Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Roughing It – 5 things I’ve learned about first drafts

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of creating, writing, bringing characters in your mind to life on the page. When the energy propels you to get the words out, that story in your head takes shape. You can see the unfolding of the plot, the characters, the setting, every bit that is part of the whole. You can’t refine your work until it’s in front of you. Enter the first draft, better known as the rough draft.

I’m working on the first draft of my next novel, and hitting a stretch of frustration that my mental picture of the story wasn’t complete enough to make the draft a smoother ride. It’s not the characters; the book my agent is shopping introduces the characters. It’s not the setting, though I think I’ll have to do a road trip (twenty+ years since I’ve been there). It’s the plot. The timeline. The guideposts along the way.

I tried to outline, but I don’t think I had a clear vision of the story. With most of my other projects, by the time I got to the point of writing the first draft, I had a pretty good handle on them in my head. This one, not so much.

It occurred to me as I was trying to hit my word quota last night that I’ve learned some things over the course of thirteen novel first drafts. I figured I’d share them (don’t worry, there’s pictures at the end–but not of my cat 😉 )

In no particular order, here are 5 things I’ve learned about first drafts:

  • I’m a novelist. Not that I can’t write short stories–my first publishing credits were short stories–but the stories in my head tend to be novel-length: 80,000 words or more. It took me over five or six years to write the first draft of my first novel (not counting the trunk novel I wrote in elementary–jr. high school). I knew I wanted to write a book–actually, rewrite that first book–after my kids were born, but I didn’t want it to drag on until they graduated.

When I learned about NaNoWriMo (50k words in 30 days), I knew that was my ticket to finishing a book in a reasonable amount of time. The key to “winning” at NaNo? Kicking the inner editor into a cage and locking it (that’s besides the 1,667 words a day). I learned I need to treat a new project like I’m doing National Novel Writing Month, no matter what time of the year. It’s only with that 30-day deadline and a restrained inner editor that I’m able to put myself into the frame of mind to just write. It also seems to be the only way I can get back into the habit of writing every day.

  • I outline, in a loose-ish sense of the word. The outline is not the only route from beginning to end for me, but it gives me an idea of the journey. With my current project, I struggled with the outline. I came up with characters, conflict, and setting, but the path through from beginning to end was fuzzy, and it shows during my writing sessions. I’ve learned my draft goes much better when I have a good idea of the story (outline), BUT
  • I’ve learned the process of writing the first draft actually helps bring the story into focus. As I’m writing, I make both inline notes and off-line notes. This particular draft looks less like an actual book and more like a scriptwriter’s attempt to put a director’s vision into some sort of storyboard-in-words. The story is more clear to me now than it was when I started. Maybe that’s because my NaNo-style first draft method is a lot like free-writing. No takebacks, no revising, no editing, just inline notes and writing forward.
  • I’ve learned first drafts are called “rough” for a reason. It’s less like a rock you can polish into something to put in a ring and more like deadwood turned into a functional piece of furniture with class. Rough drafts are UGLY. At least this one is. I mentioned it to some online friends as “sucking like a lemon soaked in turpentine”. Yep. Pretty much. I will never be like George R. R. Martin, with a first draft that’s ready to publish right off the finish line. Then again, my draft takes 30 days to finish, not five or six or more years.
  • I’ve learned to trust my method (your mileage may vary). This project taught me that skipping steps in the beginning (I didn’t lay out a timeline, or figure out the major plot points (just thought about the general direction), or fill out my storyline worksheets from Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days) results in uncertainty and missing my word quota.

When I work through my process, I can often exceed my word count because I can just write. I don’t have to think about where I’m going next. I know I’m headed in the right direction because I plotted my course (heh, see what I did there) ahead of time. It’s like planning a route when you drive to a writers’ conference or retreat. You know pretty much how to get there, even if there are detours along the way. My process has changed over the years (more free-writing, less fill-in-every-entry-in-the-worksheets), but it works for me. This is the first time I got lazy (or uninspired) about planning/outlining, and boy, do I know it.

