Unabridged Me

JUST ANOTHER WRITER

Welcome to a class that believes social stewardship begins before birth. Empathic beings can only be brought into this world by woke mothers who defy child birthing myths.

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Character Versus Plot: Which Is More Important?

August 23, 2018

In general, humans do not like ambiguity.

Though there are a few people who can handle a gray existence, their number is far less than those who proclaim to have that comfort. And this tendency extends to everything within comprehension. The need for labels, definitions, categories, and boundaries was necessary at some point for our survival, and these layers are an extension of the black and white, binary trait of needing to know yes or no.

Will I live, or will I die.

And without survival stressors, at least for most of us in the Western world, it’s moved into existential sensibilities. How we view ourselves and our identities.

Just as humans are incapable of conceptualizing reality and layer levels of labels for understanding, writing has it’s own labels, categories, and boundaries. We observe complex humanity, yet we cannot resist falling into camps with a dichotomous structure.

As with most labels, I resist limiting myself by placing boundaries on or categorizing what I write. However, there comes a time when I realize there is a grain of truth despite the exaggerated discussion I usually come across.

One of the dichotomies that has slightly more truth than others, and notice I said slightly, is character versus plot driven writing. The reason I say slightly is there isn’t a true dichotomy. As with any other human trait, there is a complex, dimensional continuum to cover all that is entailed by stating character versus plot.

But in resisting the rabbit hole, I will simplify by stating yes, there are writers who begin their writing with characters. Likewise, yes, there are writers who begin their writing with plot, or external events.

As with most discussions, people like to group up in one camp or the other. Almost any discussion board will have most writers arguing plot based writing is poor writing. In order to entice a reader and have depth of writing, one must develop and build complex characters.

I disagree.

First, poor writing can be found everywhere. In fact, I produce mass amounts of poor writing to create a small gem that I read and reread, amazed the words came from my mind. Whether a writer is plot driven or character driven has very little to do with quality writing.

Second, there is some amazing literature that we all know and love that does not have complex characters.

Third, plot driven writing does not mean characters are not developed or well-thought out complex beings. To be a plot driven writer means the primary focus of action is external events. Usually found in genre writing, such as Mystery, the plot is the device which causes the character to act. Things happen to the character, and the character responds.

In fact, I would argue that most novels and writing is plot driven. Of the categories of conflict, there is only one category that would not require external events precipitating a sequence of decisions in the character. Namely, man vs self.

That is not to say character driven writing excludes all conflicts except man vs. self. That would be a simplistic, dichotomous view of writing. Nor am I stating plot driven writing excludes man vs. self. Again, simplistic view of writing.

Rather, character driven writing focuses on the internal world of a character as primary. Their drives, their motivations, their backstory, and ultimately the progression of the story is tied to exposition of or change within the character.

There is no question as to where I fall in the complex plane of character and plot writing. I am a character writer.

That is not to say I don’t write plot driven stories. I do, it’s inevitable, but the first step in writing for me is to understand my characters. Who they are. My least interesting stories, at least to me, are stories where I haven’t developed a complete profile of my MC’s internal world before writing.

Since I do not outline, my characters decide where the story goes. Their personality decides how the plot develops. Rather than forcing my characters to fit the action of the story, my characters tell me what happens in the story.

In fact, I delayed writing on my current WIP because even though I knew my character, I had no plot in which she could engage. I had nothing for her to do, no canvas on which I could display her and tell a story.

Of course, then I delayed another month because I wasn’t in the mood to write her. The forms procrastination comes in.

But at the end of the day, there are three things stories must have: character(s), plot, and setting. Without any one of these three, a story does not exist.

The degree in which character or plot plays importance for the writer is entirely subjective. And neither one or the other is indicative of poor writing.

Writing and Rejection

April 4, 2018

It’s inevitable. Rejection is a way of life for authors.

Once in awhile an author has an amazing, unbelievable debut novel that blows everyone out of the water. These novels are published immediately to great acclaim. I can’t think of one now, but I don’t want to exclude the possibility.

However, for most of us writing means rejection.

Last week writers around the world received results in Round 1 of a short story contest. I entered, along with 4000+ other writers. And all but 700 received news they would not be moving forward.

Me included.

