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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #372

Silent Spring

I’m reading, for the third time, the brilliant work “Silent Spring,” by Rachel Carson. The first time I read it was in 1965 and, truth be told, I was too young to fully appreciate it. Today I do.

Consider the fact that Carson was a biologist, a field of science generally laughed at by the scientific community in 1962. Consider the fact that Carson was a woman scientist, barely taken seriously by her peers, the rarest of rare in 1962 science. And consider the fact that her book was going to throw down against the giant chemical corporations and call government leaders liars and incompetents without conscience.

She could no longer ignore the dangers of pesticides, and what they were doing to the natural world, and so she stood alone and screamed from the pulpit, valiantly trying to complete the book before she died from MBC. She was determined to write a scientific book that the average citizen could understand and so, she began her book, one of the most important books ever written, with a fable.

“There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards where, in spring, white clouds of bloom drifted above the green fields . . .

“Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community, mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens, the cattle and sheep sickened and died.”


Storytelling can be powerful!

The Mail Room!

The Mail Room!

Running Away From Problems

From Mr. Happy: "to navigate the rough seas until I find calm water again" - Where is the sweet spot between running away from problems and always trying to fix them?

I don’t know, Mr. Happy, but I do believe it differs with each person. I had to come to the realization that there is only so much I can fix, that there is a time when I simply have to yield to a higher power or, as a mentor once told me, let go and let God.

Some people never let go. Some people are extremely unhappy. Some people are like a pitbull with a bone, and they love to chew. I pick the battles I have a shot of winning at or, at least, those I have a shot at making a difference at. The others I leave to others.

There Once Was a Book Salesman . . .

From Mr. Happy once more: “I was listening to an interview on CNN with an author, Michael Wolff. He has published a book about Trump and politics and in the past week, or two he has been doing the rounds on all major news stations to promote his book. I saw many interviews with him about his book. In this one though, he goes on the attack on news outlets, including CNN and the person who is interviewing him, Brian Stelter.

Close to the end, Brian Stelter asks Michael Wolff why he came to CNN "a few times this week", seeing the negative comments Michael Wolff had about CNN and him. The answer was very interesting. Michael Wolff responded by saying: "You know ahh ... I'm a, I'm a book salesman."

It surprised me that he did not call himself an author who has to sell his book, or to promote his book. He just said that he's a salesman, which made me wonder: can one be a mediocre writer but a really good salesman and write/sell lots of books? And in the same way, I suppose someone can be a really good writer but a bad salesman and thus, not sell books, or not sell many books. What do You think on that? Just curious.”

This is a tough one, my friend. Yes, I think you can be a mediocre writer and still sell tons of books. I give you James Patterson as Exhibit One! LOL I will go to my grave believing Patterson is, at best, a mediocre writer. I feel the same way about Sparks, whatever his first name is. Those two have sold millions of books, but they can’t hold a candle to some of the truly gifted storytellers.

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And yes, you can be an outstanding writer and only sell enough books to buy a sixpack of beer.

I haven’t read the book by Wolff, but I love his answer. At least he’s being honest, or so I assume.

Am I a writer or a book salesman?

Am I a writer or a book salesman?


From Linda: “I have a problem with writing about an individual. How do I refer to that person as I tell the story? For example, "Bill was born and raised in Tacoma. Bill loved to play baseball. Bill attended the University of Washington, yadda yadda yadda." I can intersperse a few "he's" in place of Bill, but is that enough? And how often? Do you have any other suggestions for breaking the monotony?”

It's an interesting question, Linda. In the case of proper names, and their repetition, you really only have two options: use pronouns, or construct your sentences in such a way so the reader knows you are still talking about the same person. In your example above, you could write it this way instead: “Bill was born and raised in Tacoma. He loved to play baseball, attended the University of Washington, and majored in Economics and Marketing.” In my rewrite, I only used his name once, I only used one pronoun, and still the sentence flowed and remained about the same person.

Thanks for the question, my friend.

Breaking It Up

From Rodric: “I appreciate the answer to my question, Bill. I could have been clearer. I am writing an article about Critical Race Theory. I've been at it for two weeks and well over 4000 words into it! I don't feel I am finished, so I am wondering if it is appropriate to break it up. I do want to get hits on Google, but only for the purpose of getting readers to read what I write. I am sorely vexed by publishing a long hub. Who wants to read a hub that is a novellete? I suppose that is another question to include in a new Mailbag. I am writing two long hubs at the same time. One is my next Woza Moya chapter. I can't break that one up. I guess I could, though...”

