Saturday, February 24, 2018

Stop Talking to Yourself and Start Freewriting

I used to talk to myself. Not in a crazy way, but in a writerly way (which is still crazy). I’d talk to myself, trying to find a solution to my plot problems, stare at the blinking cursor, stand up, pace around until ruts are formed on the wooden floor. If the problem on the story gets too much, and my self-talk turns into a whirlwind of emotions and frustrations, then I close the file and tell myself “tomorrow.”

Productivity was low during those days. Best days would get me about seven hundred words, worse days would be zilch.

But one afternoon in Barnes & Noble, I discovered freewriting. I was skimming through Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I didn’t buy it because it was a small book, and I’ve already learned something from it (though I’ll get it eventually as a thanks).

Straight from wikipedia, freewriting is defined as thus:
“...a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic. It produces raw, often unusable material, but helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and self-criticism.”
I agree that it helps overcome apathy and self-criticism. I call freewriting as the grease for my writing cogs, the diuretic for my writing tubes (or the enema to my writing colon). You let loose and just write whatever comes to mind. Once I started freewriting, I saw my word count improve. Not by a whole lot, but writing became less painful.

I do this on a separate doc file. If I’m working on a manuscript, I name the freewriting file as follows: “freewriting.nameofmanuscript.docx”

Before I begin on my manuscript, I give myself a four-minute freewriting warm-up. No more. No less. Some say to do ten minutes, but personally I feel four minutes is sufficient. There is no rule to this so you can choose how many. But don’t overdo it, don’t let it detract from your manuscript. Procrastination can use this exercise as their mask.

Another benefit of freewriting is it helps diagnose plot problems. For example, while I’m writing on my manuscript, a character does something that is not in line with her motives, or her actions deviate from my outline. Then I’d get stuck, and I start talking to myself, mouthing off silently on how to fix the problem, on why did I arrive at this point, on how I’m a bad writer, on how I’m really really bad at this and I should stop writing and just work on my nine-to-five and…

You get the drill.

So instead of creating a whirlwind of unproductive thoughts and emotions, I decided to write it all down. It’s similar to how programmers find solutions to their buggy code. It’s called Rubber Duck Debugging where they talk to a rubber duck on their desk, explaining how their code works and how it’s supposed to work. This self-talk would eventually lead them to a solution. But for us writers, we need to write them down lest we invite self-doubt.

Unlike the warm-up, I don’t put a time limit on this freewriting diagnostics. The warm-up is for loosening you up; the diagnostic is for inviting ideas. You freewrite as much as you can just so you can punch through the block you are facing. It doesn’t take more than four minutes in my experience. And once a solution emerges, switch back to your manuscript and continue writing.

So why is freewriting better than self-talk? This is anecdotal, so take it with a grain. I believe freewriting is better because we turn our thoughts into something tangible. We transmute them from the ether of our consciousness into texts on our doc files. And these thoughts on the page are equal, no stronger than the other. If we let our thoughts float around in our minds, self-doubt often butts in and overstays their welcome. It’s like a party inside your noggin: one second you’re talking to your best-friend, the next second your obnoxious acquaintance comes in and switches the topic.

That’s my opinion on it. Your freewriting file is not meant to be read again. It is just there to receive, not to be consumed.

Except for this one. The following is an entry from one of my freewriting sessions:

Some word of enouragement. Ane editor at a short story place complimented myu writing, but siad that the one did not match with their magazine. So at least we have an idea that canceled is actual;ly funny and a contender. Anyway. That’s that. We have to move on. But that is what you are gouing to do. You are going to continue to write. You will always write and continue tow rite because the reason why yopua re weriting is because youb want to enter these simulations, enter these other lives adn then the flipside, youa re also hjioning your skills as a writer. You are always hjioning your skills and refining your process. Experimenting on your process. Maybe there is something that needs to be unleanrned or something, like bnad habits. Is there such things as bad habits. I think there is. That the bad habits of using passive and shit liket aht and also the was and stuff liket hat. I mean those can be used, but try to limit them. That i sthe thing. It is not really about YOU CANNT USE THAT. It really is about limit their use, but if there is nothing else, use them.t hat is what it is. Okay./ sof or the next short story. I t8hink i don’t think i have an idea yet. This is just basically a first person pov thing. So it might come of as stream of consciousness. Sop we hacve the set up rithgt? I mean, it is not conventiopnal and shit, but you need to learn hwot o do this shit. You need to learn how to control; these kinds of things. And i think you already have an idea of how things will be. You know. It hink you need to do ten minutes of copywork, thenhighlighting and then summarizing. I thin summarizing is kind of a good way to find out the flow of shit, you know. Why because you also get an idea of how you will contrnstruct your otulines, whicbh is good. Okjay,. So what else is there anyway? I dont htihijk there is anything else. Because the time is up. Time to write.

