Writing Tips and Advice From Andy Weir, author of THE MARTIAN

Andy-Weir-Author-Photo-Cropped-featuredFew books take the country by storm so quickly, but that’s exactly what Andy Weir’s The Martian did. Now it’s not only a bestselling book, but also a box-office topping motion picture. In this interview, Weir discusses the art of writing science fiction, how to incorporate your passions into your writing and more.


GIVEAWAY: Weir is giving away 15 autographed copies of his bestselling book, The Martian, to Writer’s Digest fan. In order to be eligible to win, all you need to do is tell us WHY YOU LOVE TO WRITE. Post your response either here in the comments of this blog, on this FB post or on Twitter using the hashtag #WritersDigestMartian. Deadline to enter November 17, 2015.


The_Martian_2014Q) You list space travel, orbital dynamics, relativistic physics, astronomy, and the history of manned spaceflight among your interests. How did you incorporate these passions into your debut novel THE MARTIAN?

A) Those interests allowed me to come up with the story in the first place. I love reading up on current space research. At some point I came up with the idea of an astronaut stranded on Mars. The more I worked on it, the more I realized I had accidentally spent my life researching for this story. Early on, I decided that I would be as scientifically accurate as possible. To a nerd like me, working out all the math and physics for Mark’s problems and solutions was fun.

Q) In one sentence, tell us what your novel is all about.

A) It’s the story of an astronaut trying to survive after being accidentally left behind on Mars.

Q) What’s your science background?

A) I was raised in Northern California, where I still live. My father was a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and my mother has an electrical engineering degree, so I suppose you could say I grew up with a lot of science around me. For my career, I went the software-engineering route (I was a computer programmer for 25 years), and worked for many companies including AOL and Blizzard, although I always aspired to write fiction.

And I’ve always had a deep interest in the space program. So I’ve done a lot of research into that on my own for fun.

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Q) Explain how the science in THE MARTIAN is true to life.

A) The basic structure of the Mars program in the book is very similar to a plan called “Mars Direct” (though I made changes here and there). It’s the most likely way that we will have our first Mars mission in real life. All the facts about Mars are accurate, as well as the physics of space travel the story presents. I even calculated the various orbital paths involved in the story, which required me to write my own software to track constant-thrust trajectories.

Q) Did you take any liberties with the science when writing the novel?

A) Yes I did. The sandstorm at the beginning of the book couldn’t possibly happen. In reality, the air on Mars is too thin to cause any damage, even when it’s going 150km/h. It would feel about as strong as a gentle breeze. I had an alternate idea for how to strand Watney, where an MAV engine test goes horribly wrong, but I decided against it. It’s a man-vs-nature story and I wanted nature to get the first shot in. So I sacrificed accuracy for drama on that.

Q) What inspired you to write THE MARTIAN?

A) I was thinking about how best to do a manned Mars mission. As the plan got more detailed, I started imagining what it would be like for the astronauts. Naturally, when designing a mission, you think up disaster scenarios and how likely the crew would be to survive. That’s when I started to realize this had real story potential.

Q) Have you ever come across a book called Robinson Crusoe on Mars?

A) I’ve never read the book, but I did see the 1964 movie. I often get asked about it because the basic premise is similar. However, the 1964 film features aliens, a breathable atmosphere on Mars, and a plucky pet monkey. So I think The Martian is distinct enough.


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Q) Are you a science-fiction fan? Who are some of your favorites?

A) I can’t remember any time in my life when I wasn’t reading science fiction. The classic authors of the 1950’s and ‘60s—Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov—were some of my favorites.

Q) Are you an advocate for a manned mission to Mars? Are you hopeful we’ll actually make it out there sometime soon?

A) Of course I’m a huge fan of space travel, manned and unmanned. I would love to see people land on Mars in my lifetime. However, do I think it will actually happen? I’m not sure. Unlike the 1960s, we’re not in a race with anyone to get there, so it’s not a priority. Also, computer and robotics technologies are leaps and bounds better than they were during the days of Apollo. So logically, you have to ask why we would risk human lives rather than just make better robots. Still, it would be awesome, and maybe that’s reason enough.

