03
Oct 17

10 Reasons You Should Try NaNoWriMo

I firmly believe that everyone should try NaNoWriMo at least once in their life. Sure, the writing elitists hate it and like to make fun of those who attempt it. But there are some legit good reasons to do it!

10 Reasons You Should Try NaNoWriMo

Original photo by MJ S

If you looked at the title of this post and thought that maybe I was speaking another language, then allow me to educate you. NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month — which is November. Participants spend the entire month trying to bash out 50,000 words. And you should try NaNoWriMo if you’ve ever thought about writing a novel, or if you want to make some headway on a big writing project.

In the past, I have forgone participating. November typically falls smackdab in the middle of grading season, and it’s way too hard to grade a hundred research papers as well as write a novel.

But this semester, I finagled my schedule so that I can finally participate, hopefully with a minimal amount of grading interference. (I’ll still have tests and presentations to grade. But those tend to be a lot easier.)

And because misery loves company, I think you should try NaNoWriMo too. It’s the perfect opportunity to set a goal and meet it. And by the end of the month, YOU’LL HAVE A FINISHED MANUSCRIPT. (MAYBE!)

Why should someone try NaNoWriMo? Click To Tweet

Still not convinced? Well, okay. Here are 10 reasons why you should try NaNoWriMo.

001: You owe yourself the escape.
I won’t lie when I say that it’s been hard to write lately. Politically speaking, everything is shit, and I feel such an immense amount of despair and inefficacy that it’s hard to do anything, much less build an entire world from scratch and then bleed it out on the page. But I’ve realized that not writing has contributed to that despair.

And while I can’t write a story that fixes the world, I can write a story that makes me feel good about the world again so I can be a more effective fighter when I see injustice. And I can escape into that world via writing. And hopefully, readers who need to escape can use my story for that as well.

002: So you can say you did it.
Admittedly, not everyone knows what NaNoWriMo is. So telling strangers that you completed NaNoWriMo might bring more questions than awe. But that’s okay. You ain’t here for the validation of others. Accomplishment is it’s own reward. And just think how rewarding it will feel to finish a project of this magnitude. Pretty damn good, right?

003: It’s nice to stretch your writing muscles.
One of my favorite things non-writers say is that they could write if they just had the time. WELCOME TO THE CLUB, ASSHOLES. No one really has the time to write The Next Great American Novel. And yet, writers make time every single day. What some jerks don’t realize is that they can’t bash out that word count if they haven’t built up their writing muscles by practicing every single day. It’s hard to sit still and make words happen if you aren’t in the habit of it. And NaNoWriMo is the best time to work those writing muscles! Build up the calluses on your fingertips from  hitting the keyboard! Put characters in mortal peril!

Sure, you don’t have to write fiction. You can actually use NaNoWriMo for whatever you want. And if you’re looking to get back into the writing game, November is a great time to do it. Not only do you have the support of the NaNoWriMo community, but you have the laser focus and accountability that community provides.

004: Lighting the deadline fire is good.
Are you one of those terrible people who’s always waiting for Monday so you can get started? (I sympathize with you, but like, just do what you want to do. You’re wasting so much time with a lame excuse about needing to start on Monday.) If you’re the type that needs the conditions to be set so you can get to work, you should definitely try NaNoWriMo. Not only is there a deadline looming like a sword of Damocles, but you also know exactly how many words you need to get each day to hit your goal. (It’s 1,667 a day. Totally doable!)

So if you’re the type that’s always looking for the ideal conditions, look no further. Try NaNoWriMo today!

005: Learn what you can cut out to achieve something.
So, still think you don’t have time to write? Well guess what? I don’t have time for idle TV watching. In fact, since I’ve lived in my current house, I’ve turned on the TV twice. Sure, I still watch Netflix and such on my iPad, but I don’t turn on the TV just to have the news on in the background, which also means I don’t spend Saturday mornings idly watching cooking shows on PBS.

There are plenty of ways we make time for stuff in our lives without realizing it. A commitment like NaNoWriMo makes you look at your time, and intentionally schedule it. So take a look at your day. What nonsense can you cut out? And don’t be ashamed to cut something that might be frowned upon. I fully admit that I’ll be living on Lean Cuisines for the entire month of November to cut out unnecessary food cooking time.

