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When the Muse Strikes


I don't know about you, but most of my ideas for writing come to me in the shower. There I'll be, rinsing the shampoo from my hair, and suddenly a line flits through my head - a line so beautiful, so perfectly balanced between the universal and the personal that if I do not capture it immediately my muse will torment me with silence the rest of the year. Generally this situation ends with me haphazardly wrapped in a towel, running down the hall past the rest of the household - who have now learned to politely look the other way - to the dry erase board on the refrigerator where I can scribble out the thought before it evaporates into the ether.

If this is a situation familiar to you, then you may be what I call a messy writer. Messy writers are those for whom organization is not always advantageous, or even possible. This short guide offers five rules I've discovered help keep me on track once I've started a writing task. I hope you'll find them helpful.

Rule 1: Own Too Many Pens


This is perhaps a rule for all writers, but I've found that I need to keep at least three pens in every room in the house so that I am never caught without some ink. Displaying writing pads in various areas is also a good idea. If you'd rather not be frowned upon by your green-conscious peers, always leave your laptop or computer running with an open, blank word document into which you can simply dump your thoughts.

If you travel, bring a notebook and a pen or pencil. Many handheld devices such as iPods and smartphones include some kind of notepad feature. If you forget a notebook, pull that app up and type away. If that fails, text your idea to a friend who understands your brand of insanity and will save the message for you.

Bottom line: Always have a tool with which to record those perfect lines. If you lose them, it really is your own fault.

Rule 2: Limit Your Fact-Intake


At some point, most writers need to do some research. For me, this usually involves a trip to the local library. On my trip I bring at least two notebooks, a few pens, my laptop, a rough outline of what I need to research, and a giant mug of coffee. Research days are an all day event for me because invariably I will end up looking for one topic, discovering tangential questions that need exploration for a more thorough understanding of my subject, and from there the wiki-syndrome takes hold.

If this is you, there are two questions you need to ask yourself before you click the shiny blue link: 1) How important is this to my subject? and 2) Do I need to know about this today or can it wait for another time?

Learning to space out how much superfluous information I take in at any one time has greatly improved the expediency with which the first draft of a story gets written. If I don't have too many extra facts floating around in my head saying, "Oh, put me in here! I'm a neat little detail your readers will enjoy!" then I get the core of the piece out quickly. Once that's done, I can explore the intricate connections between different elements of my subject to my (and my readers') heart's content.

Rule 3: Binders Are Essential


Currently, I have three binders. I just bought a new one yesterday. Each binder is dedicated to a different writing project. One (3 inches thick) for my novel, one (2 inches thick) for my short stories and one (1 1/2 inches thick) for my poetry. Even though most of the time a random scrap of paper gets treated to my bursts of inspiration, those scraps invariably end up in one of those three binders. If they don't fit one of those three categories, the scrap goes into a file folder for use on another day.

Each binder contains information pertaining to the project it is dedicated to: rough drafts, outlines, character profiles, research, critiques printed out from here or drafts written on by friends, tangents from the same story line, etc. Everything I've written or gathered on that subject goes into that binder and stays there, even if it never gets used in the final product. Always save everything when you're putting together a major piece of work because you never know if you'll need to bring some miniscule character arc back into the fold to make the plot more believable, or revise back to the original bit of dialogue because the new version sounds out of character.

If you work only on a computer, save all of the information related to each project in a separate file clearly labeled with your project's working title. If you have bookmarks to internet research, put them in a sub-menu of the same working title. Even if all of your information is spread out, if it is all shares a title you should have no trouble finding it when you need it.

Rule 4: Editing - Make It Happen


It often happens that the minute the last word of a draft is written, new ideas are popping up in my head. It makes it difficult to go back and edit an already completed story, even after I receive great critique on it. Why revisit something I know so thoroughly when new worlds are waiting? Because that's what authors do. Writing is something anyone can do. Writing because you love the craft and want to excel in it is what authors do. Part of excelling is learning to sit down and edit what you've already written.

I tend to edit during dry spells of inspiration. Not only is it easier to concentrate on just that world, but it also sometimes gets the inspiration flowing again. I'm not going to go into how you should edit - that process looks different for every writer. Personally, I print out a double-spaced copy of my draft and proceed to tattoo it with corrections and ideas and questions. Then I retype the whole thing in a new document. A couple weeks later, I do it all over again. Other people edit their original draft. Still others ask for critique before doing any real editing.

The point is, do it. Edit your story so thoroughly that it looks like a brand new story. Add in all those tangential details you couldn't let yourself get caught up in before. Then take some out when it gets to be overkill. Read the story from the beginning, then backwards, then start in the middle, then hand it over to someone else to read diagonally.

