How to Show Up and Write

image of woman writing

Ask any writer how to write, and they will tell you, logically enough: Write.

Write every day. Write at the same time. Write for hours. Write for 20 minutes. Just show up and write.

You’ve heard this advice before and you haven’t taken it yet.

You meant to. But you haven’t.

This is not entirely your fault, because while the advice is not complicated, it’s nearly impossible to follow.

Mostly because it’s way too simple.

Don’t get me wrong. We love simplicity. Simplicity is great and useful when you want practical steps to solve a problem.

Simplicity is lousy when what you really want is a reason for not doing something.

Why there’s such a thing as “too simple”

A friend of mine has been asking me for years to run marathons with her, so I started asking marathoners for their stories on training and running.

I have favorites. They usually involve blood.

Why? Because marathon running scares me. I don’t want to do it, not really.

When someone tells me a story about collapsing from dehydration halfway up a mountain and having to be hospitalized, it makes marathon running sound difficult. Complicated. Terrifying. With dire consequences for getting it wrong. It gives me a fantastic reason for not doing it.

Show up. Run.

That’s too simple. That’s the kind of simplicity we love to hate.

Why we like to hear that writing is difficult

Anne Lamott wrote a book on writing, Bird by Bird.

In the book, her students ask her how to become writers, and she describes the writing process in terms that would not be out of place in a psych ward. She mentions, in no particular order, banshees, drunken monkeys, and Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Lamott alludes to autism, hypochondria, and meningitis. She holds a gun to her head. She brings out the machetes.

The word doom is in there somewhere. Actually, the word doom is in there everywhere.

For writers, this sort of talk is incredibly comforting.

Who, after all, goes to meet their doom with open arms? No one. The fact that we have not yet become writers is a purely practical matter. Writing is obviously one of those painful things best avoided in life, like war, or sunburn.

We enjoy being told writing is difficult. It gives us a reason that we are not doing it. Clearly our aversion to sitting down and stamping words onto the page is merely evidence that we are neither mentally ill nor masochistic, and I think we can all feel good about that.

This sort of self-congratulation lasts about as long as it takes to get to the next chapter, which is where Lamott stops being tongue-in-cheek and starts giving purely practical advice on how to write. And what is this advice?

Show up. Write.

Well, damn it.

Why we don’t want to believe writing is simple

If writing is simple, then why aren’t we all writers? Why haven’t we done it yet?

We want to believe writing is complicated so that we have an excuse for not doing it. We want to think that we just don’t get it. That there’s a switch inside us that hasn’t been turned on yet. That there’s a password, a correct time of day, a special brand of computer, possibly named HAL.

What we really don’t want to believe is that we just need to sit down and write.

That’s depressing. We could have been doing that all along.

There must be something else we could do, or better yet, something we can’t do.

It would be fantastic if someone could just come up with a reason that we can’t write, a good reason, a plausible one. Virginia Woolf did her best: she said that to write we must have a room of our own, and a fairly significant independent income.

If you don’t have either of those, you’re off the hook.

For the sake of our pride, our shame, our egos, we want there to be a reason we haven’t done it, other than fear. There must be an enormous obstacle in the way. There must be some labyrinth to get through. There must be some kind of enlightenment that needs to be found first, some code to crack, some mantra to chant.

Show up. Write.

Oh, shut up.

Simple doesn’t mean easy

We’re comforted when we’re told writing is difficult, because we think this negates the fact that it’s actually simple.

But of course, the opposite of difficult isn’t simple. The opposite of difficult is easy.

I am not about to tell you that writing is easy. Writing is hard. Writers never stop fearing that what they write isn’t good enough. They can’t come up with good ideas. They come up with brilliant ideas that don’t work. They write terrible things and good things. And they try to make sure that people never see the terrible things, and that as many as possible see the good things.

No writer I know thinks writing is easy.

But no writer I know thinks writing is complicated.

If you’ve been waiting to write because you think that one day someone will give you the advice that makes writing easy, stop waiting. No one can make it easy.

All we can do is make it simple.

Show up. Write.

About the Author: Taylor Lindstrom is a freelance copywriter and Assistant Editor of Copyblogger. She’d love to chat more, but she has to get back to writing now.