Rodric, there are so many ways to look at this, and you really have several options. Yes, the average attention span of an online reader is about the equivalent of a fruit fly’s lifespan and, yes, it is recommended that most online articles be under 2,000 words. On the flip side, you have the problem that many people will not bother looking for Part Two of any article, so you’re really damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

From a purely Google standpoint, it really doesn’t make any difference if your readers read the whole article or not, so I would lean towards the longer article rather than breaking it into two parts.

Having said all that, the one sure way to guarantee that people will read your entire article is to do such an outstanding job of writing that they will WANT to read it to its entirety.

Good luck!

Universal Themes

From Lora: “Another question for you. Do you think that most great novels touch upon universal themes or great truths either directly or indirectly? Even the children's books that I've read and really enjoyed seem to touch upon truths or guiding principles about how one should live their life.”

Yes, Lora, I most definitely believe that. Love and belonging . . . safety and security . . . freedom . . . power . . . fun . . . awareness . . . these are universal themes which are used quite often in literature. I’m sure you could name a few more. I would go so far as to say there probably aren’t more than ten universal themes in all of literature.

I don’t remember who said it, but I believe it is true, that there are only about five basic storylines in all of literature ie. Person falls in love, faces obstacles, love wins, or innocence meets evil, struggles, but innocence overcomes.

It is how the individual writer approaches those universal themes, or storylines, which separates them from the pack.

Thank you, Rachel Carson!

Thank you, Rachel Carson!

Silent Spring

Six years after Carson’s death, the first Earth Day was celebrated. Six years after her death, Congress established the Environmental Protection Agency.

The power of the written word!

Have a fantastic week! Remember to be proud. You are writers, and writing is a noble profession.

Questions for the Mailbag? Include them in the comments below, or send me an email at

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 17, 2021:

She was incredible, Jo! We need more like her.

Jo Miller from Tennessee on August 16, 2021:

Rachel Carson is one of my heroes.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 08, 2021:

Denise, it is just an outstanding read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Blessings always

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on August 05, 2021:

I recently purchased The Silent Spring for my Kindle but haven't read it yet. It keeps getting pushed back in my reading list in favor of other novels or biographies I want to read, but the time has come to bring it to the forefront of the list. Thanks for the prompt.



Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 05, 2021:

Thank you, Lora, for the great question and the even greater comment. I can always count on you to take the time to write something meaningful, and that means a lot to me. I hope you are well. Have a brilliantly happy weekend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 05, 2021:

Unfortunately, Mary, they go hand in hand, the writing and the sales. Otherwise, you are just unknown.

Lora Hollings on August 05, 2021:

I loved your answer to my question about universal themes, Bill. I agree with you that there are probably no more than ten universal themes in all of literature. And the categories that you mention are ones that many great authors have written about even the most memorable children's books seem to touch on these themes. One of my favorites that comes to mind is "Charlotte's Web" whose themes are about the value of friendship and showing compassion for all living creatures. It is one of my all time favorite books! And I agree with you about Rachael Carson. Her books especially, "Silent Spring," have withstood the test of time and her incredible words are still as poignant today as when it first came out. I will have to read that book again, soon. Thanks Bill for all your inspiration!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 04, 2021:

I love reading books from gifted storytellers, and I hope that people read these books, too. However, for that to happen, the author needs to be a good salesperson as well.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 04, 2021:

Way too funny, Mel. I can hardly wait for your review of Patterson. To me, the man is a hack, and I really do dislike his way of manipulating the market. But hey, he never asked for my opinion, and he's rolling in money, so there you go.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 04, 2021:

It is my pleasure, Vidya! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 04, 2021:

Heidi, you never fail to amuse me. Thanks for the laugh. I love marketing for other people, and I'm good at it. Myself, not so much. Honestly, most of my problem with regards to my work is I just don't care whether thousands read it or not. I write for my enjoyment. If someone wants to pay for it, great. If not, also fine by me.

Okay, time to go work outside before it gets hot.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 04, 2021:

Thank you John! I agree with you about the second part in a series. It almost always has fewer views. I wish I had all the answers but alas, I have few.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 04, 2021:

Bill, I'm a bit surprised by how many of you haven't read Silent Spring. It's a must in my humble opinion. As for Patterson, I am green with envy and pissed at the same time. lol Happy August to you, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 04, 2021:

Oh, Vanita, that is so nice of you to say. Thank you! Yes, you may call yourself a writer, and be proud of that fact. Writing is a noble pastime, my friend, and you do it well.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 04, 2021:

I'm not sure if it's wisdom, Rodric. There is just so much we don't understand about Google ratings and doing well with articles online. All I can do is share my hunch based on my experience. I hope it helps you, and thanks for the new question, my friend.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 04, 2021:

There are some truly gifted individuals, like Rachel Carson, who can take what is not recognized as a creative field and turn it into one through the power of storytelling. Abraham Lincoln was another one, brilliant politician whose speeches are works for all time. He didn't have a speech writer, he did it himself, fancy that!

