Ninja Writer Book Club: 2/24/2017


Here are some books that Ninja Writers are reading this week. Take a look, add some books to your TBR list. Next Tuesday, come on over to our Facebook group and let us know what you’re reading.

(The links here are affiliate links. If you click one and buy something, you’re supporting Ninja Writers. Thank you!)

My contribution this week is Steel: And Other Stories by Richard Matheson. I really love mid-century science fiction, and this collection of stories is that genre at its best.

I’m also reading The Great Gatsby, after binge watching Z: The Beginning of Everything on Amazon. Both are amazing. I had no idea how much Fitzgerald took from his wife. So interesting. I’m writing a story using the same narrative structure as The Great Gatsby (my book is narrated by someone who is not the protagonist), so I wanted to take another, deeper look at it.

I have an assignment from my MFA mentor to read some picture books for this packet. I was super excited to come across a copy of Skippyjon Jones at a thrift store this week. I saw the author and artist, Judy Schachner speak at the SCBWI conference a couple of years ago and she is fantastic. She talked about how she makes a journal before every book she writes. She brought one to show and it was so inspiring to me. I actually came home from that conference and started my own journal for the middle grade book that I’m just getting around to writing now. There’s a picture in there of a little girl standing in front of a completely chaotic kitchen that changed the whole trajectory of my story. She talks about her pre-book journals in this video.

The first full week of The 1000 Day MFA finished last weekend and lots of Ninjas shared their short stories. We’re having so much fun with this program. Having a structure for reading and writing has been even more helpful than I expected it to be. It’s set up so that anyone can join us at any time, so if you want to come be a part of it, we’d love to have you. (Just sign up at Patreon at the $10 level or above and you’ll get a link to our private Facebook Group.) Try it for a month. You can stop anytime. (But I don’t think you’ll want to!)


Children’s Books

Classics + Literary


Mystery + Thriller



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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Home Base


Did you ever play tag when you were a kid?

Remember how there was always some spot that was home base? A tree. A bike. Someone’s mom.

If you got home, you were safe.

For today’s writing prompt, think about the concept of home–deeper and bigger than a house. (Although, where they live might also be their home base.)

If you really want to dig into your story, do this assignment for your hero AND your antagonist. Just think about where they’d run to, if they were being chased. It might be somewhere internal. A memory, maybe? It might be a person. It might be a physical place.

Write a paragraph or two describing your protagonist’s (and antagonist’s if you have time) safe place. Use all your senses.


I’m working on a middle grade story right now called Wonder Roo. My narrator is a boy named Gideon. He’s telling the story of his neighbor, though–a quirky girl named Roona.

Roona’s home base is a thing. Her baby blanket. She believes that being wrapped in it during a house fire when she was a baby saved her life–and that when she wraps it around her neck, cape style, it turns her into Wonder Roo.

It’s a very plain blanket. Soft pink, lightweight cotton with an open weave and a satin binding. After twelve years of all kinds of use, it’s very worn. Her blanket is also her only real connection to her father, who she believes joined the Air Force soon after the fire when she was a baby. She hasn’t seen him since.

Here’s the scene where Roona first shows up in the story, with her blanket:

What caught my attention though, and yanked me right out of my sourness, was everything else about her. She wore cut-off jeans and a white t-shirt. Pretty standard stuff.

She had rainbow-striped socks pulled up to her knobby knees and roller skates that looked like blue and yellow running shoes strapped to her feet. And over her clothes, she wore a red swimsuit with a stripe running down each side. She had something tied around her neck, flapping in the hot, dry breeze as she skated in slow circles on her porch.

“What in the . . .” Despite myself, I was curious enough to open the car door and step my first foot in Ne-va-da.

“See, there’s a kid next door,” Dad said, rubbing my head as he passed me. “You’re going to be fine.”

This story doesn’t have a villain. The antagonist is Roona’s mother–more specifically her mental illness. Or the way she is now. Her home is an activity. Miranda Mulroney is a baker on a soul level. Roona believes that her emotions get baked into her cakes and pies and passed on to the people who eat them.