When you're certain you've done all you can do to it, then you can start seriously working on the next big thing.

Rule 5: Don't Over-Extend Your Imagination


Unless you are a creature from the next stage of human evolution, writing ten novels at once is probably not the best idea. Writing down basic concepts for stories is great, and whenever that sort of idea comes to you go find your version of the dry-erase board. But when it comes to actually drafting an undertaking like a novel, limit yourself to one, maybe two projects at a time. Writing for multiple different stories can lead to all sorts of writing fiascoes and it doesn't allow you to fully immerse yourself in your projects.

True, sometimes you'll end up stumped on one project and then it is best to either edit what you've already got or go ahead and start working  on a different one until the ideas start flowing again. But if you've got a serious lead going, and the words are coming at anything more than a trickle, try to stick to that main project so you get it done. Nothing feels quite as good as writing the end - even if it doesn't mean the end of working on the story. 

In Closing


I hope these tips are useful to some of you. Organization is not always easy for us right-brained folks, but with a little determination it can be done - and it will improve your writing process. If you have other suggestions, please share them in the comments! I am always looking for tips on the subject myself.

Happy writing!
:heart: Lili
Thank you for reading! Any downloads paid for through points will benefit `ATrue's Literature Community Fundraiser! :w00t:
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:iconl-k-hollander:
L-K-Hollander Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2014
Rather than dash to the kitchen, put a dry erase board on the back of the bathroom door.  Failing that, get a wax pencil and write on the mirror.  One could also use a sliver of soap or lipstick.  If the bathroom is tiled, writing could also go on the walls or floor. 
I tend to save my 3 by 5 foot dry board for fights/who's moving where? and floor plans/how did Ann get out of the library?    Back before I had any dry boards I used butcher paper--2' wide in a 100 foot roll-- to correlate schedules  (as Ann is leaving the library, what is Taz doing?) labeled with hours/30 minute time marks.  Butcher paper is much better than 8 by 11 inch paper pinned or taped together. 
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:iconfantasyandchocolate:
FantasyandChocolate Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2014
Lol, this is me all over.  :lol:  I especially like the first rule.  I think I've got enough pens to last me a lifetime and I still end up needing more. =p  

I'm currently planning out my NaNoWriMo novel and it's getting pretty hectic.  I tend to keep my things together in Scriviner, or if I get an idea while I'm out and about, I'll put it into an Evernote folder.  And I always carry a notebook and a pen.  Always.  
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Scriviner and Evernote were unfamiliar to me! :la: Love learning about new tips and tricks. All the luck with Nano! :)
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:iconfantasyandchocolate:
FantasyandChocolate Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2014
Thanks! :la:  

Scriviner's actually amazing for writing, you can break things right down into chapters, scenes etc & I love it because you can set word count targets for each document/project and track your progress.  It's not free ($40) but it's still cheaper than Microsoft and you can trial the full version free for 30 days.  
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:iconpixiepot:
pixiepot Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2013  Student General Artist
This has been featured here! Have a great day! :love:
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you! :love:
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:iconpixiepot:
pixiepot Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2013  Student General Artist
No problem :love:
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:iconheartymedusa:
HeartyMedusa Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I can relate to this. I want to print this out and put it in my travel binder (because I've found a majority of my writing comes as I'm driving). :D
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
:D I hope the reminders come in handy on the road.
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:iconsadisticicecream:
SadisticIceCream Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2012   Writer
This is super-helpful. I definitely fall into the messy camp -- I've got scraps of writing floating all over, I forget to write things down, I have fragments coming out of my ears. I should really work on all these things. :lol:
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:iconglassshields:
GlassShields Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Oh God, I know I research too much. >.< If there's a related or similar topic, I start researching it too and the next thing I know I'm reading something entirely unrelated. There are at least a couple times where I've used a dictionary to look up a word and then another word on the page catches my eye and I look up at the clock and I've spent five minutes perusing a dictionary.

I'm also guilty of going against tip number five. xD The thing is, the new idea always seems SO much better than the old one.

This is very helpful! The binder idea is a really good one. I'll have to look into getting a couple myself. :P
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I have the exact same problem. When I was doing research for my article about dictionaries, I ended up learning about the origins of Sanskrit, which led me to cave paintings, which led me to the oldest documented porn.:facepalm:
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:iconglassshields:
GlassShields Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Ahaha. xD
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:iconfireleap:
fireleap Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2012
Great tips, especially the part about buckling up and editing, especially during inspiration-dry periods and overall, great job, thank you for sharing.

