The 3 Golden Rules Of Writing That Nobody Talks About (And How They Will Save Your Book From Doom!)


I’ve never been one for Writing Advice™ – giving it or taking it. In fact, my best advice would be “don’t take advice” because YOU DO YOU. Nobody else can write YOUR story, only YOU. < That’s the kind of stuff you would have heard me say if you’d asked for my advice a year ago.

But! I’ve learned a thing or two since then. Not to say I now recommend taking Writing Advice™ – because I still don’t. However, what I do recommend is STUDYING THINGS in your own time.* Look at your favorite books, movies, TV shows. Study the stories and figure out why they are your favorites. How do they make you feel? Why do they make you feel? Exploration. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself as a writer.

SO THAT BEING SAID, we’re going to do a little exploring today. I’m lovingly calling the advice I have for you “the three golden rules of writing that nobody talks about!” It’s not that nobody talks about these things…but very few people do. I’ve had to search high and low for advice like this. Most of the Writing Advice™ I see is all about STRUCTURE! and CHARACTER ARCS! and STEPHEN KING’S MORNING ROUTINE! which is all fine and good…but I’ve never found it helpful. SO LET’S DO SOMETHING NEW AND DIFFERENT. Grab a waffle and some tea and probably a helmet because this anti-writing-advice might just blow your mind.

*preferably stories in this case but if you want to study water buffalo or something hey who’s stopping you


There’s something about a story, isn’t there? Whether you’re aware of it or not, your brain is literally hardwired to desire story – to connect with it, engage with it, and demand to know what happens next.*

A well-told story is powerful – and can be wholly achieved without “good writing.” Your prose might be the most beautiful thing on earth…but if you don’t have a good story (or even worse – your pretty writing is HIDING your story) then no one is going to pay attention to it. At least, very few people will – the kind of people who like complicated poetry.

This is NOT a dig at poetry. But it needs to be mentioned. Because every poet can relate to the struggle of “nobody buys poetry books!” Here’s why: because in order to understand most poetry, you have to REALLY think about it. Watch carefully. The hand is quicker than the eye. It’s like magic, see? No? READ IT AGAIN. Maybe you’re just nOT SMART ENOUGH TO GRASP THE FULL CONCEPT OF A GRECIAN URN. < In order to understand most poetry, you have to “surpass the boundaries of common intellect,” to put it…well…poetically.

This is why most poetry does not sell.** Because most readers just want a good story – actually, to be more specific, most readers just want to FEEL something. And sadly, a lot of writers follow a path that takes them in the opposite direction. They believe the myth that “in order to be a good writer…you have to be a good writer.” But that’s simply not true. In order to be a good writer, you have to be a good storyteller.

*shoutout to Wired For Story by Lisa Cron << YOU KNOW IT MUST BE A GOOD BOOK WHEN I NEVER RECOMMEND BOOKS ON WRITING. BRO. IT’S SO GOOD. READ IT.

**SIDE NOTE: take a gander at Milk And Honey by Rupi Kaur. I haven’t read this book, but I’ve seen excerpts and asdfghjkl REALLY GOOD STUFF. And it’s a bestseller. Why, though?? Because you can understand this poetry without having to THINK about it for a long time. It makes you FEEL something. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.


Now, don’t get me wrong – I believe that you can be both a good writer and a good storyteller. You can have beautiful, descriptive prose and still tell a story that is compelling and emotional to readers. But WATCH OUT: as a writer, I know firsthand how easy it is to get enraptured by your own flowery, metaphorical, romantically maladaptive language. (< LIKE THAT) But just remember this psychological truth: a confused mind always says no.

It’s science, which means you can’t help it. You do it, too – all the time. Don’t be that author you decide to try, but give up on after a few pages because they made you feel lost, dazed, and – let’s just say it – STUPID with their “good writing.”

If you’re anything like me, you’ve read New York Times bestsellers and more than once you’ve thought to yourself, “How is this book so popular? The writing is nothing special!” Cult books and right-place-right-time publishing contracts aside, this is why popular books are popular: they take the reader on an emotional journey. They make the reader FEEL SOMETHING.

Which leads us to our next golden rule…

Wow, what a bold claim! HOW DARE I. After all, plot is important. At least, that’s what most Writing Advice™ tells me. But, as I hope you’re agreeing with by now, most Writing Advice™ is not particularly helpful.

Yes, a plot can be riveting, fascinating, deep, thoughtful, even AMAZING – but without characters? A plot is nothing. Because a plot is what happens. That’s it. But characters are who what happens happens to. (lol I promise I’m a professional writer I promise.)

