8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Freelance Writing

by John Soares on June 13, 2011

Maximizing my happiness and enjoyment of life is my top priority, and that includes my freelance writing.

Like me, you probably spend a lot of time writing. Life is short — make sure you get the most joy out of your writing time by following these 8 tips.

1. Write About What Interests You

Specialize in a freelance writing niche you love and you’ll find you look forward to your work. You’ll also likely find greater success: you’ll be more enthusiastic when pitching projects to editors or clients, and you’ll get a lot more done in a given time period.

Two of my great interests in life are hiking and learning. I started my career by writing hiking guidebooks about northern California and newspaper and magazine articles about hiking and travel in California and the western United States. Soon afterward I established my main niche as a writer of college textbook supplements; it allows me to continue to learn about a wide variety of subjects in the social, life, and earth sciences. Since I’m really interested in understanding more about the world, I truly enjoy my work.

2. Move From One Writing Project to Another

If you’re like me, you have multiple projects going at one time. You must pay attention to deadlines and make sure you meet or beat them, but within the structure of your project completion dates, you usually have some flexibility. If I find myself growing weary of one project, I switch to another on a different topic, or to one requiring different skills. This brings back my enthusiasm and my ability to get high-quality writing done quickly.

3. Learn to Type Fast

When the words flow from your brain and onto the screen quickly and efficiently, you can focus specifically on what you are writing and not the physical process of writing itself. In other words, you won’t be multitasking — dividing your attention between two different activities and doing neither one at an optimal level.

If you want to type really fast, you need to learn how to touch-type. Touch-typing allows you to use all 10 digits on the keys rather than the 2 or 3 that hunt-and-peckers use.

But there are more benefits to touch-typing than getting the words on the screen more rapidly. Touch-typing allows you to type a quote by looking directly at a printed page while you type. Touch-typing also lets you close your eyes and write at the same time, or look out the window at the sky.

You can find computer programs that will teach you how to touch-type, or you can take a course. It’s obviously a major initial investment of time (and a bit of money), but it will pay off many-fold over the long run.

I’m very grateful I decided to take a one-semester typing course in high school. I still have to look for the numbers, but I can rip along at a very respectable pace — around 60-70 words a minute, with occasional higher gusts.

4. Learn to Write Well

Knowing the components of good writing will increase your confidence in the quality of your work and will also allow you to write faster, and you’ll spend less time editing. If you aren’t comfortable with the rules of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style, you may stop frequently and question whether a sentence is constructed properly, or whether or not you used a semicolon correctly.

5. Budget Your Time Well

Writing when you feel you don’t have enough time to do a good job, or when you’re exhausted from staying up too late to meet a deadline, is a sure way to decrease the joy of writing.

6. Think About Why You Write

What goals do you achieve through writing? Why are these goals important to you? How do you feel when you achieve those goals? Make sure you have clear answers to these questions.

7. Vary Your Writing Location

You can do this in many ways. I frequently write on my laptop on the back deck of my house in rural northern California. I also like to write in coffee shops and libraries. In summer I go camping with my laptop (and DC-AC inverter that allows me to recharge the laptop battery using my car battery). And I also get to write in the beautiful homes where I house-sit.

8. Practice Present-Moment Awareness

Frequently associated with Buddhism, Taoism, and other religious traditions, present-moment awareness means staying focused on what you are doing this moment. Don’t think about anything that happened in the past. Don’t think about what you’ll be doing in the future. Just relax and give your single-minded attention to your writing.

Your Take…

How much do you enjoy writing? How do you apply the techniques I present here? What would you add to the list?

 

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carol Tice June 13, 2011 at 8:44 AM

Hi John —

Great post! I’ve always thought being able to type 120+ wpm like I do has been a huge advantage to me throughout my writing career. It’s really worth taking a class or using an online program to pick up your typing speed.

I don’t have a laptop right now, but sometimes I’ll sit on the deck if it’s sunny here in Seattle and organize notes, or take handwritten notes on a phone interview, just to change my location and my approach to what I’m doing. Really helps to get away from my desk sometimes.