During the six weeks between submission and results, I vacillated between absolute certainty I would get into Round 2 and complete belief I would not progress. The second belief proved accurate.

I won’t lie; I was devastated at first.

After talking with friends who write, and people who care, I slowly processed my disappointment. I worked my way through the pain of hearing you are good, but not good enough.

The contest provides feedback from the judges, giving an opportunity for growth and development. The additional information gave me data points of strengths, as well as ways I can make the story stronger.

Also, I came face to face with an aspect of me. My perfectionism gets in the way of trying, of putting myself out there. Constantly. In turn, I am sensitive to critical feedback and rejection of my writing.

Critical feedback and rejection will be an aspect of my life for as long as I write.

There is no going back regarding the choice to write, so I will have to grow up a little. Work on my sensitive nature. Review rejection stats until they are ingrained in my head.

That will take some time.

The important piece is to keep bitterness at bay, remaining open to any opportunity. For now I will look for more contests and continue on my WIP: a short story collection.

Self-Doubt Loves Language

March 9, 2018

It happens to all of us.

Well, maybe not all of us. From all I’ve read, sociopaths and psychopaths do not struggle. Nor do grandiose narcissists. But those extreme examples aside, it happens to all of us.

I’m talking about self-doubt.

It varies by person, by personality, and by occupation. Some occupations leave little room for self-doubt. Namely those that save lives or are involved in split second decision making.

And then there are occupations such as writing, which seems overflowing with those who doubt their abilities and talents. Show me a writer who doesn’t once in a while throw a tantrum, papers flying everywhere (metaphorically in the almost purely digital world), screaming this is shit to anyone who will listen, and I will show you someone who has not really invested in writing. Or hasn’t received a rejection letter.

I know, bold claim.

The reason I say this is because similar to any other combination of art and skill, writing takes a lot of work and is highly subjective. While a writer may develop strong ability to combine words in whatever rules dictate that particular language and form, there is subjectivity in the writer and the reader.

In essence, writers try to pull people into their imaginations, their realities, the way they view the world. And in turn, readers bring their own experiences and understanding. And somewhere in between is language.

A highly imprecise, inexact, difficult combination of symbols and meaning that often fails at its one purpose.

So, taking skill out of the equation, writers will often find themselves deep in the flow of an idea. Spitting out words. Building immense structures of thought and dry walling with all the tricks we are taught. If language is on our side in that moment, we end up with a stable structure we design and change to a more suitable vision.

If language is not on our side, we struggle with a building that lists and tilts no matter how we prop it up. Often ending in abandoned stories and paper flying tantrums. Whether a novice or an expert, self doubt during these times can creep into an ear and take up residence in the back of a writer’s mind.

Speaking horrible thoughts like “that doesn’t make sense.”

“No one wants to read that.”

“What’s the point in that?”

Some writers push through self doubt, post tantrum. Start a new story. Begin a new idea. Or obstinately pound out words until language is malleable. Of course, these are the wise and diligent practitioners of the field.

And then there are others. Of which I am included. We throw our tantrum. We have words with language that would make our grandmothers blush. Then we quit. Let self-doubt have room to take up shop. Build its own workbench of malevolent statements.

I believe this is where writers’ block emerges. Our inability to come to terms with language. Our frustration with disparities between our minds and the expression tools available.

While some might quit forever, others of us are haunted. The urge to write is stronger than the pain of creating meaning with crude cudgels instead of fine carving tools. So we return. At some point we return.

Just as I always come back to writing.

And inevitably we are stronger. Those of us who come back. Our muscles have been worked by tearing apart self-doubt’s workshop. We find new mechanisms of soothing or find opportunities to test the waters in safety.

Or we complete a post that has been sitting in our drafts folder for two weeks.

Regardless, the words always return. The goal for any writer is to become one of the veterans. The time tested writers who know when to set something aside and move on with something else. The ones who do not let tantrums sideline them.

Because for all its crudeness as a tool, language is the only tool available to a writer.

Self-doubt will never leave. So instead we fight. We write drivel. We practice using prompts. We cry and complain to those who listen. And with enough force the inertia recedes and we move forward.

In my experience? My mind is flooded with ideas I refused to create while hosting self-doubt. And I’m left to wonder what amazing things I’ve lost, giving time and space to self-doubt.

