Just Do It (+ Ronan excerpt)

ArivaSpacesmallerI got to thinking the other day about how much of a “just do it” factor there is when it comes to writing. As someone who is still fairly new to this whole being-an-author thing, I sometimes forget that I’m not just writing for myself anymore – there are actually people out there now who are waiting for the next book. On the one hand, this is exactly the type of pressure I had wanted to avoid, although I suppose it’s still better than having real deadlines and having your publisher breathing down your neck. On the other hand, having that pressure also motivates me to work. It helps me “just do it.”

There are a few things you should know about me.

  1. I get distracted easily. I don’t know why, but for the past couple of years my attention span has seemed nearly nonexistent. I often attribute this to the fact that I constantly have 5,000 things going through my head.
  2. As the World’s Biggest Introvert, those 5,000 things include scripts for conversations and scenarios that may or may not ever actually happen. I definitely like to think before I act. Because of this, I have plenty of practice visualizing things and making up dialogue, so I often have book scenes planned to a T before I ever even write them.
  3. I’m an expert procrastinator, and I often procrastinate on stuff I actually enjoy doing. I blame this partly on my lack of attention span, but I think it’s also because many of my hobbies don’t technically have to get done. That’s the whole point of hobbies, after all.

But now that writing has become a little more than just a plain old hobby, I’ve found that I need to kick the self-motivation up a notch. Being a full-time student on top of being an author makes things a little tricky, because I don’t have as much free time. Then I have multiple hobbies and obligations all vying for the free time I do have. This is where Just Do It comes into play.

You’ve already got 10 different scenes planned in your head and they can be written at any time.

JUST DO IT.

Oh, you’re distracted by cat videos and piano covers of your favorite video game music.

JUST DO IT.

You love writing and already have extensive outlines for these chapters, so why are you procrastinating?

Don’t sit there and think about doing it, don’t complain about doing it. JUST DO IT.

One of the other issues is that I can be a bit of a perfectionist, which may also explain the procrastination. I tend to think “If I can’t make it perfect the first time, I won’t even try right now.” But that’s what editing is for, and I need to keep reminding myself that. For now, Just Do It. Worry about fixing it later. One particular thing that often trips me up is if I juuuuust can’t quite think of That One Word/Phrase that perfectly conveys whatever idea I’m trying to get across, and I spend a lot of time just sitting there staring at the screen, accomplishing nothing (and eventually getting distracted). If I can’t think of a certain word or get stuck trying to describe a certain idea, I’ve found that it helps to just write whatever comes to me, even if it’s “that-one-thing-that–” or something. Describing the concept as thoroughly as possible – regardless of how pretty it sounds – allows me to come back later with a fresh set of eyes and remember exactly what I was trying to say. Perfection isn’t necessary on the first try. Just Do It.

Another thing I have issues with is planning and outlining. As of late, I’ve been terrified of moving forward with a story without having a definite plan. In a way, I think it’s reasonable to be a little nervous about planning, just because I’m dealing with a trilogy of books and I have to pay attention to continuity and character development and whatnot. If I just wing it, I may forget to include a crucial detail. But being stuck on a scene is no reason to just drop everything. One way I’ve learned to deal with this is to move on to something else, maybe one of those other scenes I’ve spent so much time planning in my head. Nobody ever said a book had to be written in order. I pre-wrote several different major scenes in Nexus: Ziva Payvan Book 2; not only did it give me something to do when I was stuck on something else, but it also helped provide some structure for the story. It almost became like connecting the dots – in order to get from Scene A to Scene B, x and y needed to happen. I’ve been doing the same thing while working on Ronan, working on scenes that don’t happen until probably 2/3 of the way through the book.

But while writing future scenes is helpful, eventually you’ll have to go back and Just Do It. Just write that part you were stuck on. Just write what comes to you, and worry about editing it later. I’ve also done that with Ronan – I was a little panicked because I had gotten to a scene that I really hadn’t done any planning for, and I ended up putting off working on it for a long time. But I picked it up again a few days ago and just started writing whatever seemed natural. I ended up with kind of a long exposition and a little bit of cheesy dialogue, but it got me through the part I’d been stuck on and, as we’ve established, it can be edited later. It was only a matter of Just Doing It.