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2 John Soares June 13, 2011 at 11:21 AM

Carol — wow! 120 wpm is really ripping. I’m guessing when I say 60-70. I actually haven’t taken a test in a long, long time, but I do know I’m substantially faster now than I was a decade ago. This is one instance where I’m definitely improving with age.

And I also take breaks away from my main workspace whenever I can. I’ll do work-related reading on the couch, for instance, or just take a short walk outside when I need to do some thinking and decision-making about a project.
John Soares recently posted…Freelance Writer’s Guide to Successful Interviews

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3 Jennifer Roland September 16, 2011 at 11:56 AM

120 WPM is amazing!

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4 jasmine June 13, 2011 at 10:50 AM

Thank you for the tips. I often struggle with focusing when writing long term. I appreciate this invaluable information.
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5 John Soares June 13, 2011 at 3:25 PM

Glad to help out Jasmine. Keep writing!
John Soares recently posted…Over 2500 Listeners to My Recent Podcast

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6 Clare Crossan June 13, 2011 at 11:18 AM

I’m in complete agreement about the touch-typing. It’s one of the few things I learnt at high school that I actually use on a daily basis – unlike long division… It certainly makes life as a writer much, much easier.
Great post!

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7 John Soares June 13, 2011 at 11:23 AM

Clare, it turns out that the one-semester typing course I took (on a manual typewriter no less) was the most important thing I learned in high school. It’s made the greatest contribution to my bottom line, that’s for sure.
John Soares recently posted…House-Sitting and the Location-Independent Freelance Lifestyle

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8 Steeny Lou March 27, 2012 at 1:36 PM

Yep, everything I need to know, I learned in kindergarten – and grade 9 typing class!

Much of the rest can be found in a library or via Amazon.com.

And let’s not forget the wealth of knowledge of friends, family, life lessons, the internet, and specifically blogs with writing tips, such as this one!
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9 John Soares March 29, 2012 at 6:03 PM

I took typing in 10th grade, and I’m so glad I did. Thank you Mr. Whipple!
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10 Anne Waymn June 13, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Hi John, Carol has me beat… last test was only 90 wpm or so, none-the-less touch typing, which I learned in 7th grade has made my writing life easier for sure… and there are programs, probably for free now, to teach it.

I love writing as you probably suspect. I don’t vary my location the way you do, but I look out on a lovely canyon which varies itself nicely, including lots of birds. And my iPad lets me work away from the desktop which is lovely.

However, I think your most important info here is the bit about what you call Present-Moment Awareness and I call mindfulness… when I want to talk about it quickly I often say ‘remember to breathe.’

Thanks for the reminder that I love writing – it brings me joy for sure.
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11 John Soares June 13, 2011 at 3:12 PM

Anne, I am able to easily vary my location, but I also love the view right out the window of my home office. It includes a bird feeder five feet away (sometimes a distraction though) and also ponderosa pines and western junipers, and frequently deer.

Mindfulness truly is important for enjoying every moment of life as much as possible, including when we’re writing. Like just about everyone, I wish I were better at it.
John Soares recently posted…Time Management and Television: The Real Costs of Watching TV

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12 Anne Waymn June 13, 2011 at 3:28 PM

lol, practice practice practice… I sense another blog post, maybe for both of us… ;)
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13 Kathryn Lang June 13, 2011 at 12:18 PM

I LOVE the third tip! The faster you can type the more you can earn per hour (when you consider you get paid by the word).

You could also add: write the on the same topic for different projects. If you are writing short travel posts for one client and LONG travel articles for another one then you can figure out ways to make your research do more – meaning you will have to invest less time in your research.
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14 John Soares June 13, 2011 at 3:22 PM

Kathryn, I attribute a significant portion of my ability to make a decent living as a freelance writer to just being able to write quickly. There are, of course, other factors that I’ve already written about here or will address in the near future, but it’s interesting that the basic physical activity is so important.
John Soares recently posted…Edit Old Blog Posts to Boost Search Engine Optimization and Traffic

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15 Kathryn Lang June 13, 2011 at 4:07 PM

I agree 100%! You can get a great paying job, but if it takes 4 hours to complete a job that pays $100 it will not compare to being able to type faster and make more – if that makes sense.