Characters, Plot, and Setting are all terms you hear a lot in the writing world. But right now, think of them as survival tools: water, food, and shelter. Yes, it’s nice to have all three – but if you don’t have THE WATER you WILL DIE. Harsh reality, sorry. The food and the shelter are no good if you are dead. So what do you need? Water. Think of characters as water: the first thing you look for if you’re ever stranded in the jungle.*

CHARACTERS ARE YOUR STORY’S LIFEBLOOD. Without them, the plot and the setting mean nothing. Why? Because characters are you – the skin in which the reader lives, while they experience your story. Without a pair of eyes to see your story’s world through…how can the reader feel anything? SPOILER ALERT THEY CAN’T.


Remember the words I used to describe plot? Riveting, fascinating, deep, thoughtful, amazing? Those are all emotional responses. And who feels emotions? PEOPLE. CHARACTERS.** Without characters, your story is emotionless and therefore = boring.

Now, OBVIOUSLY I’m preaching to the choir, right? OBVIOUSLY you all have characters in your books, right? If yes, then I have a question for you: why are you worried about your plot? Why are you worried about following a particular structure because “that’s what other bestselling books are like”? PLOT MATTERS, YES. But it doesn’t matter as much as your characters. If you make me connect with your character on page one, I don’t care where plot goes. My brain wants to know what happens next because I feel emotionally attached to that character. < It’s seriously as simple as that.

Remember: characters are the water, plot is the food. You can go hungry for a while, but you cannot live without water. And if you have the Most Amazing Plot Ever™ but your reader feels no emotional connection to your characters? Your book goes back on the shelf and your ex-reader walks away.

*hopefully you already knew that because if you just learned that from me what the heck go sort out your life would you
**although your characters can totally not be people too. like if you write stories about water buffalo or something then hey bro give me some of that. BUT YOU BETTER MAKE ME FEEL WHAT THOSE WATER BUFFALO ARE FEELING DANG IT.


This is something I’ve picked up simply from studying good acting* in film: the power of body language and outward emotional cues. Here’s what I mean:

Close your eyes and think of the best-acted movie/TV show you’ve ever watched. Got it? Now, think of the way the characters made you feel what they were feeling. Did they speak their thoughts out loud? No. Did they confess their innermost feelings so that everyone watching would follow along? Probably not. If a character in the scene was angry, did they simply come right out and say: “I’M ANGRY”?? Nope.

That’s the thing about good acting – it is seen and not heard.** You can FEEL the way a character is feeling simply by their posture, their facial expression, even the glint in their eyes. Never does the film have to stop everything to let you know THIS IS HOW THE CHARACTER FEELS. Why? Because it’s all visual. And I believe you can achieve the same thing in writing.

Yes, writing is very different. You have no distinct imagery or music to heighten the emotional response of your reader. But!! YOU HAVE THEIR IMAGINATION. When someone is reading your book, you have control over their mind (pretty awesome, huh?) and you’re telling them what to visualize – but here’s where it gets tricky: there’s a right and wrong way to tell them.

Remember the body language VS character blurting “I’M ANGRY”? Same thing. Show me what anger looks like. This is a movie in my head, after all. Maybe your character (or water buffalo) is shouting, throwing sharp hand gestures, and glaring. Or if you’re writing from a character’s POV, show me how anger feels. Your face is hot, your muscles are tight, and your heart is pounding.*** This is one of the most vital things because if I can’t feel what your character feels, I AM WALKING, BRO.


In order for me to care about your characters, they have to be inwardly and outwardly emotional. In other words: they have to be human like me. IT SOUNDS SO SIMPLE BUT I NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT IT LIKE THIS BEFORE.

*British acting
**LIKE ALL GOOD CHILDREN AM I RIGHT
***If you’re interested in this body language thing and you’re like “yeah that’s cool but idk what every emotion feels like and how people respond to them” PERFECT BECAUSE I HAVE ANOTHER BOOK FOR YOU: The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. < this book is basically a reference guide to emotional reactions and IT IS BEAUTIFUL.

Have you figured out what it is? I’ll tell you: FEELS. We are emotional messes, us humans. Let’s just face it. We love stories because we get to experience unbridled joy and agonizing grief and crippling anxiety and forbidden love ALL FROM THE COMFORT OF OUR HOMES. Your brain craves story because FEELINGS. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have an intricate plot, fascinating scientific facts, deep themes, and epic world-building in your book – all of that is good. But first and foremost, you have to make me FEEL SOMETHING. And through 1) good storytelling, 2) relatable characters, and 3) real emotional responses, I have great faith you’ll do just that. GO FORTH AND WRITE.