Subconscious Weaving

February 16, 2018

I’m a little behind on these posts.

But here we go anyway. Day 2…

02.08.2018

The night was spent in a low to mid grade motel room. Although I can’t say it was absolutely awful (that was for the drive home), it wasn’t exactly pleasant.

The motel room smelled okay, which is the first aspect presented when I open a door. Lights go on, seems decent and not too run down. Though, my Hollywood fed imagination began to run scenarios.

Namely drug deals gone wrong, prostitution busts, and all kinds of down on their luck characters with alcohol and drugs limping along some form of reality avoidance. A world David Lynch explores in his movies.

Meh, it was for one night. I can handle this. Besides, the smell still seemed reasonable.

My eyes will close, shutting out the poorly patched hole in the bathroom door. My vision will no longer view, with an obsessive-compulsive focus, the shoddy handyman work. Such as the towel bar hanging upside down, with the screw on top. Or the failure to sand walls before repainting, causing new paint to flake and peel. My optical organ will miss all these details.

But my sense of smell will continue to feed my brain with non-stop information the entire night.

So, exhausted from a long day driving through semi-arid desert (not my favorite of regions) and having dinner and wine with a relative, I fell into bed.

And slept very little. Not the room’s fault. I rarely sleep well in a new environment. Takes me a few days to feel settled enough to sleep. After a rough night of tossing and turning, punching a motel pillow, I opened grainy eyes to a room that did not benefit from sunlight.

Side note, I have decided I will become one of those people who travels with her pillow. Hotels and motels do not think about stomach sleepers when they stock pillows. Understandably, we are a minority. But my neck cannot handle another too fluffy pillow.

I ran through my daily routine, a muscle memory dance of shower and grooming. So mindless is my routine I don’t usually start waking until halfway through my shower.

When at home all writing ideas come flooding through my neurons at this point.

Since I was not at home, all the details of the shower seeped into the crevices of my gray matter, settling in a twitch between my shoulder blades. It’s not the shower was unclean, but the handyman work scratched my consciousness. Not to mention the essence of down on their luck Hollywoodness.

I’m almost positive I still had conditioner in my hair when I hurried into a bare thin towel and a chilly room. A room still smelling decent, I might add. Though cloying at this point. Must have been the air freshener.

All four of us hurried through a barely there continental breakfast and into the car.

The decision was to head north from Gallup and east at Window Rock, driving through the Navajo Nation since the drive was not as arduous. For those not familiar with American history, Navajo Nation is a sovereign nation within the US, though the executive branch of the US government does have some control.

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Visitor Center, Hubbel Trading Post

We stopped at Hubbel Trading Post, a still active trading post that has been in place since the Navajo were allowed to return home. While it’s not difficult to find houses in Colorado decorated in Southwest style, it was fascinating to learn how integral the art of weaving was and is in the Navajo culture.

Watching the woman weave a rug in the visitor center, I was almost tempted to take up rug weaving. Certainly not to that level. The artistry takes a lifetime to develop. But watching the weaving was mesmerizing, meditative.

Unfortunately, I know myself too well. I would take it up with a passion, to just as quickly lose interest.

I did not purchase a Navajo rug. My art tastes run surreal, and I’m not one to purchase something just because I’m there.

While Vivian played with a shop just her size, I learned how respect can overcome cultural differences. Treating people fairly will always outweigh what governments choose to do, what military enacts. Individuals can overcome group think.

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After our picnic lunch, we moved onward. A quick stop at another monument, pueblos in cliffs, before heading down the canyon to Sedona, AZ.

Living in Colorado my whole life has given me a skewed perception of geography. I have lived in or within view of the Rocky Mountains all but four years of my life. Most of our drive was flat flat flat and desert. So much yellow and sage brush for days. Although I would appreciate the sky on the drive back, the drive there felt blah.

Until I realized we were on a high plateau and everything was hidden from view. Rather than driving up into something, like we do in Colorado, we ended up driving down into. I realized my eyes might have been missing mass amounts of beauty, only because my eyes didn’t know what to see.

I cannot say I will ever live in the desert. Still not my region of choice, but I understand the draw for some people. Cut under the yellow yellow yellow and sage brush is layers and layers of red and orange. You only need to know where to look.