Strong typing skills also help if you are a novelist or non-fiction writer. Being able to complete 6,000 words in a day’s work will allow you to finish a book in less than a month.
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16 Melanie Padgett Powers June 13, 2011 at 2:47 PM

Funny that most of the comments address the great “learn how to type” tip. It’s so true–it was one of my most important high school classes too. I notice that on some days, esp. when I’m transcribing interviews, my fingers are flying, and on other days I seem to be making a lot of typos. On those latter days, I take a break and move on to something else so I’m not getting frustrated and wasting time with all my bad typing. Wonder what causes it? Ongoing sleepiness?

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17 John Soares June 13, 2011 at 3:20 PM

Melanie, I find that fatigue and lack of focus are the two main reasons I make typing errors. I also need to be relaxed in both mind and body. If I have excess energy or tension it can show up in my fingers.

Interesting. I’m also a long-term practitioner of tai chi, and the exact same factors also explain what can prevent me from doing tai chi to the best of my ability.
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18 Gene Burnett June 13, 2011 at 11:55 PM

Great post John. I love to write and I do ‘em all except for #7. (I do 80% of my writing in the same place.) Even my modest typing skills, which require me to backtrack and correct frequently, still allow me to type way faster and with less stress then at least 90% of the hunt and peck style typists that I’ve seen. Even the fastest of them don’t look very relaxed to me. So yeah, I’m very glad to have learned to type way back in 1975. There were times in my life were for periods of 5 years or more I did not type at all, but whenever I had cause to, I could brush off the basics in a matter of hours and be back to where I was, which admittedly is not great but not that bad either. Your post has inspired me to put a little more energy into improving my typing. One simple thing that I know I can do is just slow down and focus more on accuracy than speed. I think my overall speed would go up if I just did that. So I’m going to give it a try.

I didn’t read all the comments above, so someone may have mentioned this, but one #9 that I would add would be to to cultivate good posture. It’s not always easy to remember because computers and the visual realm can be so engrossing, but I find that sitting up straight makes a big difference not only in how I feel when I’m writing, but more importantly how I feel after I’ve written.

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19 Eric Soares June 14, 2011 at 6:56 AM

I agree with Gene about the #7. I like the place I usually type, with my beautiful view of the mountains and ponderosa grove. I find other places, especially public places, somewhat distracting. And in the case of coffee shops, I find the coffee expensive compared to my brew at home. Then there is the wasted travel time and car expense of going from writing place to writing place.

And as a nod to Gene, I just consciously readjusted my posture. Ah, that’s better.

I agree with the rest of the herd on touch-typing. It’s a godsend.

Great post, John!

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20 John Soares June 14, 2011 at 12:34 PM

Since I write so much, I find that varying my location helps. At home there are many things that can distract me: the honey-do list, the refrigerator, etc. If I go to the library I can just focus on my work and get stimulated by new surroundings.
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21 John Soares June 14, 2011 at 12:31 PM

Gene, I totally agree about focusing on accuracy instead of speed. I find that by typing accurately I naturally get faster.

And posture is crucial. Bad posture leads to decreased energy and also likely body pain, and neither of those increase my joy.
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22 Dave Doolin June 14, 2011 at 7:39 AM

Being able to touch type is probably the hardest for me in this list. Can’t do it if I’m thinking about it! When I’m not thinking about it, I can type pretty fast. Fast enough anyway.

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23 John Soares June 14, 2011 at 12:24 PM

Dave, this reminds me of what happened when I first taught myself to speed read. When I actually thought about trying to read really fast, I got caught up in the process and lost nearly all comprehension of what I was reading. But once I spent enough time practicing, the speed reading techniques became second nature.
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24 Kate Frishman June 14, 2011 at 10:52 AM

All of my jobs as an adult have required exceptional typing skills, so I glanced over that particular item.
What really struck home with me was #6: Think About Why You Write. I’m in the stressful, early stages of building a writing and editing career. It’s easy to let the “how will I ever earn a living” question overshadow the true joy of doing something I love to do for the first time in my life.
Actually, #7 and #8 are very pertinent to my situation also.
I love the serendipity of finding just the message I needed at the exact right moment!
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25 John Soares June 14, 2011 at 12:28 PM

Kate, I’m glad you found this post useful. Good luck with your writing career, and just know that even “successful” freelance writers still stress about it at times, including the cash flow.
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26 Kathryn Lang June 14, 2011 at 4:42 PM

Even when you have a regular place to write it is a good idea to switch things up so that you CAN write in other places if you have to make the move. I got in a great groove only to have a tree fall on our house and push me completely out of my zone. Fortunately, I had been making use of my laptop in the weeks before the tornadoes so that I could rediscover that zone in a new (and on the move) location!

