Closet writers break my heart. Any reason a writer keeps their writing a secret is just wrong, unless the writing is extremely personal and not meant for other’s eyes. I was a closet writer.
There are many reasons why writers remain in the closet and the Rubies have had discussions concerning them. At some time or another, many of us have faced the road-blocks that kept us from being us.
Some writers think they haven’t read enough books to be considered a writing expert. In their minds, if people find out they write, they must’ve read every single book ever published. I’m here to tell you that I’ve never read Huck Finn, War and Peace, Fifty Shades Of Gray or a zillion other classic or best-selling books. Does that confession make me less of a writer? I think not.
Being shy, it can take years for some people to join a writer’s group. A long, long time ago, when the internet was young and a thing called dial-up was used to connect to it, writers actually went to public meetings to connect with those of like minds. Walking into a meeting can be daunting to a wall flower. I know because I’m an introvert. The internet and the ambiguity it provides, has made it easier for some writers to connect to others, but not all. They remain in the background, unsure of themselves. To them, I say, “it’s always the quiet ones who make the biggest impression when they’re ready.” Rest assured most writers are genuinely nice and more than willing to help other writers in any way they can. You only need to be serious about the craft to be considered a writer by them.
A closet writer might feel they don’t know enough about the craft and until they know all there is to know they remain in seclusion. I’m not sure if there is anyone out there who knows it all. Well, maybe King, Patterson or Nora. Only they can answer that question. The point being, the majority of writers will openly admit that they don’t know everything and that they learn something new all the time. Join the club that strives to be better at their craft.
My writing sucks. It very well could, but are you the best judge? You’ve read and studied and wrote and edited. Now it’s time to trust yourself and share your work. If a critique offers constructive advice, weigh it, and then accept it or not. In the end, it’s your story. There is no greater joy for a writer than when a reader enjoys your work. The only way to know that joy is to share your gift.
There are those who really, really want to be a writer but struggle to do the work required. Writing is hard work and takes a huge amount of time. Completing a work is possible a word at a time. Commit to the work, or perhaps another hobby would be better for you.
I’m fortunate. I’m a writer who has had the support of family and friends for many years, but that wasn’t always the case. I once was a closet writer. I was told that my dreams of becoming a published writer were stupid and thus I hid my passion. Now, when I read the notebooks I filled during that time, I cringe at the darkness that shadowed my life.
One day, I finally broke and said to myself, “This is my life and I don’t want to look back and wonder what if I’d taken one step. Would my dreams have come true?” That was a year of change for me on many levels. It was a hard trial but through it I learned I had the support of many family members. I read craft books. I joined a writer’s group. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I attended conferences and workshops. I found more support through my writer friends. I met the man of my dreams and he became my biggest supporter. I will love him forever for letting me be me.
Life doesn’t give us do-overs, but it does give us second chances. Take the step toward being you.
So I’ve had this love affair with grammar ever since I can remember. In school, I relished writing research papers and making sure the punctuation and sentence structure were just right. I cherished being able to tell the difference between an adjective and an adverb. I loved the way sentence diagrams looked laid out on the page. How orderly my little world seemed. Everything had its place. I made good grades, because I always tried to follow the rules. If I wasn’t sure of something, I could go to my trusty little grammar book and look it up.
Then I started writing for fun. I wrote manuscripts, entered contests, and picked up six critique partners along the way. And almost overnight, my world became a messy place. Why? Because the rules that once governed my writing, no longer applied—at least not as rigidly as they once did. So I’m here to mourn the loss of seven of my favorite rules:
The semicolon. Oh how I loved this little punctuation mark. Joining two independent clauses was once so easy. Just slip a semicolon between them and voila! The first manuscript I wrote was riddled with semicolons…well, maybe not riddled, but it certainly had more than its fair share.
The word that. When I was in school, I learned that an indirect quotation was always set off by this particular word. He said that I needed to finish my homework by tomorrow. I entered my first writing contest years ago and was in for a shock. Almost every instance of the word that had a strike mark through it. I couldn’t believe it. I went to several online groups and vented my outrage. And I found out the judge was right. When writing fiction, the word that causes a reader to slow down rather than glide over the prose. So I waved goodbye to my much used friend.