What do you think? Do you agree with my golden rules of writing? Can you add to this list with something important you’ve learned about writing? Are you discouraged by other Writing Advice™?? I AM IN CASE I FORGOT TO MENTION. Do you aspire to be a good writer, or a good storyteller? OR BOTH?? LET’S DISCUSS THIS SHALL WE.

rock on,
abbiee

46 comments

  1. Yes ma'am, I agree COMPLETELY!

    I'm always watching westerns and telling my mother I'm in the midst of story research because IT'S TRUE! Seriously though, nothing gets me through a writing slump or simply fills me with the Insp. as well as a good and/or favorite story.

    I absolutely LOVE what body language/reactions tell about a person! It is usually one of my top favorite things in a movie, and so the constant game to see how I can wrap it deftly into my story, so that in pricking the reader's imagination in just the right waythey see everything exactly right. :)

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    1. EEEEP I'M SO HAPPY YOU LIKE THIS POST ÉOWYN!! This comment put a big smile on my face. :") I totally agree!! Paying attention to stories is SO IMPORTANT for writing good stories! YOU GET THIS *HIGH FIVES* KINDRED SPIRIT!! <3 Thank you for reading!!

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  2. Love this so much! This is the best stuff I've heard. It goes along my motto in life. "Take the Road Less Traveled."
    Why is this my motto? Well, for one, I'm not following what most people do. This anti-advice is brilliant. Do your thing. Don't write. Tell a story. Show the story. Feel the story.

    Amazing post. Thank you for this.
    God bless you! <3

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    1. ASDFGHJKL THIS COMMENT LITERALLY MADE MY DAY THANK YOU IVIE <3333 *hugs you and gives you waffles* The road less traveled is the best road out there, my friend!! *HIGH FIVES* YOU UNDERSTAND THIS AND I AM SO GLAD :'''') thank you so much for reading omg

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    2. I loved everything you had to say. It really resonated with me not just with writing, but with life. We're told the same things about writing all the time. I'm not sure if I've ever seen things like you've said being told to writers. It would be a big help if more people spread stuff like this around. Sure, advice on how one made it to the top can be helpful, but everyone is going to have a different experience in how they write, when they write, and when they reach their OWN version of success.

      Thank you for such an awesome post and amazing blog! <3

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    3. SDKLJKLDJS YES <33333 I COMPLETELY AGREE IVIE. *nods vigorously* It's so true!! So much writing advice is so "one size fits all" and ugh it just bothers me because like you said, everyone is different! We need to explore our world of writing, not squeeze into a box. ;) *HUGS* THANK YOU SO MUCH YOUR KIND WORDS MEAN LIKE LITERALLY SO MUCH TO ME

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  3. Poetic language is the bane of me xD I just LOVE it so much 'cause idk but I like to think? (probably why I like poetry ;). I like to be vaguely confused in novels because it makes me feel like I have to think harder to figure out what the author is saying (P&P all the way). Then when my mind fails to comprehend, I'm left with some emotional reaction --> which makes me love stories even more.

    If any of that made sense, I DO agree that storytelling is the heart of writing, and good prose should NOT come before it. I think of the story as the paper, and the prose is like the type of pen you write with. The better the pen, the better the story is told. If your pen is too inky or running or skipping (prose too flowery or bland), then it's harder to tell the story well.

    But EMOTIONS are literally the only reason I read xD When the words and the story make me feel something I can't describe, I JUST LOVE IT.

    (and the Emotion Thesaurus saves my life daily ;)

    <3
    audrey caylin

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    1. Haha I can definitely relate to that struggle, Audrey!! Hence why the editing process is usually so hard. :''') it's like... I LOVE some of my words but I know they are choking out good stuff and pulling those weeds can be really difficult because theY ARE BEAUTIFUL WEEDS but wow yes. It's definitely a challenge. I for one don't like to be confused at all as a reader but everyone is different!! <3

      SO TRUE IT ALL COMES DOWN TO EMOTIONS. *nod nod* oh and yaaas The Emotion Thesaurus!! *high fives* what would we do without it??? O_O haha thank you for reading, dear!

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  4. YES. YES. YES. THIS IS TOO PERFECT!!! XD

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    1. GAH THANK YOU I'M SO GLAD YOU LIKE THIS POST <3

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  5. YES!!! Especially the "all stories are character driven" it drives me crazy when publishers/magazines ask for those, because like, all stories worth while ARE driven by characters. So glad you put this in words *applause*

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    1. THANK YOU BERNADETTE!! *hugs* I agree 10000% omg. *nod nod* Without characters...nothing makes sense. XD Thank you so much for reading!!

