Paula Writes

Paula Puddephatt – Author

Increasing Your Productivity as a Writer: Some Tips — February 11, 2019

Increasing Your Productivity as a Writer: Some Tips

productivity-writers

Often, as Author Bloggers, we write the posts that we ourselves need.

It’s one thing to understand the theory behind the tips that we give. And another entirely to implement them, and do so consistently.

So, that’s the disclaimer out of the way. I’m a work in very slow progress – as is my novel. As such, I may be the best or worst person to advise on productivity.

That said, here are some ideas that will hopefully help you to increase your productivity, as a writer.

Firstly, don’t be vague.

“Write novel”, as an item on your To-Do List, sounds intimidating and overwhelming.

Be as specific as possible, when setting tasks for yourself. Break them down, and down again, until they become actionable items, that you can imagine doing.

It’s easier to know whether you’ve actually done what you set out to do, if you’re working towards a clear goal.

Eliminate distractions, whether that involves turning off the TV or disconnecting the internet.

Whatever it is for you.

Sometimes I write in notebooks. Yes, the old-fashioned paper variety. Those can’t be used to access: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, You Tube…! Basically, this could apply to any sites or apps that you might personally find distracting. You can’t access any of them through a paper notepad.

Use incentives.

Whether you prefer to use the term “reward” or “bribe” is your decision.

Either way, do it, if that’s what it takes. If it works for you, it’s worth it.

Track your time.

Identify where your time is currently being spent – and possibly wasted. That’s the first step towards changing your routine.

A system, such as Timeblocking, may then be able to help you.

Batching can help.

I hope to improve at this myself.

Task switching is a major problem for many of us, and batching is great, because similar tasks can be done together, and in advance. This definitely tends to be more efficient, and means that you spend less time chasing your tail.

So yes, definitely one for me to work on.

Finally, knowing when to stop.

I’m so bad at this one. I’m always scared to stop, once I finally get started on a particular task, for the fear that I won’t return to it.

Unfortunately, there’s substance to the fear, as many times, I don’t go back to unfinished tasks.

But binge writing sessions aren’t healthy, and can push us too far, mentally and physically.

In my own case, I neglect basic self-care, such as staying hydrated, in order to get things done, and that isn’t sustainable or sensible, as an ongoing method of working.

I’ve experimented with using timers, and hope to try this again. But the most natural way for me to approach things is the same way I’ve always done.

 

So, there you have it. I’m not a super productive writer, but would love to be. And these are my tips on increasing your productivity, as a writer.

I won’t even pretend that I’m not being hypocritical by giving advice on this subject, but hopefully, this post will help you, anyway. And we can live in hope that I will actually take at least some of my own advice.

My Writers’ Block post may be of interest.

 

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Writers’ Block: Does It Exist? — February 9, 2019

Writers’ Block: Does It Exist?

writers-block

Is Writers’ Block real, or simply an excuse for procrastination and laziness?

Yes, Writers’ Block does exist.

That’s not the answer that you’ll find on most writing blogs, but it’s my own honest answer to the question.

However, it’s not quite as simple as deciding whether Writers’ Block does exist, or does not.

And no, I’m definitely not denying that Writers’ Block has the potential to be used by writers as an excuse to procrastinate, or even be lazy.

Side note: Those two terms are not interchangeable, as procrastination occurs for many reasons, and not all of these involve laziness. My short post about procrastination, and why writers’ often avoid actually writing, touches upon this.

Writers’ Block is not a medical condition.

In that sense, it doesn’t exist. You can’t go to a doctor, be diagnosed with Writers’ Block, and come away with a prescription to cure the affliction. But we all realise that, surely?

It can occur when we’re suffering from actual mental and physical illnesses, but I’ll expand upon that, in due course.

However, Writer’s Block, in and off itself, is not a disease.

Writer’s Block is a construct.

It’s simply a way to express the problem that most, if not all, of us face as writers, at particular times.

It describes an inability to write: not in the practical, physical sense, but due to a creative block, and the words seeming not to flow.

It could be a lack of ideas and pure inspiration, or the inability to express our ideas, but the result is not writing, when writing is what we aspire to do.

Many people don’t find the concept of Writers’ Block useful.

