28: Use Plain Text to Future-Proof Your Writing

You need to consider plain text as a means to future-proof your written work. Why plain text? How hard is it to do? What are the advantages and disadvantages? My suggestions? Let’s find out.

The question of the week is: What steps have you taken to archive your manuscripts or other important work? Alternate question: What is your favorite text editor or notetaking app?

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Transcript
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You need to consider plain text as a means to future

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proof your writing work. Why plain text? How hard is it to

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do? And what are the advantages and disadvantages? Let's find

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out. Welcome to the writing pursuits podcast where authors

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like you discuss writing craft, author, life and book marketing

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strategies. I'm your host Kathrese. McKee. I own writing

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pursuits and write and produce the weekly newsletter writing

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pursuits tips for authors. In addition, I am a speculative

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fiction author. Writing pursuits is for authors who drink too

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much coffee, endure judgemental looks from their furry writing,

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convenience and struggle for words. If you are a writer

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seeking encouragement, information and inspiration This

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podcast is free. Hey, writing presents authors. Welcome back

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to the podcast. For those of you who are new, I want to extend a

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special welcome. My name is Kathrese McKee, and I'm glad

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you're here. Please leave a comment a star rating and follow

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the show to help others find writing pursuits. Why? Why would

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you bother to work with plain text files? Why would you

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convert to plain text? Before we dive in, let me preface this by

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saying I use a lot of tools. So you know I don't use vellum

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because I don't own a Mac. But I use Scrivener during manuscript

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drafting. And I use Microsoft Word for revisions. I also use

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Microsoft Word extensively because Track Changes comes in

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handy as a freelance editor. If there's a tool like Scrivener to

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make rearranging scenes and chapters incredibly easy and

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track your stats, and you can't imagine writing without it,

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well, then by all means, use the tool I'm not proposing, we bring

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back clay tablets, I have nothing against word processing

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and writing programs. However, most of these proprietary

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applications produce proprietary file formats. And there's the

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rub for longevity, nothing beats plain text. Now, with that out

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of the way, I'm going back to my programming roots once upon a

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time, I was an Advanced Systems Engineer at electronic data

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systems, also known as EDS, eds, also known as EDS. Yes, for many

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long years, I worked in the coal or coal, I almost said coal

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mines, the code mines, but then I escaped and ran far far away.

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But recently, Jay Thorne brought an article to my attention, it

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was written by Derek Sivers. And the title was write plain text

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files. And I've included that link in the show notes. When I

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read that post several things crystallized in my mind. First,

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my words are my legacy. When I'm dead and gone, I want to make

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sure my 20 true fans can find my work on a thumb drive, possibly

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in a vault somewhere. So plain text files are the most durable,

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flexible, resilient way to store digital information. On my third

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point is I don't want to make

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one of the things one of my chief concerns is that a

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software change in an application will make my my

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files hard to convert, hard to access, hard to read, hard to

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use. And that means I need to use a non proprietary file

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format to store my files long term. That's the only point I'm

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trying to make here. And that brings me to plain text files

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because plain text files are useful and easy to manipulate,

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manage and store. And finally, you can in case or wrap your

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text in more text to display your words online by using a

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markup language, so you haven't given up a whole lot. The result

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of my aha moment was a true desire to kind of get away from

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word processing and concentrate on writing and note taking

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instead. And oh yeah, I made the decision to convert and save my

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manuscripts to plain text files for posterity. Okay, so the

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strings of plain text are that anyone with a computer can open

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plain text files. plain text format is non proprietary, but

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proprietary applications can open text files. Text files are

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smaller to store and load faster, then bloated rich text

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files. You can copy text into any program and if you want work

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in a text editor without all the menus, and the gizmos work gets

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done, and you still have a spell checker. Textiles always look

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the same. No weird stuff gets displayed. Weaknesses of plain

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text though plain text is not as pretty s formatted text to look

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at. There are no tables or input images, page numbers or other

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layout features in plain text. It's just text. However, there

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are ways to overcome this more in a minute. The absence of

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different heading styles in text files removes one of the aides

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to understanding written material at a glance, the

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structure is not immediately obvious. So formatting

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information gets stripped from a Word files or Google Docs, files

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or anything else. When you download them as text files, you

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can't reverse engineer the formatting that is lost. So

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those are some of the disadvantages of plain text. But

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let's put those weaknesses aside for a moment. The first thing

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you need to do is to future proof your written work with

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plain texts. So make text backups of your finished work.

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This should have been a step in my episode. Shields up, take the

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five day security challenge, I should have had this in there.