I’m on the home stretch. One more week (and I get an extra day this month because March has 31 days–heh), and I’ll have 50k words and a complete or almost-complete first draft for my next book. Then the scramble to prep for hosting the fam for Easter in — OMG — two weeks?! I’ve gotta get moving on that.

SO, I might miss my mark in the interest of not embarrassing myself with my in-laws. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a peek into my garden this summer.

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onion seedlings

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tomatoes and a few peppers

Have a great weekend!


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Writing and waiting

Today I use a green dry-erase marker for my writing office whiteboard. You know, for St. Patrick’s Day (even though St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish to start with). Three more publishers off the list as passes, but I add a new one to the bottom. The editor reached out to my agent, so of course she pitched my manuscript, and the editor asked to see it.

Yay! I mean, anytime another editor gets eyes on it is another chance an editor will love it, right?

My Muse arrives in full regalia: well-worn (in every sense of the word) jeans, tennis shoes, a bright green Guinness t-shirt, and a green hat with the requisite “Kiss me, I’m Irish” motto in shiny gold letters. I’m almost surprised he didn’t do a temporary dye job and go red- or green-haired for the day. Almost.

He hands me a mug of steaming coffee. “With Irish Creme, doncha know,” he says with a grin and a pathetic attempt at an Irish accent. “It’s too early fer green beer, but I’ll bring that along later.”

I feel my eyes narrow and a wince escape my control. “Dude, you’re Australian. You’re not even very good at American accents. Gonna have to work on your Irish accent.”

He sips his own coffee with a loud slurp. “So you say.”

“Seriously. When have you ever had to do an American accent? I mean, outside of a Southern accent, and you slip with that. I can’t think of one project, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen most of them.”

“You’re going to blow my cover, love.”

“Phhfftt. Like anyone’s going to know.” I sip the coffee, and suck in air. Woof. Cough. “Holy crap. Just how much Irish Creme did you put in here?”

“Enough. I added a little Jameson to even it out.” He takes another horrendously loud slurp and evaluates the board. “Three more passes.” He points to the new addition. “How does this one look?”

“They’re an independent. They’ve got a lot of mysteries, thrillers, and such on their list.” I wander to the window and look out.

A path covered with bark mulch wends into the woods. A white guidepost stands at the end just outside the office. Another appears beside the path around the first bend. Beyond it, fog hangs thick, obscuring the path and the next guidepost.

My Muse stands next to me. I notice now the rainbow and pot o’ gold motif on the mugs. “What’s up with that?” he asks, lifting his mug to point.

I brace myself for another sip of altered coffee and wonder if the caffeine will counter the Jameson. “My new draft.” I sidestep until I can see a guidepost beyond the fog bank. “I kinda know where I’m going, but I’m not sure how to get there. I’m missing a lot of stuff I’ll have to go back and add. I’m still a day behind in my word count because of it.”

“Or are you behind because you missed another day this week?” At my questioning look, he raises an eyebrow. “I’m watching you, love. Are you going to make your NaNo?”

“Yes, I’ll catch up. I’m taking Monday off from the day job.”

He tsks. “And how much writing do you suppose you’ll put in tomorrow? You’re going to be ‘out’ all day.”

I roll my eyes. “It’s a writers festival.” A local one I’ve never heard of before. Apparently the group has been doing an annual gig in Bloomington. This is their first year in Rosemount. I found out about it through the local Sisters In Crime newsletter. “It’s not downtown Minneapolis or downtown St. Paul. It’s for writing. Not a substitute for the super-awesome UW Writers’ Institute in Madison, but it’s something.”

“Then you’ll have to buckle down, love. You’re going to miss your mark otherwise.”

Yep, I know. And I still haven’t started getting ready for the family Easter gathering. Sigh. I need to start getting the house cleaned (ugh) and organized (double-ugh), since we’re celebrating the weekend before Easter.

