September 22nd, 2020
*warning, this post has before and after photos, I'm sorry in advance*

Today, I weighed myself and I’ve officially lost 30lbs+ since last year.

This is the thinnest I’ve been since college. I wasn’t overweight but was definitely “skinny fat”.

I’ve tried a few diets over the years (keto, etc) and some worked, but I always gained it back.

This time, I won’t gain it back. Why? Because I’m not on a diet! 

I don’t think much about what I eat. I rarely weigh myself. I’m not even trying to lose weight...

So what’s the secret? Practical lifestyle change.

Although it may take a little bit longer to see results, lifestyle change feels way more sustainable than something like the Keto diet.

Here are the lifestyle changes that worked for me:

1 - Counting calories.

Late last year, I downloaded MyFitnessPal and logged everything I ate. I didn’t do macros, and I didn’t subtract calories from working out. I just counted pure gross calories. Here’s a great video that shows why MFP works and the mindset behind it (not some fitness guru, a normal ass guy who lost 100 lbs).

I didn’t realize this at the time, but counting calories is not the solution to losing weight. Counting calories is the solution to getting knowledge about food and knowledge about your own body.

Knowledge is power! I can’t emphasize this enough. When I counted everything I put in my body, I learned a lot about food, and more importantly, I learned a lot about my own body!

With this knowledge, I was able to identify that I often binge eat for dinner (1600+ calories in one meal). This helped me learn how to eat less, and how to stop eating *before* I feel full. I also learned how many calories per day puts me at equilibrium (meaning I don’t gain or lose weight). 

Most importantly, I learned that losing weight is simple. I ate less calories, and I saw the results before my eyes. Now, I'll never be tempted to try out new trendy fancy diets and exercise plans.

2 - Making exercise enjoyable.

The second most important lifestyle change was building exercise that I truly enjoyed into my daily routine.

I had to come clean with myself, I was never going to "go to the gym 4 days/week”.

The truth is, I hate the gym. I never liked it. If I enjoyed the gym, I would have gone every day since I bought my first gym membership in 2009...

Instead of forcing myself to like the gym (tried many times), I instead picked up sports that I found truly enjoyable. For me, it was running and tennis and skateboarding.

I love these activities so much that I actually crave to do them. I feel shitty if I don’t!

Because I love doing these so much, I often work out twice per day, and it never feels like a chore.

3 - Limit drinking & intermittent fasting

I won’t go into these much, but they do help. I don’t think they are as important as #1 and #2, though.

I am a bit embarrassed to post these before and after pics... But I feel like I should... Sorry!


September 21st, 2020
I miss the pure excitement of learning to code.

There was something magical about running my first for loop with vanilla Ruby, or spinning up my first Rails app, or making my first successful request to a REST API.

Maybe it was so exciting because I was opening up a new door in my life, something that felt like it had endless, unlimited possibilities.

And it did! With those skills, I got my first six-figure job, felt fulfillment with my work, and even built my own business that allowed me to live and work anywhere in the world.

But nowadays, writing code isn’t all that exciting anymore. To be honest, it feels like a chore.

And it’s not just because I’m writing code for my business. I’m not even interested in learning new technologies or building “fun apps” like I used to. I have some cool ideas, but the idea of building them doesn’t even sound fun.

I miss that pure excitement I once had. I miss being able to code for hours and just have so much damn fun doing it, coding late into the night, and going to bed excited to wake up in the morning and keep coding.

I’m not going to sit here and hope those feelings will come back. Maybe they will, but probably not!

I think what’s important to remember is that I can have these feelings again but they’ll probably come from other parts of my life, and they’ll probably happen unexpectedly.

These feelings also don’t need to be work-related, nor technology-related. Just because I’m a tech nerd doesn’t mean I can only get excited about tech stuff!

I can geek out in the same way about sports, movies, writing, crafting, cooking, friendships, relationships, family, investing, music, art, politics, history, and so much more. 

Lately, I’ve been geeking out on tennis. Tennis is a little bit like coding, in a way. I get better at it as I keep working on it every day. I find new techniques. There is some mastery, and progress feels tangible. I have a lot of excitement for tennis.

Instead of being all nostalgic about the old, I just need to keep being curious and open to new things. Always switching it up.

