How important is solitude for the creative process, and how can you balance finding solitude for your creative work with everything else that's going on in your busy life?
In this week's episode, I catch up with Bryan Crosson. He's the author of the Lonesome Thread, and his book is all about creativity, solitude for creatives, and why it's so important.
In his book, Bryan draws on his experiences when he was serving in Afghanistan, and he relates that to creative work and writing. The book particularly resonated with me because I believe in having time and space for writing and creative work each day
These days, I have enough time to write full time, but when I first started Become a Writer Today and taking writing a bit more seriously, I used to get up early in the morning and write for an hour or more before the kids got up.
I particularly liked writing early in the morning because it was quiet, and I didn't have to check email or worry about work meetings or phone calls, or daily life, and that's a theme that Bryan, this week's interviewee, also talks about. In fact, his mantra is if you win the morning, you can win the day.
Now I try to write for an hour or two in the morning before moving on with the rest of the tasks related to the business.
I'm telling you this because even if you have a full-time job, you can still consider how you can find a little bit of time for writing in the morning or writing in the evening after work. And writers who work full time still have to balance writing with all of the other things they have to do to earn a living.
In this episode, we discuss:
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Bryan Crosson: The way I’ve structured the book, I wanted to make something that was both entertaining to me and entertaining to others but also something that was useful to others and included tools that people could use. That’s how I look at all of these things. Boredom is a tool. Meditation is a tool. Solitude is a tool.
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan Collins: How important is solitude for the creative process and how can you balance finding solitude for your creative work and for your writing with everything else that’s going on in your busy life? Hi, there. My name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast. In this week’s episode, I catch up with Bryan Crosson. He’s the author of the Lonesome Thread and his book is all about creativity and solitude for creatives and why it’s so important. In his book, Bryan draws on his experiences when he was serving in Afghanistan and he relates that to creative work and to writing. The book particularly resonated with me because I suppose I’m a big believer in having some time and space for writing and for creative work each day. Now, these days, I have enough time to write full time, but when I first started Become a Writer Today and when I first started taking writing a bit more seriously, I used to get up early in the morning before work and write for an hour or two before the kids got up. And I particularly liked writing early in the morning because it was quiet and I didn’t have to check email or worry about work meetings or phone calls or daily life and that’s actually a theme that Bryan, this week’s interviewee, also talks about. In fact, his mantra is if you win the morning, you can win the day.
These days, what I try to do is write for an hour or two in the morning or perhaps work on my zettelkasten, which is something I’ve talked about in previous episodes of the Become a Writer Today show — a zettelkasten is basically a personnel knowledge management system — or engage in its own journaling, and after an hour or two of this type of creative work, then I’ll probably move on with the rest of the tasks related to the business. In case you’re wondering, the rest of the tasks usually involve researching content ideas to brief freelance writers about, checking if the sites that I run are working properly, sending out or setting up email marketing campaigns, and also figuring out what niche websites I should consider launching. I also spend some time checking in with other team members that I employ or that work as contractors so some of these team members help with publishing content on the niche websites that I run whereas other team members would help with the general kind of day to day of the business. So, I suppose in summary, it’ll be an hour or two of creative work in the morning before going on with the rest of the day and attending to kind of business tasks.
The reason why I’m telling you this is even if you have a full-time job, you can still consider how you can find a little bit of time for writing in the morning or writing in the evening after work. And writers who work full time still have to balance writing with also all of the other things that they have to do to earn a living to keep the lights on and to get paid.
So I hope you enjoy this interview with Bryan Crosson. If you do, please consider leaving a short review on iTunes or sharing the show with another writer or somebody who enjoys hearing about the craft of writing. And you could also share the show on Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. And, of course, if you’ve got feedback, I’m on Twitter, @bryanjcollins.
Now let’s go over to this week’s interview.
Bryan Collins: Welcome to the show, Bryan.
Bryan Crosson: Thank you, Bryan. It’s great to be here.
Bryan Collins: So my name is spelt Bryan with a Y and I’ve spent a lifetime correcting people who spell it B-R-I-A-N. And you’re probably one of the few people, the few Bryans I’ve met who also spells their name with a Y.