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27 John Soares June 14, 2011 at 8:39 PM

Wow — bummer about the tree falling on your house. This happened to several of my friends who live in Mount Shasta in January 2010 when a heavy and wet snowstorm brought down hundreds of trees.

Your story shows the importance of having a laptop and having all data backed up off-site. A major disaster at home could destroy a computer and a portable hard drive.
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28 Kathryn Lang June 15, 2011 at 6:33 AM

The experience has definitely been fuel for my writing. It was kindof amazing – I had just started using my laptop as my main computer (although I still saved everything to my desktop) but I had also signed up for offsite back up (after trouble with a exterior hard drive). It made it possible to get to work and invoices and keep my business going.

There are no guarantees about locations, jobs or tomorrow so we have to be creative in our planning and flexible in our actions.
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29 John Soares June 15, 2011 at 7:25 AM

I back up my files in several ways: on my laptop, on my desktop, on a portable hard drive at home, and on a portable hard drive at my brother’s house.

For short-term back-up I use a thumb drive, typically when I’m traveling with my laptop.
John Soares recently posted…House-Sitting and the Location-Independent Freelance Lifestyle

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30 Damon June 16, 2011 at 7:51 AM

I’ve been using Mozy for several months. It’s a service that allows you to put your stuff “in the cloud.”

Once you create an account (the free option offers plenty of space), download their small app to your box, and schedule routine backups. I set mine to occur nightly at 2:00 a.m. while I’m sleeping. You can choose the files and folders you want backed up, and Mozy takes care of the rest. If your box crashes, you can download your latest backup to another machine.

Geez. Sounds like I’m a rep for Mozy. I’m actually a happy customer. :)

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31 John Soares June 16, 2011 at 5:52 PM

I’m a bit wary of such services, although they can be great when they actually work as advertised.

Example: I have one friend, a small business owner, who backed up her files every day with an off-site service. One day her hard drive crashed and she contacted the service to get her files. They said they didn’t have them, that there’d been a glitch in their system and they had never saved any of her files, even though they confirmed every time she did a back up. Not good.

And I’m also a bit concerned that data at a company’s site — or “the cloud” — could get stolen. Sites get hacked all the time.
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32 John Soares June 16, 2011 at 5:54 PM

Another technique I use: e-mailing files as attachments to myself.
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33 jim bronyaur June 15, 2011 at 9:49 AM

I love the typing discussion at the beginning in the comments… I remember my first class in high school was a typing class. We were forced to use old computers with no mouse – just a screen and keyboard.

The class was just typing, fingering, etc.

Worst class ever for me… best class I’ve ever had now. I’m able to type fast and proper so that I’m not “chicken-pecking” at the keyboard AND my hands and wrists aren’t sore.

-Jim

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34 John Soares June 15, 2011 at 10:06 AM

“We were forced to use old computers with no mouse…” Now I’m going to date myself. I was in high school before there were personal computers. I learned to type on manual typewriter. You had to put substantial force into each keystroke, and a mistake was a very big deal.
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35 Kristi Hines June 16, 2011 at 7:55 AM

Definitely helps to have multiple projects – writing about the same thing all the time can get quite boring, but switching it up with something new can refresh your mind for the rest of your work!
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36 John Soares June 16, 2011 at 5:55 PM

I nearly go crazy when I have to work on the same project intensely day after day. Luckily that’s rarely the case.
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37 Delena Silverfox June 18, 2011 at 2:53 PM

Learning how to type well and quickly is definitely a skill you can never over-emphasize. I learned back in grade school with the antiquated (but oh so cute!) PAWS program. But what really helped was playing piano, which I began when I was 4. You can’t get away with sloppy form, posture, or fingering if you want to play well, and it translated very well into typing. Practicing a lot of Chopin and Gershwin with their penchant for 64th notes –or faster– and weird note combinations helped, too. Now my typing speed is easily 140 wpm, or faster. I regularly practice by transcribing songs or conversations as they’re sung/spoken to keep myself sharp.

