The Loss of the Joy

The Loss of the Joy

I don’t know precisely when it really began, this loss. They say when you lose something you should go back to the last time you know you had it and work forward until you see when it stopped being there. It worked for the dog lead (it fell in the river) and it worked for my daughter’s purse left behind in a shop in Glastonbury (it was handed in, much to my surprise, money intact). I still had it when I began this blog in 2009, I know that. Looking back, though, I can see it started to disappear not long after that.

Did blogging drive away my joy in writing? No, I don’t think so. I still have a ghost of joy, sitting with me as I write this. After all, I still manage to blog once a week. How many folks can manage that after six years of blogging?

No, I think it started to go around the same time I began to explore the possibility of publishing. At the time, someone else was involved and that involvement is a part of it, because it infected me with a belief I’d never quite entertained, that my value is based on my saleability as a writer. Even during the times when I was sending off work to agents and publishers, and getting rejections based entirely on whether they thought a book would sell enough copies to be worth taking a punt on me, I don’t think it truly sank in that my value as a person was tied so closely to my commercial viability.

Even during the first year or so when Strangers and Pilgrims was first released (solely as a paperback), low sales didn’t affect me that way. It was enough that the book was out there. I didn’t see myself as a failure because it had sold so few copies. I saw myself as perhaps unsuited to the task of marketing, something at the time I thought was someone else’s job. Then when that someone was gone, it became my job and I think that’s when the rot set in.

The events of 2011 that I have avoided writing about but which affected me deeply left me unwilling and possibly unable to trust anyone with my work. Being let down and left in the lurch by someone you did trust entirely means that it could happen again. I had thought myself a good judge of character but I was wrong. I could be wrong again. So everything to do with my writing is entirely my job, from the writing of the stories to the finding of cover art, to the onerous matter of marketing. It’s probably the same for most self-publishers, so I’m not moaning about that. I know of people let down badly by micro-publishers who went under and refuse to release the rights to books back to their authors.

No, at some point from then on, exacerbated by my parathyroid tumour fogging my brain, the sheer delight I used to get from writing, began to disappear. I’ve said before how we each have an individual and limited supply of creative energy. Mine is being drained by the demands from all the other aspects of self-publishing. I’m constantly being reminded that readers no longer see a sales link and click on it (and maybe buy) and that writer-publishers need to find better and more creative ways to court their readers, make friends with them on social media and get people interested in what they write about. It feels ever so slightly like readers have become the natural prey of authors. Recent scandalous stories about authors stalking readers (right to their homes or places of work, and in one case, hitting a reader over the head with a wine bottle because of a bad review!) seem to confirm this move. There is an ick factor about this that nauseates me. At best, it is unseemly and unpleasant. Yet in essence this is what the majority of advice on marketing boils down to: go to where the readers are and solicit their attention. The cleverer you are about it, the less the victim realises they have been seduced. Giveaways, competitions, blog hops, they’re all part of the same process of getting the attention of potential readers. They take energy, and they take time and from what I have read, they yield lower results each year. Some competition winners then sell on the books they win without even looking at them. There is a vast ocean of books out there and a flotilla of rafts bearing authors all pointing their oars at a speck in the ocean indistinguishable from all the other specks, shouting, “BUY MY BOOK!” all at the tops of their voices.

And if you don’t sell, you’re a failure. You’re told to pull up your big girl panties, do your research, do the necessary work of learning new skills. Or give up and stop clogging the ocean with your specky books. Make way for worthier candidates who are keen and eager to do the work and sell the books, with more seductive cover art and lower prices and more booty in the free merchandising line.

I’ve unconsciously taken it all in, like poison, and my dropping sales figures are like a direct connection to my self esteem. I believe in poetry, and last year I released a small collection Accidental Emeralds. I’m preparing a larger collection for release this spring. Yet that first book has sold less than twenty copies world-wide. It seems utter folly and a complete waste of time and energy to put out another book so that it can bomb. I’m doing it because I believe it’s important to have it out there, but even so, it fills me with great sadness.

The rise in e-book prices because of VAT has meant I must make a decision to either leave the prices with the 20% raise that is taken in VAT, or lower them and lose that money from each sale, because people have a price point they stick to when it comes to books, and a rise in 50p or less puts mine over that price point. I don’t know what to do for the best.