I didn’t make any New Years’ Resolutions this year because I’ve always thought the idea was kind of lame, but I think I’ve decided that my official resolution will be to Just Do It at least once a day. If I up my wordcount by 2,000, awesome. If I up it by 200, that’s great. I’ve started jotting down dates with my current wordcount next to them, and it helps to see a change in that number on a daily basis. Even if all I’ve done is edit something, I want Word to ask me if I want to save changes when I close it. If I can do that at least once a day, I’ll be making progress.

Ronan is currently sitting at a wordcount of 26,137 and is 88 pages, 58 of which make up the main body of the story. The other 30 pages are all bits and pieces of Those Other Scenes that will serve as checkpoints as I write.

barnes-and-noble-logo-png-10In other news, I discovered today that the paperbacks of both Dakiti and Nexus are available through Barnes & Noble. I’m wondering if those of you who have reviewed one or both books on Amazon or Goodreads would be willing to post your reviews on the respective B&N pages. Just a simple copy-paste job is fine. I’m not entirely sure how long they’ve been available on the site (I certainly never got any sort of memo!) but without reviews, people don’t know much about them. Reviews are what fuel us indie authors in the big crazy world of publishing. When you’re trying to decide whether or not to buy a book, you read the reviews first, don’t you?

And now I’d like to treat you all to an excerpt from Ronan. It took me awhile to decide whether or not to post this particular segment in terms of it being spoiler-y, but I’ve decided that it doesn’t really include anything that won’t be mentioned on the back blurb whenever the cover gets finished, so I think we’re good. Enjoy.



UNKNOWN LOCATION

Fringe Space

She was reasonably sure her eyes were open, and yet she could not see anything. She blinked several times just to be sure — still nothing. From what she could tell, she was slumped against a wall, her neck and shoulders bent at an awkward angle. There was a certain closeness in the air that told her she was in a small room, though there was no way of telling how small. The room didn’t have a noticeable scent; she guessed she had been there awhile and had simply grown accustomed to it. The darkness seemed familiar, though whether she knew it from sleep or consciousness, she had no idea. 

What do you know?

It was a question she vaguely remembered asking herself at some prior time, so maybe she had been awake at some point after all.

My name is Zinnarana Vax, she told herself as she pressed her palms to the floor and tried to heave herself into a more upright position. I am an intelligence officer in the special operations division of the Haphezian Special Police. Her arms felt like lead and it took what seemed like all of her strength to move her body. Fire pulsed through her neck and back as she was finally able to straighten. I can feel pain. That’s a start. 

Zinni fidgeted a bit as she settled into the new position. She lifted a shaky hand, almost startled when she felt her own fingers brush against her face. She slowly began a systematic exploration of her head, finding her eyes, nose, lips, ears, and even taking the time to run her fingers through her hair. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary; she found no blood or fluids, and she felt no pain other than a dull pounding in her skull.

It felt like she was moving in slow motion as she lowered her hands and repeated the examination process on her neck, chest, arms, and abdomen. I have some bruising on my left side, she thought, pressing down on a sore spot below her rib cage. Feels like blunt force trauma. She couldn’t imagine that she could have inflicted such an injury on herself. Either she had left his room at some point, or someone else had come in.

For the first time, she noticed the subtle changes in the tilt of the floor she sat on. She wasn’t sure if the space she was in was actually moving or if it was just her mind playing tricks on her, but she added the sensation to the ever-growing list of things she was aware of.

Zinni sat still for awhile, focusing on the darkness once more. For a moment it seemed heavier than normal, almost as if she had passed out again, but everything looked exactly the same. Other than a low vibration that seemed to be coming from within the walls around her, her ears weren’t registering any sounds. The silence plus the blackness left her with no concept of time; she had no idea how long she sat there staring before beginning the self exam again.

What do you know?

She heard the low metallic groan just before the sliver of red light pierced the darkness. Red hues are less intense, she told herself. Nonetheless, the light seemed blinding in comparison to the void around her and she squeezed her eyes shut, overcome with a sudden bout of nausea. The groaning continued and the light became brighter, even through her closed eyelids. A door is opening. She commanded herself to open her eyes, to determine the location of the door, to see who or what might be approaching, but the light burned and intensified her headache. She settled with listening, smelling, feeling. A hand took hold of her arm, a device beeped somewhere near her head, and she heard muffled voices that echoed as if they were far away.