Never start a sentence with a conjunction. Okay, I admit I’ve embraced the breaking of this particular rule a little too well. My CPs often have to rein me in when it comes to starting sentences with ands, buts, or ors. I love them. To me, starting a sentence with a conjunction makes for a smooth passage from one thought to another. But (hee hee, see what I did there?) they really should be used in moderation.
The colon. I actually still use this punctuation mark, and my editor leaves them in! I think the colon has now taken the place of my beloved semicolon, since I can get away with sneaking them in from time to time.
The lowly comma. <big sigh> How many of you remember the thousand and one rules for comma usage? I can remember looking these up in my grammar book to make sure I put that comma in just the right spot. I loved the comma desperately (notice the forbidden use of the adverb in this sentence). But now? I’m a comma minimalist. No more debates about the serial comma. No more making sure each comma placement is just so. I want my readers to be able to drift through my story without putting them through an obstacle course of punctuation marks. Except when the tone changes or I’m writing romantic suspense. Then I use commas to make the writing a little more jagged or to make the reader push harder to get through certain passages. I still love how this little mark can change the tone and flavor of sentences. I just don’t follow all the rules anymore.
Sentence fragments. Yep. I’m now guilty of throwing a single word onto the written page, plunking a period after it, and calling it done. I can remember when that would have earned me a big red circle and an I.S. notation (incomplete sentence). This is another one that should be used in moderation (and I tend to sprinkle them a bit too liberally). When used correctly, the sentence fragment can make a big impact on your story.
A paragraph must have at least three sentences. Maybe this rule isn’t in effect any longer (yes, I’m that old), but when I was in school, this rule was a biggie. I often sat in my seat grabbing at any random sentence and sticking it into my paper just so I could call a paragraph a paragraph. Oh how my little world has changed. There are times in my books when I have a paragraph that consists of a single word. There’s always a flicker of guilt when I hit that enter key afterwards, but I somehow manage to live with the shame.
So that’s my list. How about you? Are there any grammar rules you’ve left behind and wished you hadn’t? Or do you find ways to have your cake and eat it too? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think breaking the rules should be an excuse for sloppy writing. As the old saying goes…you have to know the rules before you can break them. I admit I do miss the days when everything was cut and dried. I still tend to be a rule follower in real life, which creates a dilemma for me when I write. But <insert evil laugh at conjunction usage> I now tend to just shrug and move on to my next sentence fragment.
One of the joys of my Indie-publishing endeavors is being able to write a book how it wants to be written– let the characters lead me and follow them without restraints (or into restraints, if that’s where they want to go). My editors have led my Harlequin books in great directions, strengthening them and my skills. But there are just certain things Harlequin books don’t do. So Indie publishing lets me explore different aspects of my creativity.
In this case, I was able to follow the leading of my hero – my rock star hero.
When I first envisionsed Michael Korvello, little voices nagged at me. There’s a long-held rumor that editors don’t want Rock Stars. They aren’t popular enough. But still he hung around – that bad boy, brooding rocker attracted to the anti-thesis of his high profile lifestyle, his nanny.
I just couldn’t get him out of my mind, and before long, despite the push and pull of my first print release and new proposals, I had the full-blown story of a man who was lonely but afraid of revealing his true nature. And a woman so battered by life that trust had been all but obliterated – especially for a first rate performer.
So I chose to follow my characters and discovered a world beneath a world. The performer who wants to be seen and loved as a real man. A family who misses him. A woman who learns to trust him to protect her. A brother who teases and torments him, but who always has his back – on and off the road.
They took me on a journey and I enjoyed every minute! (Well, until I reached revisions.) A journey of a family trying to find each other again, and a man hell bent on using his sexual talents to teach a woman everything that she’s capable of, and everything they can be together.
So let’s celebrate those fun journeys we get to take when we follow wherever our characters lead! Share the last “fun” discovery you made about your book/characters while writing!
One commenter will win a giftie! An Amazon or B&N giftcard for a new journey of discovery.
When I first joined RWA, I read time and again: when people ask what you do, tell them you’re an author. Own it and be proud of yourself. I do and I am. It’s a lot easier when I can follow up with “and my first book will be on the shelves in August 2013,” but I’ve become very comfortable talking with others about my writing. Readers and non-readers.
But I recently ran into a situation that made me think twice.
