Writing Advice: What not to write

This is a list of writing advice I’ve heard on what not to write or how not to write. It’s probably a little fiction heavy, but I’m open to non-fiction writing not-to advice. Feel free to send suggestions of what and how not to write. But I’m also interested in examples of when going against this writing advice works.

1. Don’t use  “started to” or “began to.” People don’t start to cry, they cry.

2. Don’t tell us a character “felt” something. Show us how the character feels.

3. Don’t use passive voice, for instance “She was informed by a friend of her mistake.” Use “A friend said she was wrong.”

4. Don’t use adverbs like “happily” or “greedily.”

5. Don’t use cliches, like “she balled her hands into fists” or “she rolled her eyes.”

Advice from other writers:

1. Avoid “to be” verbs unless the sentence is awkward without them. Just about always avoid expletive constructions (exception for weather only, I think). Avoid unnecessary attributions. Avoid most attributions other than “said.”

2. Use Wordle to figure out what words you’re overusing. Then use a Find command to eradicate as many of them as possible. Do this with your top ten most overused words.

3. If your story makes perfect sense without a chapter, delete it.

4. Don’t start a sentence with “There” or “It” or “This,” especially if you can’t pinpoint what the pronoun is referring to. Start with a strong word instead. – Beth Skwarecki

How to Find An Agent For My Novel

critique groups

Drafts & Revisions

Earlier this year, I finished the first draft of my middle novel, Dare Club. Once the draft was done, I dedicated the rest of the year to revision and to find an agent for my novel.

I knew that it would be tough to find an agent for my novel wasn’t going to be easy and would need the strongest possible manuscript, which is why revision was a huge part of ths. In order to tackle the revision process, I downloaded Kate Messner’s book Real Revision. I attended a writing retreat hosted by the Western PA region of SCBWI. I worked online with Margo Dill, a.k.a Editor 911. And I put in hours at my desk and laptop alone.

With revision underway, I needed to get out there and meet agents, both in real life and online. In May, I attended the Pennwriters Conference and pitched to four different agents. At the writing retreat, I put my first chapters in front of an editor. In September, I participated in Brenda Drake‘s Pitch Wars and in her Twitter-based #PitMad party.

And I crossed my fingers.

And somewhere along the line I realized how pitching and revision go hand in hand when it comes to writing the best possible book and in the search to find an agent for my novel. When I wanted to really hone in on the essence of my story and create a compelling pitch, I thought long and hard about if the 50,000 words on the pages actually told that story.

I sent my queries out there and posted my pitches on Twitter and got some interesting, thoughtful feedback that will help me revise even more and hopefully help me not just find any agent for my novel but to find an agent for my novel that is the right one. 

Have you ever sent a query out? And gotten a rejection back? I’ve received tons of rejections but I thought I’d share the ones relevant to my novel here.

Rejection 1: “Thanks so much for sending your novel along and for your patience while I considered it.  I’m sorry but I’ve decided to pass.  I think the concept is really strong, but I wasn’t drawn in by the writing, which felt a little too young in a way.”

Rejection 2: “Thank you for the opportunity to consider DARE CLUB. Though I really love this premise and you show a lot of talent as an author, I didn’t quite buy into the relationship between Tony, Inky, and Mara—the dynamic felt, at times, a tad too flat, and I’d like to have known more about Mara in particular. I am afraid that I don’t have the vision for this project—but I wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and a publisher for DARE CLUB. It’s a great premise, and with the right editorial guidance I think you could have something here.”

Rejection 3: “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to choose DARE CLUB. In this case it really came down to voice, and I just wasn’t personally connecting.”

Rejection 4: “Thank you for sharing your Pitch Wars entry with me! I received a lot of submissions, and unfortunately, I didn’t choose yours to mentor.I really enjoyed your entry, which made this a tough decision! You’ve got great MG voice, strong writing, and an intriguing concept. I think the one thing I wanted more of was Tony. He’s narrating the story, but I couldn’t get a good grip on who he was as a person (besides the fact that he likes challenges and hates his nickname). It might help to add a few more thoughts/emotions on his part as he narrates in order to shed more light on him as a character — things that give insight into his family, things he likes to do, other friends, pets, goals/desires (aside from getting to know Mara better, that is! 😉 You definitely don’t want to info-dump this kind of thing, but just adding a little here and there as it relates to the conversation or Tony’s observations would help flesh out his character. I hope that helps! I definitely think you should query this (if you haven’t already started), and enter it into some more contests. You should also consider doing the #pitmad pitch party on Twitter on the 9th–you’ve got a great hook, which is a must-have to get agent attention in 140 characters. 🙂 Best of luck to you.”

