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Allena Tapia

Sometimes I Do Recommend Content Mills

By February 21, 2010

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Man, am I ever going to hear about this.

So, I'm teaching a class about book reviewing, and we get off on a tangent about freelance writing and editing, and I tell my students that "Yes, you do have clips." This is kind of a mantra of mine: I bet you do too have clips!

Well, I'm stumped by a youngish woman who is just embarking on her career, who works in retail, and truly doesn't have clips. No volunteer work, no church bulletins, no high school newspaper, etc. I hesitated just for one moment before I counseled her to

1) Think about creating content at a mill

2) Take on some volunteer writing projects for a cause that she cares about

The content mill debate tires me. I always feel like I'm on the fence. But back in 2006 (I think) I wrote for Hubpages when they were offering a small up-front payments, and I'm still collecting adsense from those articles. Not only that, but I really had fun writing them, as they were on subjects that are near and dear to my heart. Hubpages was one of the places I told her to look into. I've seen them go back and forth with their upfront payments, so I told her to keep an eye on them.

A question for those who despise content mills--is there anyone- anyone at all- that you would recommend content mills to?

Comments
February 21, 2010 at 7:12 pm
(1) David Messmer says:

As a relatively new freelance writer, I’ve spent a lot of time lately plodding through the various “mills.” My results at different sites have varied, but almost all of them have ultimately been bad.

I would, though, actually recommend wiseGEEK to anyone who needs to generate a reasonable amount of revenue while building up a more steady client base. The pay isn’t bad, they pay quickly, and I’ve used those articles as samples when applying to other jobs to prove that I can do SEO.

Most of the other mills that I’ve encountered, though, pay less than my local McDonald’s, so I’ve stayed away and would advise others to do so, too. I think writing for local non-profits (which I’ve recently started doing) is more worthwhile and definitely more fulfilling.

February 22, 2010 at 10:25 am
(2) John Peragine says:

While I have not worked for a content mill, I think that ANY opportunity to write and practice writing can only improve a beginning writer’s craft. I look back at stuff I worte a couple years ago and cringe a little, but I know that I have improved through writing everyday and honing my skills. So think of it as a grist mill rather than a content mill.

February 22, 2010 at 10:47 am
(3) Aleksandr says:

I can recommend this site: REDACTED
It Pays up to $450 per story.
After I signed up I wrote 16 stories and get on avarage $35 – $45 per story. Payment received on time.

February 22, 2010 at 6:06 pm
(4) John Peragine says:

Aleksandr, that site looks a little scammy to me.

February 22, 2010 at 8:41 pm
(5) Nan says:

I agree with David. Providing writing services to a non-profit is much more “valuable” than writing for a mill. Be up front and tell them that you’re building a portfolio and would love to donate services in exchange for a donation letter. If you’re going to write for free – and don’t get me started on this – wouldn’t it be better to do something for a good cause??? If the opportunity to write about something near and dear to your heart through a mill appeals to you, why not create your own blog about it instead? Why, why, why help keep writers in the dark ages without a decent wage for professional work????? Sorry. Didn’t mean to rant.

February 23, 2010 at 1:37 am
(6) T.W. Anderson says:

Nan, let’s make sure and leave the uneducated comments at the door, please. Content mills are not “keeping writers in the dark ages without a decent wage for professional work”.

The federal minimum wage is less than 8 dollars an hour, so if you want to complain about dark-age wages then perhaps you should rant at Wal Mart or any of the other American companies who thrive making billions by paying their employees a pittance. Meanwhile, most content sites (like Demand Studios) pay their employees a MINIMUM of 15 dollars an hour, which is double the minimum wage, and only 3 dollars an hour short of the federal median wage of 18 dollars an hour (as of 2009).

Furthermore…why work for free when gathering clips for your career? It’s all well and good to “work for a good cause”, but when it comes to paying the bills a warm fuzzy feeling in your heart doesn’t put food on the table or clothing on the backs of your children.

I whole-heartedly support third party content brokers for new and veteran writers alike. They are a phenomenal way to keep yourself from ever entering a “feast or famine” period, and for new writers there is no better way to get clips writing about their favorite topics without having to do it for free.