The canyon into Sedona was beautiful. The next day we would get to see the full light set the canyon on fire. But for this day, it was food and bed.

And a realization I might have under dressed for the entire vacation. Stay tuned.

For more pictures, my Instagram.

Ready, Set, Go

February 11, 2018

I do not write a travel blog. Rather, I attempt to write a writing blog since I am a writer (at times). But this week traveling is my experience, so I will write about traveling. A family road trip to be precise.

02.07.2018

Today began the road trip. This is an experiment, to see how well Vivian travels. My mom has been biting at the chance to take her only grandchild traveling. Of course, Vivian has only recently been okay away from mom for more than a few mandatory hours. So this trip was to see what kind of traveling Vivian could do.

Plan was to leave at 9 am. My mother was late. Entirely expected. Fortunately, Vivian is not of an age yet where time matters. And I decided this was a vacation. Time does not exist for me.

So into the car we piled and headed south out of Denver. Our destination? Sedona, Arizona. I don’t really¬† know what to expect, and I think that is a positive. Expectations lead to disappointments, as well as a failure to see what is offered.

The drive down was split into two days, giving credence to the limited capacity of toddlers for containment. The plan is to spend the night in Albuquerque, NM, and drive the rest of the way on the second day. So far so good.

I should note I have been accused of being addicted to my phone. Namely Twitter. While I admit I am more inclined than not to scroll while bored, I don’t think addiction qualifies. However, I stepped to the issued challenge and agreed to not pick up my phone other than to take pictures.

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Pike’s Peak, Colorado¬†

It was about halfway past Colorado Springs when I realized what was being asked. Not that I mind. For the most part, I skip a lot of what is written on Twitter other than a few favorites. However, I have substituted Twitter for a notepad. I use the platform as a stream of consciousness writing tool.

I had snippets playing through my head all day. Ooo, I should write that. Oh, I need to remember that. Wow, that sentence is awesome. Of course, I forget them as soon as I finish editing in my head. Thus the attraction of Twitter’s nature. I can quickly write them down, record them, and move on with my day.

Oh the gems I lost.

Then again, maybe not gems. Until there is a form of validation for our words, there is no sense of their value.

Writers can, and will, argue this all day. I write for myself, I hear people say. I don’t care what people say, I hear writers discuss. Who cares about opinions of others, writers will lament. Myself included, depending on how I feel about my writing.

But validation is an important piece to any art. Yes, we create for ourselves. Because there is some demon that has taken up residence in our head, haunting us with words. Not just words, sounds. Rhythm. Flow. Context. Meaning. Requiring us to install layer of layer of thought and meaning via words.  Not to mention the obsession for the perfect sentence.

We cannot not create. This is a truth.

However, there is diary writing if it’s just about letting the demon loose from time to time. Artists, writers, musicians… we are so obsessed we choose to try living by way of our demon.

Which requires skill development. And how do we know we’ve mastered a skill? Validation. Feedback and acceptance by our community. Our community of writers who know what we live through, what we exist within, what we struggle with daily.

Not necessarily consumers. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Patrons and consumers are needed to put food in the fridge and heat in our houses. For those of us crazy enough to try and exist by way of the demon, patrons and consumers are necessary. And their purchases are a form of validation. The most important form, if taken in a pragmatic view.

But validation from the writing community provides feedback as to where our skill rates. No one can pick apart a sentence faster than a writer.

So while I was staring out at the semi-arid desert of Southern Colorado, what I thought were written gemstones could have been, in truth, nothing but drivel. Without validation, I know not which I had created. Well, since it was not recorded I didn’t create anything.

Merely passing thoughts as flat barren landscape passed my eyes.

Vivian did well this first day. The great experiment seems to have the desired results, though after the first two hours excitement of traveling had worn off. On all of us, not just Vivian.

At hour three it was time for a long break.

We stopped for lunch in Trinidad, CO. This allowed the toddler to run while the aging adults to stand and creak about, lamenting how stiff our muscles had become. While my mom was focused on telling me where to drive, and the backseat passengers were focused on getting out of the car, I was noting small details.

Trinidad is an old town that has seen a recent influx of population, as has most CO towns. This meant the historical downtown buildings are being renovated, and the narrow streets are made more narrow by construction cones, equipment, and flaggers. While the town on one side of the freeway looked like any number of small towns in Colorado, downtown appeared to have a new lease on life.