Bryan Crosson: I have many friends with the name Brian but I’m the only one that I know of that also has a Y so good to meet another one of us.
Bryan Collins: Yeah, there’s more than one of us, there is indeed. So I love the topic of your book. I wrote a book about creativity few years ago and I’d agree that what you’re saying in the book about solitude being a part of practice, but before we get into any of that, you have a really interesting background that’s kind of informed some of the stories you tell in the book. Could you give listeners a flavor for who you are and where you came from?
Bryan Crosson: Yeah, absolutely. So, I grew up in the states on the East Coast in Maryland, which is near Washington, DC. After I finished my bachelor’s degree in college, I became an officer in the Marine Corps and that afforded me a lot of really interesting opportunities. I was foreign advisor in Afghanistan. I was able to travel to a number of other places in Asia, Mongolia being one of them, and so I got to meet quite a few interesting people and have some really interesting opportunities, some of which I’ve captured in the book that I’ve written. But all throughout that, writing has been really important to me, writing as a creative outlet, and so as I left the military, now a veteran, as I left active duty, I went to graduate program and had the opportunity to write all of these thoughts that I’ve had and recorded over the years into a coherent book, which is what turned into the Lonesome Thread.
Bryan Collins: When you were serving in Afghanistan, were you writing then or keeping a journal or taking notes?
Bryan Crosson: My writing then was more matter of fact for my job. I was an adviser there so I would write a lot about the interactions I had with locals. I did — I think it’s just my nature and the style of the writing in the book as well is kind of a descriptive language and so, in a lot of my reporting and stuff like that that I was writing, I had my own spin on it but that was more purpose-driven writing than anything else.
Bryan Collins: Okay, interesting. So I was reading the introduction, you wrote a good chunk of the book during the pandemic in 2020. Is that right?
Bryan Crosson: I did. I did. Many of the concepts that are in the book are things that I’ve been thinking about or things that I learned in years prior, but most of the book, you’re correct, was written in the pandemic.
Bryan Collins: Interesting. You wrote a book about creativity and solitude while we were all in a kind of an imposed type of solitude. I actually wrote a book during the pandemic as well. Mine was about parenting as I’ve got three kids. But, yes, it’s good to see some people were able to use the pandemic, I guess, to write, whereas I know other writers I’ve talked to found it actually quite difficult to write during the pandemic because they didn’t really see anyone. Would you able to describe what your writing routine was like?
Bryan Crosson: Yeah, absolutely. So I worked with a, I could say, writers’ group. We’d meet weekly, I’d say, on average, once a week, and kind of discuss what we were working on and what our progress was like and everything like that. And that was a good tool for accountability. But, for the most part, writers, I think, are categorized into two different types of people. There’s the people who are like the Stephen Kings who write a thousand words every day and they wake up every morning and get it on paper and that’s how their creative process works. And then there’s people who are more like me, where it’s sporadic, but every now and then, we’ll sit down and belt out 4,000, 5,000 words. And so, for me, it was a piecemeal approach. I knew what I wanted to write about but I wasn’t quite sure how it all fit together, and so, exactly that, I would sit down and write a large chunk at a time and then, from there, go into the editing process, whittle it down, and all of that.
Bryan Collins: One thing that struck me, you mentioned you’re in a writing group. So when I started writing two years ago, I was in a writing group as well, but I tried fiction and short stories first and then I kind of figured out that I spend more time reading nonfiction so then I started writing nonfiction. Did you have a similar experience? Or did you know immediately that you wanted to write something that was nonfiction?
Bryan Crosson: So I was not sure what I wanted to write, whether it was fiction or nonfiction. I’ve always written creatively growing up. Even as a kid, I would write short stories, things like that. I think action cinema had a big influence on me growing up so I’d write back action stories, things like that, some science fiction, that was really — captured me. And then as I matured as a writer, we mentioned a bit before we started recording but I’ll say it here as well, I started writing more poetry, thought that was a good creative outlet, a good way to express myself or express ideas that might not necessarily lend themselves to any other style of writing. And so this book was nonfiction but I think it includes a lot of my style of writing that it comes from my previous experience writing, writing nonfiction, short stories.