I’m so sick of seeing the negativity regarding content mills. Every single time, and I mean 100 percent of EVERY SINGLE comment ever made regarding the “downsides” of content mills, is unfounded, unjustified, and uninformed. What I find really ironic is most of the people making negative comments about content mills have never actual worked for one, meaning their opinions are invalidated by a lack of actual experience.

It’s the same thing as a CPA pointing to a specific restaurant and saying “Their steaks are the worst steaks in the world”, when not only are they not qualified food critics, but have never even been to that particular restaurant before in the first place.

People should know their facts before they make uneducated and uninformed claims. One of the first places I would urge you to start is the recent content writing experiment I finished up in early February, showing how anyone–regardless of experience–can walk into writing for content mills like Demand Studios and make a MINIMUM of 50 dollars an hour. I’m not charging for the information..it’s all up for free on my website. I’m just an INFORMED individual who is out here trying to put a positive light on third party content brokers, because they really are a great tool and resource for ALL writers out there.

February 23, 2010 at 5:58 am
(7) Will Brown says:

First, stop comparing apples and cinder blocks. Wages are paid by an employer to an employee. Employees receive a W-2 form to report these wages to the IRS. Freelance writers, even those who do not use content mills, get 1099 forms to report their gross earnings. Freelance writers have to file quarterly estimates of earnings, arrange their own health care coverage and other things an employee receives from their employer. Most people do not realize how much employers do for them, even if most of it is required by law.
So much for my rant on wages vs. self employment income. Freelance writers have the same problem other knowledge based service providers are facing now. With the world wide web and package delivery services such as Fedex, UPS, DHL etc. writers are now competing with writers in India, China, The Phillipines and other countries with much lower costs of living. This is why writing fees have gone down recently.
Finally, I would recommend content mills to moonlighters and anyone else wanting to supplement their income. Some people can make a decent living as a content mill writer, but those are few and far between. My only caveat for anyone thinking about a writing career is they better enjoy writing. Otherwise, your odds of any success are none and next to none.

February 23, 2010 at 9:59 am
(8) John Peragine says:

Wow this conversation took a turn down a dark and scary road. My feeling is that in this economy, anything that will put food on your table is good. Besides it is the quality of your writing not the number of clips you have that will make your career. And while you are waiting for that career to take off, make some money!

February 23, 2010 at 10:09 am
(9) freelancewrite says:

Aleksandr’s site was pure spam and has been removed. You will NOT make any money from that site- they will simply charge your credit card EVERY MONTH. Don’t bother.

February 23, 2010 at 3:18 pm
(10) nan says:

There’s nothing wrong with getting a bee in your bonnet, T.W., but you have no idea what my experience is with content mills, content brokers, or WalMart for that matter. So, please try to stay on topic like Will Brown who recommends content mills to moonlighters and folks wanting to supplement their income. That’s a point well made.

February 23, 2010 at 7:31 pm
(11) Yo Prinzel says:

There is definitely a place for content mills. I don’t like to see people recommend them for full time work because I truly think that is a waste of time and talent, but for someone who just wants a little extra cash and doesn’t want to deal with the pressure of clients or someone who has done no online writing and wants to get comfortable with the process, I think content mills are a great place to go. Maybe not the best place, certainly not the only place, but a relatively easy, accessible place.

As far as clips are concerned, I have worked with editors who won’t hire people who submit content mill work for clips. I don’t want to get into a debate about whether they are right or wrong because, frankly, I don’t care. However, you aren’t going to do yourself any favors by ignoring that trend. Well written guest posts on popular blogs could be a good alternative solution to the published clips issue. Personally, for my first freelance writing gig with a local paper, I used an unpublished essay I wrote as a clip. I got the gig and then had real clips to use.

February 23, 2010 at 7:37 pm
(12) JSwindell says:

I agree w/Nan. I have been with Demand Studios for nearly 2 yrs. and they have never offered me $15/hr. They have never made any promotions or gave a heads up on anything other than being a user/author on eHow. I like eHow but even with over 10K views in less than two years, I’d be in trouble trying to pay bills with what they pay me. I’d be in a worse spot if I sat around waiting for DS to offer me something substantial.

So, I am creating a portfolio as we speak. I plan to include business pieces as well as general articles, how-to’s,etc. and reaching out to different venues.
Mills that endorse clients who want 500 words for $1 or pay a small Adsense percentage are not going anywhere anytime soon. All I can do is make the best of reasonable opportunities I may come by.