My name is Zinnarana Vax. I’m still alive.

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Space Opera Fans Indie AOTM Interview

Back at the end of November, Dakiti was nominated for the Indie Book of the Month in the Space Opera Fans group on Goodreads. To my surprise (and, I’ll admit, pure elation), it ended up being chosen as the Indie BOTM for December. Bear in mind that this all came about on December 1, aka the Nexus release date, so my brain was already sufficiently…stimulated by book-related thoughts. This really ended up having a positive impact on sales, especially considering the Kindle version was still $.99 at the time, and the book ended up on multiple new TBR lists, which is always encouraging.

Since Dakiti was Indie BOTM, I, by default, became the Indie Author of the Month. I had the opportunity to complete a fairly in-depth interview, basically introducing myself and the book to any new potential readers. It was an awesome experience and I’m really glad some of the groups out there are trying to give indie authors a chance to shine. We need all the help we can get, after all!


[AOTM] – Interview with E.J. Fisch

1. What books have most influenced your life?
It may just be because I’ve had it in my head since I went and saw Interstellar, but I’ve been thinking about A Wrinkle in Time almost non-stop lately. My teacher read it to the class in 4th grade, and I remember when a weekend rolled around I couldn’t wait to find out what happened so I went and found another copy at the library and read the whole thing overnight. Then I came back to school Monday and already knew what happened 😉 Now that I think about it, it was the first sci-fi-ish book I ever read, and I’ve been itching to go back and read it again after all this time.

2. How do you develop your plots and characters?
I almost always have characters in mind before I figure out the plot. Sometimes I’ll have a few rough character profiles just sitting around and I’ll look for ways to incorporate them into whatever plot I’m currently working on. This was actually the case with Kat Reilly, a character from Dakiti’s sequel Nexus. In terms of plot, I like to take the time to sit down and at least make a general outline, especially since I’m writing a series and there’s a lot of continuity I need to keep track of. I ask myself questions and write out the answers. I literally write down things like “But what about _______?” and “Or maybe they ______” and I explore my options. I used to be able to make up plots on the fly, but these days I feel like I need a little more planning and preparation.

3. Tell us about your Space Opera Fans book?
Dakiti is a sci fi story (obviously) set in a galaxy similar to Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica. It centers around members of a race of superhuman characters, most of whom are special operations agents from their planet’s main law enforcement agency. I actually wrote the book during my junior and senior years of high school and finished it in the fall of 2010. It sat around gathering dust until this past March when I thought “Hey, you know, I could probably do something with this.” I went back and spruced it up – Lord knows it needed it! – and developed some of the background information a little more since it had previously only existed in my head. I actually increased the wordcount by about 12k during these edits. Even today, it’s not a very long book, so it was even shorter back then. Some reviews have said that the plot, while enjoyable, was a little predictable, and maybe it is. But changing that would have meant totally re-vamping the entire book, and I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to do that. People do seem to like the story and characters though, so hopefully any new readers do too!

4. We all need a hero! Tell us about your protagonist(s)? Was there a real-life inspiration behind him or her?
Ziva Payvan is one of my favorite types of characters: an anti-hero who has her own agenda and isn’t necessarily trying to do the right thing. Good and evil are relative; as far as she’s concerned, the villain is just whoever is opposing her mission at any given time. She wants to avoid unnecessary conflict but has no interest in being friends with anyone. Back when I first created her, she was just a small filler character who was only meant to appear in a couple scenes in a goofy story some friends and I were writing in junior high. This isn’t really a “real-life” inspiration, but she was very heavily-based on NCIS’s Ziva David (her character was new to the show at the time and I absolutely loved her). But after awhile, my own Ziva started growing on me so I stopped and stripped her down, so to speak, and started developing her into an original character who might be able to star in her own story. And I’ve been building on her ever since.

