Category Archives: writing thoughts

Writing process thoughts

If you had asked me a couple of years ago whether I was a pantser or a plotter when it comes to writing novels, I probably would have leaned more toward the pantser side of things. Yes, I had some rough outlines and ideas about where the books were going, but I also wasn’t about to tie myself down to the limitations of detailed plot planning. Nope. My process worked just okayfine for me without resorting to spending a lot of time on plotting. Worldbuilding, yeah. I had this concept that building the world and the characters would be enough–the plot would come.

Well, that worked for what I was doing at the time, when I was spending most of my time in one location, maybe writing a novel a year along with assorted short stories. Certainly I wasn’t working on anything book-wise that I needed to keep track of continuity of in earlier works. Plus I was working part-time and didn’t have the mental energy to spend working through detailed plotting exercises…or so I thought.

And then I decided I wanted to amp up the writing schedule. I needed to get two books a year cranked out, if not more, in order to get what I wanted to say down on paper. Plus I was facing a complex book, Netwalk’s Children,  part of a series where I had a LOT of stuff going on in a very short time frame. Added to the complexity was the reality that I was writing this first draft of a book I’d been struggling with during a long-distance move of most of our household to our second home in Enterprise. I couldn’t just putz around with editing and easing my way into the story every day before heading off to work. I needed to be able to snatch an hour here and there between packing and loading without doing any special invocations of the Muse to get back into the flow of the story.

What to do, what to do?

About this time, someone published a link to the matrices that J.K. Rowling created to track her characters. I looked at that matrix, and decided that something similar would fit my needs. Enter the Plot Matrix. For the Netwalk books (Netwalk’s Children and Netwalking Space) that meant I listed the major characters down the short side of a yellow legal pad. Then I went through the story pretty much scene-by-scene, noting what each character was doing at the time at this scene, color-coding by pen color to indicate which of the three POV characters was on stage.

It worked that first time. Not perfectly–I ended up tearing it apart and rewriting it about halfway through Children. That was a tough book to write in many ways, but having the matrix handy was priceless for drafting on the fly when I had the moments to write, and when I had to tear things apart midbook? It saved my rear.

The Plot Matrix was followed by the Scene Matrix for the rewrite. I sat down and created a similar document on the computer, landscape layout, where I started by listing page numbers for each scene, identifying viewpoint character, location, other characters in scene, scene summary, and rewrite notes as I went through the creation of the Scene Matrix.

OMG. The Scene Matrix was priceless for continuity rewrites. It gave me an understanding of the book that I had previously lacked.

Of course, next I decided to prove to myself that I didn’t need to use matrices for the next work. Beyond Honor was conceived as a short novel or novella and I didn’t think I would need the matrix for it. Ulp. I spent far too much time scrolling back-and-forth trying to keep track of things in that book, and I swore never again would I avoid the matrix.

So. Next up was Netwalking Space. Four POVs. Fast-paced story. I did the full-blown plot matrix for it–and guess what?

To start with, I somehow managed to avoid the muddle in the middle. I started work on the first draft on July 31st and finished it in early September. I was able to maintain a daily word count of 300-3000 words without killing myself over it. Disruptions didn’t mess up the work flow. Then I let it sit for a week before going back to create the Scene Matrix. Rewrites were relatively simple and it’s out to beta readers right now with a projected publication date in January.

And here I now go again. I have a short urban fantasy novel start that kind of petered out about halfway through 2015. I’d started it after Netwalk’s Children but before I got the rights back to Pledges of Honor, then dropped it when I got the Pledges rights back. One problem with Welcome to Klone’s Folly was that I didn’t have a clear picture of where I was going with the story. I had a rough idea of what I might want to do, but no details.

Well, that’s fixed. I sat down with what I have of Folly, and over the past week have hammered out a plot matrix for the darn thing. It was a bit harder than either Netwalk book because different characters, a standalone book, somewhat different genre. I might end up tearing this matrix apart in about 30,000 words…or not. It will be a good way to find out if this particular method works for a single POV urban fantasy or not. In any case, after I wrote the matrix, I found it easy to write the blurb/pitch/whatever.

