Trump, His Wall, and the American Nightmare

Trump wants his wall, and his current $5.6 billion temper tantrum is an object lesson in playing to the lowest common denominator in American politics.

When I was a child in the late 1970’s, I would regularly visit family around Pittsburgh who made their living in the construction industry. More than a few times, I would meet workers who could barely speak English who were on the work teams my family members would supervise. Invariably, their stories would be about coming north in March to find work, stay until October or November, and return home with money to make it through the winter months. They would talk about cousins who did the same kind of thing in other parts of America, only they were farmers. I knew they came here illegally, but I also knew that part of the reason why my own family was able to make as much money as they did was because of the low wages these workers were willing to accept for low level labor.

Today, I know some people might accuse my family and their employers of being racist for taking advantage of illegal migrant workers, while others would say we are part of the illegal immigration problem. But, my family is an illustration of how this works, a fact that even Trump should be fully aware.

Poor Politicking

Right now, we are watching a battle of political wills between the House and the Oval Office, and as is all too often the case, both sides are wrong. Failing to fix our immigration system while leaving the border as it is now is just as wrong as trying to build a wall (again while failing to fix our immigration system.)

Like it or not, there are many jobs in this country that need to be done at exceedingly low rates, if companies want Americans to be able to afford the end products, whether its fresh produce or buildings, among other things. Before 9/11, President George W. Bush was acutely aware of this, and was preparing to approach Congress with plans for a guest worker program – something that probably would have looked a lot like what Sanctuary Cities were meant to be. It either would have protected migrant workers whose only crime was crossing the border without a visa, or it would have given short-term visas out to anyone who simply wanted to fill low wage labor jobs on a seasonal basis. No matter what, it would have exempted employers from meeting minimum wage requirements with these workers, otherwise it would have defeated the purpose.

The Politics of Fear

That all ended on 9/11, because our focus shifted to keeping terrorists out of our country. Since then, the fear has been kept alive, but now it’s being expanded to include criminals and drug cartels south of our border. Those fears are both of a statistically small group of people – the media and the nature of digital news is why it’s been easy to lionize these threats.

Toddler Tantrums

Now, we have Trump saying he wants to build his wall, and the temper tantrum over it is heading toward the two week mark. He says he doesn’t want to look foolish by cutting a deal – something he sold himself on for decades – but the fact is that this tantrum is what truly makes him a fool.

Reality Checks

First, it’s insane to think that the $5.6 billion he’s fighting over now will be the total bill, no matter how much anyone says it will be. If he would be able to build a wall along the entire border (he can’t, without bending laws of physics and international laws surrounding waterways), there is no way it would only cost that sum. Just the prototype panels cost $2.4 to $4 million each, and putting all of them together wouldn’t cover more than a mile. Don’t get your calculators out to start figuring out how much it really could cost because the prototypes were erected on open land. The cost will be far greater because Trump’s wall will have to be built through unforgiving territory that hasn’t had any man-made barriers all along because the topography did the job on its own. Also, bear in mind that no matter how much Trump wishes it so, the places with the highest levels of illegal crossings can’t have barriers at all anyway because they are waterways. Sure, he could build a wall on the US shorelines, but it would need to be far better than any of those prototypes since it would need to withstand flooding in wet seasons. We’re not even going to get into issues with border towns and businesses straddling the line, and how devastating a wall would be to those residents.

Hypocrisy Reigns

Nancy Pelosi has said that building a wall is immoral, and maybe that’s only partly right. But, it’s not about what she thinks. Trump is the embodiment of hypocrisy with this, because we already should know he has repeatedly reaped the benefits of cheap illegal labor. That includes laborers for Trump Tower itself, and maintenance of his property. Maybe Trump thinks he should get a pass for the Trump Tower workers, since they weren’t from south of the border – they were Polish. But, he definitely doesn’t get a pass on the housekeepers.