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Reader Comments (121)

  1. says

    Just do it, as Nike says. Kind of reminds me of two jokes:

    1. Someone asked, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer was, “practice, practice, practice!”

    2. A carnivorous African tribe invited a missionary to lunch. The missionary asked, “When does lunch begin?” The chief replied, “lunch won’t start until you arrive.”

    Seriously. You can’t dream about writing. As the post stresses, you must just do it.

  2. says

    Why writing is difficult:

    1. It’s challenging to make your ideas as clear to others as they are to you.

    2. It’s challenging to to convey your idea in a way that’s engaging and doesn’t induce boredom.

    3. You got nothing if you’re without a significant idea to begin with. It’s challenging coming up with great ideas that others will be thrilled to ingest. And you got to do the aforementioned A LOT if you want any hope of your writing creating the bloody mula.

    My martial art teacher once said that everything is difficult, but only prior to actually learning it well.

    I have no idea where this comment is going, just was in the mood to comment.

    • says

      I always laughed when I heard that the writer would know what happens next in the book when he writes about it. I thought that I had to do a whole lot of planning before I start writing. Not a bad idea, but it just does not always happen.

      Once you unleash that wild writer in you, you can write up a storm.

      Tested. Proven – it works.

  3. says

    Maybe we all need little signs that point to our desks that say “This is where the magic happens.”

    I just finished (well, in the sense that George Lucas finished Star Wars Ep. IV when it was released in the 1970s) an eBook/info product. It wasn’t as long as a novel or anything like that, but it still involved a lot of sitting, some thinking, writing, reading, cursing, rewriting…. and so on until it was finally done. And the first draft wasn’t golden, not by a long shot.

    But if you keep at it, keep tweaking, reading, thinking and writing some more, it will get done!

    But only if you sit your butt down in the chair… the place where the magic happens.

  4. says

    I know what you mean about the marathon running – I love to run, but a whole marathon ?
    Maybe marathons are secretly linked to writing and once I run one I will also have the stamina to write a book?

    • says

      Mental stamina and physical stamina are developed the same way. And I’m so sorry to tell you that it still includes the words “show up”.

      I know. It sucks. But it just is.

  5. says

    Writing is easy… if you only write stuff you are going to read. We want the difficulty when someone else is going to be involved – our simple reason for wanting writing to be hard is that we have a little fear, a little concern – obvious or hidden in a sophisticated way.

    • says

      Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Some of my worst criticism is my own, and I often don’t write because I’m afraid I can’t live up to my own expectations. Fear is pretty internal.

      • says

        Agreed! I’ve flagellated myself so much by the time I show something to people, that they surprise me by being impressed. And I suspect they MUST have something bad to say… but then. That’s only because I have so much bad ready to say in my defence against their praise 😛

  6. says

    So true. How much time I’ve wasted putting off writing things, only to find that it didn’t take nearly as much time as I feared it would… I’d tell myself that it clearly wasn’t the moment, that it needed to ripen and that it would come out when the idea was well-formed. All this time, I realise, I was just lazy.

    But not anymore! Your message is like a voice across a chasm of procrastionation that offers no more excuses – and that’s just the way it needs to be if you want to be writing marathon-style.


  7. says


    You’ll love this quote:

    “Writing is easy. All you do is sit in front of a typewriter keyboard until little drops of blood appear on your forehead.”
    — Walter W. “Red” Smith

    The quote is from “Writing with Style” by John R. Trimble.

  8. says

    For me, writing is never a problem – getting inspired to exceed my expectations, now….that sometimes takes an application of more than 3 cups of coffee.

    I’m a big believer in expanding one’s comfort boundaries, so yes indeed – I’d say, want to learn how to write better? Stay at your computer/notebook until you can be proud of your effort.

  9. says

    YES! I love it… “sit your butt down in a chair and write…that’s where the magic happens”.

    Seriously, this article is inspiring…too often I think, I’m not an author, I can’t write. The fact is, anyone can! AND anyone can be great! =)

    Thank You, Andrea

  10. says

    I wish I had written this post! Well, I almost did. But it won’t be out until Tuesday.

    I’m gonna go tweet this to the world. Thanks, Taylor, for telling it like it is with not a doom (or a bird) in sight.