I'm glad you got first knocks in on James Patterson. I am going to make fun of him in a future hub, but I was worried about how some of the people I respect around here would react. I have always wondered about Sparks but have never read him, and your glowing review means I probably won't.

Great work!

VIDYA D SAGAR on August 03, 2021:

Hi Bill, very interesting mailbag. I had the same doubt as Rodic regarding long articles. You have given helpful advise, especially about universal themes. Thanks for sharing this wonderful mailbag. Have a great week.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 03, 2021:

Thank you Brenda! The story of Rachel Carson is a fascinating one. I highly recommend you learn more about her. One person can make a difference.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 03, 2021:

Thank you Flourish! The overall advice, on any piece, should always be to write it well.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 03, 2021:

MizB, not pessimistic at all. Just honest! I'm with you with Sparks. I find his writing to be tripe at best. As for our weather, hot tomorrow and then, on Thursday, our first rain in 52 days. I am so looking forward to it.

Be well, my friend, and thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 03, 2021:

Thank you Linda! And I have no doubt you have read Silent Spring.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 03, 2021:

Shame on you, Alyssa! You simply must read it soon. No excuses, now! :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 03, 2021:

You got that right, James, I don't think he cares one bit about my opinion or yours. He's too busy counting his money. lol Thanks for adding your thoughts.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 03, 2021:

Well, Greg, we can't have that question nagging you. I'll take a stab at it next Monday. Thanks my friend, and Happy Pedaling to you on this Tuesday.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 03, 2021:

I'm glad you made it, Miebakagh! It wouldn't be a Mailbag without your input. Thank you my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 03, 2021:

Thank you Peggy! Good luck with your computer. I Hope the fix isn't too expensive.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 03, 2021:

Thank you, Rosina, and Happy Tuesday to you. I hope this finds you well and recovered from your recent illness.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on August 03, 2021:

Tardy Tuesday again! Oh well...

Re: Silent Spring. One of the books that I can point to that did help change the world.

Re: We are All Book Salespeople. Many writers can't sell their way out of a paper bag. But those that can often do find success, regardless of whether their work passes artistic muster or not. But you have to know what market you want. Mass market? You better be darn good at selling at every level of the distribution chain. Niche? You better know how to serve your narrow market, and be satisfied with the sales.

Re: Breaking It Up. Timely question with the introduction of Kindle Vella, the serialized reading offering from Amazon. I don't think it will well for the same reasons you note about putting everything in one article. People's attention spans are minute and they're easily distracted. So I say give it all at once.

Well, gotta go. Have a great week!

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 03, 2021:

I am late reading and commenting on this mailbag, Bill, but it was certainly worth it. Thank you for sharing about Rachel Carson. I agree with what has been said about James Patterson...brilliant salesman, mediocre writer.

In regard to Rodric's query about a long article vs publishing in more than one part. I generally find the second part has fewer views than the first and if there is a third, less still. Unless it is a story and each part ends in a real cliffhanger that gives the reader no option but want to read the next.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on August 03, 2021:

Hi Bill. I have never read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson but will definitely give it a read. As far as James Patterson that seems like a bit of deception to me. He’s making a very comfortable living on the work of others and his name. Kind of pisses me off also. Have a great week, Bill.

Vanita Thakkar on August 03, 2021:

Silent Springs sounds to be a great book. I would love to read it.

Interesting questions and answers.

You differentiated clearly between writers and sales people - facts. Every field has its share of pseudo-standards and writing is unfortunately not an exception.

Good writers are instrumental in giving right directions to thoughts and in inspiring right actions, which bring about desired changes in the society ....

I love reading your mailbags, Bill. You made me feel proud of being a writer - if I can call myself one :) :)

Thanks for your wonderful mailbags.

Rodric Anthony Johnson from Surprise, Arizona on August 02, 2021:

Your wisdom came after I made the decision to break the articles up, Bill. I will stick to my guns next time. I could delete my new articles and put them in the old ones or vice versa. What's done is done now. I will do that or the future. You're correct. If it's worth reading all the way through and I do a good job then people will read it. If not, I can go back and improve it. Heck, I will delete it and republish it. Is that okay? I suppose that is another question for the mailbag. Is it okay to republish old articles anew? I plan to do it for the ones that get no hits but have good info because of their age.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on August 02, 2021:


It sounds like Rachel really put her heart & soul into spreading this message.