This is a fair point. If you feel that it doesn’t help you to move forward, and prefer not to think in terms of “being blocked”, then that’s fine. In that sense, Writers’ Block doesn’t have to exist for you.

But whether you refer to any writing struggles as Writers’ Block, or by some other name, or don’t refer to them at all, you will probably continue to experience, on occasions, the same writing issues that others choose to describe as blocks.

Writers’ Block is an umbrella term.

There are so many reasons why writers can potentially struggle to write.

These include simply feeling “out of ideas”, or overwhelmed by too many ideas, and not knowing where to start.

And, at the other end of the spectrum, there will be: burnout, clinical depression and anxiety, other mental and physical health conditions, and serious personal problems, such as financial difficulties, relationship break-ups, and bereavement.

It’s beyond the scope of this post to offer solutions to Writers’ Block, but possible solutions will become clearer, when the precise causes are identified.

For a lack of ideas and inspiration, there are many simple fixes.

For some of the more complex and severe underlying causes, these simple suggestions won’t be enough. Of course, there are often multiple factors involved, and in such cases, simple ideas may be of some use, even if they don’t solve the problem entirely.

I may well address how to find ideas, and sources of inspiration, in a future post.

Tips for increasing productivity, as a writer

 

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Writing About Controversial Subjects in Your Fiction — February 6, 2019

Writing About Controversial Subjects in Your Fiction

controversial-stories

Should you address, or avoid, controversial issues, in your fiction?

I address them – always have.

And yet, I do avoid particular issues, at particular times. I actually can and do hold back, on occasions.

What is controversial, anyway?

How do you define “controversy”? What is taboo in some circles, is spoken about openly in others. And almost everything you could possibly write about, is guaranteed to offend someone out there.

But there are definitely topics which would be generally agreed to be controversial.

This post isn’t about giving examples of specific areas that might cause controversy. We could all make our own lists.

Being controversial for the sake of it?

Honestly, don’t go there. It can be hard enough to deal with the backlash when you feel deeply about an issue.

And authenticity matters. Deal with controversial issues that are important to you, rather than simply “being controversial”, which is the point at which you’re being offensive. It’s a question of being honest with yourself, about your own motivations.

That said, don’t put up and shut up.

History is full of examples of people standing up for what they truly believed in. Where would we be, if everyone kept quiet, and was afraid to express unpopular opinions, or discuss the subjects that were strictly “off limits”?

 

So, yes – controversy. It’s a fine line sometimes, but we often do need to cross that line, in our fiction. As well as in our blog posts and poetry.

I’ll continue to address what I need to address, in my own writing, and hope that my honest intentions will shine through.

I’m not always right, and I don’t pretend to be, but I have my point of view, and will express that, through my words. I encourage you to do the same.

Read my views on how mental health is generally approached in fiction – including how I personally address the subject.

And should your characters be using swear words? I’ve written a post about this specific subject, which might be of interest.

 

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Common Writing Mistakes to Avoid in Your Fiction — February 2, 2019

Common Writing Mistakes to Avoid in Your Fiction

fiction-mistakes-problems

Many mistakes that writers tend to make in their fiction are very common. I’ve already written about some of these, but thought that it would be helpful to give an overview of a few of them, in a single post.

So, here are some common writing mistakes, frequently made by fiction writers.

The primary focus here is upon mistakes often made by novelists, although some will also apply to short stories, novellas, screenplays, and so on.

Underdeveloped characters are extremely common.

No matter how amazing your plot and setting might be, you can’t afford to neglect character development.

Creating believable characters is essential.

In fact, some degree of weakness in other areas can actually be forgiven by many readers, as long as you have strong characters.

White Room Syndrome is another common writing problem.

It occurs when writers provide insufficient descriptive details of the physical locations, in which their scenes take place.

I recently wrote a post about White Room Syndrome, so I would suggest reading that, if you need more information.

Telling, instead of showing – or showing, instead of telling.

This is another subject covered in one of my recent posts. It would be hard not to have heard the standard advice: “Show, don’t tell.” It’s quoted, online and offline, everywhere that writing tips are quoted.

And yet, over-telling still remains an issue, for so many writers.

But what is less often mentioned, is that over-showing can also be a problem.

Take a look at my post about showing and telling, for more details.