American Character

Pelosi was wrong to say that a wall was immoral primarily because she truly doesn’t understand the level of hatred Trump has ginned up across the nation. He has made an art form of playing to the lowest common denominator, and has exploited the hatred of the “other” at every opportunity. We used to be the nation that bought really bad music because it would help pay to feed starving children in Africa. Now, we’re the country that says starving children and families from Venezuela are hell bent on destroying us by attacking our border. It’s true that there have been skirmishes between rock throwing desperate people and heavily armed members of our military, but if anyone is going to hard sell that the rock wielders are a security threat, they need a vacation in a padded room.

The irony here is that at least a few conservatives in the US are taking this opportunity to point out the failures of socialism in Venezuela, while simultaneously playing like Seinfeld’s soup server when it comes to the opportunities offered by freedom. It is yet another example of the cement ceiling mentality that believes the US has reached its apex, and cannot grow business anymore. Or it really is just racism, if these people choose to ignore the statistics that show a majority of immigrants tend to build businesses in America – all we have to do is let them do it. Also, it’s worth noting that sooner or later, someone will probably point out that the dramatic drop in migrant workers from the south taking US dollars back home really did contribute to the collapse of Venezuela, and is part of the financial woes of other Central and South American countries.

The Reality of a Wall

But, back to Trump and his dreams of a wall. Sadly, there are still people out there who are picturing something majestic like this:

The reality is more like this:

Either way, it’s important to recognize that walls aren’t a one-way device. Both China and Berlin have used their walls to keep people in their boundaries. It is foolhardy to assume that the same is not true in the US, especially now as we are dealing with a government shutdown in order for Trump to get money to build one. Doubt that? Try applying for a passport today. You can’t, because Trump’s temper tantrum over the wall has caused that office to be closed.

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Trump, His Wall, and the American Nightmare

Congress is in Session – Hypocrisy Time!

As the 116th Congress gavels into session, it’s time to think about the level of hypocrisy we’re going to see in the coming weeks and months.

If you were paying attention at all, beyond the obvious attempts to end the government shutdown, the House is focusing on a wish list of legislation. Most of the items will be dead on arrival in the Senate, but that doesn’t mean anyone should be dismissing these ideas immediately. Two items in particular shouldn’t be dismissed by Republicans just because they are coming from across the aisle.

10 years of tax returns

Tempting as it might be to continue to “protect the president’s tax returns” game, Republicans need to seriously think about this bill in terms of future Democrat nominees. Picture a future with Mark Zuckerberg or Oprah Winfrey running for the presidency. Seriously, this does need to be considered, since we’re dealing with a former game show host in the Oval Office right now – sorry, but it is the truth.

So, do we really want to see future candidates of that ilk managing to hide their financial dealings when they run for the highest office in the land? No?

Like all legislation, it is important to remember that it will be the law regardless of who is in power, until it is repealed or rendered null by the courts. (Just a hint, but it’s not likely that this kind of law will be considered unconstitutional.) It might sting a bit now, but failing to pass something like this soon could have disastrous effects in the future. If Zuckerberg and Oprah didn’t scare you as examples, think someone like Cher!

Protect the Mueller!

More than a few Republicans have been salivating at the thought of shutting down the Mueller investigation into “Russian collusion” by Trump. Right now, it is important to remember procedure on the Hill. The first shot has already been fired across the bow, even before Nancy Pelosi was officially elected Speaker of the House.

She said impeachment isn’t out of the question.

Scoff if you like, but impeachment is still similar to our regular criminal court system. The House starts the ball rolling, and arguably takes up the job of the prosecutor. There is discovery (i.e., investigation) initiated by that chamber, and then it is turned over to the Senate which theoretically acts as judge and jury.

So, if Republicans kill the Mueller investigation before it is done, they are just begging for Pelosi and the Democrats in the House to start impeachment proceedings. Sure, they might not do it, but is it really worth the gamble? If Mueller is stopped, the House could just tell him to continue anyway, but this time as the start of the impeachment process. That means they could also severely expand the scope of the investigation. (Just a hint here, but that’s something the Republicans really don’t want to happen.)

Confused? Angry? Don’t feel bad about that. Those are just typical reactions to the realities of politicking on the Hill. It’s not pretty. It never was, and never will be. But, at least now it has become somewhat predictable. No matter what, it boils down to political hypocrisy.

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Congress is in Session – Hypocrisy Time!