Bryan Collins: Solitude and creativity is an interesting topic. Was it something you’ve been considering for a while or something that kind of emerged during the lockdown when I guess we’re all in solitude?
Bryan Crosson: That’s a great question. So, I, ironically enough, had chosen this topic to write about in January of 2020, not knowing that we were about to end up in a pandemic when everyone’s locked down and isolated from each other. So, it’s something that I’ve thought about a considerable amount before. So, in the military, I was an officer, I had a peer group, I had people that were — people I could talk to, people that I rely on, but in a lot of cases, when you’re the officer, you are one of only a handful of people, and you’re in charge. You’re responsible for leading a larger group of enlisted men, of noncommissioned officers, things like that. And so, in a lot of cases, the buck stops with you. And so there is a lot of time spent lone or wondering if you’ve made the right decisions, things like that. And so I’ve spent a good amount of time working just on my own throughout my military career and that was something — the solitude topic was something that I thought about considerably and how can we be comfortable on our own. And so that was something that was important for me to write about. One of the first chapters I write about is land navigation and that was something that my experience in the military, I spent a considerable amount of time in the woods with a compass and a map navigating and you have no validation from the outside, you have no one standing next to you over your shoulder telling you, “This is the right direction, this is the wrong direction,” you’re relying entirely upon your skills. But even beyond that, you are — you have to be confident in the decisions you make with no external validation. And that was something that really struck me and something that I really wanted to write about. And that was — like I said, the first chapter that I wrote about the book and that was what led to the rest of this exploration.
Bryan Collins: I actually read that chapter twice. I read it the first time because I got where you’re going with the metaphor, and then I actually read it the second time because I’m somebody who’s a very bad navigator so you had some practical tips about how to read the terrain for people like me, I guess, constantly get lost. So, when you’re writing a book and when you were researching the topic, I mean, your thesis is that solitude is very important for creatives, like what have you found about solitude or what was the kind of your conclusion about solitude in creatives and why it’s so important?
Bryan Crosson: So I think, as I walk the world, I see a lot of people who I think are uncomfortable being on their own and so I think there is this proclivity to fill life with distractions, fill life with all this stuff that we use to hide our discomfort with being alone. And I think for creative people in particular, being able to see through that, being able to work past distraction, being able to go into isolation comfortably, that is, I think, for me, the best way to create, I think. It’s something that is your truest expression of self, right? Is what you create with no external feedback. And so I think that was something that was important for me to capture, this idea that we need to go into solitude to create and then, going beyond that, of once we’ve created the space for ourselves where we’re alone, we’re comfortable in our own space, how do we fill that with meaning and how do we use that to really accelerate our creative process?
Bryan Collins: One thing I found that can be quite challenging is balancing solitude with, I suppose, collaboration and spending time with other people, particularly because writing and creative work involves spending more time alone than other professions. So would you have any advice for creatives who struggle with the solitude they need for the work versus connection with other people?
Bryan Crosson: Yes, I think the advice that I would have would echo, I mentioned Stephen King earlier, but to create the work, to create something that is in your mind’s eye is a mostly complete work and then seek feedback and input from other people. I think that, again, as I said, is your truest form of expression because at this point, you’ve already created something and then you can take it and show it to people and get feedback on that. But at least from a creative standpoint, it is yours. It’s not influenced by anybody from the outside. And then, from there, you can riff off of other people, you can get feedback, and you can then build on your idea, but it needs to start as your idea, uniquely you. That’s my take and that would be my advice. And I mentioned Stephen King, he talks about writing first drafts and his policy was to write an entire draft before he shows it to anybody so a complete story. And once it is done, shows it, gets feedback, and then goes into rewrites and everything like that. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that your first draft is gonna be good, by no means. You’ve written the book so I’m sure you know. The first draft is just that. It’s not meant to be good yet. It’s meant to be a jumping off point. And so then you go to the editing process and then so on and so forth.
Bryan Collins: When you were writing your book, did you work with the people in your creative writing group to show them early drafts of chapters or did you wait until you had something more polished to get feedback on?