It will be interesting to see if the method continues to work.

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Beyond Honor and Glorianna

I’m really pleased that Beyond Honor continues to flow so well. Threads I hadn’t expected to unfold are starting to unfurl and help explain stuff I put in earlier in the book.

Love it when the subconscious has been working on the story for certain. I think one reason things are flowing well at the moment is that I am not trying to force massive words; instead, I’m just shooting for around 1,000 words a day. Considering I am also taking a class where I have to write several essays plus I have made a commitment to putting out new short stories and essays, that’s enough.

Right now, it’s working. The other project I’m working on is a significantly revised version of an older story for an anthology. I hadn’t looked at “Glorianna” for at least ten years, but pulling it out of the archive and dusting it off revealed the roots of a semi-decent tale–and I could also see where it failed. Lots of notes later, and I’m good.

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New things on the writing front

Right now I find myself playing with some of the writing things I am doing. Between editorial work and my own stuff in different stages of production (both self and small indie press), I’m juggling about five different projects and figuring out how to advance work on some others.

Additionally, Mocha’s white line disease flared again, in the old site, and I’m having to check on it daily, plus get her out of her stall for a little bit to do some light work. We are at the stage of doing White Lightning soaks (at 45 minutes) three times a week on the affected foot and last weekend I did maintenance soaks on the other three hooves. I was doing iodine and Epsom salts soaks every other day, but I’ve decided that maybe that’s a bit of overkill. So I’m just doing an iodine flush on the days I’m not doing White Lightning. Which is a chlorine compound (oxine) that, when mixed with vinegar, creates a gas that fumigates the hoof and kills the dang fungus that causes white line. This fungus is the same dang fungus that humans get in fingernails, and oxine/White Lightning works on it. It’s just a challenge to find ways to get the White Lightning to where the fungus is in a horse hoof, especially since the horse is walking on it.

Ergo, the gassy soak. Mix White Lightning and vinegar, and pour it into a bag that can contain the gas for an extended period of time. Regular hoof boots don’t retain enough gas by volume to be effective. So it has to be a bag, and the bags for sale are not cheap. But finding a bag that is a.) cheap and b.) durable requires some thought. I’ve found that gallon generic freezer bags reinforced with duct tape works nicely. Yes, I was raised redneck. Anyway. Tie the bag with a strand of whatever you have handy to tie with, and proceed to bribe entertain the horse for 45 minutes of hanging out in the crossties.

Yeah. Time consuming. So very glad I’m not teaching right now. As it were, once this hit, I realized I had to focus a bit more on the writing organization if I was going to keep the writing AND the book production together.

It’s not perfect, but I think I’m starting to develop a system. Which is good, because:

Shadow Harvest needs pictures, perhaps a cover revision (must do research first), then compile and check, plus PR copy. I still plan to release it at the end of October.

Alien Savvy is chugging along for release in November. This is a 5500 word short story that I’m blowing up into a novelette. The way it’s going (I added some scenes), I think it could easily crack 15,000 to 20,000 words. It’s an interesting little Cuban Missile Crisis-era Western story with aliens and UFO conspiracies, and features a nice little buckskin cutting horse mare. I have no freaking idea what the market will be for this story, but I’m having fun with it.

I plan to release an omnibus edition of Winter Shadows and Shadow Harvest in December.

Netwalk’s Children. Dear God, what can I say about Netwalk’s Children? This is the toughest book of the series, in part because I’m trying to be so mindful about it and I’ve also written a lot of words just playing with this world. I have also decided that this is going to be the book that I compose entirely in Scrivener, including the notes. I’ve gotta have a system with this series. It’s getting too big and too complex. That said, I’m finding it to be a help. Now I just have to get to the point where I’m ready to write.

Seeking Shelter at the End of the World (eTreasures Publishing). I should be getting galleys next week for a projected October 27th release. I also need to start promotional work, but the release date needs to be firmed up.

Plus there are editing jobs and beta reads to keep up with. How on earth did I ever do this when I was working? And there are move-related things which will become more imperative as time passes, and, and, and….

I am developing systems. I am trying things out. I’m reading books about writing and being mindful and conscious of what I am doing. I’m also thinking about where I want to go with this career, which comes back to–what do I want to write?