Something amazing just happened as I read those rejections in the process of posting them here to help inspire fellow writers to keep working on their dream novel. I felt inspired again. I wanted to let other writers know that rejections aren’t always filled with negative comments or with cursory dismissals. Rejections can help, especially when the agent or editor provides a useful critique! I know that’s rare enough these days so these kinds of rejections should be treasured all the more.

I’m still trying to find an agent for my novel. And I’m not giving up yet!

 

Banned Books – Is it ever worth it?

How do you feel about banned books? I’m pretty opposed to banning books. I don’t think every book should be read, but I don’t think anything good can come of trying to ban books. In fact, I have a lovely coffee mug from Book Riot via Quarterly featuring the titles of banned books.

I’ve heard Ellen Hopkins speak at the 2014 SCBWI Winter Conference and her books have been banned. I read her first one, Crank, and it stirred a lot of uncomfortable feelings in me as a parent. And I’m glad I read it.

My mom sent me an email recently about a book that was taken off the reading list for high schoolers in Delaware. The book is The Miseducation of Cameron Post Emily M. Danforth. The school board voted 6-1 to take the book off the summer reading list for incoming freshmen because of the F-word in the book. The school board also claims it removed the book from the summer reading list but did not ‘ban’ the book or remove it from school libraries. Other groups claim the book was removed because the main character, a young woman, is gay. Opponents to the ban (let’s just call it that) say other books with similar language weren’t taken off the list – just this one about the lesbian.

In response to the removal of this book, free copies are being given away to any high school student in Delaware with proof of identification! A free book – a free award-winning, critically-praised book! Oh to be young and in high school again!

There’s also an essay contest sponsored by local libraries on the theme of “what school board members should know about this book.” I can imagine some heartfelt personal essays.

I’ve read books that were at some point banned. I’ve read great books that were banned, and stupid books that should have been banned because they made me dumber.

I, too, am a little freaked out at the thought of my 13-year old reading the F-word. But I know he’s already heard the word. And he’s going to hear it many, many more times in his life. I want to protect my kid, too. But I don’t think I’m protecting him if I hide books – or real life – from him. I think I’m best protecting him by helping him process the difficult things he’s going to encounter in life.

But in my opinion, banning a book just makes it more exciting to read the book. That kind of reverse psychology works all the time with my kids. And it works with adults, too! Make something illegal (Prohibition,anyone?) and everyone wants it!!

 

Have you ever opposed a book banning?

What’s your favorite banned book? 

Creative science writing

creative science writing

Inspiration from nature

Creative science writing, not exactly science fiction but fiction based in fact, is one of my favorite kinds of writing. Recently I finished a fun story about a worm who saves a compost pile. Lots of creative science writing in that tale.

And earlier this year my middle son asked me to write a story about a certain type of bee he invented. I was delighted with his character but struggled to come up with a story. So this week I grabbed a large stack of non-fiction children’s books about bees from the library. I have learned so much amazing detail about the lives of bees. There is fodder there for at least three different kinds of stories and maybe two decent poems. I have big dreams for this creative science tale, like middle grade novel or maybe even graphic novel length. If only I could draw!

Following along science-and-nature inspired creative writing,  I have rediscovered the most amazing book that I bought for my boys but selfishly I am now claiming for my own. The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination (A Poetry Speaks Experience). Seriously. Even if you claim you don’t like poetry, you must get this book.

What’s a book, story or poem that you love that is an example of creative science writing?

Tomboys or Sissies: Which do you want?

boys sculpture tomboys

My boys view Miro’s sculpture “The Caress of a Bird” described as a “totem of female sexuality.”

“I’m pretty sure my daughter will be a tomboy,” my friend, father of a nine-month old girl, proudly announced. I automatically smiled, because I think my friends would describe me as more tomboy than girly-girl. My sons are often surprised when I wear a dress. Because girly-girls wear dresses, right?