The problem for me is that I write out my ideas for novels in Nanowrimo events (if you've not heard of it, it's like, 50K words in a month) but I rarely ever manage to 'finish' the story in those 50K words. This is because I run dry on creative juices and end up writing 1k of fanfiction or out-of-character plot synopses here and there and once I've made my 50K, I decide to take a break to distance myself from the project... and then, I never touch it again. >.< Ergo, I've got loads of unfinished stories hanging about my hard drive, and still more ideas for new novels streaming in. Any suggestions?
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Aug 27, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Discipline.

It is really easy to get caught up in the fantastic new ideas, but the work of an author is to muddle through to those beautiful words "The End". If you want to feel that kind of accomplishment, you have to put in the work. The work includes pushing yourself through those dry periods and not getting distracted by the fanfics (which are a guilty pleasure of mine as well). If you get stuck, there are a lot of dA resources here to help you work through it - particularly the #CRLiterature chatroom where people are always willing to talk out the blocks with struggling writers. :)
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:iconfireleap:
fireleap Featured By Owner Aug 29, 2012
Heh, I guess discipline /is/ a bit of a problem for me. When given a choice, I'll take the easier one. I'll work on changing that, thanks for the advice. :D And yeah, maybe I'll check that out. :blush: I'm afraid I'm a little bit shy...
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Oh don't worry. The folks in CRLit will cure you of that quick enough. :giggle:
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:iconfireleap:
fireleap Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2012
Ehehehe, I actually forgot all about this. I haven't checked it out yet, but I will have to put it on my to-do list now. BD
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:iconlightoverpowers58:
LightOverpowers58 Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2012  Student Writer
Oh, lovely tips :) They help me already and I haven't even merged onto writing large projects :P Although I most likely will soon what with attempting to write game storylines in addition to my short stories, poems, and school projects.... It is safe to say my organizational skills are virtually nonexistent.
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
lol it definitely sounds like you're guilty of the too-many-projects-at-once syndrome. :P Good luck!
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:iconlightoverpowers58:
LightOverpowers58 Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2012  Student Writer
Yes I most definitely am... Thank you! =P Good luck to you as well!
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:iconcarmalain7:
Carmalain7 Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2012
On the notes of taking notes for a piece, the endless pages of notes i have had for some of my longer poetry pieces by the end have been legitimately sickening.
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I filled up an entire 70-page notebook with notes for my novel already. :B I've only finished four chapters of it.
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:iconquiestinliteris:
QuiEstInLiteris Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2012  Professional Writer
Went out and bought three binders and six pocket folders this morning. It's sort of amazing: I can actually see the top of my desk!
(Of course, I neglected to pick up a three-hole punch, so for the moment, all those papers are just sliding around in there, but it's still a place to put them, and I rather dig that.)
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
:highfive: Way to be proactive! I hope you find that idea useful in the long run. :)
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:iconquiestinliteris:
QuiEstInLiteris Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2012  Professional Writer
Already have. I should have done this years ago. xD
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:iconquiestinliteris:
QuiEstInLiteris Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2012  Professional Writer
Oh, wow, this describes me to a tee. I'm always scribbling stuff on napkins, receipts, book margins... then losing it.
(And I confess to being guilty of the too-many-projects-at-one-time thing. And obsessive research.)
You fail to give any ideas on how to break the scatterbrain addiction, though. xD
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Discipline. :B That's all I can offer since I have trouble with it still myself.
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:iconquiestinliteris:
QuiEstInLiteris Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2012  Professional Writer
Solidarity! We should form a support group.
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:icondreamgurl80:
DreamGurl80 Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2012
This is really good!Extremely useful as well!Thanx for sharing this!
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:iconvenry:
Venry Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2012  Student General Artist
Very helpful, thanks so much for posting!
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:iconsumgie1:
sumgie1 Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012
I see. A differently-themed tutorial. It's nice to see tips for more overlooked part of a writer's life. Though, personally, I don't really have a problem with organization. However, this may help me some time in the future.
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Perhaps you could share your organizational secrets with the rest of us? :eager:
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:iconsumgie1:
sumgie1 Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2012
Well, there is not much to share. :) I write short pieces so there's no need for much organization. Sometimes I have various ideas for a piece and, when I decide to write it, I start by making short notes on the same page.

Generally, much of my organization is achieved by keeping a calendar, planning in advance and making reminders on my mobile phone.
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:iconqyjx:
QyJx Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012  Student Writer
These are all lovely tips, sure to help any writer!