>>> Shit. So does he put the stuff in there? Does he put crap on it? The thing. The stuff. He injects his thoughts on a piece of stuff or something. You know. Will he do that? Or is he just going to talk to this guy?i think i like that other better. Don’t shy away. Jay. Don’;t so do it.

>>> so he has guarded some prisoners before. So what then? Well, isn’t that the case? If he has then. Well. Crap. I think you need to change the order then.

>>> Okay. How is it possible that he heard shit. Okay. So what is this clearing out

(NOTE: The main body of the freewriting entry is my four-minute warm-up. Underneath this body, are sentences with the “>>>” symbols; these are freewriting diagnostics where I had encountered a problem during my normal writing session.)
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Sunday, February 18, 2018


by Jon Mayo

(about 1,900 words)


I woke to the sound of explosion. I checked if Cassie, my little sister, was alright. She was intact and sound asleep. I gently slipped my arm off her and walked to the window. Across our home, on the sidewalk, was the human remains of that morning jogger. I met him once.

His torso had exploded. His legs were two houses away. I crouched down to look up from the window. The head was still spinning in the air while the arms were on their way down. Both limbs fell with a loud thud, and the head cracked open as it hit the cool macadam.

Cassie snorted and rustled on the bed. I turned around to see her rubbing her eyes awake.

"Morning," I said.

"Morning," she said.

She rolled to the side of the bed and sat at the edge, her legs dangling. On the carpeted floor was our latest quarry of novels and graphic novels, comics and children's books. Some had streaks of blood on their covers. Yesterday was library day. Today was beach day.

"Get ready and take a bath," I said, "we'll leave after breakfast."

She nodded although her eyes were still closed. I walked over to her, nudged her a bit and squeezed her right cheek, which made her giggle and smile.

While she took a bath, I heated up some corned beef on the gas stove. Our supply was limited to canned foods. Cassie didn't complain, but I wished I could make better meals with decent ingredients and stock. We finished our breakfast, and it was my turn for the bathroom. My hair was getting longer, but still no mustache to make me look like a grown-up.

Before we left the house, I pocketed the Glock handgun I picked up two months ago. There were five bullets left, and I didn't waste any of it for a test shot. I locked the back door and secured the windows. I double checked them again just to be sure. We stepped out, and then I locked the front door. Dad's car was still on the driveway. Even if I knew how to drive, the roads were congested with abandoned cars, most of them with windshields and windows splattered with red.

Cassie noticed the fresh stain across our sidewalk. I moved her away from it and tried to shield her eyes, but she pried my hands away. We started walking. You could still see patches of dried blood and dehydrated sinew on the street, the sidewalk and the gutters. Limbs were carried away by coyotes and dogs. There were no reports of animals being affected by spontaneous combustion. Just us humans.

After passing three houses, we were in front of Mrs. Wong's home. She was sitting on her lawn chair and reading a magazine with her legs stretched forward. To her left were piles of magazines, a pitcher of water and a shotgun.

"Good Morning Mrs. Wong," said Cassie, waving her arms. Mrs. Wong shifted her magazine sideways, showing her immaculate white skin, shaded by her wicker hat. She wore sunglasses that dominated the upper part of her head. She smirked and nodded.

We exited our neighborhood and crossed the dry lands that lay at the outskirts of our town. We avoided the town with its streets and alleyways stinking of dried blood, rotting flesh, lifeless bodies. It was a depressing route, a route we had only taken once. But out in the desert, it was more of a serene walk, a moment to meditate. After twenty minutes of walking, the breeze carried the scent of the sea, its shore emerging from the distance.