But then I started thinking about my three boys – and how the male equivalent of the word “tomboy” is not nearly as kind. If I said to another parent, “I’m pretty sure one of my boys will be a sissy!” I doubt they’d smile and congratulate me.

Books for Tomboys? Or Sporty Kids?

Recently I received an email from Kara Thom, the author of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom announcing her new book series Go! Go! Sports Girls! The series really interested and excited me, but it also made me wonder what comparable series would be written for boys.

To be fair, Thom does state the series is for children – not just girls. And my boys willingly read books about boys and girls, so they’d probably love the books about soccer, swimming and running, three sports they really love. Here’s what Go! Go! Sports Girls! is about, according to Thom:

The 32-page illustrated books explore social-emotional growth through sport in engaging stories that empower children to “Dream Big and Go For It!” The titles are:

Soccer Girl Cassie’s Story: Teamwork is the Goal
Swimmer Girl Suzi’s Story: Winning Strokes
Runner Girl Ella’s Story: Family Fun Run
Gymnastics Girl Maya’s Story: Becoming Brave
Dancer Girl M.C.’s Story: One Step at a Time
Cheerleader Girl Roxy’s Story: Leading the Way

This project has been a passion for me as I raise three young athletic daughters, but also because I’m part of a movement to give girls better choices. Girls need more than the stereotypical options packaged in pink, as well as options other than over-sexualized toys such as Bratz, Monster High, and their ilk.

Go! Go! Sports Girls are age-appropriate, proportioned to a real girl’s body, project a positive image, and deliver a healthy message. The Go! Go! Sports Girls better reflect our family’s lifestyle and values. Girls play sports and so should their dolls. My daughters McKenna, Kendall, and Jocelyn have grown up playing with Go! Go! Sports Girls, and still do. I might add that my son, Blake, who has no concept that his mom is the author, is a fan of the books as well.

To be clear, I completely agree with Thom’s goal of motivating and inspiring young girls in a different way than lots of popular media representations of girls. But what about my boys? How can I encourage them to follow their interests and passions if those interests aren’t typical “boy” activities? And how come we don’t have a cool word for boys who act like girls? It’s so unfair that girls can be cool tomboys but boys acting like girls is labeled an insult.

I’ve been trying to come up with examples of behaviors that are frequently seen as feminine that I’d want my boys to feel free to adopt in a world without gender stereotypes. Maybe being more empathetic? I wasn’t sure that what I thought was feminine was feminine, by social standards. I found this on Planned Parenthood:

WORDS COMMONLY USED TO DESCRIBE FEMININITY
dependent
emotional
passive
sensitive
quiet
graceful
innocent
weak
flirtatious
nurturing
self-critical
soft
sexually submissive
accepting

I wasn’t really thrilled when I read some of the items on the list. Because I’m certainly not graceful or quiet. But I would totally love it if my boys learned to be quiet sometimes! Maybe that would be one of the books in my series about boys exploring new behaviors: Little Tommy Learns Not to Scream Every Word! I could get behind a book for boys focusing on that. But I’m not really thrilled about a lot of those qualities on the list. And I think that’s why lots of parents are proud of having ‘tomboys.’ But they wouldn’t love it if their boys were described as weak or passive.

To be fair, Planned Parenthood didn’t make that list to say how women should behave. They follow the lists with this:

“Clearly, society’s categories for what is masculine and feminine are unrealistic. They may not capture how we truly feel, how we behave, or how we define ourselves. All men have some so-called feminine traits, and all women have some so-called masculine traits. And we may show different traits at different times. Our cultures teach women and men to be the opposite of each other in many ways. The truth is that we are more alike than different.”

What could we write?

But I’m really serious in my question here! I’m all for tomboys and girly-girls doing what they love most. And I love that these books for girls are about social-emotional growth through sports (traditionally and still a heavily male arena) because sports and physical strength are a key part of my happiness.

What series of books could we write about boys embracing traditionally female activities for social emotional growth?

Writing Clips

writing clips

“Jane D.O.E.” is included in Issue 65

I’m happy to announce a few new writing clips in my portfolio. Writer’s Weekly, a fantastic source of information and publications for freelance writers recently published my story about learning InDesign to boost my income and increase my client work.