Backstory overload.

Yes, backstory is important. You need to know about your characters’ histories, and the more information, the better.

But your reader probably only needs to know a tiny percentage of this background information. And modern readers are not patient.

It’s your job to weave the backstory into the main story, and keep the plot progressing, at a decent pace.

In short, don’t info dump. I address this somewhat in my post about common first chapter mistakes, since the start of a novel is often the place where info dumps tend to occur.

Descriptions involving characters looking into mirrors.

This is often seen in first person narratives, but is regularly encountered in every POV.

Of course, it’s not easy to convey physical descriptions of viewpoint characters, so a mirror can seem like a tempting option. But it’s been done to death, and tends to be the hallmark of amateur writing.

And, before you start considering alternative reflective surfaces – no, not okay.

In my first completed (shelved) novel, I had multiple viewpoint characters, but focused more so on Richard, who was basically the main viewpoint character, in a third person story.

And I cringe to remember my description of Rich, checking out his own reflection. Something about the window of Boots the chemist “doubling as a mirror” – and I even remember liking that part.

The character definitely came across as vain, which wasn’t my intention, and wasn’t appropriate.

I do discuss the subject of “descriptions via reflections”, in the post about first chapter mistakes, that I mentioned, and linked to, earlier.

Trying too hard to avoid the word “said”.

Said is far from dead, as I pointed out in my posts Writing Believable Dialogue and Creating Realistic Dialogue: Additional Thoughts.

So, please: less exclaiming, and more simple “saying”. It sounds so much better.

Similar character names.

Similar sounds. The same initials.

In the space of an entire novel with a large cast, you don’t need to take this tip to extremes, and to do so would be difficult. There are only 26 letters in the alphabet, so of course some of your characters can have names that begin with the same letter, or sound similar.

But here’s the thing: Yes, it’s realistic to have friends called Julie, Julia, Emily, Emma, and Gemma. But this is fiction, and we can make fiction less confusing than real life – so we should, for the sanity of our readers.

For more tips on naming characters, read my post on that subject.

And, still on the subject of names – be aware of the natural tendency to overuse names in dialogue.

Many, if not most, writers do this, on occasions.

It’s an issue that can easily be resolved at the editing and revision stage, however, so don’t over-think this one.

Starting your novel – or particular scenes – in the wrong place.

The most common problem is starting too early. You need to cut to the chase, and lose any boring build up elements.

The first chapter mistake post, again, does cover this subject, because it’s an issue often associated with the beginning of a story.

Unnecessary prologues or epilogues.

And, no – not all prologues or epilogues are unnecessary.

But some are.

And some aren’t, but they do become unnecessarily long. My post about epilogues should provide further clarification, and much of the advice can equally be applied to prologues.

 

Hopefully, this post provided a useful overview of many common problems, experienced by fiction writers.

I encourage you to explore the other articles mentioned, if you need additional advice on any of these common issues, and how to fix them in your writing.

 

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Writing Highly Emotional Scenes, Without Melodrama — January 26, 2019

Writing Highly Emotional Scenes, Without Melodrama

emotional-scenes

How do you, as a fiction writer, convey extreme emotions, minus the melodrama?

I mean, the tears and tantrums.

They happen, right? A lot. We are discussing extreme emotions here.

Our highly emotional scenes are surely going to involve crying and screaming? Perhaps the destruction of physical objects, and even other human beings? We are talking extreme, after all.

Okay, fine – your characters can cry.

They can scream, in some circumstances. And violent outbursts might also occur. All of these things can happen in your story, and it doesn’t have to be melodramatic, as a direct result.

But let’s start with acknowledging that none of the tears and tantrums, in and of themselves, are going to make the reader care. If the reader doesn’t care, your scenes aren’t making an emotional impact, and no amount of crying and door slamming will alter that.

Oh, and incidentally, the same applies to happier emotions. So, your character is experiencing intense joy, or deep inner peace: Why should the reader care, one way or the other?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, to anyone familiar with my blog posts – strong, believable characters are truly the heart of great fiction.

If you’ve focused sufficiently on character development, your highly emotional scenes are much more likely to be effective, when they do occur.

That said, we can work on the assumption that you’ve created awesome, well-developed characters.