Bryan Crosson: Yeah, I’ll go ahead and talk about the process for writing the book. So, I was approached — after I left the military, I pursued a graduate degree. One of my professors there had started a writing program, reached out to me, said, “Hey, I’ve seen that you’ve done some writing, this might be of interest to you,” and so the way the group worked, he would connect people with what we would call a developmental editor who worked with you on developing the idea, developing the story. So then, basically, that person was the only person who saw the first 5,000, 10,000 words that I wrote or so. And then from there, provide some feedback. So, that’s — once I had good — like I said, it was like a good head start on here’s the idea that I’m writing about, here’s the topic I want to discuss, here’s what I want to explore, presenting that to that developmental editor who says, “Oh, okay, I see where you’re going with this, I see what your idea is, and here’s some recommendations on how to turn this into a full book.” And so, from there, you discuss with other authors in your peer group, you get some feedback. Really, I think for a lot of people, it struck me as, one, a means of accountability, and, two, a way to keep morale up as you’re writing. So, as you mentioned, there is a balance to be struck between being totally alone and in isolation as you create and getting some external motivation from others around you.
Bryan Collins: Another theme in the book is about boredom and you’re a strong advocate for getting bored as a creative and learning how to, I suppose, embrace boredom for creative work. Would you be able to talk a little bit about that?
Bryan Crosson: Yeah, absolutely. That’s something that as a topic I was anecdotally familiar with throughout my time in the military. Spending time in the military, you have quite long periods of time where you have nothing to do. I say nothing to do, you are in between things. So, you might be waiting for training to start, you might be just at the end of one training evolution before another one starts or you might be deployed and just not on mission at the time and not have anything else to work on at the moment. And so, I think for me, being in the military, I filled that time with just doodling and, for me, it was a creative outlet, right? If there was nothing else going on, what do I do? I just start making things, whether that’s funny cartoons. I’ve seen Marines who are extremely talented artists turn their boredom into these amazing works of art. Maximilian Uriarte, he’s a Marine, former Marine, now a veteran, he’s a cartoonist, but he started, his cartoon is called Terminal Lance, just out of boredom and looking for a creative outlet while standing around the military with nothing to do. And so, yeah, I think getting bored as a creative tool is something that is largely overlooked. In my book, I talk about a study that has been done on people’s discomfort with boredom and how they would actually choose a negative stimulus, in this case, in the study, it was an electric shock, but a negative stimulus over no stimulus at all. Another book that I cite is Manoush Zomorodi’s — I think Bored and Brilliant is what it’s called. I might have that wrong. So, her whole thesis was that getting bored is a good problem solving tool and it’s something that is totally fine in everyday life. She talks about writing down a problem that you might be having in your life and then setting that problem down, setting your phone aside and watching a pot of water boil and while you’re just watching that pot of water boil, you are just zoning out and then returning to that problem that you’ve written down at the end of that once the pot is boiling. And just that white space, that time that you were just sitting there zoning out and not thinking about anything, your brain is actually working, it’s just not working in any way that you are consciously aware of.
Bryan Collins: It sounds like a type of meditative practice.
Bryan Crosson: Very much so, yes, I think it is. And meditation is another thing that I talk about, I touch upon in the book as well.
Bryan Collins: So do you have a meditative practice as a creative?
Bryan Crosson: As a creative, not necessarily, I think just in my life, my lifestyle. I meditate occasionally. It’s really something for me that is a tool in the toolbox. So, the way I’ve structured the book, I wanted to make something that was both entertaining to me and entertaining to others but also something that was useful to others and included tools that people can use. That’s how I look at all of these things. Boredom is a tool. Meditation is a tool. Solitude is a tool. And so, for me, in my case, meditation is one of those things where whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, where I’m feeling that I have too much going on, taking two minutes to meditate, I’ll use a guided meditation, I use Headspace, it’s an app. Andy Puddicombe is founder of Headspace, his story is briefly touched upon in the book as well. But that’s something I can do anywhere, that’s something that takes me a couple of minutes, and what it does for me personally is reframe my day and reframe the moment that I am. So, I would do it in graduate school, I would just find a place where I could sit off to the side, it doesn’t matter if there’s people walking around or anything like that, pop in my headphones and put on a guided meditation, close my eyes and just reset myself for the rest of the day moving forward.