When things get hard for Miranda, she bakes. She stays up all night losing herself in her ability to turn out perfect cookies or scones. It’s the thing she turns to when nothing else makes sense.

Your turn, Ninja! Write your scene and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.


Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 1000 Day MFA.


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Ninja Writers Virtual Subscription Box


Dear Shaunta,

Don’t you dare try to add a subscription box to your plate. YES, I know it would be awesome. And super fun. But NO. You don’t have time for this. Unless, you know, you just don’t want to write books anymore.


Blythe, the inner editor

Okay. Okay, Blythe. I get it.

But, a subscription box WOULD be awesome and super fun, right?

I can’t make an official one, where I put it together and ship it to you. (At least not right now.) (Hush, Blythe!) But I still love the idea.

Sooo . . . I decided to put together a virtual box. Here’s what I would send you, if I was going to put together a Ninja Writer Subscription Box this month. It comes to $25.56 on Amazon (with the prices at the time that I wrote this post), which is enough to trigger the free shipping, even if you don’t have Prime.

First . . . I fell in love with this Ninja coffee cup. How perfect is it? On the back it says “trust me, I’m a Ninja.”

Ray Bradbury’s book Zen in the Art of Writing is a must have for every writing craft library. It’s one of my favorites. What I love the most about it is the insight that it gives to how Bradbury’s ideas become stories.

And, round your virtual subscription box out with one of our semi-official Rhodia notebooks. For less than $6, this is the best notebook out there. The paper. Oh, my goodness. I can’t tell you what it difference it makes to write on such high quality paper.

What do you think? Would a monthly virtual subscription box be fun?

If you really want a little love bomb from me in the mail, don’t forget that I send one to every Patreon patron (even at the $1 level.)

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Ninja Writer Book Club: 2/17/2017


Here are some books that Ninja Writers are reading this week. Take a look, add some books to your TBR list. Next Tuesday, come on over to our Facebook group and let us know what you’re reading.

(The links here are affiliate links. If you click one and buy something, you’re supporting Ninja Writers. Thank you!)

My contribution this week is Chuck Wendig’s The Kick-Ass Writer. It’s basically a collection of lists of nuggets of advice. Wendig is foul-mouthed, so if that’s a turn off for you, you might want to pass. But really, you want to add this one to your list. The advice in it is golden.

This week I’m also reading from the 2016 Best American Short Stories. It was curated by Junot Diaz. I’m also reading Steel and other Stories by Richard Matheson. It’s 1950s sci fi at its very best. Matheson’s book What Dreams May Come is one of my all time favorites.


Classics + Literary


Mystery + Thriller


Short Stories


YA + Middle Grade

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Use the Right Words


In a 1895 essay called “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” Mark Twain listed as one of his rules that writers “use the right word, not its second cousin.”

More than 120 years later and “Use the right word, not its second cousin” is still excellent advice. (There’s a whole book of essays on writing by Mark Twain, by the way.)

We can so easily get caught up in choosing perfect words that we stop forward motion on our stories. I’m just going to come right out and say that if you have to pull out a thesaurus to find the word, you’re probably courting a second cousin.

And you don’t want to do that. I have a feeling it’s frowned upon even more now than it was at the end of the nineteenth century. In every possible interpretation.

Choosing the right word is also key in the showing vs. telling battle.

In the same essay, Twain writes, “When a person has a poor ear for music he will flat and sharp right along without knowing it. He keeps near the tune, but it is not the tune. When a person has a poor ear for words, the result is a literary flatting and sharping; you perceive what he is intending to say, but you also perceive that he doesn’t say it.”

Let’s work on tuning our ear for words today.

Write a scene where your protagonist is frustrated. Use your word choice to show the frustration without coming out and telling the reader how the main character is feeling.

Here’s an example from my work-in-progress, a middle grade story called Wonder Roo. 

Sometime during our endless drive through the state of Tennessee, I decided that I would never, not ever, forgive my parents for dragging me to live in some dirt town in rural Nevada.