As we get older, it’s conventional wisdom to stop trying new things, to “settle down”, to pick your hobbies, and get set in your ways.

But I think this is wrong. Life is about finding that pure excitement, over and over again.

September 20th, 2020
Nearly every day I play tennis, and in NYC, the courts are quite busy. I almost always wait at least one hour to play. Sometimes I even wait up to 3 hours to play.

My friends find this whole tennis waiting thing ridiculous. Sometimes, a friend will pass by (who doesn’t play) and ask me how long I’ve been waiting. When they hear I've been there for 2 hours, they scoff in disbelief.

But I don’t feel that way. Sitting around on those benches by the water is actually the highlight of my days...

When I first started playing tennis, I would bring my laptop and “get emails done”, but now I don’t really even do that anymore. I'm no longer concerned about maximizing my time.

Melissa & Paul - Sept 19, 2020

What's even better is when my tennis partners join me in the wait. We just sit there and chat. Sometimes we’ll talk about how funny it is that we just sit out there waiting hours for a tennis court.

Then we wonder what our other friends are doing, or what we would be doing if we weren’t waiting there.

The answer? Watching Netflix. Attending Zoom meetings that we never needed to be at. Browsing social media on our couch.

We realize that sitting there, outside, on those wooden benches by the water is actually better than anything else we could be doing.

And we realize that sitting around and waiting is actually making us happier, healthier, and more productive people.

Because we are in nature, feeling the breeze, and the sun, and the heat and the cold. And seeing the views of the skyscrapers, and the water of the Hudson River.

Because we are surrounded by people, hundreds of people walk and run by these benches. We see friends and familiar faces. We meet new people, make new friends and rekindle old ones.

It’s all just very real. So much more real than sitting at home and doing Zoom meetings.

All of this waiting for tennis has transferred to other areas of my life. It's given me patience and clear-headedness and helped with my anxiety. Most importantly, it's trained me to live more in the present.

I no longer dread waiting, I look forward to it! I plan and build my day around these 4-hour tennis adventures, and I'd like to keep it that way, for a long time.

It’s never about the destination (playing tennis), it’s about the journey (waiting to play).

That's a cliche saying, but it's true, even for the smallest things, like the next line you'll need to wait in.

September 18th, 2020
Too many people putting the cart before the horse:

- Growth strategies can’t work on 0 users.
- Search engine optimization can’t optimize blog posts that don’t exist.
- Unit tests become useless when the code is scrapped tomorrow.

Gotta build the business first. Where we’re going, we don’t need Substacks.

September 17th, 2020
Why am I so unmotivated lately? I don’t have clear enough goals.

I’m not excited about the things I’m working on, like I used to.

I need to do things that excite me. Sometimes, these aren’t work related things. I need to embrace that.

But I feel SO guilty when I don’t work on “work”. I shouldn’t. I have plenty of runway.

I need to read more. To be more curious. To be more unplugged. Need a reset.

Remember the think week? That’s what I need again.

Not everything has to be so rigid. Need to get out of my comfort zone. Do things that are outside the routine. Break it all up.

--

Update: Felt like shit when I wrote this ^^

I got out of my own head, went into airplane mode, and went to the skatepark (a bit different than my normal routine).

Landed a kickflip for the first time in 10 years. Feel much better now :)

.

September 16th, 2020
Last month, 250k people visited starterstory.com, mostly from Google search. Here are some things I learned about SEO:

Second-and-third-order consequences

SEO is a mind game of second-and-third-order consequences. The work you do today will not yield results immediately. 

Write an article, publish it, and then get no results. This makes you think you "did it wrong". Most people quit here.

Just go in with the expectation that you won't see results for six months after publish.

Instead of getting discouraged, just write more and publish more. By the time you published your 20th article, you might start finally seeing the results of your first. The worst thing you can do is restart every 6 months.

SEO industry is mostly bullshit

Try to avoid SEO experts and industry nonsense, they are mostly distractions. 

Examples of distractions: Google algorithm updates, schema markup, page speed, meta tags.

Do you think you’re smarter than Google’s algorithm? Maybe today, definitely not tomorrow.

Write and publish compelling content that answers the searcher’s query. That’s it.




There are millions of keywords not picked up by SEO tools

New and/or off-the-radar keywords are where you can easily rank #1, but you probably won’t find these in SEO tools.