  11. says

    I come from a stock who love to be paranoid about all things “work.” I feel like this trait bleeds into my writing efforts from any kind of project.

    Focusing on simplicity is such an awesome way to unwind all of those insecurities to finally get to some gear-turning, sweat-dripping writing.

    I think you’ve encapsulated the writer’s chase towards excellence nicely. What a rush.


  12. says

    “Bird by Bird is a really great book. I’ve read it at least three times. And every time I do – I get a little burst of creative energy.

  13. says

    So simple, but such great advice.

    It’s kind of like Nike’s “Just do it.” philosophy.

    People find all sorts of reasons to not do something either out of fear of failure, or even worse fear of success that they would rather talk about how they can’t rather than put in the effort and discover that they can. It doesn’t matter if it’s running a marathon, writing, or taking up a new hobby.

    It’s like when I started in social marketing, I had no idea what I was doing, but I had made a commitment to my first client that I would make it work, and stopped at nothing to make sure their investment wasn’t in vain. I knew that running ads would help, but I didn’t know how much until I ran my first campaign. The results were staggering! We went from 0-23,000 “fans” in the first month! Since then we’ve grown at a steady clip.

    But it’s about doing it, and keep doing it. Pour every ounce of yourself into it. And if you fail, you know you’ve done your best.

    Life is short. Right before your final moment, you’ll look back and realize that your entire existence, time wise, has only been a small blip on the history of humanity. What you’ve done in that time can make a huge impact. But only if you if you show up and do something.

  14. Dale Hansman says

    Very timely article. Thanks Taylor!

    I’m reading a book on writing I highly recommend. For those of you not yet familiar with the concept of “free writing” — which, by the way, does NOT mean writing for free 😉 — take a look at “Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content” by Mark Levy. Or Google “free writing”.

    Like Talyor’s article here, Accidental Genius is helping me get past my fear of writing. Big deal for a perfectionist like me!

    PS: BTW, if you’re on Amazon anyway, look for “The War of Art” by Pressfield (216 reviews averaging 4.5 stars). Great stuff.

  15. says

    Great post, I couldn’t agree more. I gave up writing years ago. At the start of this year, more than 13 years since I essentially downed tools, I listened to the advice to ‘just show up and write’ and what do you know, I’m writing. I produce a new, original piece for my blog each week and I’m working on other projects as well. All I do is an hour in the morning and an hour every night, every day. Is it good? It’s not all bad and it’s a whole lot better than the nothing I wrote for the last decade.

    The only way to be a writer is to write.

  16. says

    What a great kick in the pants article! And I love Anne Lamott – so even better!

    A good quote to go along with my mindset after reading this:
    You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.
    – Henry Ford

  17. says

    Great article, Taylor. Love the part comparing writing to sunburn and war – lol.

    Not to be too much of a smart ass, but writing IS easy. It’s writing well that’s hard ; )

    I mention that only because it’s at the core of the best advice I’ve ever been given on writing: allow yourself the luxury of the SFD – shitty first draft. Silence the doubt and inner critic until after the first draft, and then put them to work where they’ll do some good: editing. This makes following the advice of “show up and write” much easier. At least it does for me.

    – Jeff

  18. says

    All I want to do is write. When I have an idea, I write on napkins, papercups, whiteboards, etc., if I can’t find a notepad. But, finding time to edit and post my writings is entirely a different matter!

  19. says

    Writer’s write. That may be the simplest explanation of the topic possible.

    In addition to writing I think go writers get out there and read a lot. By reading things by authors you like it also can help to give you a “natural” feel for what works and what doesn’t.

  20. says

    This is great. I try to ship every morning at 6. My routine is writing no more than 7 lines in succinct fashion. It helps the brain hits the main points without going into all the detail involved.

  21. Alexis Renee says

    And then there are people like me who look up lots of tutorials on how to write, just like this one, and never actually USE any of the advice they get.

  22. says

    I think somewhere in the back of our heads we can’t shake “practice makes perfect.” Perfect is scary and practice often means pushing a rock that never budges. I’m coming up with new words for practice like, “indulgence,” or “me time.”

  23. says

    Anne Lamott is one of the greatest writers of her generation, and Bird by Bird is an excellent book for any writer.