Not Nev-ah-da. Nev-a-da. (A-like-in-apple right in the middle.) Better learn to say it like a native, Dad said, or they’ll make you move to California.

Whatever. I didn’t want to be a native of Nev-a-da or Nev-ah-da or anywhere but Wildwood, New-Jer-sey.

“You’re pouting so hard, Josiah, I can hear it.” Dad tilted the rear view mirror so he saw me through it. I barely suppressed the urge to stick out my tongue.

“Will we be in Tennessee forever or what?” I asked.

He flicked on the blinker and slowed, swerving toward the shoulder. “Would you like to be?”

I scrunched in my seat, arms crossed over my chest. “No.”

“You’re sure? I bet we could find a circus around here somewhere who’d buy you cheap.”


“So,” he lifted one shoulder like it didn’t matter to him one way or the other, “you want to keep going?”


“Right-o, Boss.” He shot me a little salute and somehow turned things around so that continuing this long, long drive west in a SUV pulling a trailer full of our stuff was my idea.

My sister Harper leaned forward in her booster seat and said, “Hey, Josiah’s not the boss. I’m the boss!”

Mom made a little sound suspiciously like a laugh and I turned my scowl out the window and waited to get to Arkansas.

Your turn, Ninja! Write your scene and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.


Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 1000 Day MFA.

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Ninja Writer Book Club: 2/10/2017


Here are some books that Ninja Writers are reading this week. Take a look, add some books to your TBR list. Next Tuesday, come on over to our Facebook group and let us know what you’re reading.

(The links here are affiliate links. If you click one and buy something, you’re supporting Ninja Writers. Thank you!)

My contribution to the list this week is Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. If you haven’t read it, you really should. It’s about as perfect a writing inspiration book as there is out there. Lots of craft advice in there, too, especially about where ideas come from.

I’m working toward an MFA at Sierra Nevada College (writing for children and young adults.) Working toward an MFA in writing requires SO much reading! Here’s what I read this week.

I’m also reading A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz . It’s a fun middle grade read, and it really is dark and Grimm. The author uses himself as a third person narrator who breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the reader now and then (he really wants to make sure that no really little kids are around before he tells the gorier details of the stories.)

I’m reading some of the short stories in The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. She’s a master of subtlety in character development. Here’s an example you can read, Lily Daw and the Three Ladies.


Classics + Literary


Memoir + Biography


Short Stories


YA + Children

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The 1000 Day MFA


A while ago I wrote about what might be involved in a do-it-yourself MFA. Basically: lots of reading, lots of writing, some mentoring, and connection with other writers.

The best advice I’ve ever seen for how to become a solid writer comes from Ray Bradbury. His advice is a prescription for nightly reading, weekly writing, and watching a lot of movies.


Bradbury suggests a short story, a poem, and an essay every night for 1000 nights. I have a feeling that he would hope that after close to three years of building this particular habit, you’d just keep going.

I’m going to expand on this advice, for the purpose of our 1000 Day MFA and say that if you harbor any dreams of writing a novel some day, you need to also read novels. Ideally, you’ll read a book a week. At the very least, read one novel a month.

Read widely. It’s perfectly fine to read novels in your genre, or popular books that everyone and their brother is reading. Read 50 Shades of Grey if that floats your boat. But also read classics. Read books written by authors who weren’t born where you were born. Read books written by authors who don’t look how you look. Read books that aren’t so easy to get through (I could only read about three pages of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse at a time.)

Train yourself to read like a writer. Pay attention to the craft behind the books you choose. Why do some books remain bestsellers for decades? Why do some fall off the face of the planet a few weeks after they’re released? What works for you in every bo0k–and why? What doesn’t–and why?

Schedule a weekly library trip into your week. If you’re like me and you feel compelled to own books, scope out used book stores and thrift stores. Keep your eye open for books that will add to your autodidact education. If you read a novel that peaks your interest in some subject, read on that subject. Think way beyond your personal box and outside your wheelhouse.