Sad that no one listened at the time, but I hope she knows her message did eventually get across.

Silent Springs sounds interesting.

As for people...I guess it's the Let Go philosophy.

You cannot change can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

Great advice on how to incorporate pronouns with name.

Another wonderful read.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 02, 2021:

I’d urge Roderick to write it well and not break it up.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on August 02, 2021:

Interesting questions from Mr. Happy today, Bill. I’ve never read Silent Spring, but I remember one of the cartoons many years ago mentioned it a lot. I’ve forgotten which one it was though. That excerpt was some beautiful writing. The mediocre writer … Sparks, did you mean Nicolas Sparks who made such a sensation with his love story about Alzheimer’s? I found it boring and false. Anyone who has had to deal with an Alzheimer’s loved one knows that all is not roses like Sparks depicts in the book. He left out the screaming and yelling, and sometimes, violence. I refuse to read anything else by him. Glad you like Michael Wolff’s answer. I saw that interview, and I thought it was boring. I wondered why they bothered to have him on.

Didn't mean to be so pessimistic today. Sorry. The days are starting to get shorter, and we’ve had a cool spell here. It’s been in the low 90s the last few days. I’m ready for a good rain. How about you? Have a good rest of the week, my friend.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 02, 2021:

Thanks for continuing the mailbag series, Bill. It’s interesting and often thought provoking to read.

Alyssa from Ohio on August 02, 2021:

Another wonderful mailbag! I've never read "Silent Spring," but perhaps I should add it to my list. My son has read excerpts in school over the years though. Have a lovely week!

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on August 02, 2021:

I like your point about James Patterson. I tried reading something of his once. I was underwhelmed and haven't read him since. Perhaps that's unfair on my part. I'm not going to read anything he puts out, but I get the feeling he doesn't care. I am just one man with one man's opinion. He's managed to write best sellers without my input. This is just my long winded way of saying writers can't let individual opinions get in their way.

greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on August 02, 2021:

Bill - I have a question that has been nagging me, making me want to ask it of an accomplished writer such as yourself. When we write, when you write, not just for this, but for all writing you do: do you want to tell your story or do you want to tell a story? Is there some combination of both? Is there a different way altogether to look at it?

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on August 02, 2021:

Bill, your answer to Linda is enlightening. Many writers are very confused along that line. I nearly miss the mail bag. But glad that I jump in. Thanks.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 02, 2021:

Great mailbag today. Glad I caught this early enough to comment via my phone.

Our computer is in the shop and needs a new hard drive. I'll be awol for a while.

"Silent Spring" sounds like a great book. Enjoy your week!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 02, 2021:

I know, I hate them too, Mr. Happy, but I also hate the fact that I don't catch them even after two or three edits.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 02, 2021:

Mr. Happy, the key for Patterson is "co-write." He doesn't actually write the novels any longer. He gives an outline to another writer, they write the novel, and Patterson oversees the process and gives co-author status to the actual writer. Of course, on the cover of the book, it says JAMES PATTERSON in capital letters, as though he was the sole author. Quite frankly the whole subterfuge pisses me off. lol Enjoy that joint, have a great week, and thanks for the rant/question.

Rosina S Khan on August 02, 2021:

Very interesting mailbag, Bill, with great questions and terrific answers.

Your reference to Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring" is an excellent example of what writers can do to society and the world for positive changes.

Happy Monday, Bill and wish you a great week also.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 02, 2021:

Good morning Pamela, and thanks for once again joining our little group of writers and adding your perspective. You are appreciated always.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 02, 2021:

I know you knew the answer, Linda, but thanks for the question nonetheless. Have a cool week ahead.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 02, 2021:

Good morning Manatita! I think Linda was just being nice by asking a question, to keep the Mailbag flowing. I suspect she already knew the answer. That's what friends are for, as you know.

Happy August to you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 02, 2021:

Chitrangada Sharan, if you have never read Silent Spring, I think you would enjoy it greatly.

Happy Monday to you, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 02, 2021:

Sha, therein lies the rub. Far too many good writers will remain unknown because they lack the marketing skills, and I find that sad.

Happy August, my friend, and thank you always.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 02, 2021:

I completely agree, MG, and I thank you for pointing that out.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on August 02, 2021:

"week" not "weak" ffsk ... I can't take spelling mistakes. Just can't do it lmao It's not just about You understanding. It's also about me writing properly.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on August 02, 2021:

"strange blight crept over the area" - I got tomato blight!! It's been humid and then cold at night: perfect for blight to occur. Sigh ... one tomato plant died. I managed to save the others.