Ted Cruz and His Re-election Woes

Many conservatives, particularly on social media, practically brag about the fact that they ignore the media if it’s just a little left-leaning. So, it’s safe to say many of them wouldn’t know Ted Cruz’s re-election campaign isn’t doing as well as it could.

When outlets like Alternet can run legitimate stories about someone like Cruz making a major strategic mistake, “Houston, there is a problem.” Like it or not, that left-wing website was spot on when it pointed out that Cruz not appearing on CNN for a debate was literally handing his opposition, Beto O’Rourke, a huge advantage.

CNN already had the hour blocked out for a debate, so they had no problem converting it into a townhall for O’Rourke. Alternet was absolutely right when they suggested O’Rourke will use that time to build himself up, and more importantly, tear down Cruz. Just pointing out to Texans that Cruz couldn’t be bothered to show up for a debate implies that he isn’t particularly concerned with his constituents.

But, this isn’t the first time anyone has pointed out that Cruz’s campaign might be in trouble. Last month Rick Tyler, a former Cruz campaign strategist, said on MSNBC that his former boss might be in trouble this time around. That’s something else that would fall under the radar of those conservatives who are determined to ignore left-wing journalism.

No matter what, it’s difficult to say anything except that Cruz might lose to O’Rourke, and the likely reason for it will be hubris. In this case, both Cruz and conservatives who are choosing to ignore what is happening on the left in Texas are guilty. We’ll just have to wait and see in November if it proves to be a politically fatal mistake.

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Ted Cruz and His Re-election Woes

HotAir – Kavanaugh Is The Poster Child For The Perils Of Politicizing Pain

When my teenage son came home from school today, he announced that his History class was doing something that most high school or college level courses don’t do. They are reading the Declaration of Independence. After his complaints about wading through the archaic writing style, he started asking me about the old Greek triumvirate of persuasive speech and writing – Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. It was fitting, even though it was an untimely interruption during the Senate Judiciary Hearing on Brett Kavanaugh.

I quickly applied the definitions to the situation on the screen, explaining to my son that these hearings should be focused on Ethos, or the character of especially Kavanaugh, since he’s being considered for the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, Pathos, or the emotional arguments, have been ruling the day, primarily because there is a lack of Logos, or logic and reason being applied. It’s an extremely abbreviated lesson for not only the classical Greek forms of persuasion, but also these hearings.

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Image: By Dan Scavino Jr., White House Director of Social Media and Assistant to the President [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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HotAir – Kavanaugh Is The Poster Child For The Perils Of Politicizing Pain

Senator Jeff Flake and Old-Style Statesmen in the Senate

Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is currently facing the ire of the right on social media and beyond, presumably because he’s guilty of being a weak traitor.

The problem with that narrative is it discounts something we lost over the past couple decades in Washington. Flake is leaving the Hill, and right now he’s showing exactly why he doesn’t fit in – he’s being an old-style statesman.

First, it’s important to understand the difference between “cutting deals” and simply talking across the aisle. Flake is not in a position to cut any deals with anyone, particularly not in the nomination process of Brett Kavanaugh. In all honesty, no member of the Judiciary Committee has control over what happens next – the debate and vote on Kavanaugh on the Senate floor. That falls on Senator Mitch McConnell, who may or may not take the advice of Senator Chuck Grassley – not Flake – on the timing of the vote on the floor.

Second, it is Friday. Other than being “news dump” day, it is also a time which is difficult for setting schedules. Yes, it is possible that McConnell could schedule debate first thing next week. For that matter, he could try to insist on debates over the weekend. However, that’s not likely. Flake is being attacked for suggesting that the Senate hold off on voting on the Kavanaugh appointment for one week. It’s important to remember that there is process involved here, which can include floor debates. That takes time, and could feasibly take up to a week.

Flake knew both of these things going into his conversations with the Democrat Senators on the Judiciary Committee – honestly, everyone on the committee knew this. People can try to guess why Flake decided to talk about giving the FBI a week to investigate the allegations against Kavanaugh, but regardless of his motivations, it was the right thing to suggest. Arguably, Flake was the only person who could, because he doesn’t have to worry about re-election. It’s true that he was confronted by rape survivors in the Senate building, and that incident may have made him think more sincerely about suggesting the delay. But, while everyone is running around with their heads on fire over what he did, they are forgetting something important.

