The Worried Writer Episode #36: Joanna Penn ‘The Healthy Writer’

The Healthy Writer by Joanna PennMap Of Shadows by J.F.PennJoanna Penn is an award-nominated New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, writing thrillers, supernatural crime and fantasy under the name J.F. Penn.

I consider Joanna my unofficial mentor and I’m personally very grateful for the information and encouragement she puts out into the world. If you aren’t aware of Joanna’s wonderful website and podcast The Creative Penn or her non fiction books such as Business For Authors, do check them out.

Joanna has been on the show before but today we are talking about her new book, The Healthy Writer. It’s an important topic for everyone, whether you are writing full time or not, as writing is a sedentary (sometimes stressful!) job and there are plenty of ways it can mess up our physical and mental wellbeing.

I highly recommend the book. It’s full of sane, non-judgemental advice which is tailored for the particular health issues writers face such as back pain, RSI, eye strain and loneliness.

The Healthy Writer is available in print and ebook with audio coming soon!

Joanna’s site and podcast for writers:

J.F.Penn author site:

Joanna’s previous appearance on The Worried Writer – Episode #08 ‘I Measure My Life By What I Create’.

Twitter: @thecreativepenn Facebook: The Creative Penn

Writing update:

In the introduction, I talk about my new novel Beneath The Water, which lands in shops next week. Here’s a little bit about it and a pre-order link!

Beneath The Water is set in both Arisaig on the west coast of Scotland in the present day and amidst the medical community of Edinburgh in 1847. Stella Jackson is broken-hearted after her fiance leaves, and she runs away to Scotland to stay with her best friend, but she ends up working for the mysterious Jamie Munro. It’s a Gothic love story set in a stunning part of the world with a historical strand which explores the background to some of the medical breakthroughs we take for granted today such as obstetric anaesthesia.

If that sounds like your cup of tea or you just want to support my writing career(!) please do check it out. It’s published on Thursday 8th February in ebook, paperback and audiobook.

In other book news, the audio version of Stop Worrying; Start Writing is up for sale. It’s available on audible (free with a one-month free trial or one credit) or through Amazon. I narrated it myself so if you can’t get enough of my voice and think hearing my tips on self-doubt and procrastination might work for you, it’s available for your listening pleasure! Audible link : Amazon link

Also, I am keen to get some reviews on the audio book, so if you would be willing to leave an honest review after listening, do email me as I have a limited number of free review copies available.

In writing news, I’m waiting to hear whether my latest rewrite of my supernatural thriller is ready for submission to publishers and getting ready to dive back into my current shiny new project. It’s been on hold for the last week or so while I’ve been doing publicity stuff for BTW, but I’m determined to make February a high word-count month.

Also, a quick word on the audio quality of the this episode – my side of the interview doesn’t sound quite as clear as usual, I’m afraid.

Of all the people to have a tech failure with, my heroine for both creativity and professionalism would not have been my first choice. I was utterly mortified when an update to my recording software meant things weren’t working properly when I jumped onto Skype to chat to Joanna Penn. However, I tell you this as I like to share the warts and all experience with you and also to demonstrate that even when things go wrong, it’s not the end of the world. In this instance, Joanna couldn’t have been nicer about it and she even offered to record the interview on my behalf so that we could still go ahead.

As is so often the way with putting yourself out there, people are usually super-supportive and nice and forgiving. On which note, I hope you forgive the difference in audio!

In the interview:

Joanna on writing:

‘As writers, we need to lean into that muse.’


‘Being a writer can just be a cranking wheel of content creation instead of the dream job we want it to be.’

On the importance of focusing on health:

‘In 2016 I realised that I had to change my physical health… I had reached the point where I was in enough pain to change.’


‘I just considered my body as vehicle for my brain.’


‘I discover that the best brain hack possible is good nutrition, good sleep, exercise – these things will make you more productive, more creative, more happy and those are the best hacks we can do for our brain. I really had to learn the connection between my mind and body.’


