The Practice of Creativity

I first met Samantha Bryant online, last November, during the intense worldwide writing challenge known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Novice and veteran writers alike try to complete a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in a month. This was my first NaNoWriMo and I was looking for local writers to connect with, who were also undertaking NaNoWriM0, during what promised to be an exhilarating and caffeine-laden month. By sheer chance, I ran across Samantha’s profile on the NaNoWriMo site and saw that we had a lot in common and that she only lived an hour away. We both like to read and write speculative fiction, are great fans of ‘The Magic Spreadsheet’ (a writing accountability tool), and are bloggers. Samantha’s wonderful blog is called ‘The Balancing Act’ and she routinely writes about being an educator, the craft of writing and being a mom. The other thing that I took notice of right away was that Samantha was coming out with her first novel with a fabulous premise—women who through experiencing menopause develop superhero abilities. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that the speculative fiction field has produced many menopausal superheroes. Menopause is such an important social, biological, cultural and even spiritual transformation for many women, yet it rarely receives prime time attention in fiction. In Samantha’s debut novel, Going Through the Change, four unrelated women experience menopause in a way that triggers superhuman capabilities. They must find out how to use their powers and why they have them. Sounds irresistible, right?

It’s been a blast getting to know Samantha and her writing. During NaNoWriMo, she was a kind and encouraging writing buddy. And, we both completed our NaNoWriMo drafts!

I am delighted to welcome Samantha Bryant to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

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Tell us about your new book Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel. What inspired this book?

I’m a long time comic book reader. My mom used to take Little Me to a bookshop on the avenue in my hometown where I could buy old comic books for a dime each and she could get mystery novels for a quarter. I was allowed to spend a whole dollar, so I’d get a lot of interesting reading that way! So, superheroes have been part of my imaginative landscape from the beginning.

Much more recently, through my library, I met a local writer, James Maxey, who was holding some craft and business of writing workshops. James wrote a superhero novel (Nobody Gets the Girl) and an even more awesome side-quel about the villains (Burn Baby Burn). Up until then, I didn’t know the “superhero novel” was a thing. I was so excited to learn that it’s a thriving subgenre!

I’d been writing a women’s fiction novel (unpublished as of yet: His Other Mother). I feel proud of the book, but finishing it was emotionally difficult. So, I promised myself that, if I finished that book, I could write something “fun” next. The actual idea sprang from a long, rambling conversation with my husband about the relationship between hormones and superpowers.

What is your biggest hope for Going Through the Change as it meets readers?

In my wildest fantasies, the book sells a bajillion copies and wins all the awards and I give up my day job and enable my husband do so, too, and we and our girls travel the world solving crimes and saving people like Nick and Nora Charles, but with less inebriation.

More realistically, I just hope I find some readers and they enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. The thing I’ve always loved about science fiction and fantasy in all its forms is the way you can explore life issues without feeling as though you’re taking them seriously. At its best, it’s fun and thought-provoking at the same time. It’s emotionally true, even when you’re dealing with things that can’t possibly happen in real life, like flying women or women who can throw fire.

Through Linda, I got to explore issues of gender identity, racism, and what makes a strong marriage. Patricia let me find out what it might have been like to choose a single life in a powerhouse career instead of becoming a wife and mother. Writing Jessica taught me about inner strength and reinventing yourself when life throws you curve balls. Helen had a lot to say about regret and bitterness and how they can twist a person.

Writing this novel let me live inside each of these women. I love them all and they are all in me in some way. I hope my readers will come to love my superwomen the way I do.

Please tell us how you came to work with your publisher, Curiosity Quills Press.

This will be my first published novel, but it’s not the first one I wrote. When I finished Change, I had been playing submission tag (mostly I was “not it”) for a year and a half with my other novel. I’d gotten some nibbles, but no bites. In the process, I learned that I didn’t have the patience for large publishers. I’m okay with “no” for an answer, but I just wanted to get an answer sooner, so I could move on and try someone else if my book wasn’t a good fit.