Ohh wow! I did not expect that question here. Haha!! That was just a question that popped-up. I got tons of those but thanks for the answer. I have the pit-bull tendencies towards those whom I perceive harm coming from but I do try to "pick the battles I have a shot of winning at or, at least, those I have a shot at making a difference at." Otherwise, I might just well go smash my head against a wall, it'd be just as useless.

Never heard of James Paterson but I just came across this: "In September 2009, Patterson signed a deal to write or co-write 11 books for adults and 6 for young adults by the end of 2012. Forbes reported the deal was worth at least $150 million". Wow...

"I haven’t read the book by Wolff, but I love his answer. At least he’s being honest" - Yes, it seemed he was just brutally honest there and the fact that he called himself a book salesman and not an author did rattle me a bit. I like writers but I do not like sales people much. Takes one to know one so trust me, sale people for the most part are a bunch of no-good-doers.

"he one sure way to guarantee that people will read your entire article is to do such an outstanding job of writing" - I think You are fully right here. If the writer manages to keep-up the interest then, I'll read 10,000 words without even thinking about it. On the other hand, there is an art in writing a "precis". Can You do it? Could be a challenge in my opinion (or, it often is for me, 'cause I like to talk a lot haha!!).

Well, I wasn't going to ask this but now that I read: "Do you think that most great novels touch upon universal themes or great truths either directly or indirectly?" I will post the question I asked my father some days ago, even though I have a feeling I know the answer, or You might answer the same thing my father answered.

He was talking about a novel written by some Chinese author. He was telling me that it is an amazing novel which I should read. He told me that the author wrote about wars in China's history, famine, personal struggles of people living there and that's where I stopped him.

"All novels, stories, movies, have the same thing no matter what country, or people they come from: some person is having an affair, some person steals from another person, some person kills another person, some person is terminally ill, or thinks he/she/it is, etc. It's all conflict and it's all the same when You break it down to little bits. Don't You get bored of this? Why read about struggles in China when You already read Dostoevsky and the struggles of Russian people? There is nothing different in the struggle. It's all the same."

That was my rant and the main reason I do not read fiction; it's all repetitive conflicts which different people experience but it's all the same and it drives me nuts. Haha!! Just solve the bloody problems already. They keep repeating!!! And we keep reading about them ... I feel like I am going insane. LOL

Okay, I'm gonna go roll myself a fat joint and enjoy the rest of my coffee. You have yourself a peachy weak ahead! Thank You for the answers. I appreciate it.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 02, 2021:

Happy Monday!

I think I would like to read Rachel Carson's book again, as it has been so many years.

This is another interesting mailbag, Bill. I like the variety of questions and your answers. I wonder about an author versus a salesman. That is a tricky question. Have a great week!

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on August 02, 2021:

Bill, thanks for answering my question. Mine was pretty easy-peasy--the others were heavier (especially on a Monday morning pre-coffee). You handled them well, as you always do.

It's been 40+ years since I picked up Silent Spring. It's time to dust it off and read it again. Thanks for the reminder.

manatita44 from london on August 02, 2021:

Carson was a Pioneer. Sometimes they are just two far ahead for the average Joe. Happens. When the god- hour struck, JK made millions, but before that, her books were refused.

It's intriguing to see a wonderful writer like Linda L, asking you these questions. In my editing for others, I simply join some of these short sentences to make them flow. I drop a few words like you have done and viola!

Have a great day!

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on August 02, 2021:

Hello Bill!

I enjoyed reading your article, the questions and your answers.

With reference to your opening paragraph— Thank you for the reference to Carson’s book, Silent spring. Yes, the writers do influence the society, in a powerful way, by means of their writing. You conveyed this so well, by example.

Thank you for sharing. Have a great week ahead.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 02, 2021:

Another great mailbag, Bill. Mr. Happy's question is interesting. I firmly believe a great writer needs to be a great marketer/salesman in order to sell books. Unless, of course, said great writer has a publisher/editor doing the selling on his behalf.

I'll be back at lunchtime to watch the videos.

Have a great week!

MG Singh from UAE on August 02, 2021:

Bill this was a very interesting article and more important it concentrated on the art of writing. I will however like to add one other point here. It is the job of the writer to use his pen to bring about social change, though it may look like a hopeless task. For example, Voltaire was the inspiration for the French revolution. I think this aspect of writing also is important.

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