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Q) Do you have anything in common with your wise-cracking hero Mark Watney? 

A) I’m the same level of smart-ass as he is. It was a really easy book to write; I just had him say what I would say. However, he’s smarter than I am and considerably more brave.

Q) In THE MARTIAN, Watney has access to his crewmates digital entertainment on Mars, including TV episodes of Three’s Company, a variety of Beatles songs, and digital books including The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Any reason you chose to work those specific examples into the novel?

A) It’s a selection of things I loved when I was growing up.

Q) How long do you think you’d last if you were left in Mark Watney’s position?

A) Not long at all. I don’t know how to grow crops, nor how to jury-rig the solutions he came up with. It’s a lot easier to write about an ordeal than it is to experience it.

Q) You have the chance to meet any astronaut living or dead: Who is it and why?

A) John Young. He is the quintessential astronaut. Competent, fearless, highly intelligent, and seemingly immune to stress. When Apollo 16 launched, his heart rate never got higher than 70. Most astronauts spike to at least 120 during launches.

Q) Watney seems to be able to maneuver his way around some pretty major problems with a little duct tape and ingenuity! So he’s a bit like MacGyver in that way. Did you watch the show as a kid? Any favorite episodes?

A) Indeed I did! I loved that show. My favorite episode was the one where engineering students had a barricade contest.


 

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Q) How did you feel when your original, self-published version of THE MARTIAN became a phenomenon online? Were you expecting the overwhelmingly positive reception the book received?

A) I had no idea it was going to do so well. The story had been available for free on my website for months and I assumed anyone who wanted to read it had already read it. A few readers had requested I post a Kindle version because it’s easier to download that way. So I went ahead and did it, setting the price to the minimum Amazon would allow. As it sold more and more copies I just watched in awe.

Q) THE MARTIAN is making its big screen debut this fall, with Ridley Scott directing and Matt Damon starring as Mark Watney. Wow! Did you ever imagine in a million years your self-published book would soon become a major motion picture? What was your reaction when you first heard the news? How did you feel when you saw that first movie trailer hit the internet?

A) Obviously, I’m thrilled about it! I daydreamed about The Martian becoming a movie someday but I didn’t take the concept seriously. Even when Fox optioned the rights, I figured they were just making a minor speculative investment. Then the big names started to get involved and it suddenly got more real. Next thing I knew, they had a top-notch cast and one of the greatest directors of all time on the project. Every part of this publishing experience has been a dream come true!

Q) Are you surprised that a book that’s so heavy on science has been able to attract such a huge readership? Why do you think it’s managed to do that?”

A) Yes, definitely. When I wrote the book, I assumed the audience would be science-dorks like me. I never imagined it would have mainstream appeal. I don’t know what I did right. I guess people liked Mark’s sense of humor.

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Q) Since The Martian published you’ve had some pretty incredibly opportunities: you were invited to Houston for a tour of NASA, as well as a tour of  JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab, managed by NASA and CalTech) you gave a talk at SpaceX, will be giving a Summer Series talk at NASA AMES Research Center, and will be visiting Northrup Gruman Aerospace Systems this summer. What was it like visiting some of these places you’ve only dreamed or read about? What was the general response to The Martian among this core crowd of scientists, engineers, and NASA astronauts?

A) They’ve been the highlights of my life. I got to see so much cool stuff! The NASA and JPL folks were extremely happy with the book and let me know it. I think they like how accurate it is to real science. And of course, it portrays them in a very positive light, so I’m guessing they like that a lot

Q) You’re stranded on Mars and you can only take one book with you.  What is it?

A) It’s always hard to pick one “favorite book.” Growing up, I loved early Heinlein books most of all. So if I had to pick one, I’d go with Tunnel in the Sky. I do love a good survival story.

Q) What’s next for you?

A) I’m working on my next book now. It’s more “soft” sci-fi—my take on an alien-invasion story.