So, for this book, I only looked at small, independent publishers. I started paying more attention in my online life to speculative fiction writers who were working with small presses. Matthew Graybosch, author of Without Bloodshed, and fellow user of Google+, had posted a few times about his publisher, Curiosity Quills.

So, I cyber-stalked them a little. I liked what I saw. They seemed to really love what they were doing. Their website had personality. They were transparent about what kind of deal I could expect from them if they accepted my work. So, I wrote up a query letter and sent some pages.

It was a really pleasant surprise how quickly things moved from there. Within a few days, I had a request for the full manuscript. A contract was in my in-box just a few days after that. Working with them has been lovely so far! All my questions are answered promptly and seriously and the entire community of Literary Marauders has been warm and welcoming.

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How do story ideas usually come to you? Do you start with character, plot or conflict, etc.?

The best ideas seem to come from something that scares me a little or worries or upsets me. My first novel came about from my unreasonable fear that I would be hit by a car in the grocery store parking lot and that my infant daughter would be left alone. Going Through the Change stems from my anxieties surrounding doctors, going through menopause, and getting older. A short story I wrote recently is, in a way, about how much I don’t like gardening.

Usually, I have a vague idea about a scene and a sketchy outline of a character in mind and I sit down and start writing. I’m very much a discovery writer at first–I write to discover what the story is going to be. When it’s going well, it feels more like I’m channeling a story from some external source than like I’m making it up inside my own brain. I’m one of those writers who wants to kvetch about what her characters did to her today.

If you could be any superhero for a day, who would you be? Why?

I’m not very tall or very strong and am always frustrated by my lack of vertical reach, so I would probably love being Helen Parr (Elastigirl from The Incredibles) for a day. She’s also a great mom and manages, in the end, to balance superhero and family life. That’s quite a role model.

It could also be cool to be Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For one thing, Joss Whedon would write my dialogue. For another, I’d be preternaturally strong and fast and athletic. I wouldn’t want her love life though.

In my child’s heart, though, I’d probably be Red Sonja. She was my first superheroine love, after all-from those ten-cent comics days. Because she’s mostly naked all the time, I was sure I shouldn’t be allowed to read her, which, of course, made her all the more appealing. She’s fierce and unafraid, undeniably female and strong. A truly independent warrior.

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

The one thing that truly made a difference for me was committing to a daily writing habit. For me, I did that with Magic Spreadsheet, a gamification tool for writers created by Tony Pisculli, which awards points for meeting a daily minimum word count.

For many years, I struggled to write while meeting all the rest of my responsibilities as a teacher, wife, mother, dog-mom, sister, daughter, etc., etc., etc. I would get a few hours once a month or so, and spend half of them just trying to get back in the flow.

But, once I committed to writing at least 250 words every day, come hell or high-water, that problem disappeared. It’s not hard to find my way back into the story if I’ve only been away twenty-four hours. It made the time I had more productive. Over time, with practice, I became able to write more words in one hour than I used to write in a four or five hour session. I began to finish things. So there it is: write every day.

 

Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and novelist by night. She lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina with her husband, daughters and dog. Her secret superpower is finding lost things.

Connect with Samantha in multiple ways:

Her blog: http://samanthabryant.com
Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/samanthadunawaybryant
Author’s page on Curiosity Quills: https://curiosityquills.com/authors/samantha-bryant/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mirymom1
On Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+SamanthaDunawayBryant/posts

I just received my beautiful copy of A Letter to My Mom! It is a tribute to the women who shape us into the people we become.

My love letter to my courageous mother is next to letters from Suze Orman, Dr. Phil McGraw, Melissa Rivers, Lisa Ling, Dr. Jennifer Arnold and many other amazing sons and daughters. In this third installment of the A Letter to My series…(following A Letter to My Dog and A Letter to My Cat), over sixty contributors share letters that chronicle the love, gratitude, silliness, fun and even conflict that define mother and child relationships. I am honored to be part of this collection.

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My writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson (author of Accidental Birds in the Carolinas) encourages students to ‘find their territory’, to explore the kinds of unique themes and challenges that only they can write about.