Bryan Collins: Speaking of tools, you also write in the book about knowing how and when to use analog tools versus digital tools. What would you say is the right types of analog tools and digital tools to use or what advice would you offer?
Bryan Crosson: So I think digital tools are fantastic. I used them for my book to when to structure it, to organize it, to record interviews, there’s all kinds of great technology out there that can help with the creative process. However, I do think, as I mentioned, stepping away from those tools for a while and going completely analog is also really helpful. Journaling is a big thing for me. I will write down goals and that is — I have a whole process in the book that I talk about structure but I’ll summarize it here. I would write down at the beginning of the year, and it doesn’t have to be the beginning of the year, but write down what I wanted to get accomplished that year. And then week over week, I would do an almost like a weekly journal where I would write out, I would take the things that I wanted to accomplish for the year, break them down into smaller goals that I would work on each week. And that — so goal setting, I think, is one of those things that, statistically speaking, you’re much more likely to accomplish your goals if you write them down in something analog, in a notebook or something like that, and hold yourself accountable to that. While I was in the military, a lot of what you do is analog. There’s a lot of times when you are out in the field or you are somewhere where you cannot have a cell phone, you can’t have —
Bryan Collins: Oh, interesting. I would have thought you had a lot of technology and digital tools.
Bryan Crosson: We had technologies. We had radios, things like that —
Bryan Collins: Yeah.
Bryan Crosson: — but we’re not, for the most part, we’re not we’re not walking around with an iPhone out in Helmand province or anything like that, taking —
Bryan Collins: Okay.
Bryan Crosson: — iPhone photos or anything. Maybe now, I think. I was in Helmand a decade ago.
Bryan Collins: Yeah.
Bryan Crosson: So I think modern military, they might have some different tools. But for the most part, I wasn’t going around picking the phone every now and then and calling people while I was out walking the fields. So what I would do and what Marines are trained to do, what a lot of people in the military are trained to do is to carry around something to write with and something to write on everywhere you go. And so for me, all of my notes in Afghanistan, for the most part, are completely analog. They’re in green notebooks. I sanitized all the classified information out of them before I came home so that way I would have — I would be able to see places I went, things I did, and be able to remember those things, draw back upon those things by having these physical in-hand records of that.
Bryan Collins: So do you still carry around a notebook like that now to take notes for your creative work?
Bryan Crosson: I’ve got one right here next to me. Yep.
Bryan Collins: You’ve got a black — looks like a black Moleskine.
Bryan Crosson: It is. It’s a black Moleskine and that’s where I do most of my journaling. When I travel, it goes with me. It’s a fantastic tool. Again, I recommend it to anyone.
Bryan Collins: Yeah.
Bryan Crosson: Whether you’re a writer or not.
Bryan Collins: Yeah, there’s a great story about that children’s author, Roald Dahl. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him but —
Bryan Crosson: I am.
Bryan Collins: Oh, yeah, and he was stuck in traffic one day and he had no notebook so he got out of his car and wrote down an idea for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the dirt on his car. So, it is important to write down ideas when they come because you’ll probably forget them later. So, now that you finished the book, do you have plans to write something similar or to try a different type of writing or approach a different topic?
Bryan Crosson: So, I think that the next thing that I wanna work on is a work of fiction. The things that I enjoyed, when I reflect on the book that I’ve written, the Lonesome Thread, and I think about what I enjoyed about it and the parts of it that I didn’t necessarily enjoy as much, I think writing in a very vivid, descriptive language that almost reads more like a novel, that was really enjoyable to me. The world building, or, in my case, since this is a work of nonfiction, the storytelling that’s involved in retelling people’s stories and describing places and people and things. And I think that writing style, for me, I would love to turn that into a work of fiction. I have a few ideas that I have been stewing on, for lack of a better term, been thinking about everything that I’m currently reading and everything that I’m currently doing, I think it’s all I’m trying to capture as much of that as possible so that way, whenever I can, I can start writing and storyboarding a work of fiction, I think that’s what’s gonna be next for me.
Bryan Collins: So I understand you’re currently working as a cybersecurity professional and you’ve got a lot of outdoor hobbies, like driving motorcycles, and you’re a photographer as well. So do you fit writing in before work or is this something you do at the end of the day?