Kavanaugh supposedly wants to clear his name, but also appeared as though he didn’t want a deeper investigation into what really happened.

At the very least, that is a little strange.

Additionally, there has supposedly been push back from the FBI itself, which has included statements to Fox News that specified the Kavanaugh matter is not a criminal one, but a political one. The FBI does investigations into criminal matters, not political ones. Flake undoubtedly was aware of that report, and also understands that if there is enough pressure from the Hill for an investigation, the FBI will probably conduct one anyway.

Even though it might be tempting to think that McConnell will choose not to request a week long, limited investigation by the FBI because of the political climate on the right, if that is the route he takes it will probably be because of Kavanaugh. And that may also be part of Flake’s reasoning in this token statement about wanting to delay the floor vote. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely anyone will truly know why Flake engaged in talks across the aisle. The people who are so busy screaming about him being a traitor aren’t stopping long enough to think about why he did it. It’s easier to just assume he’s weak, when there are far more moving parts in play.

Of course, that makes it easier for politicians who don’t want to answer hard questions – it’s easy to predict the knee-jerk responses of the highly partisan camps of voters. Then one only has to decide how much damage they can tolerate if they are choosing to do something that will be unpopular with the masses. In Flake’s case, even that variable isn’t in play because he has nothing to lose. So, he’s managing to engage in nuanced statesmanship, while the masses just blinding accuse him of being a traitor. Maybe it really is unfortunate that he isn’t seeking re-election, because that definitely isn’t a “weak” move. It takes far more strength than pandering to the masses.

Image: YouTube Capture

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Senator Jeff Flake and Old-Style Statesmen in the Senate

Why the RNC ‘Unhinged’ Ad Lacks Impact

“The Left in 2018: Unhinged” is the latest brainchild of the RNC, but it’s probably not going to make the impact that they had hoped.

While it’s true that the ad really is a decent collection of people on the left behaving badly, the fact is that people on both sides of the political spectrum have mostly reached a “state of meh” on the matter. Are Republicans still disgusted and annoyed by these vignettes? Sure. Are Democrats going to suddenly feel more ashamed than they have by these outbursts? Probably not. So, the ad’s existence isn’t moving anyone because it’s just illustrating the status quo.

If the RNC was hoping to cause anyone they featured in the video to feel the least bit ashamed, those hopes have been dashed. You know you’ve failed at public shaming when the celebrities are owning their bad behavior over on Deadline Hollywood.

In fact, the Republicans made a calculated error when they added the Kathy Griffin image with “Trump’s head.” Griffin rightfully questioned the situation, pointing out that when she did it, the primary complaint was that the photo frightened Barron Trump. So, the RNC is “okay” with scaring a First Child for the sake of a political ad?

Of course, there’s the obvious – the left has no problem owning their “unhinged” behavior because they believe that’s the only response. America is “crazy town” to them, because Donald Trump was elected president in the first place. They’re just fighting fire with fire. And honestly, the RNC might be proving the left’s theory with this ad. Sorry, but pouring gasoline on the outrage bonfire isn’t helpful, and does nothing to educate the public about anything that the Trump administration is actually doing. True, policy talk can be boring, but at least it isn’t more playing to the lowest common denominator.

Image: Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash

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Why the RNC ‘Unhinged’ Ad Lacks Impact

Anthony Scaramucci as the Adult in the Room?

When you have to admit that former Trump staffer Anthony Scaramucci is being the adult in the room, you know things are getting bad.

Anthony Scaramucci doesn’t have a reputation for being level-headed – on the contrary, he’s often characterized as a loose cannon. But, this week he’s showing signs of wisdom, in a way that few could have predicted.

Scaramucci actually bothered to suggest that Trump’s war of words on Twitter might be a very bad idea, at least in the context of the latest spat. Congresswoman Maxine Waters has been trying to gin up her supporters, and encourage them to act against members of the Trump administration whenever they are seen in public. This came in the wake of the Red Hen restaurant asking Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave.