From the time I started writing, I’ve had to work up the courage to tell people I was an author. I still vividly remember the nervous churning in my stomach when I told my husband I wanted to write my first book. I’m a lucky woman. He was supportive of me as so many people have been along the way. Being outed as a romance writer at a church women’s retreat broke me of a lot of worry, since having 40 people take turns asking, “What do you write?” creates a bit of a thick skin.
But I’ve now found myself actively deciding to keep my authordom a secret. Only in one place – my new day job. I work in an office with six women, but only 2 of them know I write. Why keep it a secret? An upper management boss who only proves more and more how much of a problem this would be with her. She’s extremely conservative and holds to an old-school level of professionalism. She finds something to criticize, no matter how small. That shirt’s a little too low in the front. Those shoes aren’t professional enough. That subject is too personal for the office. While I wouldn’t lie if asked directly, I’m not going out of my way to “share”.
As more time passes, I realize how much of my true self I’m hiding each day. I’m living a double life and not very happy about it. So much of myself is tied up in my writing. I find it very hard not to share my writing triumphs with my fellow workers. To not mention when my characters are giving me a hard time while everyone talks about their rough days. I even have to keep mum about my plans for the weekends, since “writing, writing, and more writing” might raise some eyebrows. But I draw the line at hiding my writing on my lunch break. I usually have a notebook or laptop and what I’m doing on my time is no one’s business – and no one has asked directly yet. Much to my surprise. That particular boss has caught me in the break room and asked questions about my laptop, but draws short of questioning what I’m actually working on.
I haven’t decided exactly what I’ll say when she asks. Not because I’m ashamed of my writing, or what I write, but because I don’t want to be hassled over something that’s none of her business.
So my question for all of you is: When do you tell? When do you not? Are there certain situations you avoid, or have you become comfortable enough to share indiscriminently?
I’ll check in on my lunch break and after work! Another thing I’m not allowed at this job is personal use of the internet, which I understand a lot more but is very hard when I’d like to be playing with all of you!!!
Are you, like me, sitting by the telephone waiting for that special editor to woo you with a three-book deal? Wondering if your ears are burning not because you have a medical condition but because an entire acquisitions committee is discussing your stellar publishing future? Four of my manuscripts have done the rounds of New York, so I know it’s hard not to obsess over that life-changing Call. I find a watched pot never boils, and similarly, a watched phone does not ring. (Actually, my phone did once ring when I happened to be staring at it, but the caller was a telemarketer asking if I was happy with my mobile service.) So how do you cope with submission obsession? The key is to keep busy. I know a few tricks to help you productively pass the time while you’re on Call waiting.
Plot your next book (and, hey, write it, too) – This trick is self-explanatory, but so important because plotting, researching and writing a new manuscript keeps you very busy. Not only that, you learn from every book you write. And the more books you write, the more chances you have of selling.
Write short stories – A friend once told me the best way to keep your skills sharp is to write short stories because it teaches you to right tight. Short stories are…um, short. So if you’re between books, this is the perfect time to develop a short story. You could submit to the magazine market, or self-publish an anthology by yourself or with a band of authors.
Figure out your place in the cyber world and build your brand – A web presence is essential these days. Agents, publishers, readers – they all want to find you online in some capacity. Do you want a website? Can you keep up a regular blog? Gather a Twitter following? Choose an option that will best suit your personality, available time, and financial position.
Get organised – Tidy up your workspace. Get your files in order. Stock up on stationery. Draw up a submissions spreadsheet. Ask yourself if your method of writing is really working for you. Do you need to try a new M.O. for your next project?
Choices, choices – There’s more than one way to get published. Ever looked into going indie? Self-publishing may suit your next book or your current book. Or maybe a book from your past that can be updated and readied for the e-marketplace.
Brush up with a writing course – Need help with characterisation? Plotting? Members of Romance Writers of America can “attend” RWA University. Some classes are free. You can also participate in online/offline chapter courses and short courses offered by community colleges.
Get a new hobby – If you’re writing for publication, then consider it your job, not your hobby. Someone smart once said you have to experience life in order to write fiction. Keep yourself refreshed and well rounded by immersing yourself in another activity. One of my favourite new pastimes is baking cakes for friends and colleagues. Cake-eating is making me incredibly well rounded, if you know what I mean. I guess I have to be careful not to let the baking and eating take precedence over writing.