How to find these keywords? Just write and publish content. Then check Google Search Console, you’ll be surprised what you find.

Once you identify these keywords, think of all the other similar keywords you could hit, too.

(Note: I’d recommend not using SEO tools at all in the early days. I still rarely use them.)

Consistency & Output > Quality

I will get burned for this, but solely quality doesn’t win the SEO game. Quality should be a prerequisite. 

Optimize for content output and consistency. This will help you rank faster, especially if you’re new.

Take it from most trafficked blogs on the internet:

- huffpost.com: 2.2M indexed pages
- TMZ.com: 411K indexed pages
- Hubspot: 258K  indexed pages

Think in terms of “content types”, not individual articles

Have a blog post that performs well? Think about how that can be 100 blog posts.

Silly example: 33 Cutest Cat Photos of 2020 can actually be 33 Cutest [INSERT_ANIMAL] Photos of 2020.

With 100 animals, you have 100 potential articles. This is just one “content type”, let’s call it “list_of_cute_animal_photos”.

Add 10 more content types x 100 variations == 1,000 articles. It’s a lot easier to think about scale this way.

September 15th, 2020
Do you want to be known as the businessman, or the critic of the businessman?

Because the critic, at one point, wanted to be the businessman, but they gave up too soon.

They were likely struggling as a businessman, and then they got a small taste of the critic life: how much easier it is to get traction when you comment and ridicule the creative work of the businessman.

Be like Phil Knight. Build Nike, and then maybe at the end of it all, you critique yourself with a book to sum it all up.

A businessman, first and foremost. Never a critic.

September 14th, 2020
I go through phases.

During some phases, I’m motivated and productive and crushing every day. During other phases, I’m barely able to work 2 hours/day.

These phases usually go for a few weeks, sometimes months. But usually no longer.

The worst thing I can do is try to force myself out of a phase. Instead, it’s better for me to accept the phase for what it is.

For example, in the past few weeks, I have not been as motivated to work on my business. The irrational side of me thinks “Everything is over, I’ll never be motivated again, my business will fall apart because I’m being a careless piece of shit.” 

But if I take one step out of myself, I remember that it’s summer. It’s normal to relax a bit in the summer. And my relaxedness is probably just a result of my environment.

I know that by December, I will be in a crazy-focused work mode. This actually happens every year, but I always forget.

That brings me to my next point: No phase lasts forever

An unmotivated phase will ALWAYS come to an end. And on the flip side, a super-motivated phase will also ALWAYS come to an end.

One of the worst things I do is force too much change as the result of a phase. 

Examples: Leaving everything to travel the world, changing careers, moving to a new city, starting a new business, and ending relationships.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t do these things, but I try to remember how dangerous they can be. Just important to be careful.

The best changes I can make are internal. Changes in mindset. Changes in perspective. Humbling myself a bit. Changes in my environment. Diet & exercise. Spending time with people I love.

(phases don’t just apply to motivation about work, it can be about anything in our lives) 

September 11th, 2020
Want your writing to be read by thousands? By millions?

There is only one way to get there: become a phenomenal writer.

There are no hacks. That’s it.

I see so many people publish a couple of blog posts and get frustrated when nobody reads them. They wonder what they did wrong. They say “I don’t know how to promote my writing” or “I have no audience”.

But that’s not the issue. The issue is their writing. It’s just not good enough (yet).

It takes years to become great. I think it might take 10+ years of writing every day to become great. 

There are shortcuts though, some people have an unfair advantage. 

For example, my shortcut was writing about my startup journey and my own startup tactics. People wanted to read that because they were following or wanted to follow a similar path.

Writers should find their unfair advantage, but also remember that this is only a crutch. It very much was for me.

A few successful blog posts didn’t mean that my writing was good, just that I wrote the right thing from the right audience at the right time. My writing were very matter-of-fact, and they served a specific purpose (“How To Do X”), but they did not make me a good writer.

That’s why I’m writing every day. Because I want to become a better writer. I want to write about more than just my own story.

I know that my writing sucks, but knowing and admitting this motivates me to get better. I will get 100x better. I will only get there by writing for hours, every day.

The best writers grow their audience with ease. They don’t even promote. They write one book that gets shared through word of mouth over and over, between circles of friends and colleagues for decades.