5. A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book? Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?
I can’t really think of a real-life inspiration for my villain, but it’s been long enough since I wrote the book that I don’t remember a whole lot about the developmental stages. The persona of Dakiti’s main villain was kind of based on Ari Haswari – also from the early seasons of NCIS – in that he’s cold and calculating but appears very calm, smooth, and almost charming on the outside. He wants what he can’t have, and he’s motivated by revenge.

6. What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
Dubai. I swear I could sit and look at pictures of the architecture in Dubai all day. I have an entire Pinterest board full of futuristic-looking architecture that actually exists in our world today. I like buildings with corners and flat surfaces; in my mind, the Haphezian culture in Dakiti uses architecture with very few arches, domes, and the like. I also spend a lot of time looking at mountain and forest environments. Haphez is a very mountainous world, and I like to be able to look at a picture and say “Yeah, that’s what it would look like if I was really there!” Also, hailing from Oregon, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Columbia River Gorge and loved the idea of having a massive river where all the civilization in the story is situated. Haphez’s Tranyi River is a lot bigger than the Columbia, but that was always where the idea came from.

7. Sci-fi fans love techno-porn! What real-life science (or pseudo-science) did you research for your book?
Without spoiling too much, I spent a little time researching the concept of telekinesis. What an interesting topic! I’ve watched a couple Netflix documentaries on futuristic weapons and read up on the current research scientists are doing involving plasma and laser weapons (what’s a sci fi story without lasers??). There’s a scene in the story where a few characters perform a HALO jump, and I actually spent a lot of time doing calculations and consulting my math-whiz friends to see if I was getting the physics right. I wanted to know exactly how long (or at least get a ballpark estimate) it would take the characters to freefall from a certain height, taking things like gravity and terminal velocity into consideration. After getting similar figures from a couple of different sources, I was pretty confident that I got it right.

8. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Oh gosh. For me, the hardest part of writing any book is just sticking with it and getting it done. I tend to take long breaks in the middle of it, and then it takes way longer than necessary to finish. For Dakiti specifically, one of the biggest challenges was that I didn’t do a whole lot of planning. The first half was roughly based on drafts of a couple other stories I had previously scrapped, but I had no idea what was going to happen in the second half. But I winged it and just kept writing. Sometimes that works, and it did in this case. I came up with some great ideas while I was working and the plot ended up coming together.

9. What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
I really enjoyed writing a couple of the new flashback scenes I added when I decided to publish. There was an entire backstory that I never really elaborated on because I didn’t think anyone else was ever going to read it, and it was great to have the opportunity to go back and re-visit that and really develop it. Because now, that backstory is the basis for Book 3 in this series 😉

10. Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
Back when I first started writing seriously, I always had the goal of making my next story longer than the last one. So when I finished Dakiti and realized it was 3 times longer than the last story I wrote, I saw how much I was improving. The quality of the writing itself might not have been that great back then, but I was able to create a more intricate story with a more complex plot and characters. It may sound kind of clichéd, but I learned that persistence pays off and you’ll only improve if you keep working at something.

11. Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
Hmmm. I suppose one of the main messages is that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge a person if we don’t really know them. It may be hard because maybe they’ve done something really awful, but maybe you don’t know the whole story. At the risk of spoiling something, I’ll leave it at that. Not all the information regarding this message is revealed in Dakiti anyway, so I guess everyone will just have to continue reading the series 😉

12. What are your future project(s)?
Nexus: Ziva Payvan Book 2 was just released and I’ve already made a bit of a dent in Ronan: Ziva Payvan Book 3. It will be difficult to make progress on it since I’m currently a full-time student, but I’ve been working on some extensive outlines so when I have a chance to write, I’ll know exactly where I want to go. My plan is to have a definite ending to this trilogy but still leave it open enough that I can come back to it someday. Before that, I may start working on another story I’ve had brewing in the back of my mind for awhile. It would also be sci-fi, but the setting would be a near-future Earth rather than a fictional galaxy. Needless to say, I’ve got a ton of planning to do.

13. If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?
I’ve always thought it would be really cool to be some sort of concept artist or character design artist for a video game company. Aside from writing, digital art is my main hobby. But at the same time, it is a hobby, an outlet, something fun to do with my mind. I’m not sure if I’d want it to be a job I had to do. That’s what’s great about being a self-published indie author – I can do almost everything on my own time and on my own terms.