Next, Children’s Writer, a newsletter produced by the Institute of Children’s Literature, published my article Procrastination into Productivity by way of Pinterest. Sometimes I think procrastination is just based on your perspective, but this article offers real tips for fiction writers looking for inspiration.

While it’s not published yet, I’m thrilled to hear that Family Fun magazine is buying an essay I submitted back in January! It’s scheduled to come out in the June/July 2014 issue and offers kids and parents a great boredom buster idea. Stay tuned.

I also completed an assignment for AppleSeeds for an their September 2014 issue on skyscrapers. I am not an engineer and have no construction experience, but I do have a lot of experience explaining complex ideas to nine year olds, so this article was right up my alley.

These new writing clips really enhance my samples and focus in on topics that are important to me. I try to update my writing clips list on my website monthly, but I’ve been so busy writing lately that I’ve fallen behind!

And I don’t think I ever formally announced that my flash fiction story “Jane D.O.E.” received an Honorable Mention from Leading Edge Literary Magazine. This award was extra-special because one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy authors, Orson Scott Card, was also published in Leading Edge. I think that makes me cool by association. I started “Jane D.O.E.” in the years before I had three children. It waited in my stacks of old stories until the time was right for me to revise, revise, revise and then re-submit this futuristic re-telling of the classic novel Jane Eyre.

Do you have old stories laying around, waiting for your fresh eyes and enhanced skills? What would you like to do with them?

Do you have any new writing clips you’d like to announce?

 

Writing Contests

I am a sucker for a writing contest. I have a writing friend who thinks they can be a real waste of time and money, and I acknowledge that she is very right most of the time. But after a recent meeting of my SCBWI critique group, and after the experience I gained from one contest, I have identified some intangible benefits.

But to be fair, I will outline some of the negative aspects of writing contests, too. This is hard because I’m not good at seeing the downside of things.

Cons of Writing Contests

  • There is usually a fee.
  • The word count may not lend itself to the best telling of your story.
  • Winning an award doesn’t always mean publication of your writing.
  • It could be a scam.

Pros of Writing Contests

  • The fees for some are very small.
  • Some offer prize money.
  • Word count limits can force you to revise.
  • Winning could mean publication.
  • It’s good practice to have to meet a deadline.
  • Some contests promise feedback that you don’t get on regular submissions.

I’ve been writing for a long time, all the way back to when I started my elementary school’s first literary journal. Yes, as editor several of my more painful pieces of poetry were chosen for the first issue. But since then my fiction success has been pretty low. In college and as an adult I wrote for several newspapers. But my short stories only earned rejections. It hurt but I kept writing.

Then last year, as I continued my habit of entering writing contests, something changed. I earned an honorable mention for a poem, a finalist position for a flash fiction piece, and an honorable mention for another flash fiction story.

These were my first writing awards, ever. And that last honorable mention includes publication in a respected sci-fi/fantasy magazine! My first fiction publication. Ever.

Of course I think it couldn’t be better. But to be fair I’ll list some cons:

  • There is no prize money.

I’m sorry, I can’t think of any more cons for entering this writing contest! I tried. But I’m just too much of an optimist. Here are some pros:

  • The editors asked me to revise my story slightly. That was good practice.
  • The editors asked me to review and sign a contract. I was excited to learn what was in the contract and research the meaning of the rights.
  • The editors asked me to review their copyedits. This was good learning, too.
  • I’m following the magazine on Facebook and learning about how they tagline the stories in each issue.
  • My ego is boosted.
  • This story was originally written before I had children, and I had pulled it out and re-worked it. I have lots more of those and feel like I am a better writer than I was then. I can make them, better, faster, stronger.

If you want to enter a writing contest, I would say go for it. But go for it in a smart way.

  • Do your research. I picked journals that printed things I loved to read. So find a literary magazine or journal that you respect. I have two favorites that have contests on right now and I saved up some of my best work for their contests!
  • Do not just enter any old contest. I often look for contests with unique angles like ‘Best Starts’ or with themes and prompts.
  • Pick the right writing. Chose stories or poems you have written that you think they would love.
  • Don’t enter contests with excessive fees. I consider anything above $20 excessive.
  • Think small. Lots of really big magazines like Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers offer contests. But smaller journals and magazines host them, too. Sign up for alerts from places like WOW! Women on Writing, Writer Advice, FreelanceWriting and AllIndieWriters.