Forgetaboutit! Once my agent sends a book out to editors, I trick myself into forgetting all about it. I have a memory like a sieve, so this is easier for me than it is for most people. One thing you do have to remember is that the book is out of your hands now. You’ve worked hard to make it shiny and marketable and the best it can be. Let your work speak for itself. In the meantime, see trick number one – plot and write your next book!
This song is dedicated to all of you patient authors out there waiting for the call — Call Meby Blondie.
How do you cope with being on submission? If you’re a published author, how do you pass the time when you’re waiting for word from your editor or agent?
My infamous “low cake.” I’m working on improvements while I wait for The Call.
How many times have you stood in a group of writers and heard this:
“I never have time to read anymore.”
“It’s been a year since I’ve read anything besides my own work.”
“I don’t read because (insert reason here). But that’s okay.”
Um, no. It isn’t.
I’ve heard statements like these aplenty through the years and they’ve always made me a little sad. It wasn’t until I found myself in the same boat that I started to examine this phenomenon. There are so many excuses for us, as writers, to not read, and the majority of them boil down to one basic reason: TIME.
But I’ve begun to question: Will our writing/creativity suffer if we don’t read?
Reading for pleasure should be a treasured gift to writers. After all, the majority of us came to writing through reading. But it also allows writers to:
1. Re-experience what its like for a reader to get “lost in a book”. We all have memories of this magical phenomena, but the more distant the recollection, the less the potency. Reaffirm your own wish for your readers by returning to your reading roots.
2. Absorb new techniques – not by “studying/dissecting” the written word, but through effortless osmosis. Just like we did before we ever started writing. Later, after you come out the other side of the story, you can ask yourself why you loved the characters or what kept you turning the page. But relax and let your writer’s eye take knowledge in while your reader’s brain is fully engaged.
3. Doing anything you enjoy, sparking your imagination, refills the creative well that gets drained with every project you invest yourself in. It relaxes you, opens your creativity to possibilities, and generally brings us to that peaceful place where we can create without straining or overburdening ourselves.
4. Being a writer doesn’t mean forsaking those things we enjoy. If we do, then our writing suffers. This quote from NYT bestselling author Linda Howard explains this very well:
The fact is, being a writer doesn’t mean you have no life other than writing, any more than being a schoolteacher means you live in the classroom and do nothing else. Our lives are just like everyone else’s, other than the writing part. We still have dentist appointments, need flu shots, have fender-benders and children (not sure there’s a difference <G>). Those things — normal as they are — are stressful enough without throwing in the added stress of feeling frantic because they’re taking away from our writing time. We still need to enjoy ourselves. We’re driven by some weird internal chemistry, but we need to give ourselves a break.
Life happens to everyone. It’s here for us to live, and we should live it, because otherwise we’ve thrown away the most precious part of our writing. If we give up doing what we enjoy, whether it’s reading or taking long walks or anything else, we’ve given away a precious spark that makes us more human. Yeah, you may write a more technically perfect manuscript if you devote every free hour to it, but if you really live, you’ll be able to write a more vital, human manuscript — and, as a reader, I can tell you that I’d rather read a book where the characters come alive, than one that’s technically perfect but is as limp as uncooked bacon.
That about says it all…don’t you think?
While I know all of this is true, TIME is still an issue. Believe me, as a writer with a full-time day job and a family, I know this is true. So let me share some strategies for fitting reading into a very busy life.
1. Read a little each night before bed or to unwind after work. If you’re the type of reader who can string out a good book, twenty minutes a day would work well for you. Give you a little boost at the end of a long day.
2. Another option for this type of reader is to carry a book in your purse and read while waiting in line, out to eat, etc. Fill those little pockets of time with the yumminess of good characters and thrilling plots.
3. I, unfortunately, can’t read a short time and put an interesting book down. I’m more of a binge reader, so I’ve set up a reward day (or weekends for big projects) when I give myself permission to indulge. Some reward-worthy tasks include finishing a rough draft, after revisions, after completing a writing challenge, or after a set period of strenuous writing. Then I can dip into a new book guilt-free (mostly) and come back to my own writing refreshed.