14. What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
You can reach me just about anywhere these days – I have profiles an all the major social media sites. I’m always looking to connect with other readers and writers, so feel free to hit me up. Here’s a list of my various profiles, arranged in order of most frequent use:

Facebook fan page
Facebook profile 
Twitter
Goodreads
Tumblr 
Google+
– and I can always be reached by email at ejfisch930@gmail.com

15. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to the Space Opera Fans community members?
Keep being awesome! To those of you who have read and taken the time to review Dakiti, thanks so much for giving it a chance. To anyone who hasn’t read it, I hope you’ll be willing to try it out and join in the discussion 🙂

An Excerpt from “Throwing Lead”

Awhile back, I picked up a copy of Throwing Lead: A Writer’s Guide to Firearms (and the People Who Use Them). As a writer of characters who typically belong to some form of law enforcement agency, I thought it would be fun – and a good idea – to read something like this just to make sure my writing was realistic. It was certainly an enjoyable read; I ended up giving it 4/5 stars just because I still don’t know enough about guns to know for sure how accurate everything was. But the authors seemed credible enough, and they wrote in such a way that you felt like they were just carrying on a conversation with you, not writing an encyclopedia article. I came away feeling like I’d learned something, which was the intention all along,

Then, as a writer of assassin-type characters who are generally cold-hearted, I was particularly drawn to a segment from Chapter 21: A Shooter’s Mindset that reads as follows:


Although almost every tool – from Cro Magnon’s hand axe to a circular saw to an automobile – can create violence and mayhem, the firearm is socially unique in that its only uses are directly related to violence.

Because of this, among people who do not handle the regularly, guns are not mere tools, they are totems. They carry with them a mystique, or an aura of power – or a terror – that is far in excess of what the tool actually merits. The gun functions – much as the sword before it did – as the symbol of the pleasure, disquiet, and destabilization that the power over life and death gives us.

We all know that feeling, the totemic attraction and repulsion a gun exerts on us, and because of that, most writers do very well conveying the anxiety of a first-timer dealing with a weapon. But not everyone has this reaction – there are a class of people, and they’re more common than you’d think, who do not view guns as in any way special, and these people have distinct psychological quirks that translate across culture and across generations, and it affects, in small ways, every aspect of life. 

These people are not limited to sociopaths, criminals, and professional practitioners of violence – they include many ordinary folks who have no professional relationship with violence, and no personal taste for or tendency toward real violence of any kind.

Among such people, a complex relationship grows up between the shooter and her weapons. For someone whose gun is a tool rather than a totem, the tool is never lost. It’s never far away. If she’s expecting violence, even as a remote possibility, she always knows where to get a weapon, even if she’s not carrying one. She knows where her ammo is, and how much she has, even if her own weapon is hundreds of miles away. She can guess who around her is likely to be carrying – or have ready access to – a weapon.

But it goes deeper. Loud noises, sudden flashes of light, or anything uncanny will send her hand to a holster, or her mind checking the room for a handy weapon. She doesn’t do this as a security blanket, simply as preparation, much in the same way an experienced driver positions his foot over the brake pedal when he sees brake lights ahead. She’s merely reaching for a tool she may need on short notice.

Why?

We’ve all heard a new mother or father say “I would sacrifice myself for my child.” We’ve all heard the freshly smitten say “S/he’s worth dying for.” But we don’t hear people say the obvious corollary: “I would kill to protect her,” or “I would defend myself if I were attacked.”

When a person picks up a gun with the willingness to use it to defend herself, or others, or to fight in a war, or to subdue a criminal, or to commit a crime, she has made an irrevocable moral decision, one that forever changes the way she deals with every aspect of life.

That decision is seven words long:

“My life is more valuable than yours.”

It’s a statement of values. It’s a philosophical position, one whose ultimate expression is killing another human in self defense.

Most people, pressed to the point, will choose survival over slaughter, but very few are willing to admit to it in so many words. Saying “I’d die for her/him/them” lets us play into society’s definition of a good person: one who is willing to sacrifice themselves, one who would never harm another. It’s a polite lie that we tell each other, so that we sleep better at night.