It’s been the combination of all these factors that has meant that the joy I used to experience about writing has all but gone. There’s a part of me that just can’t be arsed with it any more. Everything has become overlaid with the demand for commercial success and that changes everything. There is nothing wrong per se in wanting to sell books; but when it has seeped into everything, and has changed your self-worth in the process, that’s a problem.

I used to love the process of writing, of starting a story and seeing where it might go; of spending hours daydreaming and spying on the little maelstrom of a world inside my head, and then writing it all down. Now I find I can’t. I have ideas, and then I realise they’ve all been done before and are stale, chewed over and done to death. I have no less than four novels in varying states of undress on my hard drive. One clocks in at over 50k words, and I’ve been limping along on that one for two years. It’s very good, even though I say so myself, but unless something in me changes, it may never be finished. All the energy and enthusiasm that should be going on that are swallowed up in things like trying to figure out how to produce a cover for another novel, on when is the best time to start the release process for the sequel to The Bet, and staring at a flat-lining Kindle dashboard that seems to tell me no-one wants to read what I’ve already written so why oh why am I churning out yet more?

You might say, perhaps you need a publisher to take care of all that. Well, perhaps a publisher might take care of stuff like covers, but it’s been many years since they have done any marketing for any but the biggest of authors . And I’d still have the pressure of deadlines looming over me to drive away the stories. It’s a bigger issue than that of publishing books and one that pertains to the arts in general and our appreciation and need for them. I won’t go all political one you (perhaps in another post) but the culture itself has been subtly damaged over the years so that commerce rather than creativity is the gold standard of what is of worth to us.

I’m not sure I have any answers. I don’t feel I can take my eye of the ball entirely, withdraw from trying to sell books and concentrate on finding my writing mojo again. It’s a pretty fast-moving world and the current thinking is that those with endurance skills are those who may succeed, if not by merit then by persistence. It’s certainly worked for many who have doggedly churned out four or more books a year, though in some cases I’d see those as of very dubious quality. Being constantly in the public eye is a strategy that works for some, but I’m not willing to chuck out that many books a year, even though I have a significant body of work on my hard drive. If I don’t tackle my own malaise, it’s only a matter of time before I run out of completed work.

It’s a new year and no one knows what it may bring; the changes so far in the book world have been staggering and unimaginable ten years ago. I must trust in my own journey and see where it takes me. It’s taken me some amazing places already; the fact that I’m currently mired in the Slough f Despond ought not to mean I will be buried in it.

If you have seen my joy, do return it to me. I’ll be most grateful. I do really miss it. It gave me a reason to get up in the mornings.

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49 thoughts on “The Loss of the Joy

  1. Reading your post this morning gave me a strong sense of deja vu. It was almost as if I was reading the post I have been compiling, right down to the expression “slough of despond” believe it or not.
    I was wondering where my joy had gone, and it appears to have gone on holiday with yours.

    • I hope they are both having fun and will return refreshed and full of ideas.
      Helping each other out of this horrible slough is probably all we can do till then. xx

  2. I suspect that many people will resonate with your ebbing joy in the thing that used to inspire you to get up in the morning. One side effect of the boom in turning your passion into your living is all the other stuff you have to become an expert in, as you point out – in your case, choosing the font/layout, the cover art, the marketing – the endless marketing! I can completely relate to that, even in my very different field! And am feeling a bit January, as it happens. I wonder if we are all at a turning point? I can only hope that it is the dark before dawn…
    One thing that I, personally, take from your post is that I am one of a rather special and highly discerning crew that own a copy of Accidental Emeralds – a collection of poems that I absolutely love. I hope you will decide to publish more.
    Go well, Viv.
    Lx

    • “Feeling a bit January.” yes, indeed.
      I am touched that you are so pleased to own Accidental Emeralds; I’m quite proud of it. I have ordered proof copies of the next one, which will have 66 poems in, so will let everyone know when it goes on sale.
      Thank you for the kindness and encouragement. xx