When you’re choosing your essays, Bradbury says you should read through a wide variety of disciplines and I agree. Read science. Read history. Read religion. Read geography, zoology, astronomy, sociology. The goal is to expand your mind to wide, wide range of ideas floating around in the world.

Also, read a writing craft book once a month. Or, at least, part of one. Read it deeply. Do the exercises. Apply what you’re learning to your writing.


Daily: Read one short story, one poem, and one essay.

Weekly: Read a novel (this can be monthly, but try to make it weekly or biweekly.)

Monthly: Read a writing craft book.


Bradbury’s advice is to write a short story a week for a year. I think it would be great to carry that on for the 1000 days.

If you’re working on a novel while you’re doing this project, write flash fiction. Write a 500 word short story every week, then spend your writing time on your novel. There is something magical about finishing something so regularly. I’m just learning that myself, as I take on this story-a-week challenge.

If you want to be a novelist, I think it’s reasonable to make a goal of writing a short story (or even flash fiction story) once a week, and one novel a year.


Bradbury was a movie buff with an exceptional memory. He writes in Zen in the Art of Writing about watching Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923 when he was three years old. He advises lots of movie watching. I like this advise! To make it more compatible with a program, let’s call it three movies a week for 1000 days.

Movies are great, because it lets you immerse yourself in story for two hours without anything pulling you away. And it gives you an entire three-act story in a single sitting.


I’ve set up a notebook for keeping records of my 1000 day challenge. Or, actually, for the first year. I’ll end up with three notebooks. (I’m using one of these open-spine notebooks by Studio Oh because it lays open flat and it the exact right size for what I need.)

Here are the sections I used:

  1. 52 Short Stories. I have a couple of pages set aside for just listing the stories, numbered 1-52. Then I have 52 pages numbered correspondingly, one for each story. On the story page I put the title at the top, some info including a one or two sentence synopsis at the bottom, and the rest of the page is divided between notes on story progress and notes on submissions.
  2. Novels. I have one page to list any novels I work on in 2017, followed by about 10 blank pages so I can take notes on each one.
  3. 1000 Days. This section starts with a detail of my plan (which I’ve talked about here in this post.) Then I have 52 pages (front and back, so one whole page), one for each week, where I’ll list the poem, essay, short story I read each day, plus the movies I watch, any novels I read, and the name of the short story I write, as well as any revisions I do on past weeks’ short stories.
  4. The rest of the book is for ideas. As I have an idea for a short story, I just jot it down.

The Mentor/Community Piece

This is my favorite part!

There are two things you can do. You can join the Ninja Writer Facebook Group and hang out there. I’m around everyday and I’m happy to answer questions if you tag me. You’ll find a whole family full of writers there to connect with. Come search out a partner. Post weekly for accountability. Let us be there for you.

If you want to take it a step further though, you can join the 1000 Day MFA School. You do that by heading over to Patreon and supporting Ninja Writers at the $10 per month level or above.

If you join the school you’ll get:

  • Access to my notebook. I’ll post my weekly reading and writing. Hopefully it will inspire you!
  • Access to a private Facebook Group only for 1000 Days students.
  • Weekly encouragement from me. When I come across a great poem, essay, or short story, I’ll post it to the Facebook group. (In fact, I think we should all do that! And now I have goosebumps.)

The difference between a free Facebook Group and a Facebook Group full of people who are paying to be there (even a small amount) is profound. Our group will be full of writers who are serious about this thing. The posts will be super focused. You’ll be able to connect with each other, which is absolutely the coolest part about being in an MFA program. And I’ll be there as your mentor.

I won’t be teaching this like a class–just facilitating peer feedback and being there as a mentor if you have questions about writing short stories or want to talk about what you’re reading.

When you support Ninja Writers at the $10 level, you get all kinds of rewards, too. Including access to some cool classes on Teachable.

This group will be focused on reading and short story writing. The A Novel Idea group (which you can join if you sign up at Patreon at the $25 level or above) is our group for novel writing.

Pacing Ourselves

A thousand days is about three years, which is a common length for a traditional MFA program.