This is not by accident. There’s a reason Paul Graham’s famous essays get shared every single day on Twitter, 7 years later. There’s a reason people still recommend Think And Grow Rich, 80 years after it’s been published. 

The reason is that their writing is phenomenal. Most people skip this part.

Harry Dry wrote a great post about how he promotes his content (amazing post). 

But Harry has a bigger secret. 

His secret: His writing is 100x better than anyone else in his niche. Harry knows this, but he also knows that nobody will listen to this advice. People want hacks, strategies, flowcharts, roundtable discussions, and complex theories.

Becoming a phenomenal writer is just too deceptively simple to put in a blog post. But it is the answer.

September 10th, 2020
A few months ago, I logged out

But I actually took it one step further: I removed the ability for YouTube to save cookies on my browser

With no cookies, YouTube couldn’t identify who I was.

Since YouTube had no idea who I was, they couldn't use their super-smart algorithm to trick me into watching their (super-targeted) empty content - they just show me mainstream stuff now.

This gave me less incentive to click through, and more specifically, I stopped watching motivation/productivity channels (example), which I am a huge sucker for (and YouTube knows this).

When YouTube stopped recommending these productivity videos, I forgot that these channels even existed. I did not even go searching for them.

Without YouTube, I had some extra hours added to my day.

I filled my newfound time up with activities, like making plans, seeing friends, and playing tennis.

But these new activities presented a new challenge: my time was constrained

Wouldn’t being busier with random stuff make me less productive because I have less time for the business and give me less time to learn new productivity hacks?

Yes. I worked less on my business. But I actually did more with less time. And my business grew faster than before.

Not only did I work "smarter", but these time constraints gave me more clarity on all the busy work I was doing. I gained the confidence to press delete on so many items on my todo list.

So who cares? I ended up in the same place, right? Instead of watching YouTube, I just did other stuff to fill the time. Does it matter?

Unlike YouTube, I left these activities feeling invigorated, motivated, and rested. 

After a YouTube binge, I feel like a piece of garbage. After an hour of playing tennis, I feel bliss.

Hobbies and having a social life have given me a healthier long term view on building my business. They've added more balance to my life. I feel happier. I sleep better. Less anxiety.

Two People, Same Goal

I believe that two different people will reach the same goal regardless of how hard they work.

In other words, if Person #1 and Person #2 aim to become millionaires by 2025 (and they are equally smart and resourceful), they will both reach that goal at the same exact time, regardless of how much they work.

Person #1 can work 1 hour per day, and Person #2 can work 12 hours per day - they will both be millionaires in 2025!

It’s up to me how I decide to spend my time while reaching my goals. For me, I choose to be happy. It’s much easier that way.

(note: YouTube here is just an example. YouTube was my drug of choice, but this applies to Twitter, blog posts, self-help books, etc)

September 9th, 2020
The best way to achieve something is to build it into your daily life, without an end date.

Diets have end dates. You can go on a diet and see results, but once it’s over, you’ll go back to being fat again.

Instead of going on a diet, change your lifestyle (forever) by learning how to eat less and eat healthier. Make that a habit.

Your results might be a bit slower at first, but you’ll maintain those results for decades.

The same goes for business. Want to start a business? Work on it for 2 hours every day, without an end date.

I’ll work on “business” every day for the rest of my life. For me, there is no end date. I might sell the business, but then I’ll just start another one.

September 8th, 2020
Most people go through their life waiting for change:

  • Waiting for their partner to change
  • Waiting for their friends to change
  • Waiting for the weather to change
  • Waiting for the economy to get better
  • Waiting for the weekend

But the issue here is you’re not watching all things change, you’re really just waiting for a few things to change, in your favor.

In other words, you’ll only notice the changes you’re looking for, and we all know that we are looking for is doesn't end up being the answer.

Expecting the world to change around you is narcissistic and selfish. How can you be so right and perfect that everything should change to your expectations?

This is why I cringe when I hear people speak in absolutes. People say the world should be this way or that way, but how do they know?

Instead of waiting for a change in others, change your perception of others.

Instead of waiting for the bad economy to change, change your perception of what is possible in a bad economy.

By changing your perception, what you might have seen as a flaw before is now something you love. Something that was a blocker is now an opportunity. Glass half full, always.

By changing your perception, you can make every single aspect of your life amazing, right now! You can have everything you ever wanted, right now! 