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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55 thoughts on “Writing Tips and Advice From Andy Weir, author of THE MARTIAN

  1. Mabel F. Smith

    Writing is magical: taking improbable, impossible journeys that lead to discoveries about the world, about myself, about the nature of being human. Writing allows me to follow my curiosity while also surprising me by sometimes taking me by the hand and leading me to a hidden grove or a dusty red planet that I would never have experienced otherwise. All while clicking away at a keyboard on a normal desk in a standard-seeming life.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      Congrats! You’ve won our Writer’s Digest contest for a copy of Andy Weir’s “The Martian.” Please email me brian.klems@fwmedia.com with “Martian Winner” in the subject line and the address where you’d like the book sent.

      It may take a few weeks for the book to arrive.

      Thanks for participating in the fun Writer’s Digest event!
      Brian A. Klems
      Online Editor

  2. Jeff

    I love to write because it’s what I’m made to be. By that I mean every experience I have and everything I see is potential fodder for a story or a poem. I love to imagine scenarios that could arise from situations I observe, or thoughts that randomly pop into my head. I love the process of having a seed of an idea, nurturing it through times of creative drought and storms of self-doubt, adding the proper words in just the right order to help it grow, and then presenting it as a beautiful flower to someone I love–or to anybody who can appreciate my art.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      Congrats! You’ve won our Writer’s Digest contest for a copy of Andy Weir’s “The Martian.” Please email me brian.klems@fwmedia.com with “Martian Winner” in the subject line and the address where you’d like the book sent.

      It may take a few weeks for the book to arrive.

      Thanks for participating in the fun Writer’s Digest event!
      Brian A. Klems
      Online Editor

  3. Brown Recluse

    I love to write because it’s the first thing I think of when I wake up and it’s the last thing on my mind when I go to sleep. It’s my passion. There’s no better feeling than seeing the pictures formed in my head written on paper. Words are my drug and I’m an addict.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      Congrats! You’ve won our Writer’s Digest contest for a copy of Andy Weir’s “The Martian.” Please email me brian.klems@fwmedia.com with “Martian Winner” in the subject line and the address where you’d like the book sent.

      It may take a few weeks for the book to arrive.

      Thanks for participating in the fun Writer’s Digest event!
      Brian A. Klems
      Online Editor

  4. plowgirl

    Writing reflects not only a particular passion but a particular passion for telling about it. It transcends the spoken word in that it forces thought behind each letter, each comma, each synonym, each clause. It opens the doors of the mind that are often closed in quick conversations. And I just love that.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      Congrats! You’ve won our Writer’s Digest contest for a copy of Andy Weir’s “The Martian.” Please email me brian.klems@fwmedia.com with “Martian Winner” in the subject line and the address where you’d like the book sent.

      It may take a few weeks for the book to arrive.

      Thanks for participating in the fun Writer’s Digest event!
      Brian A. Klems
      Online Editor

  5. KangXenna

    As I write the noise in my head quietens, the jumbled mess of thoughts becomes more organised, and my mind begins to clear. I can’t pinpoint a sole reason I love writing, but perhaps these are among the most significant.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      Congrats! You’ve won our Writer’s Digest contest for a copy of Andy Weir’s “The Martian.” Please email me brian.klems@fwmedia.com with “Martian Winner” in the subject line and the address where you’d like the book sent.

      It may take a few weeks for the book to arrive.

      Thanks for participating in the fun Writer’s Digest event!
      Brian A. Klems
      Online Editor

  6. nancyji

    I love to write because the characters in my head need to get out and putting them on paper seems the safest for all concerned. Science Fiction has always been my favorite genre to read and write. Thanks for the interesting interview of Andy Weir.
    N. J. Hammer

  7. RateMyDoodles

    You’re not a bad-ass, you’re a great kick-ass. I read your blog with a smile on my face. I love to write, but I hate to market. I’m finally ready to dig down deep to sell myself and my work, but I’ve been approaching it as if I have to sit down and eat a plate of lutefisk. I found a long list of unread Writers’ Digest emails, took a deep breath, and began. Yours was a pick-me-up.