Bryan Crosson: So I’m a firm believer that if you win the morning, you win the day, and so I try and get all of my creative work done first thing when I wake up, and I think that’s — I’ve just woken up, I’m rested, it’s before I have done anything else to include checking emails, things like that. I’m an early riser and so getting up and just being free of distraction, that is how I prefer to create. I think once I start my day, the second I pick up my phone, if I see I have work email, personal email, text messages, things like that, it’s just — it’s a rabbit hole that I can go down and then everything else falls to the side. And so I think it’s much easier for me to start my day off right rather than having to go throughout my entire day and then carry all of that into whatever creative work I might be doing.
Bryan Collins: Would you say your photography is similar to creative writing?
Bryan Crosson: Absolutely, and I think it’s something, for me, that I really engage with and love to do. It’s something that — it’s a skill I learned in the military, ironically enough, but when I left the military, I bought a similar camera to the one that I had been trained on and then used it, instead of using it for reconnaissance, surveillance, things like that, I’m using it for street photography, landscapes, and I think because I have so many outdoor hobbies, it was one of those things that I looked at it, I thought I would love to share these with other people, with the people in my life. And so, for me, then being able to capture a frame that creatively depicts what I’m seeing and what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling, I think, is another means of creativity for me.
Bryan Collins: Yeah, it’s interesting you have a lot of outdoor hobbies. I enjoy long distance running but I’ve interviewed a few authors and writers who like to dictate. I’ve experimented with this as well. While they’re outside for a walk in nature, so there’s nobody around and they can dictate into their phone or Dictaphone. Not sure if that’s something you’ve tried.
Bryan Crosson: I’ve never done any kind of dictation like that. I do firmly believe in going for a run, going for a walk, something like that. Actually, I ran a half marathon on Sunday.
Bryan Collins: Nice. What was your — I used to run, would you mind if I ask what your time was?
Bryan Crosson: Yeah, it was 1:46. I think I was doing just over an eight-minute mile, which is not my best but —
Bryan Collins: That’s still very good.
Bryan Crosson: But, yeah, it was just kind of on a whim. But, outside of that, I still believe in going for a walk and, again, going analog, unplugging. It’s that almost that boredom idea of I’m just walking, I’m existing in the world, and I’m not distracted by a phone, by a tablet, by any kind of electronics or anything like that. I don’t listen to music while I’m walking. I just walk. And I think, for me — I don’t do the dictation thing but it is something that I think helps with the creative process, as I — one of the books that I have on my shelf that I really enjoy is a book called Daily Rituals. I think it started as a blog, but it captures the rituals of famous influential people in the artistic space, so Mozart, Beethoven, Basquiat, all these people who are artists in their own right, and what their day looked like. And one of the things that I noticed is completely agnostic of wealth, of status. Most of these people, an overwhelming number of these people had some time where they would escape. They would go for a walk or they would go for a run or, I guess, in some people’s cases, go for a carriage ride or a drive or something like that. And so I think I looked at that and said, “Oh, that’s what all of these other amazing creative people are doing. Maybe that’s something I should try.” And, for me, it really works. I do believe in getting outside and just using that to fuel the process.
Bryan Collins: Yeah, it’s a good read, Mason Currey’s book. Where can people find your work, Bryan, or where can they learn more about you?
Bryan Crosson: So my book is available on Amazon. It’s distributed through IngramSpark and so if you prefer to buy it through your local bookstore, you can go and request it, if you want. I’m not sure if you publish anything, any notes or anything like that for the show, but I can I can send you the ISBN and everything like that so people can find it. But, yeah, it’s available online. It’s available if you ask your local booksellers and things like that. They should be able to get hold of it. Me myself, I’m not really on social media or anything like that but you can reach me through the Lonesome Thread or I think it’s just lonesomethread.com. So my information’s there. I can be reached through that directly. But that is the best way to find me right now.
Bryan Collins: Thanks for your time, Bryan.
Bryan Crosson: Thank you, Bryan.
Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know, for just a couple of dollars a month, you could become a Patreon for the show? Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books and discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.