  3. As you know I echo every word, share every doubt, and also wonder whether if I could bring myself to give up what I might do instead. Over two years of ‘marketing’ I scarcely remember the joy of creativity. Like this post a beginning simply acknowledges that despair, from which a phoenix might flutter into new life.
    I have a similar post waiting in the wings! Even putting that on stage takes a kind of punishing fear.I find the constancy of self promotion ( in others) wearisome, and fear to be wearisome as well.
    I have decided simply to write as though readers exist, and to rejoice when one says ‘I have downloaded a free sample of your book’ as a neighbour did yesterday.
    I also agree that the act of publishing changes one from hope to realism, and nothing kills joy as successfully as realism.
    I am hoping to harness the energy of despair and reshape it by a kind of frivolous nonchalance. Started yesterday!
    I am sure that collectively we could devise a solution, not money, but readers.
    Perhaps the lesson each of us has to take is the dominating truth that we are never going to be as important to others as we are to ourselves, no matter how original, how honest, or how creative. Perhaps that is accelerated spirituality!

    • I think for me it is the absence of anything else I could or might do that may be in part responsible for me not coping terribly well. Writing has become so much a part of my soul, not being able to do it is so damaging.
      I’d like a chat some time about this solution. I’ll message you soon xx

  4. Thanks so much for writing this spot on post Viv. I’m sure there was always a level of commercial avarice in choosing books to publish in the past but certainly as a reader I got more of an impression that publishers were working to other (higher) ideals as well in bringing new, important and engaging work to the public. When I released my cross genre book in 2012 I was proud of myself for taking the plunge and believing in myself and the book but none of that marketing and pushing and shouting about the every increasing barrage sits well. Alongside having to find general motivation for writing, sometimes in the face of life, it is soul sapping to have to engage in what, very often, just becomes a set of tricks or, as you say, a stealthy assault on the would be reader. i have two books written (submiitted and so far rejected by agents/publishers) and another two ‘on the way’. To keep going I have been focussing on the joy within the work and the satisfaction of creation itself. But when I move on to the hope that others will read my work in the future I too become pretty despondent. In writing/publishing as in life, how do we take in, process and work within less than rosy realities. In the case you outline perhaps there is a burn out phase and you just let go althogether and then the flicker of energy comes back and you do things because you now feel able and want to.

    • I shared your belief in the motives of publishers, Alison, but not for a long, long time now. During my twenties and later, during my later thirties, I banged up against the avarice again and again, with letters from agents and publishers citing risk as being the sole reason for not taking a book further. I’m sure there are good, ethical forward thinking people in publishing but I’ve seen from experience that they usually have very limited power.
      I’ve been lucky to have had some success so far and to know that there are thousands of people who have read my books. But to keep that going seems impossible at present.
      I wonder also whether my own issues with bi-polar may be a factor with this seeming burn-and-plummet cycle.
      Anyway, it’s good to hear another voice that understands, so thank you xx

  5. The quote below by a Sufi teacher and friend (I co-edited a book of reminiscent stories that share his influence) has often sustained me.

    ‘The experience you have within yourself of your separate identity, to allow right and wrong to be re-defined by you, your singular contribution, is where evolution really happens. You, by becoming yourself, can open a new wavelength. What you reflect immediately influences your environment, people close and far away.’ — Fazal Inayat-Khan

    We can’t measure our influence, unless we assume the algorithms of sales comprise influence. Many books bought on the spur of gushing reviews sit unread on bookshelves. More often than not the tendrils of inspiration people receive remain invisible.

    Writing is totally absorbing to me. The process teaches me vital lessons about becoming myself in relation to the world. I sometimes think of the millions of people whose thoughts or deeds never soared on a wave that flashed into the collective attention. It’s humbling to imagine that every existence leaves a mark that influences us, often unknowingly.

    • I think you are spot on about influence, and it’s humbling to look at one’s own influences and see that those people may never have known how much of an effect they have had. Likewise, I feel the same about quite a lot of books that have been in the public consciousness and were lauded as *great*. I shall ponder your thoughts. Thank you; you are an inspiring person.

  6. I do empathise Viv – as you know I have written a similar post so many of us feel the same. Having written Shell Shocked Britain, seen it traditionally published etc I am finding it hard to imagine writing future books with the same kind of excitement – the experience of marketing and worrying about its success etc has been so draining. I think your writing has a wonderful ability to engage with readers. One day my friend that joy will return and we will all be the beneficiaries x

  7. Reblogged this on No more wriggling out of writing …… and commented:
    Here is a heartfelt and melancholy post by the lovely Vivienne Tuffnell on her blog, Zen and the art of tightrope walking. She is clearly speaking for many authors as she writes about the role authors now have to take when their work is published. Marketing Shell Shocked Britain has left me drained and lacking the motivation to start the next books, knowing how hard it is to get one’s work noticed. And it is work – it is, as Viv says, what gets us up in the morning. …..