The publisher news is disappointing, but I expected to get passes. And there’s still nine publishers who haven’t reported in, including the new one. There’s still opportunity. I haven’t talked to my agent about what happens if none of the publishers like the manuscript. I expect she’ll pick another bunch of publishers to try. The feedback we’re getting is more “we like this part a lot, but this part doesn’t resonate with us” than “thanks but no thanks”. The brief critiques aren’t particularly useful, but it’s nice to know why they passed, and what they liked. It’s kind of interesting when one passes because of something they didn’t think worked for them but others really liked.

So, off to a writing thing tomorrow, then hammer away at the draft. Have a Happy St. Pat’s Day for those who celebrate. Also, Happy Vernal Equinox a few days early 🙂

Write on!

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Don’t wake me until the weekend!


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Breather

“Julie?”

I hear him. My Muse. He’s in my writing office.

I’m not.

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Heh. I’m choosing not to let him know where I am. I mean, a girl should be able to chill without interruption, shouldn’t she? I relax in my lounge chair, close my eyes, and sink into the soothing whoosh of gentle waves against the shore. Palm leaves rustle in the breeze. The only thing missing is a tropical drink in hand.

“There you are.”

“Go away.”

“Really?” I hear a quiet snick as he adjusts his lounge chair–which I know wasn’t there thirty seconds ago–and rustling as he settles into it. “You don’t really want me to leave.”

“Take a few days. Go on a pub crawl–oh, except Mr. E is still on house arrest. Call up one or more of the other Muses. Leave me alone. I need a break.”

“I just wanted to say you did good. You got your manuscript off to your beta readers. Now you can focus on your other opportunity.”

“Yeah. Hurry up and wait. That’s the worst part, you know. The waiting.” Things move like traffic in an ironically-named NYC rush hour in this business. I get it. A person can only read so fast, especially if they’ve got other things going on.

“So, write something else.”

I slide my sunglasses to the top of my head and look over at him. He’s chillaxing in eye-searing yellow Bermuda shorts and a near-neon Hawaiian-print shirt, unbuttoned to expose his tan, sculpted chest. Tan? When the hell did he get tan?

I lower my glasses to save my eyesight. “Do ya think you could dress any louder? They’ll be able to see you on the mainland in that getup.”

“Why? Too much?” he asks, feigning innocence.

“Gawd, turn it off. And I’m not going to start anything new yet.” I adjust the pillow behind my head and resume my relaxing. “I’m letting the manuscript rest for a couple days. I’m not sure I like how those last few scenes worked out. Besides, my son is home this weekend, and I should do a major cleaning. I think the dust bunnies are mutating. Or, I could read. I’ve got a couple books started.”

Silence.

The longer I know he’s there, the more nervous I get about why he’s so quiet.

After a few minutes, I can’t stand it anymore. “What?”

A slow smile stretches across his face. “You’re doing good, love. Keep it up.”

The nice fall weather is holding out. Colors are just past peak, but there’s still some bursts of oranges, golds, and reds left out there. Trying to enjoy the sunshine and relative warmth while it lasts, since it’s ten days to Halloween.

Where did October go? Once we cross that threshold into November, the whole holiday prep, rush, gather season starts. And what’s with Christmas stuff up in stores already? It’s not even Halloween yet. Sheesh!

To all those prospective NaNo-ers out there, it’s almost time. Finish up those outlines, gather those snacks, make sure the coffee/tea/lemonade/whatever is ready for those marathon writing sessions.

Write on!


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Writer’s log, Day 11

Writer’s log, NaNoWriMo Day 11–

The Internet was down the night before last, not that it mattered. Daughter’s tennis award dinner that same night ate up a couple hours. After I returned home, I couldn’t find my Muse. He went AWOL again, even after he agreed to stick close. Needless to say, not much writing done. *grumble*

November weather unseasonably awesome for MN. Last year, 20 degree highs–January weather in November. This year, we’re still pulling close to 60 degree highs. Yesterday was supposed to be the last nice day for a while. Walked during lunch, but missed a final outdoor run for the year after work. That early sunset just doesn’t work well for running along a dirt road with big grain trucks lumbering by.

Craft beer supply depleted. Maybe that’s why my Muse disappeared. Note to self: stock up on the way home.