Conveying powerful emotions, whilst avoiding melodrama, should come relatively easily.

Here are a few specifics to look out for:

Tears.

The frequency with which tears cascade down faces.

Go easy on the “cascading”, incidentally. Overwriting in this way is exactly what we’re trying to avoid. It’s melodramatic. Any kind of cliché is likely to be an issue, or any phrase tends towards OTT and even ridiculous.

But, returning to my point about frequency, keep in mind that crying loses its impact, in general, when characters cry too often. In real life, some people do cry more than others, and some allowance can be made for this. But there are limits.

Terms such as “weeping” and “sobbing” should only ever be used when they actually describe the level of crying involved.

People seldom weep or sob, and yet, these words are too often used, by writers, apparently seeking a synonym for “crying”: quite possibly a red flag, suggesting too many instances of “crying” and “tears”. Alternative words and phrases are probably not the solution.

One more point, on the subject of crying characters: Tempted to “show” the tears – perhaps by mentioning moisture on cheeks?

I would rather read: “Lucy cried.” Show, don’t tell has its limitations, and moisture on cheeks is definitely a cliché.

If your characters tend to cry a lot, it’s often best to let them. In the first draft, that is. I personally edit out excessive tears, as part of the revision process.

Feeling Like.

That’s another thing. Admittedly, these are realistic and relatable: feeling like screaming, being on the verge of tears, or fantasizing about punching some particular person in the face. The general tendency is to Feel Like more than we actually do.

Unfortunately, if characters are described as “feeling like screaming” or “being close to tears”, we’ve heard those phrases too many times, and barely register the words any more, when we read them.

For this reason, unless you can express these in an interesting and original way, it’s probably best to go easy on the Feeling Likes.

I also look out for Character Smashing Stuff Up In Temper Syndrome.

Common in TV dramas, and many novels. And yes, I too often find my characters behaving the same way.

Honestly, do you purposely knock over and smash up your own possessions, every time you lose your temper or get upset? I don’t.

I guess it’s an obvious – too obvious – way to indicate that a character is angry or/and hurting. But really, don’t resort to this one too often. It’s not standard behaviour in real life.

Foreshadowing is particularly important, when it comes to emotional scenes.

If a character is going to die, for example, what would make that even more poignant? Even more devastating for the other characters?

Sow seeds. This is more difficult, admittedly, for “pantsers” – who write without the benefit of an outline or plot – but not impossible. Rework earlier scenes to include the necessary foreshadowing. It’s worth the effort.

 

My general conclusion here is that, even though we’re talking about how to convey overwhelming and intense emotions, we often need to be more subtle.

The most powerful, and deeply emotional, scenes are those that stay with us, forming a lasting impression. Those are the scenes that we must endeavour to create.

 

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Show, Don’t Tell: Is It Good Writing Advice? — January 25, 2019

Show, Don’t Tell: Is It Good Writing Advice?

showing-telling

Show, don’t tell: A useful writing tip, or not particularly?

I probably say this too often, but it’s too often true: There’s not a simple answer to this question.

Yes, in general, it probably is good writing advice. But the truth is that there are occasions when it’s actually better to tell than to show.

Excessive telling does tend to be a common problem, frequently encountered in the work of inexperienced writers.

That’s why many creative writing teachers have a tendency to drive home the message: “Show, don’t tell.”

Showing is being specific, not vague.

Showing is the pounding fist on the table, as opposed to the man “being angry”.

Showing is providing tangible details. It’s sensual, vivid. It’s involving the reader directly.

It isn’t info dumping pages at a time of tedious, indigestible backstory, but instead, weaving any relevant background information into your prose, in vibrant threads.

So, surely I’ve now confirmed that showing is, indeed, better than telling?

Absolutely not. There are many instances when telling is preferable.

The showing of everything, taken to extreme, can become ridiculous, and lead to a “rambling”, long-winded style of writing, which modern readers simply won’t tolerate.

Slipping information into the dialogue is often viewed as an alternative to telling.

Be very cautious when it comes to delivering backstory in this way, as it rarely comes across as natural.

For more on the subject of dialogue, refer to my posts Writing Believable Dialogue and Creating Realistic Dialogue: Additional Thoughts.