Before we headed towards the beach, we stopped by a grocery store next to the gas station. I placed the collar of my shirt to my nose, anticipating the worst before we stepped inside. I looked at Cassie who had already covered her's. The door was wide open, and already I could smell the warm, sickening stench emanating out from the store. I took a step back to take a deep breath. Cassie held on tight. I wanted her to stay outside, but that would be a mistake.

We rush in, taking small inhales, enough to give us oxygen without getting sick.

"Take as much as you can, Cas," I said through my shirt.

I snatched an empty basket from the floor, and we raced down the aisle. Cassie grabbed whatever was in her reach: small bags of chips, cans of mixed nuts, boxes of popcorn, candy, melted chocolate. The basket was half full, and there was enough room for a forty ounce beer for our little picnic. When we reached the end of the aisle, the basket was heavy. We were near the frozen food section where all the meats had gone bad. We turned and sprinted for the exit. Cassie giggled as we ran.

A silhouette of a man stood at the entrance, his features hidden from the blaze outside. Cassie stopped, and I immediately pulled her to my side. The stranger was holding a baseball bat. I reached for my gun and aimed it at him.

"Easy kid," he said, "I'm just here for supplies."

"Back away," I said, trying my best to sound like a grown man. "I don't want to shoot you so back away."

"Alright, alright," he said and stepped back into sunlight. His hair was frayed, and his skin was wrinkled, greasy from sweat and grime. His gaze moved from my gun to Cassie.

"You be careful now," he said with a sickening grin, his eyes running up and down on Cassie. I wanted to pull the trigger; there was no one—no police, no concerned citizen, no adults—who would lock me up for murder. We inch out of the grocery store, my gun still pointed at the man's head. I holstered my pistol after we reached a safe distance, but I still kept an eye on that sicko standing at the mouth of the grocery store.

We entered a cluster of beach houses that were mostly abandoned. We stayed on the wide road with a view to the beach. I kept my hand on my gun, on edge at any danger that could be waiting for us at any corner. It was our usual route, which was safe, but after the encounter at the grocery store, you could never be sure.

As we passed the sixth house, I could hear muffled cries two houses down to our right. I pulled Cassie to my left, my hand on her shoulders. As we neared the wailing, I quickly covered Cassie's eyes. She didn't pry it off.

It was Mrs. Leitch, on her rocker with blood smeared all over her chest, chin, arms and legs. The shirt she wore was shredded from an explosion. Her left breast was in tatters. Her right arm, which had cradled her baby, was broken in half. If I hadn't turned away, I would have stepped on her baby's leg. Cassie gasped and wrapped her arms around my waist.

"Close your eyes," I said to Cassie. We walked on. Mrs. Leitch's sorrow faded behind us, eventually drowned by the crashing waves.

I picked our usual spot, about twenty feet away from the water. The sun blared above us at high noon, and there was a slight breeze to counteract the heat. Cassie sat next to me as I twisted the cap off the beer. I took a sip. It tasted like I imagined it would—like piss. I took another swig. I turned to Cassie who was staring blankly at the heaving, stark ocean. I poked her cheek. When she didn't respond, I squeezed it, hoping to get a giggle or a smile. She batted my hand away.

"What's wrong?" I asked, taking another drink. I knew what was disturbing her. Mrs. Leitch had always greeted us whenever we passed her by. Cassie had always wanted to see the baby up-close, but I told her not to.

"Are we going to die?" she asked, combing the sand in front of her.

"What did I tell you?"

"That we're immune. That we're special."

“That's right.”

I was not sure if we were immune, but after three years of not blowing up spontaneously, it was easy to believe we were safe somehow. I poked her again on her cheek.

"Come on, Cas, wanna' take a sip again?" I said, showing the beer to her. She scrunched her nose and pushed it away.

"Why do you drink that anyway?"