    I would also recommend Stephen King’s On Writing, which is a good book for writers as well. In spite of his reputation as a master of pulp/horror paperbacks, he put together a great tome on how to manage writing on a regular basis.

  24. says

    Stephen King should never be underestimated. His genre isn’t well respected, but the man is a master of good prose and he turns out new material at a rate that demands respect.

  25. says

    Totally agree. I read King’s book a few years ago now, but I seem to remember part of the reason he wrote the book was because he didn’t really get respect as an author’s author. He deserves that respect.

  26. Eric says

    Maybe not the classic numbered list of “how to” pointers one might expect from a post titled “How to Show Up and Write. But if not exactly “How To…”, definitely “How True”.

  27. says

    Taylor, wow, your post speaks to a simple concept, with simple (aka clear, easy-to-read) words, that results in a powerful message. “Pretty” good! Should make you “pretty proud” (saw your Twitter post). Actually, since you charge by the awesome, I’d call this awesome! Makes me want to live up to my Twitter handle, I Write….

  28. says

    The wisest words ever spoken to me were from now dear friend, Andrea Parnell, who is a romance writer and at the time she was working from home. She said, “Some days it is a long walk from the bedroom to the office.” Now I know exactly what she meant. That is the hardest part. Once my fingers start I can’t stop – it is just getting to the desk.

  29. says

    And I thought I was delusional thinking I could get better at writing by writing every day. Maybe I wasn’t so far off!

    Love this post, thank you!!

  30. says

    Hi Taylor. Loved the theme of this post. I find that I can get into a decent writing flow as long as I can start writing the first sentence or two. Then the rest will come to me. If I really need help getting started, I will do an outline to get my thoughts clear.

  31. keya says

    It was a lovely post…loved reading it..quite motivating and heart lifting also… the actual trouble with me is that … when I’m writing a poem, or a prose on personal note, or an article on some social issues, like those appear in the newspaper (crime, inhumanity, …).. my mind keeps working, my words keep flowing, and I keep writing… but the moment it comes to some technical stuffs, or a review on techie things, or some marketing terms oriented things… my speed goes down, my moral gets lower, and my productivity decreases… what should I do please tell… sometimes I feel, it’s easier to be a songster, than a copy writer… :(

    • says

      Sounds like you are an artist and cannot be convinced to write for so pedestrian a reason as money. This will prove to be good for your integrity, but not so lucrative as one might wish.

      I’m actually inclined to say it sounds like you don’t enjoy writing other people’s work so much as your own. Which is not a bad thing by any means, but it makes me think copywriting might not be the best niche for you. If you don’t enjoy it, I can’t recommend you stick with it. If you do enjoy it and just find it rough going, I’d say try pretending you’re the other person you’re writing for, and see if that helps.

  32. says

    Say it in as few words as possible. In another words, here’s a powerful two word sentence … Be brief.

    It’s important to stop dreaming about the writing life and focus on execution. In another words, here’s a powerful one word sentence … Write.

  33. says

    Good advice, it is definitely the first step to becoming a writer. Write something every day and you will get better, fact.

    I also liked the reference to Virginia Woolf – I wonder what her blog would look like!

  34. says

    Taylor, you describe so well some of the problems I had while trying to write my website copy. Of course as you know I had a different solution… and that was to hire you :)

    Ps. She’s great to work with if you’re looking for copy

  35. says

    A few months ago, a friend of mine, who is a professional pianist and sometimes teacher, told me a story she’s been raised on that got me unstuck. I’m a marcomm copywriter and translator, and I’d been yearning to start writing a novel, but claimed never to have the time (the most convenient of all cop-outs).

    “If you don’t practice one day, your family hears it.
    If you don’t practice two days, your neighbors hear it.
    If you don’t practice three days, everyone hears it.”

    “So write just five minutes. You do have five minutes?”

    I tried it, it wasn’t daunting, it became a habit, I got into the flow, and quickly, it wasn’t just five minutes anymore.

  36. says

    Great post!

    I work in the music industry, and the same can be said for songwriting. Most prolific songwriters will have written hundreds of songs in their career. A lot of these would be failry average and some would be disgarded.

    But to stand any chance of becoming be a prolific songwriter, you simply have to sit down and write!