  8. A sad if elegant recognition of a feeling shared by many of us.I’m not sure I could ever actually stop writing, but it’s certainly become a less joyous process, for exactly the reasons you describe. The delights in finding ‘le mot juste’, an apt phrase, a rhythm that says as much as the words which form it are all still there but along with them goes the desire to share the pleasure. And that, as you so eloquently convey it, becomes harder and harder to achieve.

    • I don’t think I can stop either, Bill. I stopped for almost 9 years, once, because it was going to kill me (had a brush with death as a direct result; long story).
      It is the desire to share that is at the root, because I believe that good writing, great writing, is an unspoken dialogue between book, author and readers. To lose the readers means the dialogue risks becoming a stale dualogue that turns inwards and dies.

  9. Perhaps it’s time to stop thinking about sales – remember, before self-publishing no-one except our friends read our work, so if you’ve just got a handful of regular readers it’s a bonus.

    My advice – stop looking at your sales figures (I mean it, don’t even log on and look at all, not even once a month), and just write what you want to write to make you happy. Or stop trying for a bit, and just read.

    Yes, it’s a bummer about the rising price thing. I’m still undecided, too.

    • I’ve embarked on a reading programme to explore Jung further this year, as well as a few other things. I’m lucky to have a goodly chunk of regular readers (of books and also this blog) but it’s that conundrum of reaching new ones.
      I’ve been doing an experiment in pricing and so far, the results are interesting. I’ll fill you in when I’ve got more data.

  10. So sorry to hear that you’ve mislaid your joy of writing. Can I suggest that you give yourself a proper break from it all? I suspect that you’re not burned out, so much as crispy at the edges… And with the major health issues you’ve been dealing with, on top of everything else, I think you need some proper healing time. If you could just write, you’d probably be okay – but as you’ve so cogently and intelligently summed up in your excellent article, it is all tied up with falling book prices, the need to constantly market yourself, etc, etc…

    The other option is just to play around with some writing exercises – maybe even share them on your blog. Remind yourself of the fun of experimentation… Books are demon taskmasters even when writing them is enjoyable such that we often forget there are other forms of writing.

    And as for the poetry? All I would say of the ‘well known’ poets I’ve recently encountered – they’ve churned out poetry collections one after the other and even the classical poets mostly became ‘discovered’ after their 3rd or 4th collection hit the shelves… So try not to be too dispirited. You do need to ask yourself whether you can be bothered – it’s an intelligent question. But maybe you also need to ask yourself whether it’s giving up writing, or giving up writing commerically AT THE PRESENT that is the one you need to address.

    In the meantime, I’m thinking of you…

    • “Crispy at the edges”. Ha, I feel like a pork scratching!!
      I do write some stuff, more or less daily. I set up a practice of *free writing* where I just scribble random scenes and stories in a dedicated notebook where nothing will be set in stone. I have also journalled daily for a while too.
      Thank you for thinking of me. As Arnie said, I’ll be back.

  11. Such an interesting and thought-provoking blog. I have written five novels and one short story, four of which are self-published as E-books on Amazon Kindle, with no great sales. Like you I just wanted my work to be “out there”, to kbow that someone somewhere wanted to read it. I have had no success when I have submitted my work to agents and publishers but after hearing yours and Suzie’s experiences of having to market your work I now question whether it’s worth trying to get published. I can’t see myself having the energy to market my own work. Like most writers I just want to write the book and let someone else market and sell it for me. I congratulate you on writing a weekly blog. Mine has slipped to one a month or so.

    • Bethany, I think having work out there is often vital to the process of dialogue, as I mentioned in a comment above.
      Concerning publishing and marketing, I think both can be injurious to the creative spirit. That’s what’s been harming me, I think. I’ve been able to step back a little, let it matter less to me, these last few weeks. I’ve thought also of the process of gardening: you prepare the earth, sow the seeds and tend them, but the rest of the process is beyond us. It’s a matter of faith that some of those seeds will grow and flourish.