The relationship with my mother is definitely my territory. In 2013, I started exploring a snippet of my mother’s life which involved a great act of courage that changed the course of our lives. Since that time, I have continued thinking about the intersection of my life and hers. I am constantly surveying that rich and fertile ground. My mother is no longer living, so writing about her is one way that I can keep her memory alive.

When I saw the call for ‘A Letter to My Mom’, I decided to submit my very personal story. The editor and creator of the A Letter to My series, Lisa Erspamer and her team were amazing. They treated my narrative (and I assume all the others), with great care, respect and unabashed enthusiasm.

A Letter to My Mom is so inspiring and the layout of the book is beautiful. Each entry is accompanied by photos. It’s a great gift for Mother’s Day.

Join us on Twitter and spread gratitude to moms around the world ‪#‎ALetterToMyMom

Also, check out a GREAT contest to thank readers: A Mother’s Day Spa Giveaway! You can win a $250 spa day to spend with your mom!

Want to write your own love letter to your mom? You can! They are looking for letters to post on the blog.

Find out more about the book here.

Dear You,

I rarely miss a post, but the last two weeks of travel, dealing with illness (myself and my dog’s), has kept me from you. Forgive me. I’ve missed you. I’m over my cold and Ginger, the pug, is on the road to recovery, too. Hope you enjoy this post.

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When we write we have to bring our whole selves to the page and not wish we had someone else’s life. We have to sweep away fantasies that don’t serve us. I’ve been thinking recently about my name and the names I’ve assumed at different stages on the writing path.

In my late teens, I chose the name ‘Aja Pennybone’, as a name that I would write under. This name seemed magical, bold and something that could house my deep desire to write. Now, I may one day still use this name, as I like it very much (and it is common for writers who write in multiple genres to assume different names). But, when I first came up with this name, it was to make up for a sense of lack about my own name. I used to look at my first and last name on the page, ‘Michele Berger’ and see it as inert, common, and definitely the opposite of magical. My name is not a writer’s name, I used to think. Aja Pennybone, now there’s a name! An intriguing famous writer’s name.

Later in graduate school I chose the name ‘Michele Instar’ for my creative work. At the time I was obsessed with transformation and the stages of butterfly development. An ‘instar’ is a developmental stage for an insect, a movement through a larval phase to sexual maturity. For some time, I sent out stories with this pen name.

When my mother was alive she often said that she predicted my personality and named me accordingly. She named me ‘Michele’ for the supposedly “lady-like part of me” and ‘Tracy’ for the “mischievous and wild child side.” She felt that by naming both those sides of me, it gave me some hope of living with the tension those two sides produced. As a budding feminist, I used to resent her emphasis on ‘lady-like’ as connected to my first name, as it struck me as a message about control and docility. And, I felt kind of neutral about Tracy. However, now, I see things a bit differently. I am seen as diplomatic (which feels much more gender neutral and generative than ‘lady-like), and I do have a great respect for good manners (a rapidly disappearing social commodity), and graciousness. And, I do now like Tracy and honor my rebellious spirit that keeps my creative fuel and curiosity stoked. Maybe my mother was on to something about my personality.

And, what about my last name, Berger? It was an enigma for me. I didn’t know my father well and didn’t know how to feel about his last name. Berger has German and Jewish roots and I still don’t know much about the genealogical history of my father’s peoples. Growing up, however, I often liked the surprise on some people’s faces when meeting me for the first time (especially in job interviews). They were not usually expecting an African American woman to show up with my name and it showed. My father’s legal name was William Creel Berger, but everybody called him ‘Troy’. Creel is an unusual name and has its origins in the 18th century as connected to baskets for catching fish. I still have no idea why people nicknamed my father ‘Troy’. Another mystery that I hope to uncover as I get to know his extended family.