I shrugged and tossed a small bag of potato chips at her, which hit her face. I giggled, and she smirked, the kind of smirk that told you she'll get you back someday. We ate chips and followed it up with a can of vienna sausage and corned beef. After our picnic, Cassie was herself again. She stripped down to her underwear and ran to the waves. I watched her kick sand up in the air as if she wanted to fly. She jumped and splashed and kicked the water as it ebbed and flowed. I gave up on my beer so I joined in on the fun. I picked her up and tossed her in the water, laughing hard as she emerged to the surface.

We stayed for three hours until we packed up and left. We took another route, avoiding the wide road, avoiding Mrs. Leitch. When we arrived back home, we killed time by reading our books and comics. When she got bored, she picked her crayons and did her coloring book. I didn't cook dinner that night since she wanted more corned beef.

I tucked her in and told her the story of Red Riding Hood. She was sullen this night, but I continued my theatrics, trying to sound like the grandmother and the big bad wolf.

"Can you sleep in your own bed?" she said, interrupting the scene where the wolf was about to eat grandma. I turned to her, but her eyes were still glued to the page.

"You want to sleep alone tonight?".

"I think so," she said looking up at me.

“Are you sure?”

She bit her lower lip and moved her eyes all over the page. Finally, she nodded.

“Do you still want me to finish the story?”

"Yes, please."

At the end of the book, Cassie was asleep. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and slid off the bed. I turned the lamp off, but left the door ajar, giving her a little light from the kitchen.

It had been two years since I had slept in my own room, which I only used when I wanted privacy. When our parents were still alive, Cassie and I had slept in separate rooms. Our parents, however, still slept on the same bed. Dad blew up first; mom was ripped to shreds. Cassie was inconsolable after that. She had begged me to sleep with her every night. I had told her the risks involved with it, but she didn't understand or refused to understand. She was a toddler back then anyway.

I lie down on my bed, somehow relieved. I wondered about that decision I had made that time, which you could call a death wish. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep, but a sickening thought kept me awake. If Cassie blew up first, I knew what to do with myself. But if I were to go, Cassie would be on her own.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Let’s Have A Sacrifice

Let’s have a sacrifice
because no one listens
and no one cares,
except for the man inside his head
who needs a headline
and a wikipedia page.

Let’s have a sacrifice
a semi-auto holds thirty
while this sidearm holds twelve,
Just enough to appease our gods
as they listen
to the sound of gunfire.

Let’s have a sacrifice,
up the altar next to the tabloids
and chewing gum,
he pays with a credit card
with twenty-five percent interest,
‘cause they don’t accept plastic in church.

Let’s have a sacrifice.
Made sure they won’t take them
from our supplicant hands,
otherwise what will you offer
along with your thoughts
and prayers.


(At some point you get really really pissed at how nothing is being done with gun violence. More children die and our leaders don't do squat! All we are asking is for common sense gun control.)

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Copywork Exercise For Writers

I discovered copywork after listening to a podcast (I’m not sure what episode or which podcast it was from; to that, I apologize). I devote about 20 minutes on the exercise: I take a novel or short story and then copy it, word for word.

That’s it.

I rotate between three stories. Currently, I’m doing Stephen King’s IT, James Clavell’s Shogun and Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings. I then switch out a title once I’ve finished copying a chapter, either doing another novel or short story. When I’m reading a story and come across an engaging scene, I make note of the chapter and page so I can copy it after I finish reading the book (read for pleasure first; study it later).

I started doing copywork because I was insecure on how I style my sentences. Often, when I’m writing on my manuscript, I worry that I’m using too much action and description, and not enough character thoughts and narrative intrusions. After doing some copywork, I began questioning the oft parroted rule “show, don’t tell.” Eventually I found that the rule must be broken: it is not “show, don’t tell,” it is “show and tell.”

Novice writers tend to “tell” a lot. They overstay inside their character’s head, make the narrator intrude too much, and blabber on and on and on about the world they crafted. But once they take the advice “show, don’t tell” to heart, the novice writer will overdo it and is left with nothing but action and dialogue and description.

Mistakes must be made, and the novice writer must learn. So I learned.

Copywork made me understand that “showing” and “telling” is a spectrum. It is not about balance; it is about rhythm.