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If you haven't watched that video, I have put the link in

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the show notes. This is how to save a text file from Word or

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Google Docs. Microsoft Word, you can simply save your file as a

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text file. Now remember, the formatting is gonna go away. But

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that's okay. The main thing is to save the text, right? The

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words are what matters, make sure you choose the Unicode

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option. Easier. Still select all copy and paste your document to

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a text editor like notepad or some other note, Text Editor

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program and save your new file, put it in a safe place. Google

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Docs just go to File, download plain text and put your new file

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somewhere safe. Actually, you might want to consider working

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in a simple text editor during manuscript development. It's

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worth the time to experiment a lot of people like doing that.

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Who knows you might discover that it's your new favorite way

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of working more about text editors in a moment.

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I had to inject the dog he was snoring so loudly all I could

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think about was how loud he was. So how can you make plain text

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look better without using proprietary software? Well, the

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simple answer is markup languages you can easily make

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text information look more presentable by including syntax

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that is actually also plain text, such as hypertext markup

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language, which is HTML, extensible markup language,

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which is XML, and also markdown, which I'll talk about in a

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minute. markup languages make it possible to include tables and

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links if you don't want to learn HTML or XML markup languages. So

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check out my favorite way to format text, which is known as

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markdown. Markdown is in fact, a lightweight markup language that

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markdown language. With apologies to HTML, I don't type

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well enough to enjoy using HTML plus HTML slash XML they're both

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visually confusing to look at. You can look right past markdown

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most of the time. One huge advantage of Markdown is how

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easy it is to learn. I mean 10 minutes gets you most of what

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you need to know. Markdown is easily converted to HTML. So for

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the average human being Markdown is the way to go. So you start

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with Markdown and you can convert it to HTML and you

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haven't had to code a line of HTML but you can include HTML

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within a markdown document. Markdown documents have a file

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extension of dot M D. However, you can also say that with a t x

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t extension, using markdown can significantly speed up your

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writing, because you keep your fingers on the keyboard and type

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without resorting to the mouse. So use easy Markdown syntax to

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indicate the basic formatting you need like heading levels,

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italics, bold, font, strikethrough, etc. When I say

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Google added light markdown support to Docs, Sheets and

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Slides. So that just means that it's becoming even more

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mainstream. Two things to know you must turn the option on In

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Google Docs, so start a new Google Doc, go to Tools

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preferences, and turn on automatically detect markdown.

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Also, take advantage of Google add ons go to add ons in the

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menu of Google Docs and search for markdown. Add Doc's to

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Markdown and give it a try. So how can you work in plain text

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to draft your books? Well, first, you need the necessary

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hardware and software for the hardware. You can use any old

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machine and I'm not even kidding, go get your trs 80 out

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of the garage. If you can still find eight inch floppy disks

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defeat it. Barring that, they'll be proud use your college

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text, you don't need the latest software, especially if you're

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going to work offline and what can be more focused on that. In

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this way, you're free from the vicious computer upgrade cycle.

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There's something to be said for keeping it simple. The other

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thing you need is a text editor program. They're dime a dozen.

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There's so many some are for purchase and some are free

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markdown editing for editing markdown, I can recommend

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notepad plus plus, which is free. You can also use Microsoft

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Word and Google Docs to create markdown files. Just save your

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work as text files. Why not? They're on your computer

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already. Mac owners can use brackets them Text Wrangler just

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to name a few. I own I own a program called type ora, T yp o

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like it. There are so many other options. So look around for an

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editor that appeals to you. Finally, why not leverage your

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research with a notetaking application built on Mark

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markdown? This is my new latest thing.

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I will return to this topic at a later time because notetaking is

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a powerful tool for authors. And I really don't think we're doing

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it right. You've probably heard of notion and Rome. But I'm

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using obsidian now because it is based entirely on and you

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guessed it, markdown files. So it is not open source but it is

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free to use. And that's that's a topic for another day, I will

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come back to it because I'm very enthusiastic conclusion.

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Returning to my program of roots made me appreciate the enduring

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nature of plain text files. I started using computers in the

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their basements or garages, that means I'm getting old. But it

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also means that for the foreseeable future, using plain

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text is a great way to future proof your written work and

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notes. The question of the week is what steps have you taken to

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archive your manuscripts or other important work? Or an

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alternative question? What is your favorite text editor or

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note taking app. That's all I have for today. Until next time,

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keep writing my friends. Keep writing. Thank you for joining

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us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a comment

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and follow the podcast. If you're new around here. I hope

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you will sign up for the weekly newsletter writing pursuits tips

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for authors that link and all the links mentioned in today's

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episode or in the show notes at writing pursuits.com. Please

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join us on Wednesdays for new episodes and keep writing my

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