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Downtown Trinidad, CO

Colorado is dotted with small towns, from east to west and north to south. As time has moved on, some small towns have dwindled to nearly nothing. A lot has to do with migration away from agriculture towards urban living, though not entirely.

Some small towns are falling by the wayside because they are on the wayside.

Freeway travel has allowed us to drive further faster, goal oriented as we look forward to our end destination. Small towns a few miles off the freeway offer little for distraction. No travelers to buy gas or eat in cafes, and nothing to keep the young around.

I admit, we took freeway the entire way to Albuquerque.

Where we ate a home cooked meal of lasagna at the house of my mom’s cousin. Vivian ran out her energy, and we relaxed while drinking wine and admiring my cousin’s quirkiness. Women of a certain age who live alone are allowed to develop their oddness, and I get to admire and enjoy said oddness without it affecting my life.

Onto one of the local motels, which resembled the Bates Motel. Not in physicality, but in vibe. Oh so many vibes.

Checking in through bullet proof glass by a woman who looked like she couldn’t get rid of us fast enough. Rooms maintained by a handyman who did not know screws of a towel bar go underneath the bar. And badly patched holes in doors and walls.

Only one night. Then we can move on. Across the desert. Notepad-less. Stay tuned.

Which is why Jack found himself, irritated and exhausted, about to enter a yoga studio. He avoided these places, shops where most personnel were holograms or humanoid. A tall blond looked up from the receptionist desk as Jack moved into the space filled with woods and incense.

Cliff Jumping

January 20, 2018

In a couple of days it will be one year since I started blogging.

This blog. Different website. Different hosting platform. Different me, but same blog.

I’ve abandoned my original style, my original model, my original plan. Starting the blog was an impulse, and as usual I did it trial and error. Having learned from my errors, I’ve changed websites and platforms. Now I’m moving over blogs I want to keep, reading as I move.

Reading posts I wrote seven months ago is … odd.

About seven months ago I completely changed my life. Joined social media, quit my job, started a business, and have lost my sense of reality no less than three times. No necessarily in that order. And not necessarily cause and effect.

And the blog has archived the change. My thinking then versus now. Me then and me now.

My writing style has changed. For the better. Probably due to Twitter. Being exposed to concise writers. Getting back into the habit of writing. Or maybe writing regularly has meant finding my voice. Getting away from academia.

Which I admit made my writing verbose and complicated. Not my professors, the things I read. Basic cannon, which included all the old British greats. Jane Austen as a major author. You can see how that might influence grammar choices.

Put it bluntly, my older posts are long winded.

Yet they show an interesting shift in a major part of my life. I chose to 180 my life experience. I walked to the edge. Which I’m prone to do, apparently needing some element of chaos. But instead of walking away and settling, I jumped.

Hoping I didn’t break every bone in my body on the way down.

I can’t take credit for the courage entirely. I owe my eldest sister her due. I watched her move through her own process. Her results gave me courage.

June 2016, about one year before my life change, we went to Panama. Just long enough for me to think I don’t want to come back. Then again, I’ve always been one to want to be anywhere but where I am.

Despite my lifetime urge, I haven’t moved from the state and country in which I was born. Walk to the edge to peek over, only to turn around and try to buy into reality one more time.

So it was not surprising I felt the urge to become an ex-pat in Panama. We stayed in Casco Viejo, full of history and art and an energy that cannot be found at home. I think most of my friends would have felt claustrophobic walking the old streets. I found myself suffering agoraphobia upon our return.

Took me two weeks to feel like things weren’t too far apart, too open, too big.

While there I observed my sister as she processed through a life realization. My sister is a researcher by nature, yet found herself in tenure track at a university. Focusing on classes and curriculum, in a school she wasn’t aligned with, put immense pressure on her.

And I watched as she processed job security versus doing what she enjoys. Paying bills versus being true to her nature.

At the time I just watched. I had just gone through a period of hating my job, but I was on an upswing. I was implementing a new system, doing more IT work than HR work, creating and building and learning.

Yet observing her, and her ultimate choice to go out on her own, influenced me when it was my time. When I inevitably walked to the edge. And stared down. Granted, life circumstances pushed me. But instead of creeping back and trying to settle my unhappy mind, I jumped.