  37. says

    Such a timely article! Copyblogger seems to be getting really good at posting encouraging articles just when I’m starting to feel the strain of writing. Thanks so much :)

    The one thing I am finding hard at the moment is the sprint finish to get a project completed and launched. I’m too much of a perfectionist and also have a slight fear success.

    I look forward to the next Copyblogger article. Thanks again.

  38. says

    Taylor this is so true! In late June I came up with the mantra “read a lot, write a lot,” in hopes of achieving my goal to become a professional writer. So far I would say it has paid off a lot. Over the past 3 months my traffic has increased 1,000% and I am now in top 100,000 in the U.S. according to As you say, writing is not easy, but writing daily does help put together a flow.

  39. says

    “It is impossible to discourage the real writers—they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.” ~ Sinclair Lewis

    “Most editors are failed writers—but so are most writers.” ~ T. S. Eliot

  40. says

    Wow, really great ideas about writing, thanks.

    Here’s a thought – with a subject for writing in mind, Google the top 3 websites, gleen their 3 primary Keywords, then just begin to automatically write about each keyword – whatever comes to mind.

    Stop the automatic writing after say 5 minutes with each keyword.

    Then start writing about your key subject.

    Works for me – I invite you to give it a try.


  41. says

    An excellent way of addressing the laziness that plagues most new (and a good number of some experienced) writers. Here’s to nonexistent “writer’s block”!

  42. says

    Taylor, tasty stuff—thanks! Lately I’ve been tricking myself to continue daily work on a short story. I set an alarm (same time every day) to write it for just a half-hour, which seems eminently doable. I’ve found that I’ll often work on it for a full hour, which seems like gravy.

    Now I just have to trick myself that vegetables are better for me than ice cream.

  43. says

    Why is it so amazing to read this, yet so hard to do!? Tomorrow I’m going to show up and write (I’m telling myself that). And the next day… and the next…

  44. Eric Brothers says

    The prolific novelist, playwright and short story writer W. Somerset Maugham would devote a part of each day to his writing. It was a job to him. For the times that he sat down and nothing came to him, however, he had a foolproof system. Taking a blank piece of paper, he would write ‘W. Somerset Maugham’ three times. After the third ‘W. Somerset Maugham’ the words poured from his pen onto the paper.

  45. says

    Ha, this was a hilarious and down to earth post, i really liked the tone you set for writing in that it can be such a joy yet sometimes can be such a bore, but what is important is to keep at it.

    The world would be a boring place without ghost writers, general writers and so on.

    Dwight Anthony
    Financially Elite Blog dot Com

  46. says

    I have to say that in the last four weeks I’ve done one thing consistently — write. I wake in the morning and know how much I will have done by the end of the day. Some days I do more, but never less. It is simple — sit down, stop fantasizing, and do it.

    I loved the way you put that thought into words! Great post…

  47. says

    There’s plenty of articles of advice.

    But it’s not often I find out as fantastic as this one.

    Why is it fantastic? Because it’s brilliantly simple.

    Herein lies the proof. Simple produces the best :)

  48. says

    Great advice! And it applies equally to those trying to figure out how to do talking head video for their blogs. Just do one every day!

  49. says

    Thanks so much for this post! I’m a big fan of Copyblogger. Copyblogger is the site that helped me find my voice and this is why I started WritersBlogque, to help others just as Copyblogger has helped me. It’s gotta be a good thing! And it’s fun. I love blogging, other bloggers, and soon to be bloggers. Self publishing just rocks. I studied Copyblogger and the advice shared on this site for one year before I got my wings.

    I wrote this post based on the same idea of “Just show up and write”.

    Thanks and cheers!

  50. says

    Hi Taylor,

    Nice article. It comes at a perfect time for me. There are so many things I need to write that I spend more time thinking about what I’m going to write than I do writing. I appreciate the encouraging words.

    I have a writer friend who says that sometimes he just has to “put his butt in the chair” when he needs to write something. Sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do.

    Thanks for the article and for showing us how to do what you’re telling us we should do.

    Steve DeVane

  51. says

    The biggest reason why it’s hard to write is the lack of warm up.

    Runners know this.
    Artists know this.
    It’s just that writers seem to think they can just sit down and write.