My only advice to new writers is when you feel confident, LEAP! The worst thing you will hear is no and there is no law saying you can’t try again.

February 24, 2010 at 1:21 am
(13) T.W. Anderson says:

JSwind:

Demand Studios pays 15 dollars per How-To article. You would be the first person I have ever met who cannot write 1 How-To article in an hour. I stand corrected that there are people out there who cannot make a minimum of 15 dollars an hour using Demand Studios.

HOWEVER! That fault does not lie with Demand Studios. The fact is they pay 15 dollars per article. I myself have never written less than three articles per hour for Demand Studios. On a few occasions I have written 7 in an hour. Most of the time it’s 3-4 per hour, dropping me in the 45-60 dollars an hour ballpark. You are the first person I have met who cannot write the type of article they are looking for…fast, disposable, canned website articles meant to be written for a 12 year old reader and requiring nothing more than stringing 2 sentences together coherently.

This is not a slight against you. You may be a phenomenal writer who just cannot write quickly. I know plenty of fiction writers in my field who take 6 months to write what I can write in 2 days. Some people just write incredibly slow. That’s not to say what you write is poor quality, it just takes you time. I will absolutely agree that writing for content sites is NOT profitable if you are a slow writer. You have to be a fast typist in order to be profitable writing for content mills.

Nan:

Just because you disagree with me doesn’t make my comments off-topic. People like to make wild accusations about content mills, most of which are completely baseless and lacking in facts. Yours were the same. You provided an entirely one-sided and completely inaccurate viewpoint. You threw out the typical knee-jerk “OH MAH GAWD CONTENT MILLS R EVIL!” response. You said that content sites pay stone-age wages. What you neglected to say was that “For me, personally, they pay stone age wages”.

Taking J. for example…is it their fault or Demand Studios’ fault that they cannot make more than 15 dollars an hour working for them? I am NOT saying that J. has a problem by writing so slowly, I am simply saying that for J. it is not profitable writing for Demand because they cannot write fast, easy-to-write content as it pertains to the types of articles DS is looking for.

To suggest that writing for content mills is only for moonlighters or as supplemental income is the typical knee-jerk response to content mills. The actual facts of the matter are much much different. Again, I urge you to take a look at the recent content writing experiment I just wrapped up. I recently had another writer contact me this week commenting on how blown away he was by the results, because he had previously thought of Demand Studios as nothing more than the knee-jerkers told him, when in fact they are paying many writers 40-60 dollars an hour…which is more than upper management makes in the United States (on the books: see wages).

I am not an exception. I am one of the many writers who sees past the knee jerk reactions and uses content sites to our advantage. My average per hour rate with Demand Studios is 45-60 dollars an hour. I never dip below 45 dollars per hour. Never.

Are you telling me that 45 dollars an hour is “moonlighting” or “supplemental” wages? Because if you are, I’d love to live in the world that you live in where 45 dollars an hour is akin to “stone age” wages.

According to the public letter released a few weeks back by the heads of Demand Studios, their average writers make 15-25 dollars an hour. That’s their average. Were you aware that the national US median wage for 2009 was 18 USD per hour? And that the average middle management position pays less than 25 dollars an hour? Granted, there is some discrepancies between wages and dollars per hour earned because of taxes/etc., but the point is…the average writer for Demand Studios is making middle management wages, no different than someone working a 40 hour a week as a branch manager of a bank.

I’ll point to my recent content writing experiment again. Specifically look at the results for Week 3, where I specifically delve into the Department of Labor, the Social Security website, the Census website, and a few others, to show how places like Demand Studios are actually paying BETTER WAGES than most 40-hour-a-week jobs across the Unites States.

Much better than Wal Mart, McDonald’s, retail, or many other types of jobs. In fact, the average writer for Demand Studios is making the equivalent of middle management across the nation.

This is fact, not opinion.

Enjoy!

February 24, 2010 at 1:26 am
(14) T.W. Anderson says:

Woops, that link was meant to take you to the Conclusion of the writing experiment, not the Week 3 results, although the week 3 results also pertain to the overall discussion.

Education and information are the bread and butter of a good writer. I look forward to hearing your thoughts/comments after you’ve taken the time to do so!