Trump doubled down on the situation by making a veiled threat on Twitter against Waters:

And Scaramucci said this was “obviously not acceptable” during an interview on CNN. The fact that he was the messenger for this contention is notable to say the least.

Generally speaking, the rest of what Scaramucci had to say on the matter is absolutely correct. The verbal volleying between Trump and his detractors bears a resemblance to sophomoric taunting in a high school locker room. While some people are calling for civility – or in Scaramucci’s case, calling for the president to rise above the fray – the majority of the most vocal people on both sides of the aisle are intent on playing a game of linguistic limbo. The only question is “how low will they go?”

For those who bother to think about how future generations will view us, it’s fair to guess that Trump’s America will go down in history as one of the most counter-productive and mendacious administrations. It doesn’t matter what is accomplished, because everything will be viewed through a glass covered in mud. Scaramucci is right – it is time to stop playing like spoiled children, grow up, and focus on what is important. Or Trump can go down in history for being dragged down into the muck of the swamp he claimed he wanted to drain.

Image: DonkeyHotey

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Anthony Scaramucci as the Adult in the Room?

Trump and Political Dissent Through Internet Pranks

Trump already knows that his immigration policy is unpopular among many Americans, but now it’s being featured through a spoof site.

If Trump thought that his people were thorough when it came to buying out domains that are related to his business and name, he just found out that he was wrong. Gizmodo reported that some internet pranksters got their hands on the domain, and are drawing attention to the detention camps that have sprung up near our southern border.

Of course, the response to this will be predictable – Trump supporters will complain, and detractors will cheer. But, there will also be calls for the site to be pulled down, essentially calling for the government to curtail the First Amendment rights of the people who created the site.

As a president, Trump is entitled to be kept safe, but he is not entitled to being protected from having his views attacked. On the contrary, that is one of the bedrock rights enshrined in the First Amendment – we have been granted free speech and press for the purpose of holding our leaders accountable.

When there are calls for the removal of this site, it is important to recognize the hypocrisy involved. It is a fair guess that these same people had spent a fair amount of time pushing anti-Obama information during the last presidency. While they might point out that social media sites like Facebook attempted to silence them when they would do this, the comparison is nowhere near equivalent. Pushing politically charged information on a privately held website like Facebook is not the same as publishing content on a domain one has purchased.

As for this website, Trump is free to make offers to buy out the domain, and would be smart to keep a watch on it so that he could buy it up if the current owners happen to let it lapse. Otherwise, they’re free to do as they like with it, provided that they do not publish content calling for people to do harm to the president or any other criminal activities. Poking fun at Trump, or calling his policies into question in the public forum are not crimes, period.

While it’s easy to complain about this site, perhaps a better response from those who dislike it would be to start similar sites of their own. Tempting as it may be to keep up with the complaining about Hillary Clinton, it’s time to move on. She has officially retired from political life, and honestly isn’t a serious contender for any office at this point. So, do some homework. Who are the real potential contenders for 2020 on the Democrat side? Are there any candidates in the mid-terms who are just begging for satirical attention? But, don’t be a hypocrite.

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Trump and Political Dissent Through Internet Pranks

How Hollywood Can Halt DC

Hollywood writers may have inadvertently stumbled upon a powerful political tool that is in their grasp. The question is, will they really use it?

A handful (or more) shows currently are dealing with a voluntary “walk-out” by their writing teams. The cause is simple enough – the writers are fed up with Trump’s immigration policies. The challenge started with One Day at a Time and Vida, but has been joined by several other shows.

Generally speaking, this isn’t earth-shattering to the entertainment industry, but at least these writers are putting their money where their mouths are. In addition to striking, some are raising money for legal defense funds for the people caught in the middle – the ones who are having their children taken away from them.

The writers are also reminding the public that many of the people being detained at the border are actually asylum seekers.

It’s an issue that is getting lost in the heated rhetoric, but needs to be said. Most Americans should be aware of the fact that the countries of origin for many of these people are dictatorships – officially, or essentially. Yes, the people are fleeing from lives in poverty, but many of them are also seeking asylum because they have been targeted for death.