Growth is happening. I need to find my place to thrive. Perhaps that is coming…soon.

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Slowing down on the blogging because of Revision Deathmarch

I’m not sure why I’ve been slowing down on the blogging.  A lot of it is probably because I’m spending more time on actual writing these days, y’know, including some self-imposed deadlines on a really tough rewrite.

It’s not for lack of ideas.  I get them when I’m riding the horse, when I’m running errands around town, even when I’m working on, y’know, the rewrite.  But when I get to the computer, instead of opening up WordPress, I’m opening up Word and doing the writing thing.

We’ll see what happens when I get done with the rewrite.  I am devising a writing process post because I’m using a different technique that I couldn’t have done before the iMac came into my life, and I may end up adopting the process for future long-form works.  Having a chapter outline open while I work on the MS is turning out to be rather productive and I can make my notes about a rather complex plot structure and what I need to do in future chapters/modify outline right there and then rather than scribble ideas on PostIts and scraps of paper that I can never find when I need them.

But yeah.  Netwalker Uprising is possessing my brain right now.  When I’m not writing or doing house stuff, I’m reading Anathem.  For some reason I bounced off of it before (probably because like all Stephenson’s work except for Zodiac, the first third is world building and slow, and I tried to read it during the school year).  Between the two, there’s not a lot of extra stuff available at the moment.

The last Allan Schore seminar blew my socks off as well.

I am not quite at the point where I need to list posts I’m planning here.  For one thing, I’ll lose them.  But until July 1, I’m pretty much in the state of “possessed by Uprising” brain murble.

On to the Revision Deathmarch

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Of writing, and horses, and maybe a wee bit about teaching.

So I am deep into the Netwalker Uprising revisions, and I’m not sure yet who’s winning, me or the story.  Part of the challenge is that my editor (freelance, since I’m indie publishing the Netwalk Sequence I’m paying her for the edit and MS preparation) came back with some serious suggestions about story revision.

They were spot-on.

And then, in the creative frenzy that happened during the snow day this winter……

(remember this?  Yeah, this is that project)

I came up with a sweet little twist which carries across the whole damn series and pulls things together that I didn’t realize fit into my world’s backstory.  It explains one hell of a lot that happens there.  It gives the whole McGuffin solid legs.

Yeah, I like it when a Cunning Plan finally comes together.

But damn, the execution of said plan can be a challenge.  I have been wrestling with Chapter Three for dang near three days now.  Not the little half-hour grabs I do during the working year but solid, multi-hour sessions where I sit for the duration of a Pink Floyd CD (Momentary Lapse of Reason) and write something, scroll back to cross-check, write more, delete, accept changes, chew on my lip, add something, scroll back….get up at the end of the CD, brew more tea, stretch, stare at the birds, check e-mail, get back to writing something, delete, accept changes…..

Meanwhile, I also have the chapter outline I wrote to help me whip this MS into some semblance of order also up on the screen (I’m writing on an iMac so the screen has room for two documents at once without having to tab between them.  So.  Freaking.  Cool!) and I’m editing later chapters on the fly as new thoughts occur.

And trust me, this is a painful slog.  The two earlier chapters weren’t this hard, but this chapter, this Chapter Three, this one is foundational.  It sets the rules for what comes after.  It has to be coherent.

Plus I’m not just establishing and extending the McGuffin, this chapter turns out to have a LOT more character work than I expected.

And, well, fireworks!

Oh yeah, I finally did conquer Chapter Three.  I split it in half.  That section was easy.  The foundational chapter is now Chapter Four.  Too much for one chapter.

And then Chapter Five will be All! New! Material!

We shall see how that plays.

Meanwhile, Miss Mocha was in one of her–ahem–energetic moods.  Not like the picture above, where she’s relaxed.  I rode her indoors because, well, monsoons (we don’t get that necessarily in Oregon but the June Damp is still holding on desperately).  Additionally, I don’t want to ride her too many times in a row on the hard outdoor footing.  She’d started to pussyfoot her stops and that’s a clear sign it’s jarring her hocks.  The softer indoor footing gave me a more energetic horsie, for sure.