On loneliness as a writer:

‘Social media is great but when we moved to Bath I started friend-dating.’


‘I started my podcast in 2009 so that I could talk to people.’

On co-writing with Dr Euan Lawson:

‘I’m a control freak so I had final say!’


‘If you want to co-write, one of the parties has to be the alpha.’


‘Co-writing is a trend because it’s so much easier now… You can work with something like Bundle Rabbit which will deal with the payments.’

On dictation:

‘Destroyer of Worlds was dictated and that is award-nominated so I can certainly say that dictating a first draft does not affect the quality of your final product which I think a lot of people worry about.’


‘It’s a bit like health – you will not get fit in one day and you won’t become a master dictator in one day.’


‘Don’t replicate what you would have done with typing… Just start by doing a bullet point kind of outline.’


‘You are dictating first draft writing, do not try and dictate anything that is final draft.’

Also, I pledge to try dictation and Joanna challenges me to report back! Tune in next month and I will let you know how I get on.

Recommended Resources:

Fool Proof Dictation by Christopher Downing

Dictate Your Book by Monica Leonelle

The Writer’s Guide To Training Your Dragon by Scott Baker

Healthy Writer Tips on The Creative Penn


Thanks for listening!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast in iTunes and makes it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.


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Focus On Your ‘Why’ To Supercharge Your Productivity

Desk with open notebook - writing

So, it’s almost the end of January and the optimism of New Year’s Eve has probably fizzled. It’s completely normal to have ups and downs in your motivation and energy levels, so don’t beat yourself up!

However, a drop in drive is a good time to check over your plans and goals and make sure you know your ‘why’ for each one.

If you set goals which you truly want to achieve (not things you just think you ‘should’ want to do) then getting re-energised should be simple.

It’s time to take a hard look at your list and think about WHY you set those particular goals.

For example, if you wrote ‘finish my novel in 2018’, then think about why that is important to you. Your ‘why’ can be financial, personal, emotional, whatever… It doesn’t matter (and you never need to tell another living soul) but it has to be real and true.

Be as specific and as honest as you can about your motivation and, ideally, write it down.

This process can be liberating, too, as it can help you to weed out goals in which you aren’t properly invested, giving you more focus for the things which are truly important.

It’s important to remember that your list doesn’t have to remain static and it’s not ‘cheating’ to alter your priorities.

If you go back to your list and find that you no longer care about something on it or that you have changed your mind about the value of a particular task, then you can cross it off with a clear conscience. Equally, you might find that your ‘why’ has changed for a particular goal and by recognising this, you give yourself a lovely jolt of enthusiasm for the project.

Now, pick your main goal and imagine you have already achieved it. Spend time in this daydream, imagining it fully and allowing yourself to feel the sense of excitement and achievement. Now, bring yourself back to the present and recognise that the only way to get from here to there is a matter of taking action TODAY.


If you are stuck on your current book and finding it hard to be productive, then you can use the ‘why’ question to reignite your passion for your story.

Get out your journal and freewrite your feelings on your WIP. Think about what excited you about the idea in the first place, list the fun things in the book or scenes you are looking forward to writing.

Write down WHY you want to write this particular story. Is it a topic which really interests you? Is the theme close to your heart?

Or, is your ‘why’ to do with your ideal reader and the experience you want to provide? Do you want to write something super-fun that will be a bright spot for your reader, cheering them up after a bad day? Or do you want to leave them curled in a foetal position, sobbing?

Again, allow yourself to picture having finished the story you want to write. Imagine the best possible result (why not, after all?) and write it down. If you are anything like me, you will resist this. It will feel like hubris. You will think ‘oh, but that will never happen’ and ‘I bet I will make a mess of this great book idea’. But, remember, this is completely private. And it is just day dreaming. Allow yourself a lovely, positive fantasy in which you have finished a book which you are really pleased with and which sells really well and brings you international acclaim etc etc…

And now get back to work!

For more productivity tips, inspiration and writerly support, why not check out my book?