I think you can do the reading in an hour a day, and the writing in another hour. What are the chances that for three straight years, you’re going to follow this program every single day? Probably pretty slim. And that’s okay. Life happens. We get caught up in other things.

But, if you take this challenge, I hope you’ll take it seriously. The same way you’d take it if you were spending $20,000 a year on an MFA from a university. Make the reading and writing a habit and, I promise you, that habit will serve you throughout your writing career.

The goal is to get to 1000 days where you’ve read and written. If it takes you five years to get to day 1000, okay then. If it takes you ten years, no problem. But, you’ll benefit from building up the discipline to read and write intensely every day.

Wrapping it Up

Just so it’s all in once place, here’s what we’re doing for 1000 days.


Read a short story, a poem, and an essay.


Write a short story.
Watch three movies.


Read at least one novel.
Read one craft book.


Write one novel.

Are you in? Head over to Patreon and get signed up (at the $10 level or above.)

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Collecting Nouns


I am on a major Ray Bradbury kick lately. I made a little mini-zine for Patreon patrons using my favorite Bradbury quote. Part of that quote is my 2017 motto. I just finished reading Zen in the Art of Writing for the third or fourth time (It’s so good. If you haven’t read it, remedy that right now, please.) AND I’m reading a short story from Bradbury Stories every day for 100 days (there are 100 stories.)

Also, I’m taking his advice and writing a short story every week this year.


So, since I have Bradbury on the brain, I thought I’d share one of his brilliant ideas for coming up with story ideas.

Collect nouns. Bradbury kept a list of them, and if you read either (or both!) of the books above, you’ll see how that worked out for him. He talks a lot in Zen in the Art of Writing about how his nouns lead to some of the stories in Bradbury Stories.

Here’s what he has to say about it:

These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.

The lists ran something like this:


So, this week’s Hump Day Writing Prompt is to open your notebook to a fresh page and start your own collection of nouns. Start thinking about things that creeped you out when you were eight. Things that you come across at the weirdest times. What you got for Christmas last year.

I was at my county’s Democratic Committee meeting last night and found myself making a list of related nouns in my notebook: Energy, name tag, candidate, committeeman, sign, winner, loser, canvassing, campaign, clock, low-level official, constituents.

I have no idea if those will ever go anywhere, but having a nice, fat collection feels good.

Extra credit: Take one of your nouns and brainstorm on it. Open it up and see what comes out. I’ll use committeeman as an example. I like the word. It has a good mouth feel. And it sounds a little absurd, which makes it excellent, story-wise.

What is a committeeman: Very low-level local politician. He’s the one who gets an earful, because he’s barely one step above a citizen and he’s there.

What does a committeeman do: He votes in more important people. He tries to tell those people what his constituents (their constituents) want, but is usually unsuccessful. He tries to get people in his precinct registered to vote and then get them in the voting booth.

Would I want to write about a committeeman in the past, present, or future: Not past. Present would be interesting, since politics are so tense right now. Future might be interesting, too. What would a committeeman 100 years from now do? It would be an interesting way to think about the future of current ultra-divisive politics.

So, what’s my idea? A story about a committeeman in the future, with a focus on the fall out of utterly divisive politics. Maybe my committeeman finds himself caught in a feud between next door neighbors–one on the right, one on the left.

Your turn, Ninja! Start your collection of nouns today. And if you’re feeling energetic, stretch one out into a short story idea.

Come on over and share some of your nouns with us on Facebook.

* * *

Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level!

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The Medium Challenge: Day Six

day-sixeditorial-calendarNow that you’ve written your first Medium post–I’d like to talk to you about a plan for posting regularly.

You need an editorial calendar.

An editorial calendar is basically just a schedule for publishing–on your blog, on Medium, wherever. We’re focused on Medium right now, but if you have other places where you publish, you can (and should) take them into account.