Slogging through a new chapter added to support the revamped plot line in WIP. Trying to balance MC fear factor without overacting. Note to self: Do NOT watch Star Trek reruns. Correction, do NOT watch Bill Shatner in any shows.

Where’s my Muse? Gawd, he’s not even around for my blog post. I suppose he got tired of waiting.

“You are fecking pathetic, you know that?”

I don’t bother turning around. “Gee, nice of you to show up.”

“Really? You’re going to open that door? Not a good idea.” The sweet, smoky scent of burning autumn leaves surrounds me. “You’re out of craft beer.”

“I’m stopping to pick up more on my way home. Is that the only reason you stick around?”

“No, love, I stick around because I enjoy browbeating you.” I don’t hear sarcasm in his voice. He continues before I can interrupt. “I’m here to guide you, just like every other muse. I hear, though, I’m a bit harsher than others. Is that why you aren’t writing? Am I too hard on you?”

“No. I’m not writing because, like you said last week, someone keeps shaking the marbles and they won’t stop moving.” Sigh. “It’s supposed to be icky outside the next few days. The plan is to write.”

He appears in my field of vision when he rests a hip on my desk. He’s still rockin’ the rugged look, complete with flannel, denim, and trail boots, but clean-shaven this time. “How far did you get last night?”

I give him the stink-eye. “Two chapters, no thanks to you. I started dozing off, so I had to pack it up for the evening.”

He sets a collection of items on my desk. A folder with the University of MN logo, a snowball that isn’t melting for some reason, and something that reminds me of the cat harness we had when I was a kid. I have no idea why we had a cat harness; we never walked the cats.

Each piece plays a part in the next few chapters of my WIP. I have to check out that snowball. It’s cold, slippery, but isn’t melting. Weird. “What? Emptying your pockets? I don’t need this stuff. I know where the next scenes are going.” I pick up the harness. “Ferret?”

“Of course it’s for a ferret. This ‘stuff’ is to remind you to focus on the story.”

“Where’s my Dash-8? I mean, if you’re going to go all out,” I add with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

He hands me a wad of cotton fabric. When I un-wad it, a print of a DeHavilland Dash-8 airplane covers the front of the t-shirt. 9ec94f32b0022767804c40f540da9000d421bf56

“Gee, thanks.”

He pulls a chair up next to me and sits, bottle of craft beer in hand–when’d he get that? “Ready? We’ve got a blizzard, an UNSUB, and a romantic thread to work on.” He twists the cap off the bottle and snaps it across the room. “Let’s get to it.”

Writer’s log, Day 11. Muse returned. Back to work!


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Slow Out of the Gate

Hiya! Day Four of NaNoWriMo is almost here.

My grand plan to dig deep into my WIP rewrite is stumbling off the starting block. I’m like the dust hovering in the wake of American Pharoh’s first step out of the gate at the Breeder’s Cup.

Can you say “real life”? I knew you could.

So, needless to say I’m a bit late with my blog post. And I think my Muse is hanging at the pub with Mr. E, because he’s certainly not gracing me with his presence. I’ve been staring at the same scene for two days, not sure where I want to take it.

Slam!

What the–

“Don’t be blaming me for your brain freeze.” My Muse leans against the door he so rudely closed. He’s wearing a black polo with the Guinness logo embroidered on the upper left chest, dark indigo jeans, and deck shoes. The stink of stale beer, fried food, and cigarette smoke hovers around him.

“Oh, and I suppose your pub crawl with Mr. E supersedes working with me on this? Where the hell were you, anyway? Smoking’s not allowed in bars anymore.”

“Cork. That’s in Ireland, love. You’d like it. Very nice local brew, good music, friendly folks.”

“I know where Cork is. In case you forgot, my contemporary fantasy is set in that area of Ireland. Are you finished getting your wanderlust out of your system for a while? Ready to get to work?”

“Are you?” he counters. “You’re not settled.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” he paces to a stop in front of me and pokes a finger into my forehead, “someone’s shaking the jar up here, and the marbles haven’t stopped moving.” He lowers his hand to my shoulder. “You aren’t focusing.”