    I love to write because I love to imagine. It’s fun to create characters and stories. The hard work is in the editing, but I like looking for better ways to bring my scenes to life. I’ve also always loved puzzles and spent most of my life as a mathematician teaching at San Jose State University. Math is said to be a young woman’s subject and one’s writing is supposed to improve with wisdom. Sounds good to me so I proved theorems when I was young and now I’m writing novels.

    I independently published Inhabited” First novels are supposed to be about what you know so the setting is in a Midwestern small town much like the one I lived near on a farm. A lesser known maxim is that novels be about what you like. So, the only cop in Dry Creek has to solve a series of mysterious murders with a supernatural twist. I call it Garrison Keillor meets Stephen King, my go-to-beach author. My second novel, Underworld, is in Beta Test. You can read the foreword and more about me on my website: ratemydoodles.com

    Underworld is about a culture of humanoids who live under the ocean bottom, and like you, Brian, I want the science to be as accurate as possible. I’ve learned about deep sea vents, chemosynthesis, and more.

    The Martian is on my reading list. It would be great if you’d speak at the Tri-Valley Writers Club, which meets in Pleasanton.

    Eloise Hamann hamanne@comcast.net

  8. laird72

    I love to write fiction. As with many fiction writers, I love the creation aspect. It’s probably the most instantly gratifying part of the process. However, there is another reason why I love to write fiction. As Alan Moore put it in V for Vendetta, “Artists use lies to tell the truth.” I love to dress grand truths inside of grand lies – creating fantastical stories to illustrate fundamental truths.

  9. Jules-M

    I hate writing but love having written. I love the way words wrap around your brain to create images and evoke feelings and emotions. I admire those who can do this for a living and aspire to be one of them.

  10. M.Michael

    Why write and love it?
    To make a difference, anywhere, anyhow.
    To express the raging creative need within, demonic or beneficent> it never gets clear.
    Love a good challenge.
    It really feels good, if for a moment, when its complete.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      Congrats! You’ve won our Writer’s Digest contest for a copy of Andy Weir’s “The Martian.” Please email me brian.klems@fwmedia.com with “Martian Winner” in the subject line and the address where you’d like the book sent.

      It may take a few weeks for the book to arrive.

      Thanks for participating in the fun Writer’s Digest event!
      Brian A. Klems
      Online Editor

  11. Gregory

    Writing allows me to “live” in my story, as if I have another life. I see the world through my characters, who think and act differently than I do. They react to events, and to other characters in ways that are intriguing and exciting to me, but different than my own nature. I hope the reader feels that way as well.

  12. stateofga

    I write because there is art within me that insists, at times screams from my core, demanding release. Once the art is released, I think I can finally sleep at night but when bedtime approaches, I am again seized upon with a vision that compels me to continue to create and creation makes me feel a spark of divinity.

  13. Katie

    I love to write because it’s cathartic. The act of creation in any form is empowering and fulfilling. Who wouldn’t love that??

    Also, can’t wait to read The Martian! It’s in my stack of to-be-read books!

  14. besco

    Writing is freedom. You always hear that “anything is possible” as a child and then as you get older, reality starts to sink in. Which sucks because, suddenly, not everything is possible – unless you write it. When you craft your own reality, you can do whatever you want. And that makes me so incredibly happy.

    Thanks for doing this Andy! I’ve been a big fan since “the Egg” and loved the Martian! I can’t wait to see what else you have in store!

  15. azieser

    I love to write because it allows me a freedom of expression that is not available in real life. I can sit down and craft a world that is specifically designed for my story, created solely in my mind. In addition writing allows me to re-kindle the creative mode that we all start out with as children. I remember my parents telling me that someday I have to grow up. Well I hope that day never comes!

  16. Leo Sandy

    I love to write, because once the first germ of an idea hits the page the story follows. I love to let the world of imagination build itself. I love to craft stories and ideas, watching to see where they take me. I still don’t know if any of it is any good. But I just love to write. If it wasn’t for my day job? I’d love it a whole lot more.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      Congrats! You’ve won our Writer’s Digest contest for a copy of Andy Weir’s “The Martian.” Please email me brian.klems@fwmedia.com with “Martian Winner” in the subject line and the address where you’d like the book sent.

      It may take a few weeks for the book to arrive.

