Wednesday, January 06, 2016

IWSG: Dumb Writing Advice

It's the first Wednesday of the month, which means hundreds of us will be posting about our insecurities. If you're a writer, join in!



When you start writing, you'll likely find yourself buried beneath a growing heap of writing advice. Some of it is designed to make your prose better.



Some of it is designed to motivate you during those really dark times.



And some of it is merely designed to make you put your butt in that chair and write.



But some of it is just bizarre. One of the first how-to writing books I read was written by Rita Mae Brown. Rita Mae Brown is a very talented author best known for a 1973 book called Rubyfruit Jungle. I was looking for a writing book in a bookstore in the early 90s and I stumbled on this:



It was the first how-to anything I ever read about writing. She did warn us in the title that it was a different kind of manual. Different it was.

The one thing I remember from the entire book was that this talented writer told her readers that if you want to be a writer, you have to have a cat. Not a dog, a cat. Miss Rita Mae loves her cat.



Okay, so her advice is to get a cat. But here's the part that devalued the rest of the book. She said if you weren't willing to get a cat, you didn't want to be a writer badly enough and you may as well quit now.




Reading over the Amazon reviews for the book, I realized I was just young and new. I didn't know to recognize this "how-to manual" as the whackadoodle mess of words it was. As one reviewer describes it, the author spends the first part of the book bragging about herself before launching into a list of "musts" that all writers have to have if they want to be a writer.

We must study two years of Latin.

We must get a PhD in English.

We must read a long list of books recommended by her.

The list goes on. And on. And on.



Don't want to do even one of those things? Guess what...you'll never be a writer. It's her way or no way.

So at this young age, I read the worst writing manual ever written. I learned right off the bat to listen to the advice of others and do this to whatever doesn't apply to me:



To this day, I still don't have a cat. And not only am I multi-published, but I make my living writing. So put that in your hat, Rita Mae Brown!

82 comments:

  1. Two years of Latin? Almost no one would be a writer then. We'd have no books, no newspapers, no Internet, no movies or series. Yeah, she was nuts. I think we've both done well without following her advice.

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    1. I know in high school that people who wanted to be doctors or nurses were advised to take Latin, so the classes were filled with those people. I took Spanish, which is probably more essential than Latin for the future demographics of our country...or it would be if I remembered more than a few words of it.

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  2. Wow! How amazing how many words get written by people who have a dog! Some funny ideas here, but I find no matter what how-to-write book I read, there's always some perfect little jewel to take away and ponder. There are just so many great writing advice books out there!

    Have a very Happy New Year, Stephanie!

    Denise :-)

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    1. As much as I love writing, no way am I trading my dog in for a cat. And my dog Shelby isn't a fan of cats, so NO cats!

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  3. There are many how-to books out there that are not practical and make the reader more confused. I am glad you didn't followed her advice.

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    1. Luckily aside from this one, I haven't read any other bad writing books, but now I take the advice of writer friends when picking a book. Back when I bought the Rita Mae Brown book, I was still thinking about writing a book for the first time, so I didn't have writer friends yet.

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  4. but then again getting a PhD in English really wouldn't hurt most of today's so called writers, no? And reading thousands of books. So many of modern bestsellers, especially the current ones, show an utter lack of any reading from the writer's part. I've recently translated a huge bestselling YA book which was almost totally written in adverbial sentences! The very first thing I teach kids not to do!

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    1. I think the writing advice of "take an English refresher" (which I did when I started) is sufficient. I think most publishers weed out the crappily-written books but in YA and MG, slang is acceptable. I was even told by a fellow multi-published writer misusing the word "literally" is now okay because kids do it. I still can't do that! But major publishers generally a) only choose the best writers and b) edit the crap out of the books they publish. So I'm not sure how a poorly-written YA made it even to the shelves. I blame the publisher for that one, but I do know that some of the biggest bestsellers irritate the crap out of writers...and that's been happening since the 70s with writers like Danielle Steel!

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  5. Hahaha! That was great. Love the picture of Rita Mae on her book cover:) I do love a good how-to book especially if the first half isn't bragging about the author's books!

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    1. Ugh, yes! It's been a while since I read Stephen King's writing book, but I don't recall him bragging about himself. He didn't have to. I think the author's credentials are listed on the jacket. To be fair, though, that was based on the review--I can't remember the context of her bragging. I personally would have kicked off a how-to writing book by talking about the many obstacles I went through and how I got started, ending with how I felt when I finally got that call. If I'd won awards and hit the bestseller list many times, I wouldn't mention that because who cares? But I could see kicking off by describing the moment when one of those things happened, then going into what went into getting to that moment.