    Outlining is where you warm up. If you outline, your writing speeds up a heck of a lot.

  52. Christy Swope says

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. Everyone wants to over think everything and make excuses but really all it takes is just doing it. I just think the fear of what everyone else thinks of our writing is what holds us back.

  53. says

    Huh, I think it’s the time to write my homework.
    I started reading your blog and I forgot that I have to write two essays and solve about 20 math exercises.

    But writing essays is a bit easier than writing articles as a copyblogger, you are motivated, if I won’t write my essays I’ll get two really bad marks and my teachers will be obnoxious for some time.

  54. RainbowEU says

    Yes, well, reading is easier than writing! So at the end of reading the post an d the reader’s comments, here comes the homework you assigned us: write!
    I take it as a chance to do just that. A few days ago, at a site I follow closely (I won’t mention it in case I shouldn’t) they had a poem competition for their 5th birthday. The prizes are but a T-shirt and a bag. Not many readers have submitted any poems, but I had the urge to sit down and write one. It was a rather long one, and I was amazed at how easily everything just came out in rhymes. I hadn’t written a poem since grade school. The outcome was such that I felt proud.
    So it really comes down to your post’s title: “show up and write”. It won’t always come out right but the more you run, the longer you can stay in the marathon.

    Thank you!

  55. says

    I love to write, so why do I wait until the last minute to decide what I want to share with my blogger friends? In a way, it’s like shopping for dinner: you want to make sure it’s the right meal for the right day of the week.

  56. Nilagriv says

    Absolutely couldn’t agree more. Most of us do try to make things sound difficult than they actually are. We even self analyze and come up with a valid reason why we can’t do it!

    However ever noticed how the same reluctance disappears if we have to write something at the last minute or within a short time frame. Or still better if asked to write something about which we strongly feel.

    Thanks for a very frank post.

  57. WannabeWriter says

    ROTFL – Great post!! So true!! I write lots and lots of Word document-journal-type things, but never get up the guts to actually write more than commentary here and there.

    Sigh. Part of it is “who would want to read anything I write?” and part of it is coming up with a great idea, but you are dead on – just do it!!

    Like accumulating information for a trip (itinerary, tickets, directions, etc.), a lot of what we write winds up in the trash bin (or recycle), but the important thing is to have made the trip! Besides – who knows what you will experience upon that trip??! Opportunities abound!!

  58. says

    Very true! I love to write! But that doesn’t make it easy. I struggle to make if flow, to not use words that don’t have flair or polish. To get what I’m truly feeling or thinking out without letting my emotions take control and interfere in the process. It’s the process that is complicated. But when someone affirms my work (or even if I just know that I have written something that is right on, whether anyone else says so or not) – that is a feeling that makes it all worth it (and then some).

  59. says

    Do I think writing is simple? Yes…and no. If you graduate from high school with any language facility at all, you can write. But to write authentically, to write something surprising enough to be worth someone else stopping and reading requires you to dip into a part of your mind that most of us keep secret and spill it on the page somehow. That itself is never easy. You can grease the wheels, establish these habits, get in the habit of spilling little bits at a time, but the vigilance, consistency and discipline it takes to continue to reach into that part of yourself and to expose yourself daily to criticism and risk is always tough.

  60. says

    Thanks for the post! A friend forwarded this to me today without knowing I needed this kick in the butt. Not only was I inspired by the post, but all the comments. Thanks everyone. I’m going to show up and write, let it go and show up the next day.

  61. says


    This is great topic. Writing random stuff or journal is easy for me but writing in blog that is interesting to your potential readers and client can be challenging, at least it is for me. But, I am trying to be in zone and be inspired to best I can and provide value in my writing. With time I like to believe I am improving.

  62. says

    Writing is a process. Take a thought, which is similar to a strand of DNA and begin to unravel it. Use an outline, make a draft. Leave it be. Come back and see if you’re on the right track. If you’re lucky you can edit and polish then send it along. And I’ll leave with that happy thought and not contemplate the alternatives.

  63. says

    Simple and elegant- put butt into seat. Write.

    I am feeling the love that had been lost between me and my novel… for the first time in months, it is calling again in soft voices. I think I may even answer.
    Thank you!

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