Showing and telling is a fine balance.

Different writers have different styles, and some naturally tend to show or tell more than others, which is fine.

But, whether you default to showing or telling, you need to be attentive to the pros and cons of each. Neither approach is all good or all bad, and you do need to show and tell, in your fiction.

 

I hope that this post helps to clarify some key points, in relation to showing and telling in fiction, as this subject is often misunderstood.

My recent post about how to identify and fix White Room Syndrome is relevant. This post does discuss the need for more sensory, descriptive location details, in the work of some writers.

 

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Author and Character Voice in Your Fiction — January 17, 2019

Author and Character Voice in Your Fiction

voice-fiction

When discussing voice, in connection with writing fiction, we need to distinguish between author and character voice.

Author voice refers to the style of the author.

This can include word choice and tone. Author voice will be somewhat consistent, although there may be variations between voice used in one work and the next.

Consider your favourite authors, and what it is that appeals to you about their particular writing style. When you read their work, you just know it’s that author’s work, right? Even if the writer in question writes in multiple genres, there’s something that marks each story out as being their own. Daphne du Maurier comes to mind for me, personally.

All writers, then, have a voice – but should you consciously develop that voice?

Such as, intentionally focus upon absorbing the styles of other specific authors, so that this will influence your own?

As with most other aspects of being a writer, this is an individual choice. Most of us like to at least have some degree of awareness, when it comes to our personal writing styles.

But, yes – voice comes naturally, and will develop simply through the fact that we write and read, and live in general.

Character voice is also “exactly what it says on the tin”.

Each character in each story should, ideally, have a clearly defined voice – although it can be challenging to achieve in practice, and a common writing problem is that multiple characters, within a particular story, seem the same, or very similar, in terms of voice.

Character voice is distinct from author voice, although paradoxically, it’s also an element of author voice.

The extent to which author and character voice merge into one, definitely varies. The general tendency would be for character voice to blend most with author voice in a first person, single viewpoint narrative. However, this is by no means always the case.

The concept of character voice does tend to refer to viewpoint characters, but it’s worth remembering that it applies to other characters, too. But, if a character isn’t a POV character, we’re going to be relying upon dialogue exclusively, to convey voice.

 

As I mentioned, author voice does tend to take care of itself, but it can’t hurt to be aware of our own developing styles. And, when it comes to character voice – that’s definitely an area on which many of us need to focus.

 

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Exploring Your Characters’ Motivations — January 15, 2019

Exploring Your Characters’ Motivations

your-characters-motivations

I’ve discussed characterisation in various posts, and have always emphasized my personal belief, that strong characters are the heart of compelling fiction.

Whilst other factors, including plot, are undeniably important, weaknesses in these areas can often be forgiven, provided that the reader is sufficiently invested in the characters.

I’ve written posts about character creation, and aspects of character development, and would like to focus right now, on character motivations, in particular.

It’s vital to understand the why behind your characters’ actions and reactions – and to communicate this, via your story’s events, to the reader. I always return to the importance, as I see it, of character development, and exploring character motivations is very much a part of this.

With the possible exception of minor characters, it’s usual for each character to have an arc – a definite pattern of change in that character, from the starting point of the story to the climax.

Sometimes the change will be drastic, and sometimes, very subtle, but there will almost always be change, of some description.

Events in real life shape us, and alter our perspectives, and it’s the same way for our fictional people.

So, in terms of needs and motivations, these will shift and change accordingly, as the story moves along.

Your plot will be influenced by the actions and emotions of the various characters, and these actions and emotions can’t be understood without knowing what motivates the characters, on multiple levels.

Most people are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, represented by a pyramid. Human needs range from the most basic survival – life or death – needs, to the highest human need, for self-actualisation.

At different times, and in different circumstances, our needs will change. When we’re fighting for mere survival, we aren’t focusing upon any need higher than that.

So, there may be times, during the course of your story, when your characters are literally fighting for their lives, and at these times, many of their usual priorities, hopes, and dreams, will fade into insignificance.

But there’s more to it than this, of course. Desires, goals, dreams – all change over time, even outside of life and death situations. True for all of us, and same applies for our characters. Motivations will be consistent, and yet, evolving, also.

The motivations of one character may be in direct conflict with those of another.