 

Resources for Freelance Writers

freelance writers

Key information for freelance writers

Writer’s Weekly Helps Freelance Writers

Writer’s Weekly recently published my success story. This online newsletter offers terrific resources for freelancer writers and I invite you to check it out here.

Writer’s Weekly editors are looking for more success stories and feature articles. In addition, the newsletter lists jobs for freelance writers and information on self-publishing.

Consider what has helped you as a freelance writer.  Was it something as simple as changing where you worked or how you organized your tasks? Did you adopt new technology or change your website?

This past month I downloaded the free trial for InDesign and used it to lay out and design a monthly newsletter for one of my clients. It was a challenge and I made mistakes. But I know I won’t make the same mistakes next month and by learning this software I now have more hourly work for this client.

What are you doing to challenge yourself as a freelance writer, keep your skills fresh and remain valuable to clients?

 

More Advice on Writers Conferences

This year I’m heading to my first writers conference. I’m gathering tips and advice from people who have been to writers conferences before. So I asked one of my good friends Beth Skwarecki about her most recent writers conference. She’s also really analytical and never takes things at face value, which makes her a great science writer. We met last year when she agreed without ever having met me, to be my writing mentor for National Novel Writing Month. Since our first meetings, which were quiet and focused on writing, we’ve had some interesting shared adventures like hiking with our kids and spotting an owl as well as visiting gun and archery ranges. Yep, we’re exciting people.

Beth recently attended a science writers conference called…ScienceWriters hosted by the National Association of Science Writers. Pretty much it was science writers heaven to judge by her enthusiastic – almost giddy – tweets and emails!


Writers Conference Tips

Before Beth jetted off to London for SpotOn, another science conference, I asked her to share with me some advice for a great writers conference experience.

From Beth:

I suspect ScienceWriters is a different beast than other writing conferences. Not sure how much of this applies elsewhere. That said, I jotted down a few thoughts.

To know about writing conferences like ScienceWriters:

Editors want to meet writers. Writers want to hear cool stuff from PIOs. Freelancers want to compare notes with other freelancers. Introduce yourself to anyone and everyone; you won’t regret it.

Don’t skip the parties. Your conversation starters are:

So where are you based?
Are you a freelancer / who do you work for?
What sessions have you gone to? How was that one? Which ones are you doing tomorrow?
Have you been to these conferences before?
We’ve emailed / I follow you on twitter / etc / and I just wanted to say hi in person.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer and don’t have tons of clips you’re proud of, and somebody asks you who you write for? DO NOT PANIC. It’s OK to say you’re new. Mention a thing or two you’ve done. Or just evade the question and tell them about the latest topic you wrote about, or something you’re interested in. They’re not fact-checking your resume, they just want to start a conversation.

When there are food tables, skip the first one you see. The ones at the back of the room have shorter lines.

There will be times you have to choose between sessions. Don’t sweat it too much; just ask other attendees later about how that session was. Sometimes I’ll skip a session if I know it’s likely to be blogged or videotaped, and instead choose something where the in-the-moment experience will be the best.

You don’t HAVE to do anything. If you want to skip a session to write, go ahead. If you’re partied out, feel free to hole up in your hotel room. Just not all the time.

NASW has lots of field trips and opportunities to meet researchers. Even if what they’re doing seems boring, put on your interviewer hat and start asking questions. Imagine an editor has told you “This person does super cool stuff, but you’ll have to dig to find out what it is.” Ask dumb questions, smart questions, anything that comes to mind. Stumped? Try “What is the worst part of your job?” and “What’s the most exciting thing in your field?”. Those two questions, if propelled with just a little bit of “so tell me more about that,” can cover anywhere from minutes to hours.

We did a “Power Pitch” session which was like speed dating with editors. It was AWESOME. Here’s my approach, which seemed to work well for me.