006: Meet other writerly types.
Writing can be a solitary thing if you let it be. I’m currently in the process of constructing a writerly mastermind group with some local ladies, if and when our schedules align. (Probably the week after never.) But if you don’t know any other local writers, NaNoWriMo is a great time to meet them.

If you sign up on NaNoWriMo.org, you can see the meet ups that are happening in your region. In some cases, there are gatherings aimed to get everyone acquainted, there are workshops to help you prepare, and there are even write-ins during the month of November to help you meet that word count!

007: You get to play around in your imagination like you haven’t done in years.
Look. I’ve been meaning to tell you this for a long time, but I didn’t know how to say it. So, I’m just going to spit it out. You’re a boring adult. So boring. You watch the news and pay bills and go to work and drink coffee and talk about your 401k. YOU’RE SO FREAKIN’ BORING. It’s about damn time you remembered the fun of being a kid.

For me, the best reason to try NaNoWriMo is to remember the fun of imagination. Sure, I use mine every day, normally to terrify myself in the bathroom. But with NaNoWriMo, you get to put your imagination to better use. Dragons! Spaceships! Pizza delivery guys! A malevolent computer system! Can you make a story with all those elements? If you use that imagination, you can.

008: Your ideas are rattling around in your brain and need to be set free.
I fully believe that if you don’t use your ideas, you lose them. So you really need to make sure that your head isn’t just full of ideas that are never going to be put to good use. The longer they sit dormant in your brain, the more likely they are to adhere to the gray matter and just really gum up the works. (I think that’s the basic premise of neuroscience. Or something. Honestly, you’re not here for science. And if you are, well, that’s the type of science you deserve.)

You should try NaNoWriMo just to get those ideas out in the open. They may not be worthwhile, but they might be. They may not create a cohesive story, but maybe they will. You really never know. You just have to get them out so you can finally see what you’re working with.

009: You can tell your inner editor to burn in hell.
My inner editor is hypercritical. She’s a popular blonde middle school girl, and she’s a real jerk. I hate her, and I hope she gets gum in her hair at a slumber party. She regularly stops me mid-creative burst to remind me that everything I do is stupid garbage and that I’ll die cold and alone. And worst of all — she prevents me from making any sort of progress in my writing because she’s always there telling me what sucks.

Well, if you try NaNoWriMo, you’ll quickly see that you don’t have time for that inner editor. You may have only blocked off 30 minutes that day, AND YOU ARE GOING TO GET THOSE 1,667 WORDS COME HELL OR HIGH WATER. So that inner editor? She’s got to go. And I’ve found that the fastest way to shut down that internal critic is to brutally bash a keyboard with your manic words.

010: It will build your writing routine.
At the end of November, you may not be left with a brilliant work. In fact, it may be total garbage. This is the proverbial roll of the dice of writing, though. You work and you work and you work, and you may not wind up with much to show for it. It’s a lot like pretty much every other aspect of life, come to think of it.

So why would anyone try NaNoWriMo if it meant that they wouldn’t wind up with solid gold? Because, my dear one, you will have built a writing routine. That’s right! After one whole month of brutally taxing your brain and creative energies, you will be in the habit of writing daily. You’ll know how to find blocks of time to get work done, and you’ll be in the mindset of putting words on paper.

And that, my little writer, is the solid gold of it.

10 Reasons You Should Try NaNoWriMo Click To Tweet

Have you ever tried NaNoWriMo? Are you going to try NaNoWriMo this year? Gimme some of your NaNoWriMo hacks in the comments!

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28
Sep 17

Knock on the Damn Door

So, there you are. Sitting outside a closed door. Just waiting for someone to let you in.

Knock on the damn door!

Original photo by Catarina Carvalho

Only you don’t know if anyone is in there. You don’t know if anyone will let you in. You don’t know anyone who has been in there before. You just aren’t sure about a million little things.

Knock on the damn door.

Opportunity knocks. Do you? Click To Tweet

Like, this is super easy, right? You learned about door knocking before you could probably even string a sentence together. I’m sure as a toddler, you annoyed the hell out of everyone you knew by knocking on doors, regardless of whether or not they should’ve been opened. But you knew, just from a simple lesson, that to get the door to open, you knock.