Stop Worrying; Start Writing: How To Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination

Now available in audio! Free with a one-month Audible trial





[Image Credit (desk): Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash. Image Credit (love): Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash]

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My 2018 Writing Goals

This is my third year of setting my goals in public. I have been making plans – both personally and professionally – for a long time, but the added accountability of putting them ‘out there’ definitely helps me to stay on track!

In case you’re interested, the previous posts are here: January 2016 and January 2017.

If you would prefer not to put your goals on the internet (eek!), finding an accountability partner can also work really well. You just need a friend or acquaintance who is also trying to achieve concrete goals, and then you set a regular meet-up (or schedule regular emails) in which you will set your tasks and report on your progress. It really helps!

Using a combination of public accountability, private accountability partners, and my own beloved system of tracking with both a paper planner and a bullet journal, 2017 was my most productive year, yet. I want to maintain this focus and, as always, improve!

So, 2018…


I know I always say this but here goes… I will prioritise creation this year. I say ‘creation’ rather than ‘writing’ because, while I want to keep novels as my main focus, I also want to encourage myself to try different forms and to create, finish and publish all kinds of things (including non-fiction for this site).

In concrete terms, my writing goals are:

  • Write two new novels.
  • Write (at least!) six articles for the Worried Writer site.
  • Try writing something in a different form (for fun!) eg. Radio play or a short story.

I also want to get more efficient with my other tasks (such as email, admin, marketing) to free-up more time for writing.

I think that batching similar tasks, keeping a firm grip on my to-do lists and using a timer will help.

Also, I want to be more aware of my attention (and when it is fragmented), as I want to develop my ability for sustained, deep focus. I’m halfway through Cal Newport’s Deep Work and it makes a compelling argument for the importance of this last goal.




  • Beneath The Water is up for pre-order and is out on February 8th from Lake Union. Create a marketing plan (and follow through!) including guest blogs, interviews, and giveaways.
  • Get a new publishing deal with either my supernatural book or WIP.
  • Publish new urban fantasy (the first in a series!) through Siskin Press (aiming for October).
  • Get print rights back for The Secrets of Ghosts and publish paperback myself.
  • Get better at marketing and work on my mindset issues around this topic.



I had some great training on performance and presentation with The Scottish Book Trust in November 2017, and I’d like to do more ‘real life’ learning in 2018.

I also need to consolidate the information I learned through Mark Dawson’s Ads For Authors course and do more testing on various ads.




I did a little bit better at scheduling time off for ‘refilling the well’ in 2017 but there is still room for improvement. Particularly in scheduling full days in which I leave the house and visit a gallery or similar…




I really want to focus on my health this year. Since my children no longer require walking to and from school every day and my job involves lots of sitting, I am keenly aware that my general fitness is declining. So, this year:

  • Increase walking to an average of 10,000 steps per day. I’ve been tracking my daily walks (in mileage) for a while, but by switching to total daily steps I’m hoping to encourage myself to just move a bit more/take regular screen breaks.
  • Do some longer walks and hill walks.
  • Continue playing badminton and add in yoga class (or schedule time to do yoga/stretching at home).
  • Do breathing exercises every day.

Also, as I truly believe this vital for health and happiness, but I’m pretty terrible at taking my own advice…

Schedule time off that is just for relaxing (or socialising or reading quietly on the sofa) WITHOUT GUILT!


If you are interested in improving your health and wellbeing, I’d heartily recommend The Healthy Writer by Joanna Penn and Dr Euan Lawson. It tackles the health issues specific to writers in a practical and friendly manner. I’m very excited to have Joanna Penn back on the podcast next month to discuss this important topic further.



  • Get better at sending out my newsletter and increase the size of my reader group/mailing list.
  • Continue with monthly episodes of the podcast and add a Patreon account to help with the running costs (with perks such as extra content).
  • Get to more real-life author meet-ups for fun, friendship and support.
  • I intend to do at least one author event (in which I read my fiction – meep!) or workshop (in which I talk about strategies for overcoming fear, self-doubt and procrastination).