February 24, 2010 at 2:09 am
(15) T.W. Anderson says:

Will:

While there is definitely more going on behind the scenes than most employees understand, it is far from “apples to cinder-blocks”.

The cost of hiring an accountant is 500 USD a year, at most. This is a negligible expense.

Health insurance? Mine was 1500 dollars a year back in 2007, the last year I lived in the States. Again, a negligible expense.

I was a business owner in Colorado before becoming a freelancer, so I am intimately familiar with the ins and outs of paying employees and the difference between what I’m paying them and what they are actually getting paid on the books, but again…it’s negligible. For example, the last time I dealt with employees, if someone was making 18 dollars an hour on the paycheck, they were actually making 21-22 dollars an hour on the books when you take into account the taxes you pay by law for them.

Here’s the interesting thing. As a self employed individual, you will always pay less in taxes than you would working for someone else, because you get to claim deductions that a normal employee wouldn’t. So that 3-4 dollars an hour that normally gets chewed up by the federal government? Get a good accountant and that number is drastically reduced.

If you are a freelance writer and you are getting paid 25 dollars an hour for the work you do, you should realistically be seeing 85-90% of that income after deductions. If you aren’t, you have a bad accountant, or you don’t understand how deductions work. That isn’t related in any way to the money that a company pays you. It is not, for example, Demand Studio’s responsibility to make sure you have the business knowledge to take your 15-25 dollars an hour and see most of it. It is only their responsibility to pay you a wage for your work. Which they do.

The difference between what someone is getting paid on their paycheck and on the books is definitely different, yes, but not so drastically different as to really make a difference. Not to mention, the costs of doing business via the Internet are absolutely negligible.

What you are absolutely correct on is the globalization of rates. Believe me, you are preaching to the choir :) The vast majority of my website is dedicated to helping people understand the importance of global relevancy, the fallacy of the livable wage concept, the fallacy of standardized rates, and the reality of a global pool of employees who are in many cases MORE qualified than the people who have traditionally been performing those jobs in the States. Not to mention, those people are willing to do the work for pennies in comparison.

I recently had someone from India request me to ghost-write a book and the rate of pay they offered me was grossly insulting. 5 months of work for what I make in one week. To them, that is an incredibly high rate of pay, because in their country, it is. For me, it’s not. It just depends on where you live. But this is a topic for another time =)

February 24, 2010 at 9:03 am
(16) John Pergine says:

Observation- how do you guys find so much time to write on blogs. I mean some of these posts are pages long- and you are doing it for free. Maybe you can use these as clips? Just saying.

February 24, 2010 at 1:19 pm
(17) macy_c says:

I am just starting to move towards a writing career, and I have minimal writing experience. My full time job is as far removed from writing as you can get.

When I first decided to make the transition, I felt very stuck and had no idea where to start. After some deliberation, I decided to write for Associated Content. I make pennies with it, due to the fact that I’m not a US resident, but I need to get my feet wet. It was one of the few options I had. I don’t regret writing for AC. I am learning SEO as I go along and finding out what type of writing interest people the most.

Since then, I also started a blog, am taking a copywriting class, and am about to start volunteer writing for a site with a good cause.

I may not be making money at the time with my writing, but each step is important in my journey.

February 24, 2010 at 4:40 pm
(18) JSwindell says:

@ TW

I get your point, though you still came off a little condescending. Let me break down Demand Studios aka eHow.
They have two kinds of writers, those who applied directly with Demand Studios who, after passing an application process become contributors. Others, such as myself, have applied directly with eHow, got accepted right away and are categorized as users/members.
It was a year or so later that I realized that eHow and other information blogs were under Demand Studios located in Santa Monica, one of the higher-rent cities in Los Angeles county. So I apply as a contributor and they’ve made me aware that I am already affiliated with them. Contributors make the $15 flat and user/members get paid per click- depending on the advertising program listed on users’ page. Between the article topic, keyword density, bookmarking and other promotional techniques, payment can balance out in the same time period or better.

Your words – You would be the first person I have ever met who cannot write 1 How-To article in an hour.

I resent this due to the fact that wherever you are, it is not in my workspace looking over my shoulder as I write. I’m not going to take time out to defend or explain my strategy for online writing. My point was that new writers should not feel bound to low-paying clients and content mills that do not pay upfront. In taking the higher road, if you have fast input and it works for you, bravo!