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  6. THIS POST IS FLAWLESS OH MY GOODNESS.

    yes yes yes yes yes. yes to every single point.

    CHARACTERS AND BODY LANGUAGE AND FEELINGSSSS. <3 Those are the stories that stick with us.

    Saving this post <3 YOU ARE THE BEST!

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    1. GRACE ANNE I AM FLAILING ASDFHJKLJSDKLJF HOW IS IT YOU ALWAYS MANAGE TO PUT A SMILE ON MY FACE??? <3 YOU ARE AWESOME. *HUGS YOU BC I CAN'T EVEN REPLY WITH LOWERCASE LETTERS HAHAHA* :')

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  7. OH GOSH I really want that Emotion Thesaurus book now x)

    ALSO I LOVED THIS preach preach preach!!
    <33

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    1. You should totally grab yourself a copy!! IT'S AWESOME. <3 Thank you so so much for reading, Abby!! I'm so glad you like this post :")

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  8. This is SO TRUE, Abbiee you pinpointed it! I think honestly any writer can use this advice. I was (still am) the word obsessed one, like I would legitimately waddle and roll in the feeling of my words (I was a poet before a writer, make sense? XD) and honestly it's only NOW that I'm realizing...less is A LOT MORE. :) AND THE EMOTION THESAURUS, you also need to check out all her other books. She has an amazing lineup of these books. Some having to do with settings, negative/positive traits. Her books are lifesavers!

    Anyway, GREAT post Abbiee xox, stealing the show with your incredible uniqueness once again ;) <3

    Anna - www.worldthroughherheart.blogspot.com

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    1. ANNA I HAVE LITERAL TEARS IN MY EYES THIS COMMENT MADE MY DAY <3333 THANK YOU SO MUCH OMG. :''''') *gives you lots of hugs and lots of waffles* I AGREE 100000% LESS IS SO MUCH MORE. How can a story mean something to us if we don't understand it?? YOU ARE A KINDRED SPIRIT *high fives* And I'm totally going to have to check out those other books you mentioned!! The Emotion Thesaurus has been saving my writerly life omg :') SO HELPFUL.

      ASHKLJSLKFJLASM I COULD CRY YOU ARE SO KIND THANK YOU <3333333333

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  9. BLESS THIS POST!! This has got to be the best writing advice I have received in a loooong time. You are just flawless ❤️. Also, every writer deserves a copy of the Emotion Thesaurus. *nods* Thank you for gracing us once again with your waffle wisdom.

    Emily
    emilyywrites.wordpress.com

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    1. dkfljsajJSFLKJASKJALK THANK YOU I CAN'T BREATHE YOU'RE SO KIND <3333333333 *MAJOR HUGS* I'm seriously SO HAPPY you like this post!! omg. <3 sjkdlsaj I have no words *more hugs*

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  10. I'm usually against a lot of writing advise, but these are great tips that I think can be helpful for any writer! :)

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    1. SAME HANNAH *high fives* KINDRED SPIRIT :') THANK YOU SO MUCH!!

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  11. TALK BRO.
    THIS IS WHAT I TRY TO TELL PEOPLE ABOUT WRITING ALL THE TIME.
    only you said it way better. ugh.
    but that storytelling is better than writing every tie is literally the best thing. like whaaaa..... yes. yes yes.

    Randy Abby
    WAKE ME UP Blog

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    1. SSDKLJDLAJKLJ THANK YOU SO MUCH RANDY ABBY <33333 LEGIT THAT MEANS SO MUCH TO ME THANK YOU. :') *hugs*

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  12. ABBIEE, why must your posts always be so creative and flawless?
    I'm usually against any rules of writing (except for Louisa May Alcott's "never write what you know, along with Mark Twain's golden, "write what you know, depending on how I'm feeling), but it might be possible that you have changed my views on this subject just a tad. <3

    Aliah | Indigo Ink

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    1. OH MY GOODNESS ALIAH YOU ARE THE KINDEST EVER :'''') *hugs you* hmm yes I think both of those quotes have truth to them!! for sure. <3 I definitely don't think any writer should discourage themselves from writing something they don't know about... you can learn anything! Just depends on how much you want it right? ;) EEEP THANK YOU FOR READING I'M SO HAPPY YOU LIKE THIS POST

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  13. These are all so true =)
    Thanks for sharing.