There are seven narrative modes. I have listed them from concrete to abstract, from “showing” to “telling.”
  • Action
  • Dialogue
  • Description
  • Thought
  • Intrusion
  • Exposition
  • Summary/Transition
The “showing” modes are action, dialogue and description. These are concrete. You see action, you hear dialogue, you sense what’s being described, like the smell of wet garbage or the taste of a lip-puckering lemon slice.

In between “showing” and “telling” is thought. We are shown what the character is thinking, but the narrator is really telling us this since thoughts are intangible.

The “telling” modes are intrusion, exposition, summary and transition. These are modes that belong to the narrator, who is an abstract entity of the author’s creation. It intrudes like a ghost, telling us something about the character, or what’s about to happen. Sometimes they’ll explain something that may or may not be relevant, but feel it’s important for the narrator to convey.

So I do this copywork exercise for 12 minutes. Once I’m done copying, I’ll start highlighting clauses and phrases by their narrative mode, which usually takes less than 8 minutes.

The following are the color-coding I use and a brief explanation why it’s colored that way.
  • Action as Red or Orange, like blood and explosions, the stuff associated with action movies.
  • Dialogue as nothing because you can easily identify it with quotation marks. If you’re doing copywork of Cormac McCarthy, who eschews quotation marks, then you can add those for your sake (and sanity).
  • Description as Green, like most of Mother Nature with her trees and grass and shrubberies.
  • Thought as Blue, like the sky where clouds float, which I associate with thought bubbles in comics (because they look like clouds).
  • Intrusion as Pink because Narrators are fabulous entities (the color choice was a personal thing).
  • Exposition as Gray because it’s a dull color.
  • Summary/Transition as Yellow, like the caution signal in traffic lights.
Of course you can have your own color scheme that makes sense to you.

Now that we have designated certain colors to their modes, we start highlighting. Look for clauses and phrases, not sentences alone. You will highlight the following:
  • Main Clauses
  • Subordinate Clauses
  • Absolute Phrases
  • Participial Phrases
These are the main ones you should identify. I omitted Prepositional Phrases because they function as adjectives or adverbs.

Let me explain, then, what the narrative modes are.

Action is self-explanatory. If there’s movement, then it’s action. Keyword here is dynamic.

Description can easily be discerned with the S-LV-C sentence construction (is, was, see, hear, smell, feel, taste, etc.). It can be identified with sensory verbs. Keyword here is static.

Dialogue is pretty self-explanatory as well. If folks are talking in real-time, it’s dialogue.

Thought has two types: direct and indirect. Direct are sentences with thought tags (I can't believe I broke my arm for that, he thought). Indirect are phrases or clauses without thought tags, but still attributable to a character’s thoughts (Jimmi remembered that time he broke his arm. He knelt down, wondering why he climbed that tree in the first place).

Narrative Intrusion or Intrusion is when the narrator seems to address the reader.

Often Indirect Thoughts and Intrusion are hard to discern. If it comes to that, my rule is this: if the character may think it at the moment, then it is Thoughts. Otherwise it is Intrusion. For example:
Jim stopped to look at the grotesque painting. It made his skin prickle, and if he had a knife handy, he would have stabbed the canvas and ripped it open.
In the second sentence and second clause (if he had a…), Jim might be thinking this or imagining it. Or the narrator could be relaying this thought to us without Jim being aware or conscious of his impulse. But since it’s possible that Jim might think it, we’d label this as a thought.

Same example, but as Intrusion:
Jim stopped to look at the grotesque painting. It made his skin prickle, and if he were an art appraiser, he’d be at awe of what he was seeing--then lose his mind. Fortunately, he was a janitor.
Here, the narrator intrudes, giving their own thoughts that if Jim were an appraiser. We can assume that Jim is not thinking this because he’s not an art appraiser. The narrator is predicting what Jim’s reaction would be if he were. On the last sentence, the narrator intrudes once more, telling us that he’s fortunate he was a janitor, implying that his sanity was saved.

Another thing that a narrator can do is look into the future that the character would not be aware of. For example:
Jim stopped to look at the grotesque painting. If he hadn’t looked at it, then he would have been safe from the curse that would kill him in ten days.
On the second sentence, the narrator intrudes, giving the reader a hint of what’s to come. Dramatic Irony is always an Intrusion. Dramatic Irony is when the reader knows more than the characters, thanks to the narrator giving that info. On the example above, the reader knows that Jim will be cursed, but Jim is not aware of it yet.