4. Set up a regular date night – just yourself and your new favorite book. Whether its once a week, every two weeks, or one weekend a month, mark your calendar for a regular reading time as a reminder that its important (and essential to your creative function) to enjoy some downtime.
So as a writer, do you still read? Let’s talk about the whys, the why nots…and how you work reading into your writing schedule.
If you’re thinking this blog is about setting, you’re totally wrong. Maybe I should’ve changed the title so you wouldn’t have thought so, but after I started brainstorming ideas for a blog it actually fit.
My original idea was to write about two lessons I learned many years ago from my creative writing professor which, yes, would’ve pertained to setting, but then two of my Ruby sisters had also mentioned on our private loop that they planned blogs about the subject. Although I knew we’d approach the subject matter from different angles, I kind of figured our readers would say enough already. So I’ll save my thoughts on setting for another time.
Anyway, going back to my creative writing classes— since I know you’re all dying to know what they were—the first one was free writing. We all know what that is, right? You just write whatever comes to mind without stopping for a length of time and the writing doesn’t need to follow rhythm or reason. It’s a way of freeing your muse. Thinking about that lesson helped me put a twist on the second lecture, which was setting sense and had to do with experiencing your world, and ‘Wala’ I think I came up with unique tutorial for our awesome followers.
In the middle of May, I took some time off from my hellish work schedule for a retreat, up in the mountains of North Carolina. The occasion was a weekend hosted by singer-songwriter David Wilcox. As always, listening to David’s music recharges my batteries. But I have to say that the most surprising and inspiring moments of this year’s retreat came during a workshop for songwriters given by Laura Hope-Gill, a North Carolina poet. (http://laurahopegill.blogspot.com/)
Laura spoke of the alchemy of the writing process. And her discussion of alchemy has led me on an interesting writer’s journey.
Today was supposed to be my release day for SCOTSMEN PREFER BLONDES. Yay! Except…it’s not. It’s awesome that a self-published author can get a book out quickly, but I’m still learning how to estimate publication dates so that I don’t overpromise and underdeliver (as I did in this case, sigh). I’m currently waiting to get the book back from my formatter, so it should be up in the next two weeks. And there will be much rejoicing throughout the land (or at least my apartment) when that happens!
In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to share my writing process for this book. Or lack of process – it depends on what you think ‘process’ should be. If you’ve had a book turn into a nightmare of rewrites and revisions, read on – we can commiserate together. Here’s a brief timeline:
November 2004: I started a NaNoWriMo project about a woman whose mother arranges for her to marry a Scottish earl. I got ~10000 words into the story before life (in the form of Thanksgiving dinner for forty people) intervened.
2005-2007: I kept working on this project in fits and starts, but I spent six months in India and three months in Ireland for work, and life kept getting in the way. Excuses, excuses…but I knew that the story was about a woman who secretly wrote Gothic romances, and her fear that marriage would prevent her from ever writing again. Malcolm and Amelia’s characters were pretty set at this point, even if my feelings about the plot were “who needs plot when you have long, endless banter!” Ha.
2008: I took a leave of absence from the day job and finished the book (then called AN INCONVENIENT MARRIAGE) in time to enter it in the 2009 Golden Heart contest. Then I started querying like mad and overmedicating myself with coffee/chocolate/wine while I waited to hear back.
2009: I finaled in the Golden Heart and became a Ruby!! (which, to be honest, was one of the best parts of this whole journey). I also signed with a fabulous agent shortly after finaling, and eventually went on to win the Regency category.
2010: We heard back from the last editor who had the book, and even though she’d taken it to the acquisitions team, they declined it. I wailed and gnashed my teeth and tore my garments (or, rather, drank wine and had a surly NCIS marathon). Then I wrote ONE NIGHT TO SCANDAL, which eventually became the book that came out two months ago (HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE).
2011: HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE finaled in the Golden Heart (yay!) but didn’t sell to a publishing house (boo!). So my agent and I agreed that I would self-publish. I blithely said I would release HEIRESS and SCOTSMEN back to back, since they were already done. Stupid. Here’s what really happened:
October 2011: Oooh! I can’t wait to revisit SCOTSMEN and fix a few little things!
November 2011: There are more things to fix than I thought there were [note my utter disregard of plot when I first wrote it]…but I think I can salvage almost all of it.