Nothing needs to change except yourself, and you have 100% control over that.

September 7th, 2020
(wrote today, but it's too private to share)

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September 6th, 2020
I had a long discussion with my friend today about dating.

We had two takeaways:

1. Purpose is the most attractive thing in a guy or girl. 

Associate your happiness with your own purpose (aka love yourself first). 

Not only is this the best life advice, but as far as dating, it signals to others that you don’t mind their rejection because you’ve already got important things to get back to.

It’s basically saying “Hey, I like you, but if you don’t like me, that’s fine, I’ll just go back to what I was doing and be just as happy.”

2. Change how you think about impressing others

Instead of worrying about impressing your date, think about if they are actually impressive to you.

Ask them a million questions. When they state their opinions, ask why. Go deeper. Be curious.

September 5th, 2020
One of the best parts about starting a business or creative endeavor is when you get acknowledged by the people that inspired you, even in some small way.

XYZ started following you.”

or

“Hey, love what you’re doing with ABC, keep going!”

Along my journey, I’ve had a few memorable moments like this, and I’ll always remember when and where I was when they happened. It's always nostalgic to think about these.

In some ways, this is like a virtual head nod - a small gesture we can use to show our support and let each other know we’re all rooting for each other.

Sometimes, a simple click the RT button is enough to make someone's week. 

As I grow, I try to always remember this and pay it forward to younger and smaller creators.

September 4th, 2020
After a big business success, or a viral tweet, or hitting the front page of Hacker News, I always have this massive “rush” of excitement.

It feels great. I feel like I’m on top of the world. It’s like being high on drugs.

But like drugs, there’s always a come down. For every high, there will be a low. 

As the high wears off, I’ll find myself worse off than before:

  • I’ll have more anxiety
  • I’ll have way less focus
  • I’ll have a heightened sense of ego and self-importance: I’ll think I’m smarter or better than others
  • I’ll keep reloading social media to get more of “the rush”

This is happening to me right now actually (something good happened today). I feel amazing. 

But I’m writing this right now to try to ground myself. Writing helps me clarify my thoughts. It’s helping me calm down. Writing this down reminds me how temporary this high will be. The success I had today was mostly out of my control.

If I can’t control my thoughts in the good times, then I’ll be screwed in the bad times. That’s what happened last year.

As entrepreneurs, it’s hard to avoid these ups and downs because we validate ourselves with the success of our business. 

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at grounding myself. Here’s some things that help:

  • Get off social media and stop checking email. Celebrate your success with quality time with friends and family. One time, I had a blog post go viral, and I spent the whole day replying to emails about it and checking the comments and upvotes go up. I had a friend visiting from out of town and I couldn’t even enjoy myself… Cringe!
  • Don’t go around shouting about your success to everyone. Nobody wants to hear it. Go talk to people, ask them about their life, and practice your listening skills. This is REALLY hard in the moment, but it’s great practice in controlling the ego.
  • Write! Write for yourself first, get your thoughts on paper. Then, write about your success, turn your excitement into a blog post about “how you did it”. Always nice to look back on and make something that will help and inspire others.

September 3rd, 2020
August 2020: Biggest month in Starter Story history in terms of traffic, revenue, new email subscribers, and content published.

Last month, we had over 120k unique visitors (+19% MoM) according to Google Analytics. Our other analytics tool (which is less prone to ad blockers) is reporting 263k visitors.


This growth is directly the result of our intense focus on experimenting, producing, and scaling our content machine. We published 198 new pieces of content in August. We will continue to grow this number by 20% every month.

This is continuing to pay off as we are seeing big growth in traffic from Google search. Here’s a look at Google search impressions over the last 6 months. Yesterday, we had 139k impressions, the biggest day we’ve ever had:


We are constantly testing and experimenting with new forms of content that will drive traffic to the website. For example, our business name ideas experiment is really starting to pay off.

Here are some more types of content we are experimenting with:

  • Business Ideas for [Insert Niche] (we now have over 1.1k business ideas in our database)
  • Startup Costs Pages
  • Business Ideas in [Insert City]
  • ...and many more

Many of these experiments do not pay off though. For example, we have been working hard on our start a business guides, but we’re not seeing much growth. Our goal is to quickly identify winners and double down, while moving on from the losers (easier said than done…)

Once we find something that works, we build processes and automation around it so that we can keep publishing more content in the future. 