Actually, I might have backed up and taken a running leap off the edge. I’m sure it appeared that way to anyone watching.

And I haven’t landed yet. My business model completely changed, now resting entirely on writing. Trial and error. Pretty happy my writing is a paying gig. As a family, our net monthly budget is almost zero again. Stressful, but manageable.

But I find I’m not done changing, at all. Every day I learn something new about myself. Think about something differently. See my personality show up in new and astonishing ways.

I’m learning my strengths and weaknesses. Especially in writing. Unleashing my imagination for my own writing is still a block. But I’m learning how to work around them. How to put myself in situations that force my weaknesses to step aside.

I’m learning parts of me I can’t let go. Like intellectual reading and discussion. Social interaction despite my introverted nature. A routine, regardless how minimal.

And I’m learning parts of me I couldn’t wait to shed.

Interesting thing about making drastic life changes. Other things start looking different, too. Even a tree looks different from the other side. Reality falling from the cliff looks different than from atop the cliff.

Reality has shifted, and everything is affected.

This can be a good thing. It can be a bad thing. I reserve judgement until the choices are in front of me. But I have noticed one immutable fact in my psyche. Fear is often the one thing holding me back. And once I swallow down fear, my impulsive and creative nature rarely falters.

In this case, I jumped off one of the largest cliffs imaginable. My fear has been silenced. My natural inclination might become cliff jumping.

Editing in the Way

December 31, 2017

“This is not what we are talking about.”

I just stared, trying to process the adult sentence emerging from a tiny mouth. 

She was right, of course. Vivian was making a point. She preferred one cat over the other, as one is friendlier and a better pet. I was making it a lesson about personalities and boundaries. 

My next move in this game of parenting? I laughed.

Game over. I lost. 

At least this round. Her little face scrunched, and her eyes took a steely angry look. Shut down, you are unworthy of conversation, mom.

I apologized, affirmed her statement was accurate, and moved us past. But that very grown up thought rang a bell in my head. 

How often do I think these words when in a familial argument, or even an intellectual debate? I make a statement, and the response makes my internal voice say, that’s not what we are taking about. 

In moments of little filter, I say as much. Usually with my mom. Usually with attitude of a sixteen year old girl. 

I would like to think the attitude has diminished, but for some reason I believe attitude oozes in interactions with my mom, regardless age.

When in a discussion, it’s easy to miss the point. Especially when opinions and biases are involved. 

On the flip side, we can shut down creative resolutions or new connections when we insist on being detail focused. But this is not what this blog is about. 

Let’s be honest. Words fail at precise communication. Rough for a writer to admit, but language does not do its job sometimes. A writer’s job is to get as close to the emotion or thought as possible, then throw it to readers saying here I tried. 

And if you are a good writer and editor, you succeed. If you are talented but suck at editing, you succeed in a way. If you are a decent writer, readers bring enough of their own worlds to create something with the words.

But this very thought can get in the way of writing. At least for me.

If I have an idea I’m set on, forget it. I will create the most uninteresting, intellectual goop possible. Because anytime I drift, my brain says this is not what we’re talking about. 

I course correct. I edit as I move. I construct form. And… My writing is uninteresting, though well written, crap.

When I jump myself into the primordial ooze, I get something worth reading. 

And the result is not what I thought it would be when I started. What starts as me working on a bench outside a library becomes an announcement of a life changing event. 

What begins as satirical diologue on writing becomes a short story of manslaughter. 

Here’s the crux of it. Writing is a career full of cliches, everyone supporting us while telling us how to do it better. And most times I nod, say uh huh,  and do it my own way. I’m oppositional like that. 

But once in awhile I have a moment where a cliche clicks, and my writing benefits. Like don’t edit while writing your first draft. When I first heard that I said excuse me? I always read what I’ve written to catch myself up, editing along the way. And that’s how my mind works, keeping track.

However, if I say to myself this is not what I’m talking about while moving through my process? I will write drivel. 

Instead I have to jump in, let the thoughts flow naturally as I read myself, and let the current go where it wants. Otherwise my left hemisphere will doom my writing career before it even starts. 

And be subjected to a toddler’s condescending attitude. 

Pop quiz: is the image convex or concave?