  12. I’m with Terry I think hun.. take a break from the marketing/checking for a while, and just write, write your heart out, find your joy again 🙂

    Perhaps when you log on to your stats (in a month or two) you’ll be pleasantly surprised, perhaps during your joy seeking period (through taking a step back from the worry) you’ll find new marketing inspiration.

    Whatever happens with regard to your sales, it’s very clear on reading this post, and from what I know of you – that ‘writing’ for the love of ‘writing’ is ‘YOU’, and without it your ‘Joy’ (even in sales) is going to be marred.

    Take care, Kimmie x

    • I think that you are quite right about the writing is for love.
      However, not looking at stats would be for me an issue of avoidance and would soon spiral into something else. To learn to look without judgement and therefore emotional reaction is something I’m seeking. To see it as it is, rather than with attatchment.
      Thank you xx

  13. I’m with Ashen…you may never know just how you touch/touched/will touch people with your writing. Having been both sides of the publishing fence (having had a mainstream publisher and also tried my hand at the self-publishing game) I am in awe of anyone who manages to sell books in today’s market.
    I never look at my stats – for me it’s a case of ‘that way madness lies’… Just way too depressing. 🙂
    You amaze me with your creativity – I feel as if all the juice was sucked out of my writing bones several years ago. if you do find some holy grail, please share a sip of its nectar? xxx

    • I’ll send you a whole bottle. Or better yet, I’ll come and drink it with you.
      I do know about the *that way madness lies* as I have felt a tug of it myself. But the other way tugs more, the total avoidance that becomes a thing in itself. I’m learning to look without attachment.

  14. This resonated with me, Viv. For what it’s worth, you are not alone. I get more joy from posting a photo on Facebook. Less work, more immediate response, no marketing, no bad reviews… My latest novel will be out soon. I’ll push that little paper boat out on the water and walk away. It floats or it sinks according to the weather. Then I’ll take my brand new camera out, and look for flying birds to photograph.

    • I like the image of the paper boat, Greta. Perhaps a letter in a bottle is a good one too, as you never know quite where it would fetch up?
      And I always love seeing your photos. Best of luck with the new novel; may it sail into the future with pride and hope.

  15. Dearest Viv

    This post has helped me understand more about marketing, and explains lots of things that, in my naivety, I have not understood until recently. Thank you.

    I can recognise the loss of joy under lots of layers of obligation and sheer exhaustion. Been there, am still finding my way out of there, and it is simply – well, you know how it is!

    But I do believe our feelings are like a compass. Fine tune your compass, until you happen upon what makes you smile. Forget about the outcome of what you choose to do, and do what you choose, for the joy of it. That way, you can relocate your joy in writing.

    Lots of love and hugs!

    Fran XXXX ♥

    • I have a bit of a thing about compasses. I also have a bad effect on them; they stop working (seriously, I have about four or five, all of which refuse to work).
      The ancient sailors of the Med had something that appeals to me: the wind rose. It may be a legend, but basically, different shore lines had a very different aroma, and the scent of a particular shore told them where they were getting close to. So, for example, Corsica smelled of the immortelle flowers that cloaked its dunes and shore, and getting close to Egypt brought the scent of jasmine. if I can smell my way it’s better than following a compass.
      Hugs back, and thank you.

      • Yes! This is not a myth. In Waris Dirie’s book, ‘Desert Flower’ she talks about navigating her way around the desert – as all her people did – by the smells and sounds of different places.

        Thanks for the reminder, Viv. Hope you are having a good day! xxx 🙂

      • The Wind Rose may be a myth, though navigating by smell is not. I do it. I have a good idea where I am by what the smells are around me.
        I’m not even dressed yet so it remains to be seen what today will be like!

  16. 18 people have taken the time to comment on your blog Viv. Maybe that should be cause for just a little joy. I really hope you get that joy back soon. I have enjoyed both of your books that I have read.

    • That’s good to know, John. Thank you.
      I have been touched by how many have commented on this post, both here and elsewhere, and I think it’s the commonality that has been the factor.
      The joy will return, one day. I get whispers of it at times that tell me it’s not dead.