I think in the future, feedback should consist mostly of constructive advice (or recollection of past experience) that anyone can use without causing a forum uproar.

March 16, 2010 at 4:27 am
(19) Ann says:

I agree that content mills aren’t the way to go if you want to become a successful freelancer – there’s really no room for advancement – but I don’t think anyone should trash other writers for choosing to write for them.

One thing I have noticed is that the writers speaking out against Demand Studios (a so-called “content mill”) haven’t actually written for the site, or haven’t written there long enough. You cannot realistically know how Demand Studios is like by only working there for a day. I worked there for a year and can tell you it’s worth it for novice writers–but once you become more experienced, it’s worth your time to look for your own clients. Content mills can give you the experience to adapt to writing online, and really can help novice writers understand this “online writing game” inside and out.

March 21, 2010 at 12:54 pm
(20) TC says:

Thank you to all the commentators for your enlightening remarks: the Good, the Bad, and…the UGLY (that would be the spammer!).

In researching ideas for a potential writing career, a thread like this one is incredibly useful. Especially, I find the concept of quick work to establish residual income most intriguing. (I would agree, based on my research so far, that content-mill writing for the purpose of collecting clips is an idea whose time is not quite here, yet).

An observation from me, a 20+ year veteran “commission-only” sales professional: too many writers seem to focus on the idea that a client is an employer in the traditional sense. The “employer” therefore owes the freelance writer a specific and decent wage. In my professional experience, this is a potentially debilitating mindset for the freelancer to have. You’ve set yourself up for failure if you begin your writing career with the idea that someone has to pay you a set fee or that a business/client “owes” you money based on some arbitrary standard you’ve imagined.

That would be like the salesperson spending the day grumbling how a customer negotiated the price lower, thus lowering the salesperson’s commission. Worse, to fret over a lost sale. It’s the salesperson’s role to actively sell, not to wait for the money. If the salesperson did not earn to full potential that day, week or year, it’s only one person’s fault: the salesperson!

The freelancer—I believe—should think like the commission-only salesperson and the self-employed business person: the money is out there, so go get it. You must be responsible for your income at every level, not the least of which is understanding both the time-value in real dollars of your work, and the longer-term view of creating income streams.

Yes, you must love to write, isn’t that the ideal to which we all aspire? On the other hand, I truly believe you can merge that concept with a positive attitude of Earning your money rather than Expecting it.

Again, thanks for sharing so generously your wonderful insights!
TC

June 25, 2010 at 10:06 am
(21) Joe says:

I thought some of you may find this site interesting: http://www.contentmillstudios.com. I found it while researching this topic. It appears to be a satire site, posing as a content mill in order to make fun of content mills. It’s pretty brilliant if you ask me.

October 30, 2010 at 5:09 am
(22) Frank A says:

How much time is spent by “pro writers” in meetings, cold calling clients, dealing with “scope creep” (when clients add just a few more bits and pieces to take care of), or perhaps commuting, querying, hunting photos, and polishing their awards?

Content mills allow writers to *write*. Me, I love the asynchronicity and the bliss of a silent phone.

Seriously, a $100/hour client that pays for an hour that you spend an hour on the phone, an hour preparing, and another hour in traffic, and the project hour, is hardly in a position to point a finger at a writer who spends the same four (or less) hours for the same $100 – and does so consistently at personal convenience.

So what’s really going on with ragging on content mills – topic snobbery? Journalistic power-tripping? News flash: magazines are businesses too. Same thing, different format. The leviathan print publishing industry just requires more quality content because of its comparative inefficiency to web publishing. It may be a show pony but it still needs mucking.

As for 3rd world competitors: you get what you pay for, and credible peer copy ain’t it. Blogs are a different story, though.

July 9, 2011 at 2:19 pm
(23) Julie says:

Most of the negative comments are coming from writers who don’t use “content mills” at all. From my perspective: a mill is a very mechanical process where any brainless wonder could produce content for a price. However, when I altered the name and began referencing “article farms” my students began to see artistic input into the writing process. A farm is a place where fledgling plants receive nurturing love, nourishment and guidance. This is exactly what an article farm does for a writer.