I brush his hand off my shoulder and retreat a step. “First off, you smell like a bar. Second, that’s why I need you to stick around.”

He shakes his head. “Um, no. My job, as your Muse, is to channel creative energy and foster inspiration. Your job, my darling writer, is to sit your ass in the chair where there aren’t any distractions and focus on the story.”

“And here I thought your job was to keep me in line so I can write.”

His grin is far too warm and welcoming. I’m starting to feel like a cat being lured into the carrier for a trip to the vet. “It is, but that’s so my primary tasks are more effective.”

“O-kay.”

He heads to my writing chair. At his touch, it changes from a worn, stuck-halfway-to-recline, Lay-Z-Boy wanna-be into a plush oh-man-I-could-so-sleep-there chair. Why doesn’t this make me feel any better?

“You know that chair says ‘take a nap’ more than it says ‘sit your butt down and write’, don’t you?”

He settles into the comfy chair and puts his hands behind his head. “Yep.” He waves at a corner of my writing area. An ergonomic kneeling/sitting chair appears, complete with a small desk at the appropriate height. To his credit, the view from my window now looks directly into a thick Northwest forest complete with ferns, moss, and a sense of quiet wonder. “Now, get to work, and maybe I’ll let you take a turn here after you get a couple chapters done.”

“Or what?”

Something electric crackles in the air. The scent of ozone wafts past me. “I’ll think of something.”

 

 


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Countdown (and a bit of bragging)

One week, and a large portion of the writing community I’m in touch with is on NaNo watch. They’re hurrying to finish (start?) their outlines and gather research for their NaNoWriMo novels. The starting line is just ahead. One of the FB groups I belong to has a number of writers who are ready to hit the keys. I’m all up for cheering them on, and I’m really trying to resist the urge to rub in the fact I cleared 50k+ words in 28 days. Nah nee nah nee boo boo. Being a NaNo veteran has some advantages 🙂

A sweet earthy scent fills the air in my writing area. Autumn leaves. I turn. My Muse is getting comfortable in one of those folding chairs that tuck into a bag. He rests his feet on a short, fold-up stool. He’s keeping with the rough, outdoorsy look, complete with flannel, denim, and lack of shaving for a few days. “You done yet, love?”

“Why?”

“Just get on with the bragging. I’m beyond ready to put that garden of yours to sleep for the winter.”

“Don’t say the ‘w’ word.”

He laces his fingers and rests his hands on his lean belly. “Why not? They’re predicting snow showers possible for Thursday.” He makes a winding motion with a finger. “C’mon, move it along so we can get to work.”

Grumble. “I worked this weekend. Where the hell were you?”

He scratches at the scruff on his cheek. “At the seminar.”

“What seminar?”

“The Muse seminar.”

Huh?

A blue coffee mug appears in his hand, complete with a logo that says “The Muse Seminar” in bold white font. Below that, it looks like, “NaNo, NaNo,” beside a caricature of Robin Williams in his longer hair days. “You don’t think we have to prepare for NaNoWriMo? Who do you think every writer participating turns to when they jump into the fray? Their Muse and any associated muses they’ve got on their roster.”

“Um, okay. Why didn’t you go last year?”

He sips something that smells like hot apple cider and brandy from the mug. “This is our first year. We’re mostly doing it for the NaNo virgins.”

“NaNo virgins? Let me guess, those are the writers who finally decided to participate this year for the first time. Do their muses–er, I mean, Muses really need so much help you had to put together a seminar?”

“You have no idea how scared some of those Muses were. Fifty thousand words is daunting to many writers. How do you think their Muses feel, especially when it’s their job to keep their writers going? Now, are you going to post those pics of your potato haul or what?”

Wait. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this seminar thing. “So, did the veterans give workshops? Speeches? I just can’t imagine over a hundred thousand Muses getting together–”

“It was closer to fifty thousand, and we rented the Olympus Parthenon.”

“Olympus?”

“Valhalla was already booked; the new attention on comics and Norse mythology is really screwing with our venues. Calliope convinced her sisters it’d be a good idea to rent out the space. Could’ve used more tropical decor, though. The food was good. Beer, not so much.”