  17. Dear Viv,
    I hear you. But I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. You’ve been sucked in the marketing trap. Try to write as if you didn’t have to publish anything, and you’ll find joy again.
    Why do I keep writing? Because I don’t really market. I have hundreds of stories to tell, and I want to tell them all. So I just keep writing, publishing and back to the writing cave. I don’t care what the marketing gurus say. I’ve tried a few things, they didn’t work FOR ME, so I stopped doing them.
    And no, you don’t need a publisher to do things for you and keep most of your earnings. Just step away from publishing, write what you want to write, and then maybe you’ll find the joy of choosing a new cover for your latest baby or wasting hours formatting the POD version (I’m told InDesign saves time, but I’m too cheap to spend 19$ a month to download it from the cloud, LOL!)…
    Or maybe you’ll just keep in in a drawer like I’m doing with my famous historical novel… who might never get published, but that’s okay too! 🙂
    Have a great new year, hoping to meet you again somewhere out there!
    Barb

    • 😀
      I think there’s a lot of factors that makes things different for us, Barb but I think writing what I want to write is going to be a difficult thing at present as I have always written what I wanted to write and have never tried to tailor it to the market(as I think that way lies an even worse trap for me).
      Anyway, we might meet this year again; let me know when you’re in England.

  18. I rarely read fiction but I googled “can I eat too many peas?” and it sent me to your definitive 2010 post on the matter. Then, possibly encouraged by recognising the location of the tightrope photo, I browsed Amazon and bought The Bet. You couldn’t predict that kind of marketing journey 🙂 It was only afterwards that I saw this post, and thought I could offer an outsider’s view.

    Staring despondently at a dashboard is guaranteed to suppress creativity. If the numbers are that low, there is no real information in there, so close the dashboard, mute the nagging voices of conventional wisdom, and take actions which are true and enjoyable to you instead.

    In my world, far removed from writing, it took me years to realise that it’s very easy to undervalue your own work when pricing, and that having original, fresh slants on a theme is not necessarily as disastrous as it first seems. Songs are re-interpretted all the time for example, good ones eclipse the original, which many listeners have never heard. Yes, writing is different, and ‘hackneyed’ is far away from ‘reimagined’, but hopefully you get my drift.

    I trust your distractions will lessen and your mojo reappears through the mist, then you get to savour that beautiful, glowing moment as you realise it never really left you.

    • Rich, this gave me a big grin late last night. “Peas are bad for you,” is one of my posts that keeps on getting hits, and this has been the first time I’ve seen it yield anything more than amusement. Thank you. I hope you enjoy The Bet.
      You are right that all originality is the process of synthesis and it’s been that process of internal synthesis that has brought me much joy. That process is a complex, alchemical one that can’t be rushed or faked and there’s been a lot of input the last few years but not a lot of quiet time to let it ferment.
      Wishing you great thanks for your words. x

    • Rich, you’d enjoy Viv’s book Strangers and Pilgrims. Each of the characters googled “My heart is broken and I am dying inside” and ended up on a retreat together.

      I found Viv’s blog from googling author Susan Howatch and stayed for more. Check out Viv’s post about her, and Susan’s books too.

      • I have seldom seen such a copious response to a post. That must mean you are reaching a great many people. I am pleased it may persuade you of the value of ‘peas, or Susan Howatch, or simply the sharing of despair!

      • Ted, you just gave me another lift. Thank you so much. I didn’t specify google as the search engine but everyone knows it must have been.
        😀

  19. Bit of all of them, I think, Philippa. The first day this post was out, it did extremely well (for this blog) as I think it resonated with a goodly number of people.

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  21. I can’t seem to help any of it: the writing, the publishing, the marketing, the stat-watching and the anxiety that goes with it all. And yet I continue the cycle and it continues to fuel itself to repeat. It is all the path of madness. For the most part all of my writing lately (except what is not yet published) is non-fiction. It may be easier to file them in different mental departments because of that.

    I think i write just to share what’s on my mind and to see if others are interested in the things that interest me. And if people buy it, that does bring a sense of validation. But there’s more to it than that. I’m trying to build a business, and the written books/articles are part of the products. It does feel very frustrating when they don’t sell the way I think they should. And yet I still can’t bring myself to pull up the anchor and just sail onto ordinary work again. Stubbornness has always been my middle name.

    I comfort myself by remembering that it hasn’t cost me very much in the way of money to do my writing thing, at least. So almost anything it makes me is profit 🙂

    I hope you begin to feel your sense of adventure and joy again, Viv.

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