I also worked on myself, focusing on sitting up, dang it, and visualizing a string pulling my head to the roof.  When I collapse my core, part of what’s going on is all about me rounding my shoulders.  Amazing how much difference thinking about position, visualizing the string pulling me up, and imagining my heels dragging on the ground can make!  That gave me a softer horse in the hand.

We had a long work, doing string of pearls at all three gaits with flying changes for the direction changes at the canter.  We schooled figure 8s.  We two-tracked.  We did a few baby two and three-tempi changes in S curves and I was able to get them in a somewhat straighter line than before.  Part of the challenge is convincing The Girl that the lead does NOT always have to be the inside lead (after all those years convincing her otherwise, sigh, but neither one of us was ready for this earlier).  She’s understanding the need for change when the line curves a little.  I figure once she comprehends the rhythm of tempi changes, she’ll like the feel of it (she’s that kind of geeky horse) and then it will be easy to cue her off of seat and leg.  I’m steadier in cueing these things off of seat and leg and leaving the hand as a support, not a leading cue.  Timing’s better.

Then we went down the road and she had a Brain Fart Moment.  Luckily, Brain Fart Moments in twelve-year-old cowhorse mares looks like halt, raise head high (instead of low head surfing for possible munchies–she’s very much like a Shetland pony in this one), and stare in the direction of what worries her.  Give her a moment to figure it out, then ask her to move on.  She might stop after a couple of steps but giving her time to study and think about it is key.  I figured out that one thing was someone working in a yard who she couldn’t see clearly, just see the movement and hear her walking around.  Another part was the low hum of something–whatever it is, it’s connected to the city’s waterline that runs through the area.  But there were other things going on that I couldn’t see.

When we turned back to the barn, she started walking faster than I’d like, almost a trot.  So we spent time walking, then turning back, then walking, whoa, back…until she got sick of it and relaxed, approaching the Difficult Section with lowered head (though still tight).  I got her to slow her pace slightly, though she still walked fast.  Then we crossed over to our regular stroll and she relaxed further and slowed down.  So yeah, more stuff was worrying her than I could see or hear.  Probably something she smelled, possibly elk, coyotes, bear or even cougar.  All have been spotted in the area.

And that’s it for tonight.  The only teaching comment I’ll make is that I’ve been musing over the stats on teacher turnover.  Still thinking about that.

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The madness of the day


Yesterday I had a snow day.  While I could have gone skiing, instead I tackled a major marathon of worldbuilding for the Netwalk Sequence.  My editor had pointed out some issues and I realized that I really, really needed to coordinate and plan things out, starting with a coherent timeline and then some filling in of backstory, not just character but historical and outlining what research I needed to do.  After all, the last time I did this sort of planning for Netwalk?  It was still being called Netspider (which changed to Netwalk a couple of years later) and it was 1995.

Not good for a world built around concepts that postulate major political and environmental upheaval as precursors to the recovery I’m writing about.

Well, I have the bare bones outline.  But the process looks something like this.  Above was the preparation layout, with binder and papers from pieces I’d put together both in hard copy and in Evernote editing clips.

Then I went to the easel.  Early takes:


At this point, I’d already created the broad outline sheet (pinned to the bookcase) of Things I Need To Build.  I kept on adding stuff.  The sheet on the easel was the dateline posted here on the website (which will need to be updated seriously).

A later iteration of this same sheet:


Already you can see the scratch outs.

But wait!  There’s more!


And while that’s the last picture version, there were further additions and corrections.

There’s also the third sheet.


Like I said, a six hour straight through marathon of worldbuilding work.  I still have a lot more to do, but the bare bones have been laid.  A productive day, IOW.

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A reason not to support Writers of the Future any longer

Warning: may be triggery to follow the link below.

Summary: Deirdre is a former Scientologist and current sf writer.  She knows whereof she speaks.  She’s not openly opposed WotF until now…but after this testimony, well, yeah.

She’s asked those of us who post this link to warn you all that it’s triggery for bullying issues, amongst other things.

I stopped sending stuff to WotF a few years back after Deirdre’s first cautious postings.  I definitely won’t send things now.