      Thanks for participating in the fun Writer’s Digest event!
      Brian A. Klems
      Online Editor

  17. R_G

    I love to write because it is the easiest way for me to respond to my “muse.” The more I write the more my muse sticks around. Sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to do. Writer’s block and his trusty sidekick “Procrastination” have succeeded many times in keeping my muse from me. This love of writing is earned one letter at a time.

  18. dr.zainab

    I love to write because it helps me connect with my inner self. I never knew my capabilities until i started writing.It brings out my hidden wishes. Also it expands knowledge..makes me learn many new things.helps me grow.

  19. rnoble

    At band camp, a couple of older kids thought it would be amusing to hold my head under water. Of course, that was after they asked me what I want to do for a living, and I said, “Intergalactic Isolation Tank Rentals.” And they said, “Huh?”. And I said, “Exactly.” And dunk.

    As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by gripping stories, first from movies and books followed. I’ve always been an imaginative person and once I get an idea it won’t let me go. So I love to write because I’m drawn to it and it exhilarates me to see where an idea or situation progresses.

    P.S. The band camp story is totally not true. I’ve never had the pleasure of band camp, nor can I play any instrument… maybe the triangle.

  20. Author1995

    I love to write because it is a means of escape for me. I feel like I can create my own world, and be immersed in it for awhile. I feel like I have control, for the most part, over the characters in the book, and the way the plot is heading. That being said; I also enjoy writing because sometimes it surprises me. A shady part of the character emerges that I did not know existed, or there is a twist in the plot that completely changes the story. When this happens, the story turns out differently than I had planned, but I like to think it often turns out better.
    Writing is a great form of creativity and expression for me.

  21. S.T. Ranscht

    Introversion is my life. It’s comfortable, but isolating. Gleefully, writing sets my secret inner extrovert free to rescue or kill, snivel or snark, calm or enrage. I can tell the truths no one wants to hear. I can explore time and the Universe and take you with me. Wanna go?

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      Congrats! You’ve won our Writer’s Digest contest for a copy of Andy Weir’s “The Martian.” Please email me brian.klems@fwmedia.com with “Martian Winner” in the subject line and the address where you’d like the book sent.

      It may take a few weeks for the book to arrive.

      Thanks for participating in the fun Writer’s Digest event!
      Brian A. Klems
      Online Editor

  22. troypierce

    I write because I have nothing else to call my own. I write because my heart clings to the pen. I write because it is my duty. Voices are meant to be heard as much as a soul is meant to be seen. Just as we are meant to listen and acknowledge more than we are to justify our understanding.

  23. Lotus Ivak

    I love to write simply to live in my newly created world of new characters. It’s a joy to immerse myself in another land!

    And thanks for the great post! Big fan of Andy Weir!

  24. Simplebetty

    That’s a tricky question. I don’t write because I love it. I write because I have to. It’s what I do, sometimes I stare at the blank page and only hear it laughing back at me. There are days that I enjoy the process, you know what I’m talking about. The time when you can’t possibly shut your brain off everything is flowing so freely. Then of course we must not forget the terrible self doubt that comes along with it all. Is that good enough? Could it be better? Pulling out all the fluff that isn’t needed, feeling as though you are tearing out a tiny part of yourself. I am currently writing my first book hoping to finish by Christmas that’s my goal. I haven’t decided if I want to self publish or try with an editor would love your thoughts. I read everything and would love the opportunity to receive your book free. Thanks for taking the time to read my comment.
    Michelle

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      Congrats! You’ve won our Writer’s Digest contest for a copy of Andy Weir’s “The Martian.” Please email me brian.klems@fwmedia.com with “Martian Winner” in the subject line and the address where you’d like the book sent.

      It may take a few weeks for the book to arrive.

      Thanks for participating in the fun Writer’s Digest event!
      Brian A. Klems
      Online Editor

  25. Raekiran

    I love to write because I love to communicate. It is a wonderful thing to be understood, especially when you find that you have touched another person at a very deep level. Making others feel something is a wonderful experience, and so I believe writing carries with it a responsibility to those who will read your work. Words are powerful. Those who read what one writes should be better off for having read it. That is my goal.