Want to come in? Knock on the damn door.

Honestly, don’t even pretend you didn’t know knocking was an option.

Like, and be real here, how many knock knock jokes do you have locked and loaded for the opportune corny joke moment?

You know why those jokes work?

BECAUSE PEOPLE KNOW TO KNOCK ON THE DAMN DOOR.

I feel I should state for the record that this post is both literally and figuratively about knocking on the damn door.

Literally, because as I write this, I’m waiting on a student to show up to an appointment outside of office hours. She’s 13 minutes late. I have a feeling she’s sitting outside my office, not making a sound. And I refuse to open the door until she knocks, BECAUSE THAT’S HOW DOORS FUCKING WORK.

And figuratively, because I’m so tired of people complaining about not being let in. Whatever it is they’re trying to make happen. They wait with their thumbs up their asses and complain about how they aren’t being given opportunities. They want someone else to make something happen. They complain that they need permission. They’re constantly looking for coattails to ride on. They just whine and it’s a fucking waste of everyone’s time.

(Full disclosure: I spent the majority of my twenties being this type of whiner. I didn’t knock, and I didn’t get in. Now, you can catch me BEATING DOWN EVERY DAMN DOOR IN MY PATH.)

You knock on the damn door. And if that door doesn’t open, you knock again.

And sometimes, after two knocks, it won’t open.

Then you get creative.

You get a fucking crowbar and you wedge that sucker open. You squeeze through. And you keep doing that with every locked door in your way until you get to where you want to be.

(You know you’re supposed to be here, right? I mean, on the side of the door you want to be on.)

Though, most times you won’t have to get a crowbar. Most times when you knock, someone will open the door.

Some doors won’t open. I’ll be real. Some doors, for whatever reason, are just stuck. But here’s the thing — most places you want to be have multiple points of ingress. SO KNOCK ON A DIFFERENT DOOR.

(Double check that you are actually knocking on a door and not just banging your head against a wall.)

That’s really the biggest bit of advice I can give. If you keep knocking, someone will open a door.

Knock on the Damn Door Click To Tweet

Don’t ask in a bullshit self-deprecating way that gives the person on the other side of the door too many options to deny you entry.

Directly state what you want.

Knock on the damn door.

 

(You know the October newsletter is coming out real soon, right? Sign up here if you don’t wanna miss it!)

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26
Sep 17

Worldbuilding Questions Answered with The A-Zs of Worldbuilding by Rebekah Loper

As a writer, I always have a ton of worldbuilding questions.

Note: I received a free copy of The A-Zs of Worldbuilding in exchange for an honest review.

Worldbuilding Questions Answered with The A-Zs of Worldbuilding by Rebekah Loper

How do I lay out the map of the city so that it makes sense? How do I explain the currency the characters are using? How should the society I’m creating store knowledge? What does this society do in the event of a birth or death? How does science work in this world?

What are your biggest worldbuilding questions? Click To Tweet

Sure, for the most part, the fiction I’ve written in the past has been fairly mainstream. And that tends to be what I read and write most often. But I’ve got some science fiction ideas, y’all. And these ideas come with a whole mess of worldbuilding questions.

Luckily for me, Rebekah Loper is here with some help.

I met Rebekah at Mini-Con, and got to really know her this past spring when I went to my first writer’s retreat. She’s a dedicated fiction writer and blogger, and homegirl even owns chickens.

At the retreat, I not only got to hear her read some of her fiction out loud, but I got to talk to Rebekah about her nonfiction book she was working on at the time. So, when she finally finished The A-Zs of Worldbuilding, I jumped at the chance to review it.

What is The A-Zs of Worldbuilding?

This book is your one-stop shop for answering all the worldbuilding questions a writer has while trying to create a fictional world. Sure, it’s easy to say that you’re going to write some science fiction or fantasy work of staggering genius, but the truth is, you’ve got to do the legwork.

This book allows writers to do that legwork easily. With a topic for every letter of the alphabet, the workbook pages within the book allow the writer to answer specific questions about the story world. Everything from architecture to clothing to language to time to religion is covered.

Hell, this book enables writers to answer worldbuilding questions they aren’t even thinking of asking.