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  6. I have always wanted to write a book but so afraid I couldn't make it interesting enough for someone else to read. Great Post.

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    1. Read, read, read. Eventually you'll feel that inspiration and the words will just start flowing!

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  7. I actually did take Latin in high school! I don't know that it helps me with my writing now or anything, but I do actually remember a little bit of it. :)

    Love that Sheldon pic!

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    1. I think learning a foreign language helps us better understand our own language because we clearly see the differences. But Latin definitely is the best if you're planning to write. Nobody told me that when I was in school, though.

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  8. LOL! It's so funny, the things people come up with. I think the worst writing book I've ever read was a NANO money grab about how to get an epic book in 30 days that devolved to: you can't. It's a waste of energy. Give up now.

    Geez. People, eh?

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    1. Um...perhaps a writer who wanted to scare everyone off? LOL!

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  9. I guess Rita Mae Brown made sure she didn't get competition by inspiring any new writers. I'm glad you did it your way and not hers. I wonder how many new writers took her advise and finally got to write their first book.
    Hugs,
    JB

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    1. I think any book that is that "my way or no way" about it is going to immediately invalidate itself. In fact, the humility that comes with admitting that this is the way *I* did it and take what applies to you and leave the rest adds to a person's credibility. But I've never been fond of people whose mode of living is, "I know everything and everyone else knows nothing."

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  10. This made me laugh out loud. There are some people (not me) who say that the only way to earn money as a writer is to write a book telling people how to make money as a writer. There are also people (including me) who say that the best thing about advice is that you don't have to take it.

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    1. I think you might be onto something there! Although now there are so many how-to writing books, most of us don't read them unless they're recommended. Plus, now we can find lots of information online. When I read Rita Mae Brown's book, I hadn't even seen the Internet yet.

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  11. I'm dying. Lol. Get a cat! Noooo. I don't do cats. I'm allergic and they stink!
    Also. The thing that sucks about being a writer is when your shit is edited to hell and back. When I wrote my thesis yearssssss ago, I remember being so happy with this nice hefty chapter I wrote. Then I got it back from my professors. Da fuck? They had destroyed it. I was like um, where is my chapter buried beneath all the red marks, scratches, notes plastered everywhere. Not a business for the thin skinned....

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    1. Yep, publishers do that, too. It's one of the toughest parts, but you end up better for it.

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  12. OMG. I like her cat series and I'm sure its made her a bunch of money, but say what?
    And I LOATH writing self-help books where the author just brags about her success and books. Eww. Huge turn off. Your head was probably spinning. Mine would have been. But look at you. You are a true success story. As far as publishing companies... you're running with the big dogs:) And you make a living at writing. That's a major accomplishment. I'm so proud of you. Many kudos.

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    1. You're sweet! I'd love to make a living writing fiction, but that's only a small fraction right now...although maybe it's good to go back and forth between blog posts, articles, and children's books. Keeps my mind fresh!

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  13. Everyone's different an different things work for different people. I'm glad you did what felt right and didn't give up, despite not owning a cat or knowing Latin. You followed your own heart and look where it took you :)}

    Happy new year!
    C.G.

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    1. Well put. Perseverance is the key to success--not cats!

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  14. I have a cat! Ha! I'm well on my way. He was actually my editor for a long time, which was actually not an advantage.

    I don't know Latin, though I'm fluent in French. Is that close enough?


    IWSG January

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    1. I'd say whatever combination of skills you have, you're making them work for your writing!

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  15. Thanks for dropping by, Steph, because it brought me here. Rita Mae Brown is someone whose writing was recommended to me, but I haven't read her work. I appreciate your honesty. It's hard to believe she wrote a book like that. I HATE that crap and don't trust anyone who calls themself an expert on anything. We all need to find our own way and deflect bad advice.

    Cheers to a productive, rewarding new year.

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    1. That was the only one of her books I read--I actually hadn't heard of her until that book...but I was in my mid-20s at the time and she wasn't quite high-profile enough to have read her in school. When I was a teen, mostly what I read were horror novels and romances.

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  16. Well you showed her didn't you. There is so much bad advice out there. That's why you can't believe everything see or everything you read. I'm glad you didn't.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. You have to bombard yourself with advice and throw most of it out...some people can't separate their own personal journeys from other people's personal journeys.

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    2. You're right on the ball Stephanie. Darn, you're good.
      JB

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  17. I read, or tried to read, a Rita Mae Brown book one time. At first I thought it was supposed to be written tongue-in-cheek, but then decided it was written for children. I have a cat but he hasn't helped my writing. lol

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    1. I didn't know she wrote any books for children! Were those the cat books people were referencing above?