Link here.

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Writing blather

I don’t have much this morning.  Generally I have a topic in mind that I think about throughout the day, then post.  But there’s been a lot stirring at work, to the degree that it’s pretty much work, horse, house, ski and that’s just about it.  Well, except for Netwalk’s Children.  That writing process is fascinating me even as I’m going through it.

Ironically enough, I got a batch of rewrites back from my series editor for The Netwalk Sequence (purchasing info here) for my latest planned upload, Netwalker UprisingUprising is–uh–turning into a larger story.  It’s reflective of the greater arc of the entire Sequence, and I’m finding myself having to rethink the dang book as well as what I’m trying to do in Children.  Let’s just say that Children answers some questions that Uprising brings up, while bringing in a few bombshells of its own.  I–uh, well, there’s been some worldbuilding pieces I’ve been consciously avoiding and now I can’t.  Or, rather, I’ve been gathering data for several years and suddenly it’s starting to coalesce.  Fascinating how that happens.

OTOH, it’s interesting to be plotting one and creating the underpinnings for that connected story while working on this next one.  I already see the need for a transition story that will explain a couple of pieces between Children and already published stories as well as the book that follows Children.  It’s very fascinating doing this sort of building and creation on my own and hopefully something good will come of it.

Meanwhile, I have other writing tasks to do, a deadline to meet, etc.  I suspect that this month I’ll put up a short story, perhaps a prequel to the “Cold Dish” story published in M-Brane 9, that tells us a bit more about Kathy Miller and a bit about Melanie and Andrew’s backstory.  That one might be a freebie.

Thinking about it…and now, onward!

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On the writing process

Not a long post today, but I’ve been thinking about changes in my writing process as I go about getting ready to work on Netwalk’s Children.  For one thing, this indie publishing thing?  Means I have NO EXCUSES about delaying getting to the work.  Doesn’t write itself, doesn’t put itself up, can’t mutter about editors taking a long time to hold up the work while they decide whether it fits their line/publication.  I’ve gotta write it and send it to my copyeditor.  Then it gets rewritten and sent to my formatter.  And somewhere in there I’ve got to think abut stuff like, oh, covers and publicity and all that good pile o’stuff that is part of the whole process.

Lots of work.  But, on the other hand, one really cool thing?  I can jump directly from revisions on Netwalker Uprising to planning Netwalk’s Children.  I CAN HAZ KEWL WORLDBUILDING WHILE WORKING ON CONTINUITY!!!

Yeah.  Got a little excited there.

I’m also getting a bit excited about Children.  It’s been a while since I’ve done new drafting/planning for a novel.  In fact, it’s been two years since I’ve done new novel work (shudder, why so long?  Inventory and all that good stuff.  One reason The Netwalk Sequence came about was the opportunity to get niche material out of inventory, experiment with consciously putting together a whole sequence of related stories/novels, and get that whole world out for people to find and enjoy).

To that end, I’m finding myself spending more time outlining and preplanning than I have in the past.  In the past, I’ve been a pantser about long form writing.  I knew kind of where the story would end up, knew the main points of a two-page outline, but the details?  Nuh-uh.

Not so with Children.  One reason for that is a hard self-imposed deadline–I want it ready to go up in late April or early May.  That means that when I do start writing, I need to be able to start writing.  Hard and fast.  It’s something I know I can do, but I’m realizing that to keep the pieces together without having to do tons of rewriting for continuity’s sake/fixing plot holes/etc, I need to have a more detailed writing plan than I’ve done for past books.

Additionally, Children is the first Netwalk story to be written since I started studying Interpersonal Neurobiology.  It’s the first significantly neuroscientifically informed Netwalk story, which means I need to identify where I go out and do more research.  Plus, I want to try doing this sort of detailed outline to see how it affects my actual writing process.  Ideally, I’d like to get it up on Scrivener and use that tool to help me put things together.  I need to integrate more technology tools in my writing work simply because otherwise I’m drowning in paper, and I need to simplify everything so I’m not lugging around a ton of reference materials.