By the end of graduate school, I started using my full name ‘Michele Tracy Berger’ for both academic and creative work. I don’t remember all the details, but somewhere during this time, I became quite impressed with the work of Linda Goodman, a famed astrologer. In one of her books, she ruminated on numerology and names. She talked about how there can be a type of power in using all of one’s given name. She offered codes to unlock the relationship between numbers and letters. I know that all sounds a bit hokey and ‘New-Agey’, but for some reason, when I played with writing my full name, it felt right. For months after, I looked for opportunities to sign my full name. Doing so gave me a strong sense of purpose and authority. I also noticed famous writers that I admired who had the ‘triple name’ thing going on including Jean Shindoa Bolen and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. As I started finishing work and seeing it in print, I enjoyed seeing my full name.

As writers, when we sit down to write, we often feel inadequate. We often believe that there are perfect writers and writing lives out there. Sometimes we believe that having a different name will make us a better writer, or somehow get us past the nitty-gritty cycle of work that includes writing, evaluating, revising, puttering, incubating, polishing, submitting, getting rejected, getting published and repeating. There are, however, no shortcuts in this cycle.

For me, coming home to my name and cherishing it was one of my first steps to casting off unhelpful ideas about the perfect writing life. I once believed that the name made the writer. Those assumed names though did power me with enough creative juice and fantasy to keep writing. That was a good thing. They served their purpose, but now I no longer need to hide behind them. I embrace all of who I am when I sit down to create and that means using my full given name. It’s good enough and so am I.

I’d love to hear about your use of pen names and imagined writing names. Have you tried them? If so, how do they make you feel? What do they do for you? How have you claimed your writing name?

Long before Mur Lafferty became a well-regarded speculative fiction author, she was known for her compassionate, funny and engaging podcast called, ‘I Should Be Writing: A Podcast for Wanna be Fiction Writers’. She has been hosting this podcast for ten years. Mur’s honesty about the ups and downs of the writing process really speaks to me. She’s very encouraging and a master at sharing tips on how to keep one’s self writing (and why it is important to do so). She periodically conducts interviews with leading authors and also an occasional feedback show where people can send in questions that she answers. She has inspired many people and has served as a model for some to start their own podcast about writing, including, ‘The Dead Robots Society’ (of which I am also a fan). ‘I Should Be Writing’ has won the Podcast Peer Award and three Parsec Awards.

Mur Lafferty has an MFA in popular fiction from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine. She has published two novels with Orbit Books. The Shambling Guide to New York City won the 2014 Manly Wade Wellman Award. Its sequel, The Ghost Train to New Orleans, came out March 2014.  In 2012, she won the distinguished John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

She has hosted and/or created shows for Tor.com, Lulu, and Angry Robot Books, as well as created several of her own shows like ‘Geek Fu Action Grip’ and ‘I Should Be Writing’. Her nonfiction essays have appeared in Knights of the Dinner Table, The Escapist, and on the podcast ‘The Dragon Page’.

The Shambling Guide was a breakout hit. It told the tale of Zoe, a young human woman who finds herself working with monsters, or “coterie” (the preferred term for nonhumans). Yes, they do exist, everyone from zombies to water sprites. They travel and they need to know places to stay (and where to eat) when they do. Enter Zoe, the most unlikely editor of a travel guide for the coterie. Hilarity, a bevy of misunderstandings and juicy subplots ensue. This is urban fantasy at its best. Although I am not doing a review of the book here, let’s just say when I finished TSG, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Lafferty’s latest novel, Ghost Train. In Ghost Train, we find out more about Zoe’s mysterious background, the different factions of coterie, all while enjoying the sights, sounds and cultural history of New Orleans.

I recently caught up with Mur and invited her to talk about her work and the writing life. I’m so delighted to welcome Mur Lafferty to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

 

Tell us about your new book The Ghost Train to New Orleans. What inspired this book?

Ghost Train was born from a story I wrote in 2005 to benefit the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina. I had an idea about a tour guide who loved her job so much that after she died, she kept doing it. The idea stuck with me, and when I turned it into a book, I took my travel writer, now a human writing guides for monsters, to New York for my first book, but always intended to go back to New Orleans.

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You’re much admired for conveying humor in your novels. How did that aspect of your writing voice develop and how do you nurture it?