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  18. Hi, Happy New Year and Congratulations!
    I really like your article and I am so glad I never read Rita Mae Brown's book.
    I wish you all the best for 2016 in everything you undertake to do.
    Shalom,
    Patricia

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  19. Oh my dawgs! So full of herself, Ms. Brown. I dearly love cats - so did Hemingway, but the fact that I don't currently have any sleeping in my sink (ChemistKen!)proves they are not truly required in order to write:-)
    Congratulations on all your success!

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    1. Nope, they certainly aren't required. It does make my heart happy to write with my dog all curled up by my feet, though. Something about her weight against me makes me feel like everything's just as it should be!

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  20. NOW I KNOW WHAT I'M DOING WRONG!!!!
    I'm been trying to figure it out for awhile now.
    Thanks for this bit of advice. I'm off to buy a cat now.
    I'm getting a grey kitten and I'm going to name him Garak. He will be my muse, or my down-fall. You never can tell with a cat.
    By this time next month, I'm going to be a published writer!!!!! :) :) :) :)
    Now what did I do with my lucky rabbits foot? Well, I mean it's lucky for me, the foot didn't do the rabbit much good did it?

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    1. Yes, buy a cat and you'll magically have all your dreams with writing come true! Maybe I should have followed that advice in my 20s and I would have been published much sooner. Who knew? We all thought it was years of writing and learning and perfecting our craft--we just needed a cat! (And a PhD, which involves years of learning...)

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  21. Aha! Good for you! Glad you found your own way to write and not hers.

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    1. Thank goodness for writers' groups like Romance Writers of America and SCBWI. They've made all the difference in helping me learn the right stuff!

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  22. Sigh.
    Even as a cat lover I wonder what she was on. Ego, washed down with a large dose of self-importance I suspect.

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    1. I think ego was a big part of it. I'm sure the critical acclaim and awards boosted her concept of herself...but we're all just following that muse!

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  23. Yes, but do you have a dog. *blinks innocently*

    :-P Anna from elements of emaginette

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  24. What an egomaniac. Her "advice" makes absolutely no sense. Glad you didn't listen to her ravings.

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  25. In my experience, most "how-to write" books take the stance that there is a right way and a wrong way. (And of course they know the right way.) But this is the worst advice I've ever heard!

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  26. I've been on a buying spree of how to books. Your post now made me hesitant. I probably should stop buying so much. And I don't have a cat!

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  27. I'm glad you didn't let that book ruin your future!

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  28. Ha! That sounds like a fun book, though one I won't read. I would almost take it as satire and then afterwards be all, "what? You're serious?"

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  29. Wow! You certainly showed her!

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  30. I found the advice of my high school English teacher and my college English professor to be more apropos to anything on writing that is put into a book. And while studying grammar, words, and language were a huge part of the advice, getting two years of Latin wasn't what they had in mind. :) I tend to do better take bits and pieces here and there that seem to go with my style or the trends in the industry instead of taking someone's how-to manual as a whole.
    Enjoyed the post, Stephanie!

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  31. WHOA... now that is INSANE!!!! The first thing I though when I first read about the cat... What if you're allergic? Because I AM! What a nut job...

    Glad you continued on. Just like ALL OF US. GEEZ... It boggles the mind.

    Happy New Year, Stephanie... All the best!

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  32. how about 2.89 years of Latin? No more, no less.

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  33. Oh wow, I hate it when authors get on these snobby literary kicks of all the "must" do things. Now, I do love cats and have two, but they try to snuggle on me when I write, LOL!

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  34. Well then, you got the lesson of the book. We're all different. Do what works for you. Funny. The first advice I read about writing was to write every day. It helped me get started and helped me form the discipline to continue. I guess we all get the advice we need.

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  35. I am a ghostwriter who wants to move one day where I can get a cat. This lady is a disgrace to cat lovers everywhere. Why did she not make this a biography about how she loved to write? That would make way more sense than making a wack how to. But then again it was clearly a cash grab. Sorry you got caught Steph.

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  36. Now that is some book. I wonder how many potential writers it discouraged. I hope not very many.
    Happy New Year, Stephanie. Here's to a successful 2016.

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  37. hmmm-I took 4 years of Latin in high school but I don't have a PHD...not even a Masters but I have 5 cats and a dog so that may make up for it. On second thought, I still have to write a book. hmmmm Where is Rita Mae Brown now?