Because it’s a relatively small number of writers involved at this point, this protest isn’t likely to cause anyone in Washington to do anything. Arguably the conservatives who would need to act won’t, because their base would prefer to see those shows off the air anyway. Sorry, but the radical conservative followers of Trump might actually be rejoicing to see the writers of Handmaid’s Tale on strike.

The history of Hollywood writers’ strikes should be seen as a cautionary tale.

If the people in Hollywood truly are fed up with the bad behavior in Washington, maybe they should be looking back at 2007-2008. From November 2007 through February 2008, the Writers Guild of America went on strike, and Americans saw quite a lot of reruns. It was a relatively short strike, and the hardest hit shows were soap operas. However, there were few people in the country who were completely unaware of it.

The writers, because they were fighting to get higher pay, probably would have had some trouble getting sympathy and support from television show fans if that strike had gone on for a long period of time. But, what would the public response be if there was a strike over a political cause?

It is no secret that the political landscape of America is shaped by a very small percentage of the public. Activists have complained about this fact for years, while political campaign strategists have banked on it to put less-than-savory candidates into office. But, if politics spilled over to the point where even those who are blissfully unaware of the issues of the day were forced to pay attention, that small game could change.

We’ll have to see if Hollywood catches on to this concept. If it does, or if the Writers Guild of America decided to go on strike over this issue, Trump might find out exactly how popular he really is. Then he would have the full attention of the people who haven’t been watching the news.

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How Hollywood Can Halt DC

Regaining the Wave and Writing

“Never write when you can’t set your gaze beyond your navel.”

I’ve probably written and typed those words thousands of times over the years, but not lately. It’s a throwback from when I would spend countless hours reading essays, short stories, and the occasional poem (only when forced) from the slush piles of literary journal submissions. But, I am not a hypocrite, so lately I haven’t been writing.

While I personally abhor reading or writing navel-gazing prose, I know that there is a huge market for introspection on the page. Tempting as it may be for me to get into the pros and cons of “writing to the market” in this particular genre, I will merely point out someone who knew at least a little bit about drawing readers into stories with well-written plots.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Ironically enough, the man who said that rarely (if ever) sat down at a typewriter, since he was known to work standing up. Ernest Hemingway knew a thing or two about writing, but while his writings were primarily about his exploits, they were not introspective screes. I would tell this to students who interpreted that quote to mean that they should be like cutters, ripping their skin open to bleed the words from within their souls onto the page.

Hemingway probably didn’t mean anything that personal, and was referring to the concept of forcing oneself to write – badly more often than not. It is a good habit to have and keep, but it can be harmful, too.

Practice can make perfect, but it can also make permanent.

Bleeding one’s pain onto the page can be therapeutic or cathartic, but for a writer, it can cause a creative rut. Some have disagreed with me on this, but it is a road I’ve traveled before – one which lead to long spates of only editing because of paralyzing writer’s block. I’m just pushing myself off that road again now.

Now, I’ve been toying with a few literary devices so far here, without mentioning the “wave” at all. It’s a description that stuck with me from one of the many vodka soaked evenings I’d spend with some friends and fellow writers.

You know the iconoclastic surfer and pothead from Bali? He said what every writer should hear and understand. “Writing is like riding the wave. The rush is great, and even the worst run teaches you something.”

I don’t remember which of my fellow travelers told us that in the wee hours of the morning, and honestly suspect that the surfer exists only as a character. But, we can still learn from fiction. I’ve known that rush more than I wanted to admit, and I still know how to let my mind surrender to that ebb and flow which leads to thousands of words on the page in a day. Personally, I don’t let myself do that when my mind is centered on negative things, because it’s not practice with the goal of perfection. It is the road to permanence – the rut.

Now, I know that I am guilty of a fair amount of introspection here, but there is a universal point. Writers are constantly told to “just write” – “write every day, no matter what.” As a general rule, I agree. However, if writing every day is not leading to better writing, stop. Take the time to figure out why, and if you find that it’s because you are in a negative state of mind, do something else.

Get yourself out of your personal rut, so that you can then get your writing out of it, too. Wait until you’re ready to ride the wave.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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Regaining the Wave and Writing