Why should writers care about these worldbuilding questions?

For me, as a reader, I have to feel grounded in the story, or I stop reading. And when the writer hasn’t taken the time or effort to answer those questions, it’s HELLA OBVIOUS to the reader. And it pulls the reader out of the story.

Honestly, fantasy and science fiction stories take a lot more effort than many other types of fiction, just because you have to create everything from scratch. And The A-Zs of Worldbuilding allows writers to carefully and thoughtfully build those worlds for the betterment of their stories. Not only does answering these questions create a richer story world, but it also creates more realistic characters with more intricate plot complications. Basically, it turns your story up to 11.

Let’s take an example. Let’s say that J.R.R. Tolkien had never written The Hobbit, or given us the “Concerning Hobbits” passage in the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring. Would any reader logically be able to follow the story?

Or, for a more recent example, let’s look at Game of Thrones. Georg R.R. Martin sets it up so that we understand that winter 1.) is  hella long and dangerous and only comes around every so often, and 2.) is coming. But if we didn’t get that tiny tidbit of information, would we even care about the army heading south to ruin Westeros? No. We’d just be confused because we know that winter is roughly three months, and how bad can it be?

That’s why you have to answer these worldbuilding questions. That’s why writers need to take the time and think about the world they’re creating. That’s why this book is so damn useful!

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of The A-Zs of Worldbuilding, you can take a look here at what formats Rebekah has made available to you. And bonus! If you sign up for her email list before September 30 (this Saturday for those of you sans calendar), you can get a 25% discount on the paperback.

Worldbuilding Questions Answered with The A-Zs of Worldbuilding by Rebekah Loper Click To Tweet

How do you go about worldbuilding? What are your biggest worldbuilding questions?

Psssst! Hey. I like your hair. You have a cute butt. Wanna sign up for my email list?

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21
Sep 17

How to Stop Procrastinating: A Fool-Proof Way to Conquer the World

For the majority of my life, I felt I didn’t know how to stop procrastinating. I fell into the trap of putting stuff off, and kept telling myself that I needed the pressure to actually get shit done.

How to Stop Procrastinating

Original photo by Milos Tonchevski

This is stupid and false, and the same damn trap my students fall into right before they stay up all night to binge-write that brilliant paper that will earn them a  low C if they’re lucky.

Why I needed to stop procrastinating

So, I’ve been trying to open up an Etsy shop since spring. And now it’s September. But because I live in Oklahoma, I had to get a sales tax ID to sell physical products online so I could charge my customers sales tax.

This shouldn’t be that hard, so I filled out the paper work and submitted my application. Then, I waited for everything to come in the mail.

When it arrived, I got a notice that I wasn’t approved because of the classification of my S Corp. My S Corp sells creative services, not products, and I’m listed under a specific industry code for services.

I stared at that rejection for like a month. There was a spot to write some information and send it back. Only, I didn’t 100% understand what I needed to put there.

One morning, I called the Oklahoma Tax Commission. I was literally on hold for 2 hours and 48 minutes. (I just left my phone on speaker and went about grading papers.) When I finally spoke with someone, they didn’t know what to do either.

I’m not kidding about that. If you’ve ever dealt with the Oklahoma Tax Commission, I suspect you have a similar story.

So I kept putting it off. Sure, I wanted to get my shop set up, but like, there are always 18,000 other things that can be done too. And then I moved, and unpacking took roughly ONE THOUSAND HOURS.

But a couple weeks ago, I finally just emailed my accountant. And in less than 48 hours, she gave me the simplest answer. She told me EXACTLY what I needed to write. And then I did.

And yesterday I got my sales tax ID in the mail.

It was so easy, but I built up this big wall in my head. And I waisted MONTHS.

It was so easy, but I built up this big wall in my head. And I waisted MONTHS. Click To Tweet

Do you need another example of why I need to stop procrastinating?

This week, I gave my students their first test. Some students take their tests in the class room, and some students take their tests in the disability resource center. While the test in class is given online, some students who test at the disability resource center need a paper copy of the test.

It’s not a big deal to make a paper copy. It just takes time. And it’s something I usually have the graduate assistant do. However, after a big mess that is absolutely no one’s fault, we don’t have a graduate assistant this semester. This isn’t a big deal, because I don’t have a lot that I need them to do.