I am also planning on attending my first professional conference. I keep swithering between the traditional book events such as ScotsWrite or an RNA event, and one of the more business-focused ones like The London Book Fair.


Your turn! What are your goals for 2018?

Let’s make it a good year! 

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The Worried Writer Episode #35: Lisa Hall ‘We’re Living The Dream’

My guest today is Lisa Hall, author of the bestselling psychological thrillers Between You and Me and Tell Me No Lies, which Heat magazine called ‘breathlessly fast-paced and cleverly unsettling’. Not content with a successful career as an author, Lisa has also crossed the divide to the other side of the business by founding a new publishing imprint, Manatee Books.

You can find out more about Lisa and her books at or find her on Twitter or Facebook.

In the introduction I give a recap on my progress during 2017.

It was a good year – my most productive so far, in fact – but I am keen to improve and to make 2018 even better.


In 2017, my main writing goal was to write two new novels and to finish, edit and publish the Worried Writer book.

I managed one new first draft, two lots of major structural rewrites on ‘old’ drafts (including Beneath The Water which is out next month!), and I wrote and published Stop Worrying; Start Writing.

I also narrated the audiobook version, which was very enjoyable but also quite tricky and time-consuming!  It will hopefully be up for sale by the end of the month.

My supernatural thriller is almost ready to go on submission to publishers. This is always a nerve-wracking time and I’m very grateful that I have other projects to distract me…

I got The Garden of Magic made into an audio book and created a short story giveaway for my reader group sign-up.



I’m trying to get better at celebrating small successes, so listed some of my highlights from 2017:

  • Talking about overcoming fear and self-doubt on The Creative Penn podcast. You can listen here or watch the video on YouTube.
  • The Worried Writer being featured in Mslexia magazine.
  • Getting a new publishing deal with Lake Union with Beneath The Water.



I give a brief overview of my goals for 2018, but will put up a more detailed ‘Writing Goals’ post on the 2nd January.

Are you setting goals for 2018? I would love to hear about your plans, too.

Comment below with your goals, or get in touch with any questions on goal-setting, defining success, or productivity.


In the interview:

Lisa’s schedule:

‘Because I’ve got three children I have to cram quite a lot in those hours in the middle of the day. When I’m writing I aim for 2000 words a day… I try not to do anything in that period when the children come home from school and go to bed.’


‘I do work Saturdays and Sundays. Especially when I’m on a deadline or I’m in the zone… Even I only get 500 words down then I don’t feel so guilty about taking the rest of the day off and spending it with the kids.’


‘The first couple of hours in the morning I do admin stuff. With Manatee Books there’s a lot of admin… I keep hours in the afternoon free for writing. I mean, it doesn’t always balance-out! It balances out eventually, but it’s quite hard.’


‘I’ve always got a to-do list… So I can work through and I know exactly what needs to be done every day and then I tag my wordcount onto the end.’


Writing process:


‘I quite often go for a run if I get stuck.’


‘I hate the thought of editing and when I get my edit notes, I don’t want to open the email… But once I make a start I’m okay.’


‘I’m a massive planner… I can’t write any other way.’


‘When I’m working on a book it’s like the idea for the next book can’t fully come through until that book is finished… It’s like my brain won’t let me think about the full story so I do worry that the idea won’t come, but it’s been like this every time.’


On starting a publishing company:

‘I’ve had a really good experience with my road to publication and the way HQ have handled things for me… And I know there are people out there who don’t have such a good experience so I wanted to set up something where hopefully we give every author a good experience… It’s really really exciting when you sign the contract but I feel like that excitement should keep going all the way through… I just want everyone to have a lovely experience. We’re living the dream after all!’


‘One day I might run out ideas but even if I can’t write I’ll still get to be involved in books, in publishing and be surrounded by brilliant stories and that’s all I really want.’


‘We are open for submissions. Liz is always on the lookout for good crime novels. I prefer the more commercial crime novel but she is all about the quirky… I work on the women’s fiction side of it which I really love… I’m looking for good chick lit, nice holiday reading and I’m really on the lookout for a good bookclub read. Um, bit of romance – not too saucy.’