My website is available to anyone who wishes to use the information that I have placed there for my students. It contains several pages of article farms that offer flat rate fees, residual income and income streams of writing. For the new writer, the article farm produces an immediate source of income.

Choose several different farms because your experience will be different with each one. You will gain valuable insight into various formats and styles. I caution you about comparing your speed to that of a seasoned writer who can bang out 3-4 well-written articles in an hour.

TW is an expert whose goals are well-defined. On the other hand, I have been writing for a long time and can turn out one article in about an hour. I can think faster, but I also have MS and it slows me down. Each of us encounters some type of extenuating circumstance that might slow us down a little OR speed us up a lot. Personally, I’m looking into Naturally Dragon software!

Think about your ultimate long term plan and slide various types of writing into your plan, but be certain that an article farm is in that plan to prevent a dry spell from becoming a drought.

Julie

July 19, 2011 at 9:49 pm
(24) freelancewrite says:

Well thought out response to this issue, Julie

August 14, 2011 at 4:53 pm
(25) Christina Gillick says:

Hi Julie,

I have Dragon Dictate (it’s Dragon Naturally Speaking for mac) and I love it!!

Highly recommended!

Here’s a tip though: When I first got it, I only did the first training exercise and I wanted to send it back. But after I did all the training, it works great!!

Best wishes,
Christina Gillick

July 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm
(26) Julie says:

Oooops!!!

Forgot to put my website address into my earlier email:
http://www.write2earn.net

Julie

July 14, 2011 at 10:58 am
(27) julie says:

I have written for content mills and I can say you cannot make a serious living unless you want to write 12 hours a day especially after the last couple Google panda updates. If you are knocking out 3-4articles in an hour I have to question the quality. DS is no longer accepting low quality. I am writing a book for freelance writers who maks a full time living from writing and they do not write for content mills… w the trutt is it really is like comparing aples and oranges. You can get beef at McDonald’s or an upscale steakhouse but that is where the similarities end. Set your sites higher and you will get much more than $15 an article.

July 19, 2011 at 9:48 pm
(28) freelancewrite says:

Super interesting, Julie! Email me a copy of your ebook when it’s done and I will review it and link it here at About.com.

July 22, 2011 at 11:30 am
(29) Deborah Aldridge says:

So here’s the thing…some of us don’t want to make serious money. We are happy just to be able to pay the bills. If you are an expert on your topic you can easily do two to three well-written articles in an hour. Of course, that depends on how fast you can work.

Yes, for those wanting $50,000 a year and up, it’s necessary to write somewhere else, but there are people who, with upfront payments and residuals, make that kind of money working much less than 12 hours a day with content mills.

Oh, and $30 an hour (two articles an hour @$15 each) isn’t a bad wage for an 8 hour day.

July 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm
(30) freelancewrite says:

I think that’s fair enough…

July 22, 2011 at 11:26 am
(31) Deborah Aldridge says:

I’ve gotten freelance jobs using clips from content mills. It’s a good way to build a body of work to build a portfolio, and make a tiny bit of money (post Panda). If you are a good writer, nobody will care where you wrote before, they will be looking at quality.

I do suggest you write for a site that has higher editorial standards, but even then, your work can get mangled by bad editors. Bright Hub has a good editorial team, and I’ve used several of my articles there as samples for job applications.

January 12, 2013 at 7:37 pm
(32) atlcharm says:

I realize this is an old post. I am a novice thinking about getting started with content mills to get my feet wet. I realize they don’t pay much and I hope this isn’t a silly question, but is it possible to write an article for one content mill and submit it to others I am writing for? For instance, if I am writing an article on gardening and the topic for my other content mill(s) happens to be the same topic, could I submit the same article or do I need to reinvent the wheel each time?

January 17, 2013 at 11:31 am
(33) freelancewrite says:

Most content companies run their articles through some kind of plagiarism checker, to see if the article has been printed/published anywhere else on the ‘net. So the second place would likely NOT like that, and may have a policy against it. Everyone needs ORIGINAL content because Google zaps them (ie, downgrades their traffic, in a way) for content that is published elsewhere on the web. GOOD question.

And, ok, get your feet wet. Give it a whirl. But I always tell new freelancers, make sure you have that UPWARD ARC in your writing career/hobby/ Grow. Branch out. Don’t get stuck.

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