This is excellent, from a storytelling perspective, because conflict is essential, in order for your plot to progress, and remain interesting.

The timespan of your story is another consideration.

In my own case, my WIP begins in 1983, ending in the early 1990s. My protagonist, Lucy, is seventeen, at the start.

The epilogue takes place in 1993. The change between a girl of seventeen, and a twenty-seven year old, who has been through the novel’s various events, will obviously be significant.

Many of Lucy’s motivations and needs will be very different. These will have changed gradually, over the years, and the challenge is to not only understand these developments ourselves, but to communicate them effectively, and skilfully, to the reader.

 

There’s so much more to say, on the subject of character motivations, and character arcs, and it’s difficult to do justice to such a vast, and important, subject. But, for now, these are some thoughts on character motivations, which will hopefully be of interest.

 

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Addressing White Room Syndrome in Your Fiction — January 14, 2019

Addressing White Room Syndrome in Your Fiction

white-room-syndrome-in-fiction

What exactly is White Room Syndrome?

The term White Room Syndrome refers to a common writing problem. Most writers will be familiar with White Room Syndrome, even if they haven’t yet heard it referred to by that name.

White Room Syndrome refers to writing that lacks grounding in physical reality – lacks even basic description, in terms of setting. Scenes that might as well be taking place in a white room – hence the name.

Personally, I’ve been guilty of this, to varying degrees at different times, as a writer.

I become so immersed, at times, in the dramatic situations my characters are going through. I get deeply involved with writing dialogue, as well as describing the thoughts and emotions of my viewpoint character, or characters.

And, whilst I might be very aware myself of where the scene is located, I may neglect to communicate this, through my actual words. I would have described this as my characters floating around in the middle of nowhere, but White Room Syndrome is probably a clearer way of expressing the same idea.

So, that’s what White Room Syndrome is, but how do we fix the issue, in our stories?

Identify specific instances of this problem occurring, throughout your work. As you become increasingly aware of it, you may well be able to stop yourself from White Room writing, in the first place.

But, actually, it’s not that important to cure White Room Syndrome in your early drafts. It’s generally something that you will be looking out for at the revision and editing stage.

Having identified scenes that need attention – basically, your White Room Scenes – it should be relatively straightforward to improve your prose, and make them feel more real. My post about describing locations might be of some help, and also, one that I wrote about how to create atmosphere in your fiction.

Basically, you need to add details, such as physical descriptions of places, and sensory details – remembering to make use of all five senses. Maybe more action tags, within your dialogue? There are so many options.

And you don’t need to overdo it.

Less is so often more, in fact. Simply provide sufficient tangible information, to give the impression that your story is actually taking place somewhere, as opposed to anywhere, or nowhere, or in possibly some random white room.

 

I hope that this post was useful, and will help you to notice, and rectify, any problems with White Room Syndrome, in your own fiction.

My post on when to show and when to tell does relate somewhat, and might be of interest.

 

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Multiple Tumblr Accounts? — January 2, 2019

Multiple Tumblr Accounts?

paula-writes-on-tumblr

In my Tumblr: New Year, New Start post, I explained that my original Tumblr account had been “terminated”.

The Tumblr account in question has now been reinstated.

I didn’t receive a response, as such, to the message I sent, regarding why it had been closed down. I believe that it was connected with overall changes that Tumblr is implementing, and nothing specifically to do with my own content. But, anyway – the account is back, and I’ve been able to access it again.

I had started again, and was, in many respects, happier with the fresh, alternative Paula Writes Tumblr account.

Except for the fact that it really is an uphill struggle to rebuild from scratch, and people aren’t (yet) following the new page. I’m effectively posting to myself on there, and I don’t know whether this will improve or not, or how long it will take.

Since I don’t know what the future holds, I’m going, as far as possible, to keep both accounts active – and also, one for inspirational and motivational quotes, called Believe in Yourself and Your Dreams.

So, somewhat messy and confusing, but for now, it’s how it is. I have multiple, active Tumblr pages. Please follow any or all of them. It helps.

Writing craft posts should resume, in the near future. Watch this space.

Happy New Year.

24 January 2019: Latest update regarding Paula Writes on Tumblr.

Tumblr for Writers

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