Exposition or Info Dump is the narrator giving you a lecture. If Intrusion is intimate, then Exposition is cold. In Intrusion, the narrator is subjective, biased or opinionated towards the subject. In Exposition, the narrator is objective, detached or fact-based.
Jim stopped to look at the grotesque painting. It was made in 1723 by Johann Mayorga, who had used virgin blood for the reds and charred bone for the blacks. Jim shivered at the sight of it.
On the second sentence, a fact has been relayed to us. This is a quick exposition. The following is an info dump:
Jim stopped to look at the grotesque painting. It was made in 1723 by Johann Mayorga, who had used virgin blood for the reds and charred bone for the blacks. The canvas, though mistaken with real cloth, was made of stretched and dried human skin. When the authorities eventually discovered his macabre hobby, they had found thirteen canvasses, all dried and ready to be painted on. His brushes . . .
Too much information could rob the reader of some intrigue and mystery. It is good practice to sprinkle it in bite-sizes unless you want to elicit an emotion from info dumping. But it can become tedious. Veteran authors are adept with info dumping; novices use too much that it becomes suffocating.

Summary are sentences or paragraphs that speeds up time. If Action or Dialogue is being portrayed, but not in great detail, then it is Summary. Transitionals are usually subordinate clauses that marks a jump in time or change in location, thus changing from one scene to another.

Why go all through this, you ask?

It’s a good exercise, I think. Musicians do covers of other successful musicians, and from doing so, they learn scales, techniques and also styles. We imitate to learn, and we innovate from what we learn.

Another benefit is having a place for your notes and analysis. I don’t write on my books (I still see them as sacred), so having the capability to add comments on certain passages is great.

And there you have it. I devote 20 minutes on this exercise. Nothing more. Time is precious, and as writers, we need to work on our own stuff (and read other people’s stuff).

So, fellow writers, copy away!

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Friday, December 29, 2017

Here's to 2018

I met my goals for 2017. I told myself that I would publish my first novel, and so I did (self-published, at least). I don't have any illusions that I'd be raking in bags of money. So far I've made some cash, but it won't pay the phone bill.

The great thing about being an accountant is that I know how to set up my accounting books. If I want to succeed as a business (which is what this is, really) then I need to treat it as a business. So far, I don't have any initial investment on it, but as soon as I get my holiday bonus, I'll add some capital to it.

So, what are my goals for 2018? Here they are:

  • Finish a short story collection for "The Abandoned" series
  • Finish the second novel, No Villains
  • Finish 10 short stories unrelated to the above series
  • Make at least $100 for No Heroes
Let's start small with that revenue. If I reach it, then I can move the goalpost further.

Well, that's it folks. See you next year and drink some bubbly!

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Friday, December 15, 2017

NO HEROES (Book One of the Abandoned Series)

The Locke twins possess a peculiar power: they can pass pain and injuries to one another. Despite this flaw, Aries Locke dreams of becoming a superhero one day, to the chagrin of his twin, Ezra. But after performing a heroic deed they soon learn why there are no heroes in the world.

With the help of their mother, they run away from the shadow of The Purity Project—an organization devoted in controlling and regulating superhumans.


Amazon and Kindle Unlimited:

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Here it is, NO HEROES!

You can buy my first book right here:

What a ride it has been.

If you look at the posts on the sidebar, you can read about my journey as a writer trying to get this book out. There had been many aches and pains, but in the end the bundle of joy waits in the end. I believe this is as close as an experience I'll have with regards to child-birth.

Now for the next book!

Book Two of No Heroes is titled as No Villains. The first draft is already finished and awaiting revisions. I already have some notes on how to fix it, but it will take me about three months (hopefully) to crank out the second draft. I've learned a lot from the first book, learned a lot about craft, discipline and mindset. Learning doesn't stop, and I'm excited on what I'm going to learn on the next book, and the next.

Other than the next book, I'll also need to learn about administrative work. First stop: Mailing Lists.