What I’ve found the most useful is to have a regular, weekly plan. As I’m writing this series, my editorial calendar includes a daily The Medium Challenge post. I post Ninja Writer’s Book Club posts on Fridays. On Saturday evening I post my newsletter on Medium. On Sunday morning, I send my newsletter out to subscribers.

If you’re just getting started, I suggest committing (to yourself) to write on Medium once a week. Pick a weekday and get out a calendar (or your FRED!) and write in MEDIUM on that day every week.

Another part of keeping an editorial calendar is staying on top of what you’re going to write. No one likes to stare at a blank screen with no idea of what they’re going to write. You made a list of ideas a few days ago. Keep adding to it. On your Medium day, set aside 15 minutes to brainstorm new ideas to add to your list. While you’re at Medium posting, click around some and see if anything sparks an idea for you.

Come on over to Facebook and share your plans for your editorial calendar. Sometimes making the commitment out loud makes all the difference.


If you’re enjoying this series . . . please consider visiting our Patreon Page and supporting Ninja Writers. XOXOX

If you’d like to receive the whole Medium Challenge in your email inbox, leave your email address right here. Your emails will start with Day One.

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The Medium Challenge: Day Five


Okay, Ninja! Here we go.

Today, you’re going to write your first Medium post.

If you’ve been following around, you should have a list of ideas and a list of work you can repost to Medium, if you have any.

What will you write about? If you’re not sure, here are some ideas:

  • Post a piece of flash fiction. (This is especially good if you have a lot of friends on Facebook who might head over and check it out if you ask them to.)
  • Re-post something you’ve already published, as we’ve talked about.
  • Let yourself be vulnerable: write about something that’s bothering you.
  • Write about something that’s working for you.
  • Write about an experience you’ve had.

My advice is to keep it under 1000 words.

There are two things that are more important than anything else when it comes to getting attention on Medium: the title and a picture. When someone is looking for something to read on Medium, those are the two things they’ll see until they click to open your post. They’re also what will be shared on Facebook and Twitter.

Your title should be provocative. It should be something that compels a click. The title of my Medium post that has the most reads is How I Got Fat. The top three stories on Medium, as I write this post, are:

  • How to Become the Best in the World at What You Do
  • How to Get People to Like You in 5 Seconds or Less
  • How I Went from Zero Experience to Landing a 6-figure San Francisco Design Job in Less Than 12 Months.

I actually had to stop writing and read that last one. It was pretty inspiring.

Notice that all three of those posts start with ‘How to; or ‘How I.’ Yours doesn’t have to, but it bears remembering that people are reading your post to get something out of it for THEM. They aren’t reading it to do you a favor. Focus on writing a post with your reader in mind, and write a title that promises something to the reader.

You’ll also need a picture. A compelling one. This is actually pretty simple. I use Stocksnap. Just click over, type in a keyword, choose a picture, download it, then upload it to the top of your post. Stocksnap’s photos are all royalty free and cash free. You’re free to use them without worry about copywrite.

Now, write your post. My advice is to use headers to bread up the text. If you write the header text, highlight it, and you’ll be able to turn it into subhead by clicking the little t. (The big T will make it a title.) Headers make your post easier to read.

When you get to the end of your post, add a form from Rabbut. Then pop in the bio you wrote yesterday–with a link to someplace where readers can follow you. It doesn’t hurt to ask readers to click the green heart and recommend your post if they enjoyed it.

Now click ‘publish.’ You’ll be able to choose up to five tags. Choose them all.

Once your story is published, go through it and highlight the lines you think are best. That will encourage readers to highlight as well. And share your story on your Twitter and Facebook feeds. Go ahead and ask your friends and family to read and click the green heart. Be brave!

Come on over to Facebook and share your link with the Ninjas. Friday is our self-promo day, but if you let us know you’re posting as part of The Medium Challenge, we’ll make an exception.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about how to submit your post to a publication.


If you’re enjoying this series . . . please consider visiting our Patreon Page and supporting Ninja Writers. XOXOX

If you’d like to receive the whole Medium Challenge in your email inbox, leave your email address right here. Your emails will start with Day One.

The Medium Challenge

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