However…the initial outline is going on paper.  Annoying, but given the time constraints of the Day Jobbe, that part of the process has to happen this way because of learning curves and all that.  After Children, perhaps even with Netwalk’s Descendants, I’ll be putting together stuff on Scrivener or some other like tool that I can find to port hopefully across to my tablet as well as laptop and desktop.  I’m starting to integrate materials for my nonfiction writing in that manner; it would be awfully damned nice if I could do the same for fiction.

I’m still not sure what the next project will be once I finish the Netwalk Sequence.  I have three short stories outlined, plus ongoing nonfiction projects.  I have portions of half-finished novels lying around the hard drive.  I also have the Peter McLoughlin Weird West sequence that is crying out to be written.

We shall see what the summer brings.

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On aging and writing and other endeavors, sigh

Jim Van Pelt has an excellent reaction to one of those not-so-lovely screeds that proclaims that after a certain age, writers are all washed up.  Not going to link to the original blog, simply because I have to wonder if it wasn’t the result of a frustrated, newish writer old enough to know better who nonetheless fell prey to the temptation of smacking the face of an old-timer to get blog hits and, therefore, attention.  The middle school teacher in me doesn’t want to reward bad behavior, in the first place, and secondly, doesn’t want to continue to highlight something that the author will later most likely regret publishing.

But even as I read both Jim’s post and the original post, I kept thinking of exceptions to the rule, including George R.R. Martin himself.  Like the original blogger, I haven’t read the books in question.  My pleading, though, is simply that I don’t have the reading energy these days to dedicate to a series of books that big.  I read the first two or three books and, while I admire the intricacy of the plot threads and all, they were just too plain big and complex for me to read until the series was finished.  Now that may change, since I’ve managed to configure the Kindle reader on both my iTouch and my Asus Transformer (I love, love, love reading on the Transformer.  While I still have a huge pile of paper books to read down, I’m rapidly switching over to e-books for my new purchases, especially either hardcovers or mass markets in the genre).  The Song of Ice and Fire series might well be a better choice for e-book rather than paper.  I rocked my way through the latest Stephen King much more comfortably than I would the hard copy, so that’s what I’m thinking.

I follow GRRM’s blog.  Put simply, what I’m reading there and the commentary he puts forth about his writing doesn’t suggest a declining mind.  Rather, it suggests that instead of pumping out tons of quickly-written, not so-well-written prose, he’s putting in a lot of effort to craft his work more precisely and in greater detail, because he can.

The aging and creativity debate isn’t a new one.  Knee-jerk response suggests that aging means decline, that brain cells stop forming in early adulthood and it’s all downhill from there.  However, recent neuroscientific findings suggest that such isn’t necessarily the case.  We’re still forming neurons and connections well into our 50s; perhaps not as many as when we were younger, but it is still happening.

And unless you are subject to specific genetic conditions, much brain deterioration is preventable, as the article linked points out.  Preventing brain deterioration doesn’t require fancy exercises or special programs.   Rather, maintaining regular habits such as exercise, eating right and minimizing stress are all factors in keeping your brain healthy and productive well into your later years.

But what about this particular blogger’s argument?  He cites examples of authors for whom he believes their best work had been completed by their mid-50s, all within the genre.  He’d be supported by some writers outside the genre, who point to Nobel Literature prize-winners like Faulkner, Hemingway or Steinbeck whose greatest works were published in their early years.  Granted, in those three cases (as well as others), often the Nobel is a culmination based on many years of production rather than a single stellar work.

Counter this blogger’s assertions with the production of writers such as Robertson Davies, who was actively creating quality work in retirement.  What about Frederik Pohl?  What about Margaret Mead, or Ursula LeGuin, or other articulate, producing writers who continue their writing contributions well into their later life?

Age is what you make of it.  And despite what someone at the threshold of middle-aged panic might think, decline is not inevitable.  With age comes perspective and understanding.

I leave you with these words from William Faulker’s Nobel acceptance speech to consider:

He (insert from me, the young writer) must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Read the whole speech.  It’s a good thought.

ETA: After reading the comments on the post, including the latest, it’s clear the writer considered getting a lot of responses as a “win.”  So, not clearly thought out….simply written to provoke comment.

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