But I just wanted to have someone else make this test.

So I put it off until the last possible minute. And when I started to make the test, I took a look in a folder in the very back corner of my Dropbox.

Lo and behold, I had actually created the test last semester.

Had I thought logically about it, I would’ve realized this. I would’ve remembered doing that. But nope. I just shoved it to the back of my mind and refused to deal with it at all until the last possible second.

What I’ve learned about why I procrastinate

I procrastinate when things get a little hard or uncomfortable or inconvenient. I procrastinate when I remember how soft my couch is. I procrastinate when I remember that at the end of the day, I still have a day job paycheck coming in.

I procrastinate because I’m in love with easy shit. And I hate that about myself.

To be fair, I know that no one loves doing the dirty work or the hard things. But damn. I wish I could just bite my lip and make it happen.

Like had I gotten my sales tax ID sorted, I would have an established Etsy store already.

Or if I had tackled that test earlier, I could’ve sent it to the disability resource center, and gotten to bed on time the night I found it.

But let’s not dwell in what ifs. There’s no reason to be mad at past Marisa, because present Marisa is the same Marisa. So, I forgive you and your procrastination, Marisa. Just don’t let it happen again.

How you can stop procrastinating

For me, the first step to stop procrastinating is this: Realize that nothing you do is really that hard.

I mean, yeah. You do hard things.

But the daily hard things aren’t the big things that deserve to hang over our heads. Let the big life questions be the daunting things. Let them keep you up at night.

The daily hard things aren't the big things that deserve to hang over our heads. Click To Tweet

Those things that are mild irritations/inconveniences/hoops to jump through? Know that you can tackle them. Know that you’re making mountains out of molehills. Know that you’re giving way too much time and energy to a thing that straight up doesn’t deserve it.

I know it’s hard to think in those terms. As stated earlier, I’m basically the queen of putting things off. (BOW TO ME, PROCRASTINATION PEASANTS!)

So please. Learn from my nonsense.

Ask yourself if one person can answer the question you have. And once you get that answer, can you finally move forward? If so, YOU BETTER ASK THAT QUESTION.

Ask yourself if you’ve been there before. And if you think the answer is yes, then ask yourself what you did when you were in that position. Rely on what you did in the past, because you can use that now.

Ask yourself if the thing that’s tripping you up is actually hard. Or if you’re just using it as an excuse to procrastinate. If you are, knock it off.

How to Stop Procrastinating Click To Tweet

What little things have you procrastinated doing? What tricks do you have to help people stop procrastinating? Are you as excited as I am for my soon-to-open Etsy shop?

P.S. Wanna make my day? Click here to sign up for my email list!

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18
Sep 17

How to Create Your Writer’s Vision Statement

Creating your writer’s vision statement is the best way to keep your life on track.

NOTE: This post contains affiliate links. This means that I’ll receive a small commission if you happen to purchase one of the books I mention — at no extra cost to you. 

If you don’t know what a writer’s vision statement is, GET READY TO BE EDUCATED, SON.

Firstly, it’s the over-arching view of your career and life trajectory. Secondly, it will keep you on track when life gets in the way or when you don’t know what step to take next.

How to Create a Writer's Vision Statement

Original photo by Yeshi Kangrang

Admittedly, I haven’t always held onto my writer’s vision statement. Hell, I didn’t have one until fairly recently. But now it’s my guiding principle. It keeps me grounded, and helps me make decisions that will ultimately allow me to create the sort of life I want. And it doesn’t allow me to prioritize non-writing things over writing.

This free writing activity will help you create a plan for your life and career. Click To Tweet

The writer’s vision statement was born out of a free writing activity I made my students do. I adapted it from an activity in this Writing for Human Relations textbook created by Dr. Susan Nash who I had the pleasure of teaching with a few semesters ago.

I teach Business Communications, and one of the big assignments this semester is a cover letter. In order to get my students in the right headspace for writing a cover letter, I made them envision the career and life they wanted, list principles they valued most, and define their overall career goal.