But being alert and relaxed is a big key, too. I make the dumbest of mistakes typing when I’m tired, and the first sign is when my mind wanders. When that happens, it’s better to take the hit on productivity in the short term and do something else rather than struggle with it and damage the project. Editing tired-quality writing takes up more time than pausing now and coming back later.

Delena
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38 Calli @ Wedding Favors June 19, 2011 at 8:46 PM

Hi John,

Writing for me can be fun and easy if the topic interests me. But there’s a lot of pressure if I’m not interested with the topic. Maybe I need to find a good location in this case. I never really tried it and I hope it can help me. Thanks for the wonderful tips. :)

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39 Tom McGuire June 28, 2011 at 12:25 PM

John, good, practical tips / advice, of which I should buck up and follow more often! My touch-type abilities exceed 100 w.p.m., but sloppily! I can accurately do 75. I learned at age 16 in 1971 with a domineering matronly woman named Mrs. John – I was the only guy in the class! I have often wondered how authors of past ages managed to write huge tomes and masterpieces with a quill pen and ink!
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40 Timon Weller July 3, 2011 at 8:02 PM

Some really good points there John, I always try to mix it up as well to keep the interest levels up when posting.
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41 Rob Cubbon @ Web Designer London August 12, 2011 at 1:30 PM

I really enjoyed this post. The title is brilliant. “8 Ways to Increase the Joy of Writing” is so much better than “How to Write Well”.

I think it’s essential to be able to touch type. It’s almost as important as being able to write!
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42 John Soares August 12, 2011 at 4:12 PM

Rob, touch typing has saved me much time and made me a lot of money. As I said above, it’s been the most useful course I took in high school.
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43 Pedro Cardoso August 16, 2011 at 12:34 PM

Good points, and if I may suggest another one:

#9 Pace yourself: trying to finish a writing assignment from start to finish in a sitting can prove somewhat of a chore. Staring at the blank page can get traumatic. You can avoid these difficulties by getting into the habit of taking notes and outlining future articles whenever the inspiration strikes. Try to become an adept of effortless effort, and your writing will flow like water.
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44 Irwin March 16, 2013 at 8:17 PM

Totally true. When we have enough info about a writing assignment by taking notes when inspiration hits us, we’ll be able to quickly write any article.
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45 Ana Hoffman October 22, 2011 at 12:33 PM

I think it’s pretty amazing (sometimes not in a good way) that so many freelance writers take up topics they know nothing about.

Following your existing knowledge and passion definitely has many pluses.
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46 Veronica Cervera November 20, 2011 at 6:17 PM

Hi John,

I think writing what we want at that moment in time is a good idea, because how can we have fun if we don’t like what we are trying to do, right? Just go with the flow, we can write whatever we want to write. Although sometimes, we have to set aside fun after we’ve had our fair share of it because we still have to get our jobs done.

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47 Cathy Miller January 23, 2012 at 12:53 PM

Don’t know how I missed this gem the first time around, John. :-) I have a very strange touch-type method that developed from learning on a typewriter when I had an injured little finger. I moved my hand around to accommodate that injured digit and often still fall back on that style. As a result, I can’t stand to have people watch me type. :-) Last time I was tested (which has been quite some time), I was at Anne’s 90 wpm.

I need to brush up on my #8-love it. Great post, John. It’s a keeper. :-)
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48 Irwin March 16, 2013 at 8:12 PM

Great post! I enjoyed it a lot. Touch-typing is something I learned by myself and I’ve always found it useful. I used to think I’m the only one to type with my eyes closed. It helps me write better.

I would also like to add to use different tools when writing. When I feel stuck and have a deadline, I toss away my laptop and go for the pen and paper or write on my iPad. Changing tools and location is something I’ve found really helpful.
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49 Web Designer In New York April 30, 2013 at 2:57 AM

Very nice post. I am also a blogger and i have passion about writing. There are many interested topics on which i have written many articles.

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