We also added a new team member, Anjali, to the content team. We now have 6 people working at Starter Story, crazy!

Revenue: Our revenue (on accrual basis) for August was $12,714, the highest all time, and a 3% increase over last month.

Premium subscription: We grossed $11,432 in August. Unfortunately, that’s about a 20% decline over the previous month. I think this was due to us taking away the “lifetime deals” and that August may be a slower month in general (summer?).

Email list: Our email list is now at 22K+. We added 2.7k net new email subscribers in August (+39% MoM). We converted 2.66% of unique visitors into email subscribers. I’m excited about how much the list is going to grow as we keep increasing the top-line numbers. Still so much room for improvement in that conversion number too.

The new format of the newsletter is working, too. We have seen open rates increase from 17% to 27%, and click rates from 3% to nearly 6%.

Last month we saw our best month in terms of clicks inside emails:


August Numbers

- Monthly revenue (accrual): $12,714 (+3%)
- Traffic: 120k unique users (+19%) (this is a GA number, i think
- Content published: +198 (+70%)
- New email subscribers (net): +2,700 (+39%)
- Email collection rate: 2.66% (-15%)

Plans

(micro)

Just like last month, we will continue to laser focus on content: Experimental content. New content. Scaling content.

Our goals for this month: 

- Publish 240 pieces of content
- Execute content experiment around creating an LLC in [insert state]
- Implement an internal tracking system so we can understand how changes to our content are affecting our ranking in search engines (going to be epic)
- AB test lifetime memberships vs. first-year discount
- Come up with more data points for businesses and business ideas (market size, startup costs, etc)

(macro)

Over the next few months we’ll put our heads down and drive towards our goal of hitting 500k monthly uniques by the end of the year.

This is a very ambitious goal but I do think it’s possible with our current strategy. We have a better grasp than ever on how to grow to Starter Story through content and we’ll continue to iterate on this strategy.

For the next few months, we’ll be less focused on monetization and more focused on growth of the top line. We have a lot of runway and we plan to invest a lot of this back into the business.

Recently I wrote a bit about my vision for Starter Story: the tl;dr is that we are building a media machine that will one day rival Forbes and with technology & data angle like Crunchbase, with an angle on small business. 

Eventually, we will hit 1M monthly users and then 10M/month, just gonna take some hard work and a bit of time :) 

As the world keeps changing and more people go to start their own online business, we’ll be the best resource on the internet to help them with that. Let's do this!

Thanks for reading!


September 2nd, 2020

Two days ago, my dad told me I was a good writer. A few days before that, my mom called me to tell me how much she liked one of my posts.

A girl IRL told me she Googled me, found the blog, read it (oh god), and then told me I was a good writer.

Sometimes my writing gets shared on Twitter. Sometimes, I get emails from readers saying they like the blog and that I’m a good writer.

It feels bizarre when people tell me that I’m a good writer because I don’t identify as a writer at all, let alone a good one…

It is validating to hear this feedback. It’s the main reason I write every day: to become a better writer!

I've only gotten better because of daily practice. There is no magic here. I've written every day for 10 months now. I spend 1-2 hours per day writing. I feel mental anguish before, during, and after I publish. I cringe at my old posts.

BUT I know how much I still suck at writing. I have so much more room for improvement…

I want to write down what I’m excited about for the future. Here it goes:

  • I want to write essays with conviction like Paul Graham
  • I want to write something that gets shared like wildfire, something so good that people read it and immediately share it with all their friends.
  • I want to write stuff that's timeless, stuff that gets shared over and over again, even years after I’ve published it.
  • I want to write stuff that inspires. Stuff that makes people quit their day jobs, follow their dreams and change their lives.
  • I want to write controversial things, where people get really mad at me. I want to get canceled.
  • I want to write about with more honesty and transparency. I want to write about my deepest insecurities.
  • I want to write about philosophy. I want to write about the meaning of life.
  • I want to write about random things. I want to be more funny in my writing. I want to write about really mundane things, Larry David style.

Lastly, I want my writing journey to be different. I don’t have a traditional blog, and I don’t have a newsletter. This daily writing thing is different, and I love that.

I don’t know where all of this will go, but I will keep writing every day, right here.