Find out how it works. Wake up early to sign up (they did a lottery in the morning)
Know, ahead of time, who your first (second, etc) choice of editor is. Have a list of pitch topics.
Don’t worry about fleshed out pitches; there isn’t time. Think in terms of headlines and hooks.
Here’s what I would usually say:
I’m [name] from [city] covering [beat].
(Business card swap)
I ask: Where does your pub fit in the news cycle? What counts as a good news peg for you?
Maybe another quick question or two to narrow down where their needs intersect with the kind of stuff I can write (topic areas, word counts, etc)
Rapid fire pitches: a headline, a few sentences of explanation if needed. Get a yes/no and move quickly to the next. Time will be up before you know it.
They won’t assign stories on the spot; it’s more of a rapid fire “Do you want a pitch on this?”
If they give a yes, or a strong maybe, I star that pitch in my notebook.

To check out Beth’s science writing, a good place to start is her Pinterest board. But I’d highly recommend following her on Twitter, too.

 

What Goes in Work Bags?

contents of work bags

What’s in your work bag?

Work bags are essential for freelancers. I rarely go places without mine. Not everyone can work at home all the time, even freelancers need to visit the outside world. Sometimes I’m meeting deadlines at soccer practice, cranking out words at a local coffee shop, or strategizing at a client’s office. I don’t mind leaving my home office but I do mind when I’ve forgotten something essential.

So I wanted to put together a standard ‘desk on the go’ that was always ready in case I wanted to head out the door and didn’t leave myself enough to check over the contents of the bag.

So I asked four creative professionals what they always pack in their work bags in order to get things done.

First I asked Susan Paff from Ideality Communications what she carries.

“Believe it or not I used to carry a travel file folder in my trunk. Now dropbox carries everything for me. A laptop, an iPad, an iPhone – I’ve worked from them all. Add Skype for conferencing and messaging and we can work from anywhere.”

Susan sent her answer using voice texting from Siri. I’m impressed at her multi-tasking.

Shawn Graham, who offers marketing services for badass small businesses, brings these items:

  • Laptop (with charger)
  • Tablet
  • Pen
  • Outlet
  • Internet Access
  • Table/Chair
  • Cell Phone (with charger)
  • Coffee
  • Ear buds (personal preference or if people are loud talking around you)
Both Shawn and Susan provide serious creative strategizing for their many clients. I wondered if writers have anything different in their work bags?
So I asked Jennifer Bright Reich, coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Losing Weight and
Feeling Great.

This is a great question, thanks for asking! I generally work in my home office, but each week when my boys are in karate, I usually take “the show on the road.” I have a large laptop bag that’s about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage. I always keep it packed and ready to roll! Even though there was some up-front cost, I bought duplicates of most things in my bag so that way I keep the extras in there and don’t forget to pack them!Here’s what’s inside:
Spare laptop cord
Spare mouse and my Disney Vacation Club mousepad (Will work to travel!)
Spare calculator
Pens, Post-it notes, pencils

I liked that Jennifer packs Post-it notes and I think I’m going to add that to my work bag. Local science writer Beth Skwarecki was the only one who mentioned a caffeinated beverage – maybe that’s why we make such good writing partners.

Here’s what Beth keeps in her work bag:

1. My laptop.
2. The knowledge/attitude that if I have my laptop, I have the tools I need to get work done. Even if I don’t have internet, I can draft, outline, or brainstorm.
3. My smartphone – in case I don’t have internet, I can still look stuff up. (Or take a peek at my email without getting bogged down in it.)
4. Headphones, in case people are getting loud; and a playlist that helps me tune out distractions. I like ambient music like God Is An Astronaut.
5. A notebook (and pen), or failing that, a scrap of paper. I write down things that pop into my head that I don’t have time to deal with at the moment; I also use it for brainstorming and organization. It’s like having an extra brain.
6. Extras that are helpful: laptop charger, usb cable to charge phone, caffeinated beverage or means of procuring same.
Of course everybody I talked to has some serious tech in their work bags. But old-fashioned paper snuck it’s way in there, too. It looks like almost everyone uses earphones, too, whether for phone calls or inspirational music. I feel like I’m well on my way to having a useful bag ready whenever I need to rush out the door. Of course I always have a nice selection of pens. They are so crucial to my productivity. But if you look closely at the photo at the top of the post you’ll see a funny little metal rectangle. I have no idea what it’s called but I call it a book stand or book holder. I’ve had it for years and I love it. It is always with me in my work bag, at my desk, wherever I go. It is my essential item.