I read a lot of Douglas Adams growing up, and was the shy class-clown type. If such a thing exists. My humor tended to veer toward the amusing, and it’s what I enjoy writing the most. As an adult I’ve been inspired by Connie Willis, a writer with sometimes subtle humor, sometimes obvious humor.

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You helped pioneer podcasting as an engaging and entertaining medium. After ten years of podcasting I Should Be Writing, what do you still love about hosting a podcast?

I love that I’m still influencing new writers. At the beginning I felt like I was just whining into a mic about how I couldn’t get published (but was continuing to keep trying) and I’ve heard from so many people that they relate to this. Now my listeners are starting to email me with news about publishing deals, which is amazing.

 

What authors do you consistently mine for inspiration?

Connie Willis, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, and Seanan McGuire.

 

What’s next to your bed (or in your Kindle)? What are you reading now?

Currently going through the Ancillary series by Ann Leckie, with Kameron Hurley’s Mirror Empire waiting for me.

 

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Never give up. That’s the fastest way to failure.

 

Mur Laffetry is author, blogger and podcast creator. She’s been the editor of Pseudopod, Escape Pod, and is currently the editor of the upcoming ezine from Escape Artists: Mothership (launching August 2015). To find out more about Mur, check out her website The Murverse Annex.

 

 

This week ushers in spring for many of us. It also marks passage of the first quarter of the year. Can you believe it? It seems like only yesterday we were writing down our resolutions for living an even more inspired creative life in 2015. Have some of those commitments and intentions gotten sidetracked since then?

Totally understandable. Spring can put us back on track. This season enables us to connect with a feeling of renewal that we begin to see physically manifested all around us. Spring also powers us with the energy to tackle the physical spaces (and states of mind) that no longer serve our creative life.

It also presents us with a perfect time to reassess, reorganize and rededicate ourselves to the projects that we most want to bring into the world.

Here is my three step process that I have found useful for spring cleaning:

1) You reassess your space, your schedule, and patterns of mind to see what is supporting or not supporting your creative life.

2) You reorganize your space, schedule, and patterns of minds to allow you to create with more ease.

3) After reassessing and reorganizing, you rededicate yourself to having a productive and joyful creative life!

 

Clutter can immobilize our creative lives.

Ah, Houston...we have a problem!

Ah, Houston…we have a problem!

I know from personal experience how debilitating and draining it can be to work in a perpetually cluttered space. I’ve written about how powerful it was to tackle clutter and dramatically change my home writing space.

My desk=before

My desk=before

 

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My desk=after

In upcoming posts, I’ll talk more about the 3 ‘Rs’ as it pertains to schedule and patterns of mind. But, let’s start with reassessing your space.

What about your creative space? Does it need a spring tune-up?

Go and look at your creative space. What’s the state of it? Do you feel a sense of ease when you look at it? Is it crammed with stuff that belongs in other rooms of your house? If you live with other people, is this space known as your special writing/photography/painting, etc., area?

Have you even claimed some special place yet, or are you waiting for permission from someone else? If you’re struggling with this, see my post on claiming creative space.

Survey your space and make a quick list of what you feel needs your attention most. The questions below are not exhaustive*, but offer a good place to begin.

-Do you need to organize and sort your paper files?

-Would it be useful to create an index for your piles of journals, scripts, CDs, DVDs (i.e. whatever you consider your primary creative material)?

-Are there notes from conferences, master classes, residencies and/or workshops that need to be reviewed and filed?

-When was the last time you did a backup of your computer files? Do you need to delete or add programs?

-Are there creative projects that you’ve abandoned that still take up lots of physical space? Can they be re-purposed or stored elsewhere?

-Do you need to physically clean your computer?

-Do you have visible reminders of your creative accomplishments? Is it time to take some down and put up new ones?

-Do you have too much or too little of something in your space?

-Do you need more or less shelf space?

-Are there big physical jobs you’d like to do (e.g. paint)?

Once you have your list you can break each item down into specific tasks.