Many of them are obvious, but it always helps to be reminded of them. It can be all too easy to forget, sometimes. :)
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:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012  Student Writer
I'm so like this! Thanks for helping out all the messy writers out here :D
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
No problem! :D
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:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012  Student Writer
:D
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:iconshenachie:
Shenachie Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012
Yes, yes, yes...! This is my writing style completely.
1- Since finally caving to my inner-author, I have learned over the years to simply keep baskets full of decent pens and a small notepad in nearly every room of the house. Nothing like frantically scribbling down that elusive idea and watching the ink slowly fade from a cheap pen. :shakefist: My checklist for leaving the house now goes something like - Keys, wallet, phone, pen-&-pad .... Not only is it useful for catching those on-the-fly ideas but it's darned handy for when you're stuck in tedious company or a waiting room.
2- Research is important. Making up How Things Work is all well and good but hanging your ideas on a framework of logic and common sense makes it that much more believable to everyone. Tangents are okay too - within reason as you pointed out.
3- Keeping all the info of a particular subject in one place is ridiculously useful. I prefer notebooks with pockets because then I can scribble in them as well as save documentation. The sectioned ones I find particularly handy because then I have places for Characters, Plot, and Other. I also get a lot of use out of post-it notes, both large and small. Once on the computer, I have found that my tales usually take two other files as support. One is a secondary file for related ideas that may or may not get used - and I try to highlight if I've Added or Mentioned a thought and where it went. The second support file is for my edited scraps. I edit a little more freely if I know my previous efforts are not 'gone forever'.
4- I cannot agree more about editing. Edit, edit, and when you think you might have it done - edit it again. If a word or line (or scene) doesn't fit, it just doesn't fit, and trying to grind that square peg in that round hole just brings the whole thing to a grinding halt. Sometimes the pain of an edit can be assuaged with the thought that the line in question was simply meant for somewhere else. That's what editing is for - it's not always about taking out, sometimes it's about adding back - elsewhere! Unfortunately for me, I am an Editing Perfectionist when it comes to my own scribbles. If my prose doesn't have a certain sort of flow, it needs work. I've learned to make a corresponding Scraps file when I start a tale on the computer. That way, when I edit I will have a copy (or a trail) in case I decide I like the previous version better or if I think I might have edited too far and lost what I was originally trying to say. I copy-and-paste the paragraph to Scraps in the order of my story (and usually Bold what I will change), and then go back to the Main and edit away. I think anyone generous enough to spend their time proof-reading someone's work should be thanked with equal generosity. Beta-readers can make all the difference between a good piece of work and a dangling-participle disaster.
5- Agreed. Sometimes a block on one tale can be circumvented by threatening to move on to something else but unless it's a cross-over piece, cross-pollination should be avoided. Sometimes letting my imagination run off into What-If Land can lead to new and interesting ideas as well. Oddly enough, I also find that exercising can jog a block loose.
My take on writing has been a sculpting analogy. Pour out all that clay onto the working surface, then go back and edit - I mean, shape it. Take off some in one place, add to another, rinse, and repeat until you have the perfect, lop-sided, little bowl! ;)
Wow... that comment just got totally away from me... and we won't even go into how long it took me to edit...
My apologies. :blushes:
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:iconquiestinliteris:
QuiEstInLiteris Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2012  Professional Writer
Damn, I wish I could fave comments.
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
:lol: I like your comment. And your analogy is good too. I like to compare stories to the human body. Start with the skeleton (your idea and characters), then add some organs and muscles (plot lines and interactions), the tendons and ligaments (character development and twists) and connect the muscles, and before you know it you're ready to add some skin (the resolutions + final touches).
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:iconsevslover6195:
Sevslover6195 Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much for this. My muse is kinda like yours.
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
By that I take it you also have a jealous and vengeful one. :lol:
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:iconsevslover6195:
Sevslover6195 Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
yeah
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:iconrlkirkland:
rlkirkland Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Yeah, messy - and ADD...and old, forgetful, absent minded and disorganized. :D
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I've got the absent minded and forgetful. Working on the old. :iconshakecaneplz:
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:iconrlkirkland:
rlkirkland Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Yes, old is generally better than the alternative. :lol:
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:icondisrhythmic:
disrhythmic Featured By Owner Jul 13, 2012
So with you on #1. The minute I want to write something down, every pen in the house is mysteriously gone and every pencil in the house is broken. :/
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I know, right? It is like there's a gremlin specifically targeting writers. :ninja:
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:icontwistedalyx:
TwistedAlyx Featured By Owner Jul 13, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Haha, a friend and I were talking about this last night. When she gets desperate at work, she runs to the bathroom to write on her thigh so she doesn't lose the idea but no one can tell she wrote on herself. :giggle: We're just weird enough to deserve each other, I think.

If you'd rather not be frowned upon by your green-conscious peers, always leave your laptop or computer running with an open, blank word document into which you can simply dump your thoughts. Ack, no! As a green-conscious gal, I gotta say that having all the paper is way more eco-friendly!
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