Some of them loved it. A lot of them hated it. Mostly, I struggle with getting my students to actually do anything that doesn’t directly show up in the grade book. To say that standardized tests have destroyed the critical thinking skills and the ability of our youth to engage is an understatement. So naturally, I MAKE MY STUDENTS DO THINGS THAT CAN’T BE TAUGHT WITH MULTIPLE CHOICE TESTS OR GRADES SO HELP ME GOD.

But hey, that’s what happens when you get a touchy-feely liberal arts degree-havin’ professor up in the business school.

And before I get into exactly what goes into a writer’s vision statement, I want to stress how much this can help anyone struggling to define what it is they want from life. Any profession can have a vision statement. Hell, any hobby can have a vision statement. Any personality or worldview or activity can have a vision statement.

This exercise exists to help you see where the outcome you want intersects with the values and goals you have. And so, if you feel like you don’t know where you want to be, but you know what principals are important to you, I think this activity is a good starting place.

And while this isn’t a comprehensive way to achieve every goal you set for yourself and get you where you need to be to live your dream life, the first step is ALWAYS defining what you want and what’s important to you.

Once you have that, I think it gets easier to put together the rest of the pieces.

Why do you need a writer’s vision statement?

Choosing an artistic career path means a lot of things that many people outside that career path don’t understand. For instance, you may stay in school longer to study with relevant people in your field. You might choose a day job that doesn’t pay much, but gives you the time off you need to create what you want to create. You may not achieve traditional life milestones at the same rate as the rest of your friends.

All this can make it seem like you’re failing. And, if your friends with traditional careers are assholes, they’ll put pressure on you to jump into the rat race just as hard as they did. But if you have your vision statement, you can see that you’re not really behind at all. In fact, I would argue that you can see how on track you are to achieve what it is you want for you life.

How to create your writer’s vision statement

This is a very simple process. I recommend grabbing a pen and paper. Make sure it’s a pen you like to write with — one that’s smooth and allows you to work quickly. And get some paper that allows you to write quickly and comfortably. If you don’t want the spiral of a notebook in your way, get something else. This is mostly a free writing exercise, and you’ll refine it all over time. That means you gotta get your thoughts out on paper fast, and do the editing later. So pick tools that allow you to do that.

Then, all you need to do is sit down in a quiet place. Take a moment to get your headspace right. There’s really no point in doing this with a bad attitude. (There’s really no point in doing anything with a bad attitude, honestly.)

All you need to do is free write on each of these elements until you think you’ve gotten out everything you have to say on each topic. I don’t recommend setting a timer, because you want to make sure you’ve gotten all your brain and all your heart out on paper. Simply start with the first one, and write until you’re done. Then, move on to the next one.

  • Vision: The vision is the overall view you have for your life. This includes your career, family, location, money, and lifestyle. To write about this, think about everything you want out of life. Do you want to publish bestsellers, or do you just want to publish? Do you want to write quietly in the woods, or do you want to be one of those NYC writers? Are you looking to start a family too? How does the family fit in with everything? How much money do you want to have? What sort of house will you live in? Do you want to travel? Will you have a day job in addition to your writing? Explore all of these topics until you’ve created a vision for the person you will be.
  • Core Values: What principles are important to you? These could be as codified as moral or religious standards. Or, they could be something a bit more nebulous. For example, my core values include creativity, flexibility, freedom, and choice, amongst others. For some, family and community may play large roles in their lives, and those may be some of your core values. Whatever you choose, make sure you also write out a definition for each core value so it’s clear what that particular principle means in the context of your life.
  • Mission/Purpose: This is the goal statement for your existence. It should encapsulate everything you want to achieve, and the principles you will uphold to get there.

And that’s the first step to creating your writer’s vision statement. Once you’ve completed the free write, then all that you have left to do is refine it. So, let it sit for a bit, and then come back and do some editing.

Once you’ve refined it, you’ll see that you have clear statements about who you are as a writer, and a defined path for your life. And most importantly, you’ll have something tangible to undergird your argument when you remind yourself why you do what you do.

Then, while you’ll still doubt yourself, at least you will see a path. And when others question your life and career choices, it won’t matter, because you’ll understand them.

How to Create Your Writer's Vision Statement Click To Tweet

Have you ever created a writer’s vision statement? What else would you include?

P.S. Have you signed up for my email list yet? When you do, you’ll get my free everyday writing outline!

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