December 2011: I’ll rewrite the first half and salvage the second. And I’ll numb the pain by watching several seasons of “Doctor Who” and eating every Midwestern delicacy my mother can feed me over Christmas.
January 2012: Maybe I’ll rewrite the second half too…
February 2012: What the %*#& have I done?! Is this a Frankenstein’s monster? Or is it actually better? I don’t know anymore – I can’t see the manuscript anymore through my tangled, unwashed hair. It’s at this point that I hired a freelance editor who worked at HQN/MIRA for several years, and she assured me that it wasn’t a monster (although she might have felt differently if she’d seen my hair).
March 2012: I finished the rewrite! Yay! I estimate I kept ~5% of the original book. But it’s way better, and there’s actually a plot, which is kind of exciting. Then I sent it off to the formatter, and as soon as I get it back from them, it will be up on Amazon/Barnes and Noble/Kobo.
This whole process was painful, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. However, I’m certainly glad that I did it. I could have taken the shortcut and just fixed a few continuity details before putting the book up – and I’ll admit I was tempted. But even though speed and prolific output is important when self-publishing, it was important to me to put out the best book possible. That’s why I hired a book formatter rather than doing it myself; I could have done it myself, and the book would have come out on time, but the formatter will produce something better and prettier and more professional than what I’m currently capable of.
I’m also coming to realize and accept that writing a whole book, and then tearing it apart and rewriting it, may be my process. I don’t want to admit that — I want to be the writer who can write a book once, do a couple of editing passes, and be done. But I think that I’m just enough of a pantser that I have to feel my way through the book on the first draft, and then rewrite it all once I have a better view of where the characters are going.
I could go on endlessly about process, but I’ll spare you. If you do want to hear more, though, I recently did an Authors@Google talk in which the interviewer asked me about process, self-publishing, and leaving the day job – you can watch it here:
Do you have any projects sitting under your bed that you want to revisit? Have you rewritten something you wrote years ago? Or is your process totally different? I would love to hear about your projects – and a lucky commenter will win a copy of SCOTSMEN PREFER BLONDES (any available format) as soon as it comes out!
Sara Ramsey writes fun, feisty Regency historical romance. Her first book in the Muses of Mayfair series, HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE, is out now on Amazon, Nook, and Kobo. Her second book, SCOTSMEN PREFER BLONDES, will release in early April. You can find more information about her writing (and participate in her current contest for chances to win books, gift cards, etc.) at www.sararamsey.com.
One of my Facebook friends posts almost daily about how grateful he is for his life. He calls it “LIG’g it.” Translation: Living in Gratitude. I find his attitude infectious. What’s more, I want to spread the infection and make the whole world one big love fest, populated by people with a genuine joie de vivre. Especially at this time of year.
With Thanksgiving so close, I’ve been thinking how to spread this “Living in Gratitude” attitude into other areas of my life. Each day, I try to consider what I’m grateful for in my everyday life. I’m fortunate that it’s a long list, but the basics are:
Family and friends.
Even the people I bump into on my daily routine who either brighten my day or teach me about the virtues of patience and humility.
A roof over my head.
Food in the pantry.
A steady source of income.
Kids who (now) sleep through the night. (I will never, ever again underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep!)
Then, I thought about what it means to be a grateful writer. Sure, we deal with rejection and criticism (sometimes the sharpest knife is the self-criticism – wield it with care). Yes, we must steel ourselves against the negatives, but how often do we think about the positives of being a writer?
What is it I’m grateful for as a writer?
The Creative Stuff:
The ability to write.
The creative muse that pushes me to write. (a.k.a., motivation and inspiration)
The mental flexibility to come up with other worlds, plots, and characters.
The Practical Stuff:
Pens, pencils, paper, and all that good stuff.
My local coffee shop, where they provide a wonderful atmosphere in which to create.
Dictionaries and thesauruses (or is it thesauri?) where someone else already did the legwork, AND they put it on the Internet! How cool is that?!
And last, but never, ever least – my Ruby Sisters.
I am grateful for all of the above. And I believe that giving thanks and finding appreciation on a regular basis is what keeps inspiration alive within us. After all, what is the journey worth if we’re not stopping to enjoy the ride?
In honor of the season of Thanksgiving, let’s start a love fest… what are you grateful for as a writer and/or reader?