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  38. LOL! Love it! I don't have a cat either, but will confess to being owned by one arrogant basset hound dog named Fred! And guess what? I write anyway!

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  39. LOL! Love it! I don't have a cat either, but will confess to being owned by one arrogant basset hound dog named Fred! And guess what? I write anyway!

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  40. There is hope for me yet (since I'm not fond of cats)! Everyone's got advice, but not everyone's two-cents is worth the same. Thanks for the inspiring post. :)

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  41. Definitely sounds like a unique book! Can't believe the advice about the cat. Fascinating! Good to follow what you believe. :)

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  42. Agreed. I try to stay away from books on how to write books.The best way to learn how to write is to write. If I'm reading a book on writing I'm not writing.

    I've read Stephen King's, On Writing and Anne Lamount's, Bird by Bird, and loved them. I was procrastinating. Ha!

    Great to meet you. Happy New Year!

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  43. Oh, this post made me crack a smile after the first WTF?!? moment. Last year I spent reading a lot of writing advice books and posts on the internet. There is a ridiculous amount of information out there, some of it conflicting heavily with others, most of it desperate to persuade that their way is the only way for someone to write. Yes, I appreciate it’s a business but having said that each writer is unique and, therefore, each writer needs to find what works and what doesn’t for them. These days I focus more on writing instead of reading writing advice and I am focusing on story structure mainly when it comes to writing books. Oh, and grammar. Lots of grammar. :D

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  44. I like the last one best, except for all the paper I'd have to clean up. Thanks for the laugh! Actually, I do want a cat, but I travel too much. I'll dote on my neighbor's cat instead.

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  45. I know there are some writers who just want to sound funny or sarcastic but I didn't think they'd actually write a whole book that way (or that their publisher would publish a whole book that way). I've read several how-to books as well, and the one I keep going back to is Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing. It really fires one up to get to the typewriter (or notebook) every morning. Now that's a worthy how-to book!

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  46. Hahaha. I have a cat and am certainly nowhere close to making a living writing.

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  47. dogs clearly have more character! and a book like that getting published makes me wonder what's wrong with the publishing community? they say they're selective, but i think that means selective among themselves...
    oops! was i ranting? sorry about that, but i feel bad for younger you being misled like that!
    thanks for the story and happy ending!
    happy 2016!

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  48. You mean my three cats won't guarantee a bestseller? Damn. Damn you too, Rita Mae.

    But I object to the statement above that dogs have more character. If you want character, no one beats my Sophie, who we call The Fuzz. (And sometimes The Bad Seed.)

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  49. LOL!!! I have a cat but haven't written anything that was published...as yet. Perhaps some day. :)

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  50. LOL!!! I have a cat but haven't written anything that was published...as yet. Perhaps some day. :)

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  51. Worst Advice Ever! LOL! I have had cats, but now it's dogs. Any pet or none, it makes no difference.

    Thanks for the laugh. Happy IWSG Day!

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  52. Girl, you are so funny! Ironically Rita Mae Brown turned out to be quite well known despite that crazy novel. It's cool to see that you and others don't need a cat or a Ph.D to make a living at this writing thing AND to have tons of fun! Big Hugs...

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  53. Haha what a weird book! I bet there are plenty of successful writers out there who have never owned a cat. Good for you for not listening!

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  54. Sounds like we should not take everything we read at face value!

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  55. Happy 2016! I love your attitude! The fact that you decided to toss away the stuff that didn't apply to you is admirable. I am still so naive, that if someone tells me "if you don't do X, you will never succeed", I believe them. I know you have mentioned to me before that I shouldn't listen. But darn these people for putting these things in our head in the first place:) Have a great year!

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  56. Wow, that's ludicrous and bold! What if you are deftly allergic to cats!? I'm almost tempted to head over to Amazon just to read the reviews and get a good laugh, I bet they're all snarky too!

    I'm still a novice when it comes to writing, but if there is one thing I've learned, it's that I need to be patient with my thoughts :)

    Great post!

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  57. LOL! I think I've read one of her novels at some point, but that's definitely some whack-a-doo writing advice. Glad you saw through it and found your own way!

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  58. Hmm, I have a cat - two now in fact - and got my first short story publication shortly after getting a(nother) cat. Years ago. So, does that make her right?!? Well, probably the only thing I would have done correctly in Rita's book. I'm just a natural cat lover. Wonder how all those majority dog lovers ever got published, and writing dog scenes in their books/stories too.

    Love the Sheldon throwing papers in the air over "good advice." Good thing you stuck with this writing thing despite your first self help book. Life is truly a journey, yep.

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