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  14. Whoah, whoops, sorry. I meant for it to be :)

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    1. not sure what this comment means but *HUGS*

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  15. BODY LANGUAGE YAS YAS YAS BRO

    I attended a Creative Writing summer program at a college recently and my professor taught about all of these things, so you doing something right girl ;)

    So great to geek out with others about writing. I've been missing that since my program ended. So thanks for this post! ^_^

    O | Life as a Young Lady

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    1. WHOA FOR REAL?? THAT'S SO AWESOME HAHA :'') That program sounds like a lot of fun! omg always come to me if you want to geek out about writing. *adjusts cool sunglasses* muahhaa. THANK YOU FOR READING DEAR SO GLAD YOU'RE BACK <333

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  16. I agree 100% with #2, but interestingly, as a reader, after #2, I do look for more lyrical/poetical writing. The plot can be as simple as anything, but if it has those two things, I am sold.

    I definitely need to work on the body language part. Maybe I'll look into the book you mentioned.

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    1. MMM YES I definitely enjoy a good lyrical book myself. :") I just have to first and foremost understand what the heck is going on BUT!! AFTER THAT...CREATIVE WRITING IS JUST THAT. GET CREATIVE!! <3 love you dude

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  17. So you followed me on Twitter (and I followed you back from my personal account - just clarifying that up there :-) )
    I ADORE your blog and this post is perfect!
    ~Evie
    http://homeandtheheartlandd.blogspot.com.au

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    1. AAAAAH THANK YOU EVANGELINE!! YOU'RE SO KIND. :''')

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  18. This was so helpful; I've just started a new book and I do have a tendency to use overly flowery language... it's so easy to get carried away! Beautiful blog <3

    Lauren | Sincerely, Lauren Emily

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    1. I CAN DEFINITELY RELATE, LAUREN. :') the struggle is real sometimes. eeeep I'm so happy you like my blog! and this post! thank you so much, girl!! <3

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  19. All I can say is -- yes. Thank you. THANK YOU. This is simply AMAZING and I 100% agree. ESPECIALLY WITH THE CHARACTER-BEING-MORE-IMPORTANT-THAN-PLOT THING!!! Like of course plot is the "story", but without characters, it's not a story. It isn't anything if it doesn't happen to someone. And also characters are HOW YOU RELATE (or don't relate) TO THE BOOK, especially if the plot is like really out there. XD LOVE THIS POST!!! <3

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    1. YESSSSS I WAS TOTALLY REMEMBER THAT POST YOU DID ONE TIME ON CHARACTER IMPORTANCE!!!! I'm so happy you like this post, May. :D "It isn't anything if it doesn't happen to someone." <<<< EXACTLY. You nailed it, girl!!! aaah thank you for reading! :)

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  20. WELL NUMBER ONE KIND OF HIT ME RIGHT BETWEEN THE EYES. Exactly what I needed to hear. Thanks, Abbiee.

    Also your instagram is so pretty ohmygoodness, I need to get an instagram just to follow you and soak in that prettiness. ;)

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    1. AAAAAAAH THANK YOU KATE. :') I'm so happy you liked this post!! I can definitely relate. THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. ajkflsdjklsjf you're TOO KIND THANK YOU *hugs*

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  21. This may be the one of the best writing advice posts I ever read and it's definitely the most fun!!!! LOVE IT AND AGREE SO MUCH.

    PS. "BUT YOU BETTER MAKE ME FEEL WHAT THOSE WATER BUFFALO ARE FEELING DANG IT." XD

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    1. SDJHFLSAJDLKSJA THANK YOU SO MUCH NATALIE I'M SO HAPPY YOU LIKED THIS POST AND SO HAPPY YOU APPRECIATED THAT WATER BUFFALO FOOTNOTE HAHAHAAAAA

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  22. This was an older post I just had to read! Thanks so much for sharing these! I think my current struggle in creative writing is deciding whether I want to write stories for myself, or for others...if I write for myself I feel like I will just my best in it but writing for others, say when you want your book published and recognized, is so much more difficult. I definitely am someone who uses a ton of flowery descriptions language-you could say I'm a huge Victorian that way. XD But thinking about it, I'm sure I could actually use that to my advantage- just turn that desire for making an art as well as a story out of my work by describing feelings, emotions, and characters vividly the way you pointed out that its important. I absolutely loved this post thank youuuuuu (: ❤

    ~Veronica Marie~
    www.blogilisciousxoxo.wordpress.com

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    1. AHHH I'M SO HAPPY YOU LIKE THIS POST VERONICA!! I can definitely relate. I feel like when I write for myself and imagine that nobody will ever read it, I WRITE MY BEST. it's so weird??? but true aaahhhh. I definitely think that fancy writing can be done well!! if you keep the storytelling going strong it can totally work. ;) Thank you so much for reading, girl!! :D

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Nice comments brighten my day x100000! I read and respond to every single one (and I also give my commenters free virtual waffles, so that's a plus.)