It’s important to not get overwhelmed during spring cleaning. Many people decide they will devote a day to a spring cleaning project and then realize that they’re cranky after two hours and that the task requires at least two days. Start small and reward yourself often. Why not take from now until the official start of summer to spring clean? You could choose one project each week. I suggest working in 15-30 minute intervals so there’s less chance of getting frustrated and overwhelmed. I enjoy using an online stopwatch.

 

*adapt this question and others to your needs if writing isn’t your primary focus

 

What kind of spring cleaning are you planning to do in support of your creative life? I’d love to hear.

 

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No post today. I’m on spring break until next week. But, you know I would not abandon you without providing something to stimulate your creativity. Below are interesting news items about creativity.

-Dan Deacon is a laptop composer and he spoke with National Public Radio host, Arun Rath about music, technology and innovation: ‘You Have To Be Bored': Dan Deacon On Creativity

-The term ‘leaky attention’ is not the most attractive, but it is a term scientists are using to explain the possible physiological evidence of a connection between creative thinking and sensory distractions. I first read about this idea in Diane Ackerman’s sumptuous book, An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain (which has several chapters that discuss creativity).  Distractions often lead us to new formulations, insights and surprises: Can’t Focus? Maybe You’re a Creative Genius

I am always trying to debunk myths about creativity through this blog, my teaching and my coaching work. Still so many myths about creativity persist! This article does an excellent job in adding more nails to the coffin of creativity myths:  Demystifying the Muse: 5 Creativity Myths You Should Stop Believing

It’s March. Wow! We’re now eight weeks + into the year and we might feel that our creative impulses are in deep freeze and that we’ve lost focus. It’s the time that we look incredulously at our lofty New Year’s goals, resolutions and intentions that were drawn up with such enthusiasm, when everything seemed doable and delightful.

It’s usually in late February and early March that I get a flood of calls requesting coaching. A client begins by saying, “Help, it’s MARCH and I’m way off track on my goals. I’m stuck and I don’t know what’s happened. I don’t feel like doing anything.”

We tend to lose focus and steam in March. Why? A possible cold snatched away two weeks where we were just about to take another step on our creative projects. Weather delays. Also, a sense of the mundane has had an opportunity to settle back into our lives. The mundane voice says to us: Who cares that you want to get your novel done by August? Taking a big step to set up that non-profit organization that you want can wait until June, can’t it? Why did you think you could teach yourself how to write a screenplay, anyway?

Although we dream of spring with its promise of renewal, we surely can’t put our creative projects on hold until then, can we? What can we do?

March is a great month to stock your creativity comfort kit. What is a creativity comfort kit? It’s the 2-3 essential items that you stock somewhere (drawer, gym bag, altar, etc.), that are mood shifters, dream re-vivifiers and self-love boosters. You use the kit as a jump-start for your creative engine. Your creativity comfort kit’s goal is to literally and symbolically remind you of the following:

1) Creativity ebbs and flows, but we still must make a daily or weekly contribution, so that we do not become too distant from its rhythm.
2) We must ‘create in the middle of things’, because that is the nature of being alive. If we wait for the perfect mood or ideal time, we will not fully develop our creative life and become resentful of our everyday lives. And, if we view creativity as a type of practice, then perfect moods or perfect timing is less important than consistency and connection to our creative impulses.
3) Self-affection and self-affirmation support our creative efforts.

My creativity comfort kit contains: 1 audiotape of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ ‘The Creative Fire’ and 1 audiotape of Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves’ (abridged), a doodle pad with markers, several sheets of positive statements about myself and my creative work. And, yes, I know that audiotapes are old school! This year I have also added a small packet of dried lavender.

For me, listening to the soothing voice of Estes, a master storyteller, transports me from the mundane world back into the inner world of ideas and imagination. In winter, we want food and décor that soothes and comforts. During winter, our creative lives need symbolic soothing and comforting as well.

Tip: Spend a few minutes thinking about what items you might stock in your creative comfort kit. You might have everything already at hand and just need to gather the items together in one place.

 

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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