Lisa’s advice to other authors:

‘Building an author brand is a slow burn and you need to be patient.’


Thanks for listening!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast in iTunes and makes it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

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The Worried Writer Episode #33: Katie Cross ‘I call myself a naptime entrepreneur’

My guest today is Katie Cross. Katie writes both YA fantasy and contemporary women’s fiction. Her books include The Network series, which kicks off with Miss Mabel’s School For Girls, and Bon Bons To Yoga Pants. Katie also provides mentoring services for indie authors, and she runs a lively Facebook support group called Indie Author Life. Head here to join.

In the interview we discuss productivity, publishing, and self-doubt, and Katie shares wonderful tips for combining writing with parenthood (or other responsibilities). Katie is a bundle of energy and I got so much inspiration from our chat – I hope you do, too!

For more on Katie head to or find her on Twitter or Facebook.

In the intro I give a writing update:

I allowed myself to take my foot off the pedal a wee bit during October, and also had a week away with my family by Loch Ness, which was glorious!

Less fun, was hitting the middle of my WIP and, as usual, getting completely stuck. Every single book I have written has hit this point but it’s always a bit scary. I allowed myself to take thinking and freewriting time and, last week, I had a breakthrough on the plot – phew!

I’m planning to finish the book during November so, along with everyone who is taking part in NaNoWriMo, I will be writing as much as possible.

If you are trying to finish a project or are taking part in NaNoWriMo, let’s make this a super-productive November and cheer each other on! I will post updates on Twitter and the Worried Writer Facebook page. We can do this!

I also talk about the importance of finishing, and how getting to ‘The End’ on your first book is so difficult – but so vital.

In case you missed it, here is the link to the article I wrote on the subject: The Life-Changing Magic of Finishing Your Book.

In the interview:

Katie on indie publishing:

‘From the beginning it called to me. I was like that is the way I want to publish a book.’

‘You have control, you have to do something with it and you really have to it well. I think finding a team can be the hardest part: people you trust at a price you can afford.’

On self-doubt:

‘I had a lot of beta readers give me feedback and I had professional editors.’

‘I do remember that feeling of vulnerability once I’d hit that publish button… I’ve put a piece of my heart out there.’

On helping others and the FB group:

‘It was a difficult transition for me from full-time author to full-time mom… I couldn’t find other people in the same boat so I put this group together.’

‘Authors need a tribe. It’s a solitary profession but requires a village, really.’

‘I’m an extrovert, I thrive on connection.’

Writing process:

‘I do write everyday.’

I freelance and I do mentoring for some self-publishers when I have slots available and I write my own books. It sounds like a lot but I don’t take a lot of contracts for freelancing… It’s very manageable, it’s not too many, it’s just enough so that I feel like I’m working on a team.’

‘The night before I go to bed I have a to-do list and I write down three things that have to get done.’

‘If I can get up before my son I spend twenty minutes meditating. I just sit and deep breathe and am just present in the moment… And then I go about the day with my son and I do not check my email.’

‘An hour before naptime I start preparing for naptime so I get the house clean, I make lunch, I make sure we’ve had lunch, make sure the dog is settled. Everything is ready so the moment my son is down for his nap, my butt is in the chair and I’m writing.’

‘I call myself a naptime entrepreneur.’

I do try to keep creativity and business separate… I always work on creative things first… And I try to stay focused when I’m in each one.’

On writing while being a full-time parent:

‘It’s a careful balance when you’re a parent of being a parent, but still having time for yourself and taking time for your writing because your writing time can’t be your self-care time.’

‘There was more time for writing with a newborn than I thought… For me it got really busy once he got mobile!’

‘I was a hardcore pantser until I became a mom then I found it much more productive to plot.’

Creative block:

‘Typically when I’m blocked creatively it’s because I need to make a decision and I don’t want to… I need to decide where this plot is going and then I’m worried I’ll make the wrong choice and I’ll waste words or something like that.’