  26. dmbrandon

    I love to write because I love to read. to me there is no better way to escape into a world where anything is truly possible because it’s one of the few places where we are actually limited by nothing but our imagination.
    We still have to fallow a few rules but we can always choose which rules to fallow and which we want to ignore and the only consequences we have to fear is that someone won’t like it. Of course the secret to writing is accepting that not everyone is going to like what you write.
    We get to create any kind of world we want where anything is possible, anything could happen and we get to play god. What’s not to love.

  27. mjburton21

    Passion. Not in some starry-eyed, delusions-of-grandeur way, but simply the passion that anyone has for whatever chosen creative outlet they’ve latched onto. For some it’s painting, for others needlepoint, or photography or interior decoration or architectural design or landscaping. The desire to express oneself creatively isn’t a luxury, it’s a primal life-affirming necessity to individual wellbeing. A person without a creative outlet is a life lacking fulfillment. That’s why I love to write.

  28. dbancrof

    I love to write because ideas and storylines and characters periodically occur to me (probably for therapeutic reasons more than anything), and I can’t think of many other ways to get them out.

  29. dymphna st james

    I love to write because of the challenge. Ever since I was a little girl I saw my life as a story and when I got older I would play the “what if” game to create compelling tales that satisfied me and even an audience. I have been writing seriously for fifteen years now and I can’t imagine my life now without writing.

  30. karaseg

    I not only love to write – I feel a compulsion to write. I write because something bounces around in my head for so long and forms itself until it finally has to come out in written form- there is no way for me to not write it down. I only wish the beauty that I see in my head could come out as well in written form. That of course, is the ultimate struggle for all of us writers. 🙂

    Visit my blog

  31. authormeyer

    I love to write because it finally feels like I can do something right. I just mean in terms of finding my niche or skill. I graduated with a B.S. in Theater and haven’t been able to use that. I’m supporting my wife and two kids by working at some internal help desk for a manufacturing company (not exactly the career I had in mind :P). Writing lets me escape into another world (think of the old PC game Myst from the 90’s – who wouldn’t want to check out those worlds?)
    Writing makes me ‘me’ and allows me to carve stories out of my imagination and share them with those that are interested. It’s truly what I want to do for a living. 🙂

  32. Redhead

    I write because I love using my imagination to create pictures with words that have the potential to touch others’ souls. I inherited the story-telling gene from my mother, and I’ve been writing ever since I learned to hold a pencil. For me, there’s no other form of expression that’s as complete and satisfying as writing.

  33. Tamara50

    I have written since before I knew how to write. I remember, as a child, scribbling lines on a piece of paper and telling my mother that I was writing. I began writing letters to family members when I was in first grade and stories, poems and random thoughts by fourth grade. As an adult I wrote one page Christmas stories or poems instead of those boring form letters. One began; It’s December nineteenth and I’m simply not ready, think I’ll just go to bed and snuggle my Teddy. I’ll pull the covers up over my head and pretend that it’s Easter Sunday instead…

    I guess I love to write because words allow us to communicate thoughts, ideas, feelings and so very much more. They are one of God’s most wonderful gifts.

  34. jdebose

    I love to write because I love to read and because I love to think. Everyone in every situation usually has a “what if” thought in the back of their head, and I want to create the results of those “what if” situations.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      Congrats! You’ve won our Writer’s Digest contest for a copy of Andy Weir’s “The Martian.” Please email me brian.klems@fwmedia.com with “Martian Winner” in the subject line and the address where you’d like the book sent.

      It may take a few weeks for the book to arrive.

      Thanks for participating in the fun Writer’s Digest event!
      Brian A. Klems
      Online Editor

  35. Christopher Hascall

    I love to write because art is the most profound way to express ourselves and our views. A sentence can be worth a thousand pictures, and when I see something beautiful or watch something interesting happen, I latch on to the inspiration that follows.

    I believe everyone is capable of materializing their thoughts on the beauty they witness. This is why we must keep an open mind to any who attempt it, while certainly leaving room for criticism.

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