“So, did you give a speech? Seeing as how you’re a NaNo veteran and all.”

“Naw. The keynote speakers were a couple of Calliope’s sisters. Oh, and Edgar Allen Poe’s Muse. Spooky chick. Special trip from the Other Side and all that since it’s so close to Halloween. I gave a workshop on keeping your writer motivated when all she wants to do is garden.”

Har har. “It’s not want, it’s–”

“Yeah, save it. Post the damn pics, already.”

Fine. Here they are, pics of my potato haul.

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We grow Yukon Gold potatoes from last year’s leftovers we didn’t get a chance to eat. There might be some Russets involved, but mostly the Yukons. Yes, that is the same plastic softball I used for size comparison with the onions. And I already dug a bunch of potatoes earlier in the year, so all told, both barrows would be full.

one potato

“There, happy?”

My Muse sips his drink. “Better. Now, then, let’s see what you did this weekend.”

Gotta go. Enjoy your week before the madness!


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No, this is not yet another post about NaNoWriMo

Catchy title, eh? I’ve been catching up on reading the blogs I follow, and there seems to be a lot more about NaNo this year in particular than I remember in years past. Maybe it’s because more writers have decided to throw their towel–er, hat in the ring of madness that is NaNo. This post, in particular, summarizes NaNo quite well.

I did my NaNo this year in February, so even though I’ll be posting my numbers from Feb each day, I’ll be working on revisions of that novel.

Okay, so I kinda bent the truth a little in my title. But really, the post isn’t entirely about NaNoWriMo.

Remember those days back in college? You know the ones, especially those first days of your freshman year, when you were still working through the reality of living on your own, with new classes in different buildings, new people to meet, and the responsibility of going to classes, doing homework, finding a job, and all the other new experiences (dorm roommate, anyone?) that go with it. There’s an atmosphere on college campuses, I think, that can bring us back to that time in our lives.

This past week was MEA (MN Educators Association) week, so the kids had Thursday and Friday off from school. This is a perfect time for colleges to hold open houses for high school seniors. My son is a senior this year, and on Friday headed off to one college open house with my hubby and his aunt (hubby’s sister), since I was working. On Saturday, we headed to another open house at the college I attended twenty-five (OMG! Holy crap I’m getting old!) years ago.

Boy, talk about a time warp. Some parts of the campus looked just like I remember, but there’s been so much new stuff (skyways? We never had skyways when I went there) added, I hardly recognized it. But just being there reminded me of those days I walked the campus. And that, in turn, made me wonder where all the friends I’d made back then ended up. One friend shared my love for Airwolf, and shared a treasure trove of fanfic with me (there was no Wattpad or FanFiction.net back then). Another invited me on a trip to the Oshkosh EAA air show (that’s a post all by itself) with 6 other members of the flying club.

The trip also made me realize how much I’ve changed since then. After my initial attempt to accept that yes, I’m older and now my son is getting ready to head to college, I realize how my life journey has circled around to (sort of) where I was back then. I wrote my first book during my grade school years, my second book through high school, and a fun play starring me and my closest friends (which we won’t ever mention again 😉 ), then took a sojourn from writing while I was in thrall with aviation. I started writing again when I took an English class in MI, and progressed to the point of getting a couple short stories published before my son was born. I didn’t get back to writing until later.

I started writing fantasy and science fiction, and I’m writing mystery now. What a tour! Has your life journey taken you away from writing? When did you return to it? Did you learn of your writing passion later in life? I sometimes wonder if I should’ve gone into an English major, but at the time, I wanted to be involved with aviation, then computers (well, always computers). Now, I write for a living (I’m a tech writer, so I do get a regular paycheck 😉 ) and I’m trying to join the ranks of published authors everywhere.

I wonder if this is where I was headed the entire time. I like to think I just took the scenic route. Lots of great experiences along the way, and I think I’m close to that place in my life I’ve wanted, but I just didn’t know it.

How about you? Are you close to that place in life you’ve learned you want or need to be?

Happy writing!