Failure if one of our greatest learning mechanisms.’

‘All of us struggle with imposter syndrome.’


K.M.Weiland books  and website: Helping Writers Become Authors

Dynamic Story Creation by Maxwell Alexander Drake

Joanna Penn for anything author business related: The Creative Penn

Robert McKee

Playing Big by Tara Mohr

For levelling-up in business: Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz

Thanks for listening!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes (or the podcast app of your choice) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.


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The Life-Changing Magic of Finishing Your Book

A comment popped up recently and, after replying, I found it was still rattling around in my mind. I know it’s something that many of us struggle with, so I thought I would discuss it here:

Hi I am a new and yes very worried writer, so am thrilled to have found your podcasts. I have started several novels, but never finished them, I’m hoping that I will get inspiration and hints and tips to finish one. Looking forward to listening to the other podcasts. Debs

First off, a big thank you to Debs for listening and leaving such a great comment.

Reading this took me right back to where I was stuck for a very long time… Throughout my teens and twenties, I dreamed of writing fiction: I thought about writing, I talked about writing and I read endless advice books and blogs about writing. I was looking for the secret. The magic ingredient that would enable me to write a book.

I started stories. I would write an opening paragraph or scene and just run out of steam. Occasionally, I would manage a few chapters, but I never knew what came next so I stopped. Until the next character or opening line or bit of dialogue would pop into my head and I’d write it down, only to get stuck again.

Behind all of this stopping was fear. I was scared that I couldn’t do it and so I never forced myself past the initial spark of an idea.

Also, I was making a crucial mistake: I thought that feeling stuck meant that the initial idea was no good.

What I didn’t realise was that feeling stuck as a writer is completely and utterly normal: It’s part of the gig! 

That having ‘no idea what happens next’ doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep on trying. That, essentially, writing a book is hard graft, not divine inspiration.

Also, I hadn’t realised that nested inside my surface fears (of writing rubbish and not having enough ideas to fill a book) were deeper worries about finishing. If I finished, I would have to take the next step and actually show it to somebody else – argh!

Ultimately, I was terrified that if I did finish a book and it sucked, then I would have confirmation that I was a terrible writer and would never be an author.

It felt safer to dream of ‘being a writer on day’ rather than risk exposing my lack of ideas and talent through actually trying.

So, just in case you are where I used to be (or you are Debs – hi Debs!) I’m going to reveal to you the big secret about writing novels.

The reason you are finding it hard to finish your novel is because it is SUPER HARD TO DO.

But, here is the big secret… All you have to do is slog through this first one.

It doesn’t have to be good.

There is one rule: If you get to the end, you have succeeded.

If it sucks (and, fair warning, it probably will) that doesn’t matter. Every single author you have ever loved sucked when they started writing. Just think of it as a necessary stage.

And here is the best part – the magic lies in the act of finishing. Once you have finished that first book, I promise it will transform your writing life.

You might choose not to finish projects in the future, but you will carry with you the knowledge that you ARE capable of finishing them and that makes all the difference in the world.

So, having explained why I think finishing your book is so gosh-darned important, here are a few tips to help you get from beginning to end (or middle to end):

  • Don’t focus on the writing. Focus on the act of doing the work, not the writing you are producing.
  • Make finishing your book (no matter what) your one and only goal.
  • Break the goal into manageable steps and add a deadline.

Happily enough, there is a group writing challenge starting next week which will help you with all of these tips. It’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and it starts on 1st November. You can sign up (free) here.

Or, you can set your own version of the challenge… Remember – the only thing that matters is getting to the finish line, not how you run the race.

Also, if you prefer your cheer-leading in book-form and liked this post, why not try my guide? It’s packed with tips and advice to help you start (and finish!) your book:

Stop Worrying; Start Writing: How To Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination.









Thanks for reading!

Are you struggling to finish your book or have you got a tip you want to pass on?

Got a subject you would like covered or a question for the podcast?

Join in the comments or email me anytime!

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