an awesome new year!

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You make me think and laugh... (Below threshold)

January 15, 2010 5:32 PM | Posted by bbj: | Reply

You make me think and laugh.Thanks a lot.

I read The night in NYT, and sat down and wrote 600 words. It takes hours to create a coherent story worth publishing. Its not the fingers,they are quick, brain is slow. I need deadlines and do push the button. Fini.
See also the French film, Diving Bell And The Butterfly, about the former editor of Elle, paralyzed, locked-in, communicating by batting an eyelid, and wrote, authored, a book this way,`beautiful, about life lived and what he regretted not doing in time, while he moved about, doing better for the mother of his children, whom he had left for another woman. Our time is limited. We dont know when it is up.
I`ve been reading from the archive, worth my time. I am wondering about elevated suicide rates for psychiatrists. Maybe some come to a dead end, when realizing what a lot of crap academic psychiatry is? Making a good living, mainly, on inequality and suffering. Shrinks empowering their clients, patients, are a minority I think, to be protected by lucky readers. That`s what drew me to your blog. The last p..Do keep it up. And thanks.

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thank you for this article<... (Below threshold)

March 6, 2010 8:56 PM | Posted by onedoseonly: | Reply

thank you for this article

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Wow, these are perfect exam... (Below threshold)

June 26, 2011 5:42 AM | Posted, in reply to Griffin's comment, by Francis: | Reply

Wow, these are perfect examples!

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Haha! Well put!Rea... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2011 3:56 PM | Posted by Vidar: | Reply

Haha! Well put!

Reality, now - here. I'd like to add that this post is written in context of creativity, but it seems applicable in a broader sense. Where is that printer..

Thank you.

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"on the verge of writing"<b... (Below threshold)

January 16, 2013 2:21 AM | Posted by Jedi: | Reply

"on the verge of writing"


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DO NOT TRY TLP'S ADVICE FOR... (Below threshold)

November 7, 2013 9:30 PM | Posted by Maced: | Reply


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Soo, I'm a masturbating wri... (Below threshold)

January 29, 2014 2:00 PM | Posted by Fred Pasek: | Reply

Soo, I'm a masturbating writer who fears publishing? Yes, sounds spot on.

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Best part: "You're running ... (Below threshold)

March 29, 2014 1:10 PM | Posted by Zach: | Reply

Best part: "You're running out of time"

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John. Nice to mee... (Below threshold)

May 18, 2014 1:35 PM | Posted by Hi, my name is...: | Reply


Nice to meet you, finally. I'm going to take your advice, this time, and try writing some-thing/where else.


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