But when one is forced to that decision, as hundreds are every day, it doesn’t just change the way you see the world, it changes you. There is a different context for every part of your life, and a different scale by which actions are judged. When you say “Stop doing that or else” and “or else” means “I’ll tell Mommy” or “I’ll smack you” or “I’ll send you to your room,” that’s one thing. When “or else” means “I will end your life,” it means something else – and when you’ve been in the position where you’ve ended (or been willing, able, and prepared to end) the life of another, that version of “or else” is always lurking in the background.

The ethical killer has a radically reordered scale of valuation. “It’s not worth killing for” is an expression of a literal moral choice, not a mere figure of speech. And it changes a person’s demeanor, often bringing with it an air of “stoicism” or “calm” that some people call “the thousand yard stare” or even “apathy.” But it isn’t apathy – quite the opposite. It’s the result of understanding what a “life and death” decision really is, and of accepting the responsibility of exercising power over another person’s continued respiration. And this shift in perspective – subtle though it is in the way it shows on the outside – is one that others who have stood on that cliff recognize almost instantly.

And it’s also why veterans, cops, homesteaders, ex-criminals, and others like them appear to be emotionally hardened, or difficult to get close to. Because you can’t talk about violence in polite society, because you cannot vocalize or otherwise communicate the ever-present awareness that you are capable of killing another human being, or that you see around you every day occasions where a situation could develop that would require you to act in a way that would forever alienate you from your loved ones, you carry a face of detachment about things most people consider important. You may play at fashion because it’s interesting, but not having the right shoes for a formal dinner is something you shrug off. You may adhere to the forms of polite society, but you’re not above saying the unthinkable to someone who’s really pissing you off – and doing so without malice, because for you saying the unthinkable is preferable to allowing the situation to escalate (because you know what “escalate” means). You tend to view petty conflict as either tiresome or entertaining, but rarely as worth your sustained attention. And finding a mate, or an intimate friend, or a lover, or a confidant becomes very, very difficult.

People like this walk alone, almost like aliens among us, and their interactions are always filtered. They’re highly situationally aware, and they’re almost never surprised (and if they are surprised, they often react with self-directed anger, because it means they’ve overlooked something that might have been a life-and-death issue). They’re the people who accidentally terrify their friends with offhanded remarks. They’re the people around whom cells of survivors form in natural disasters.

And, though you wouldn’t think it, they recognize each other at a distance, without ever talking to one another (ask an experienced cop how many people in a given coffee shop might be trouble – and ask him to explain why). It can be a powerful attractor that draws together people who feel unable to socialize without walling off an entire, uncomfortable part of themselves.

These people are not sadistic, they are not sociopathic. They are simply ordinary people who have been forced to face a kind of darkness and enormity that most people, thanks to the relative peacefulness of the developed world, never have to face.

These are the people who feature as heroes and villains in the bestselling fiction in the world.

For a writer (and even for an actor), grasping this transformed mindset is vital, because it shows when you don’t. John le Carré, Robert Ludlum, Mickey Spillane, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others like them have all either killed people or faced the choice of killing people, and as writers they have a certain, distinctive quality when it comes to power and violence. Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, and Jim Butcher – good writers all – don’t.

And, to bring it back around to weapons, these people (who don’t lapse into long-term paranoia, which some do) are as at ease with their weapons as a professional driver is with his car. For them, the weapons are not magical, they’re not scary, and they don’t make the shooter feel powerful in some power-junkie sense – they might even irritate the shooter or fill her mind with mild distaste, but in the end, they’re simply tools.

When guns become routine, they lose their capacity as fetish or totem, because they no longer symbolize the power to inflict death. People who use them every day have already looked death in the face, and they managed not to flinch.

And it changed them.


Call me a little morbid but I’ve always found this sort of mindset really fascinating. And as someone who often writes characters who have this mindset, I found this chapter extremely helpful and encouraging. A lot of the character development notes I’ve scribbled over the years fit all of this to a T, despite the fact that I’ve never really done any in-depth research on the topic.

*sigh* The sweet smell of troubled characters. I can’t get enough of it.