Impostor phenomenon’s origin story

by Suw on September 20, 2023

Let’s go back to the beginning, back to where it all started.

This is the third in a series of newsletters looking at impostor syndrome, the first of which asked whether impostor syndrome really exists or whether it’s just a healthy reaction to societal prejudices and toxic workplaces and was inspired by  Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey in the Harvard Business Review.

The second looked at the findings of Dena Bravata et al’s 2019 review of studies of impostor syndrome, which seems to show that impostor syndrome isn’t consistently defined or identified, that causation hasn’t been unpicked from correlation, and that there are several co-occurring conditions that could exacerbate or even be mistaken for impostor syndrome.

Now I’d like to go back to the origins of the scientific and public discourse on impostor syndrome, the 1978 paper The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. But before I do, let’s just have a little reminder of what life was like for women when the paper was written.

The passage of time is a strange thing because, as a year, 1978 doesn’t feel all that long ago, but it’s been 45 years. Indeed, 1978 is far closer to the end of World War 2, which happened 33 years earlier, than it is to today.

In America, women had only had the right to open their own bank or credit accounts, or take out their own mortgages, for four years, after the passage of The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974. The UK had passed the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975, which enshrined in law women’s right to “open bank accounts and apply for credit and loans in their own name, without their husband’s permission”. Of course, having the right to do something and actually being able to do it are two different things, and women still struggled to actually access financial services.

British women didn’t get the right to be served in pubs until 1982, and statutory maternity pay for eligible women didn’t start until 1987. American women couldn’t apply for a business loan without a male relative to sign the papers until 1988. British wives’ taxes weren’t disentangled from their husband’s until 1990 (and still aren’t disentangled in the USA). Statutory maternity pay wasn’t extended to all women in the UK until 1990.

That might all feel like quite a lot of scene setting, but it’s easy to forget how crappy things were for women in 1978. We still have a way to go, of course, but 1978 was a much more oppressive time for women than perhaps our rose-tinted nostalgic spectacles might have us believe.

So it’s in this environment, when the ability to have a bank account is still a new and exciting thing for women, that Clance and Imes write the paper that kicks off nearly half a century of conversation around impostor syndrome.

The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women 

The first thing to notice when reading this paper is that it’s essentially an opinion piece based on Clance’s and Imes’s experiences working with “high achieving women”, so there’s no data, no methodology, no analysis and no conclusion. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad paper or that it has no value. In fact, a lot of the paper spoke to me, much more than I had expected.

Firstly, Clance and Imes call it impostor phenomenon, not impostor syndrome. ‘Phenomenon’ is a much more neutral and transient word than ‘syndrome’, which implies that it’s a potentially permanent illness. The pathologisation and medicalisation of women’s experiences that Tulshyan and Burey complained of in their HBR piece isn’t present in this original paper.

Impostor phenomenon is viewed through the same lens one might view co-dependency or low self-esteem, as an attitude picked up in childhood that more self-aware adults then have to address through therapy. It happens to be largely gendered because of the gendered beliefs of parents and society, not because women are uniquely susceptible.

Clance and Imes describe impostor phenomenon (and yes, in the light of the above, I’m changing my terminology) thus:

 Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persists in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample object evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor belief.

This isn’t far off modern definitions, though in the popular press, there is a tendency to significantly broaden it out into the “doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud” that Tulshyan and Burey use. It’s this watering down, I think, that creates the environment in which pathologisation can occur.

If merely doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud is diagnostic of the impostor phenomenon then everyone has it, but when only women’s experiences are interrogated and only women are subjected to advice on what they should do to combat it, then pathologisation follows. Given that’s much what we see in the popular press, Tulshyan and Burey are right to call it out (even as their imprecise definition plays into that debate).

Clance and Imes, however, emphasise that in the impostor phenomenon, these strong feelings of doubt and of fraudulence persist in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It’s the persistence and strength of these counterfactual feelings that are the problem.

The origins of impostor phenomenon

In their paper, Clance and Imes focus mainly on two aspects of impostor phenomenon: Where does it come from? And which psychotherapeutic approaches worked well with their clients? Interestingly, that first aspect is rarely touched upon within modern popular discourse, or even the scientific papers, that I’ve read.

Whilst they acknowledge that the internalisation of “societal sex-role stereotyping appear to contribute significantly to the development of the impostor phenomenon”, they mostly focus on two types of “early family dynamics” when discussing the origins of impostor phenomenon.

In one group are women who have a sibling or close relative who have been designated as the “intelligent” member of the family.  Each of the women, on the other hand, has been told directly or indirectly that she is the “sensitive” or socially adept one in the family.  The implication from immediate and/or extended family members is that she can never prove that she is as bright as her siblings regardless of what she actually accomplishes intellectually.

No matter what she achieves, her family remains unimpressed, her quest for “validation for her intellectual competence” goes unfulfilled and, worse, she starts to believe them.

For the second group:

The family conveys to the girl that she is superior in every way – intellect, personality, appearance, and talents. There is nothing that she cannot do if she wants to, and she can do it with ease. […]

The child, however, begins to have experiences in which she cannot do any and everything she wants to. She does have difficulty in achieving certain things. Yet she feels obligated to fulfill expectations of her family, even though she knows she cannot keep up the act forever. Because she is so indiscriminately praised for everything, she begins to distrust her parents’ perceptions of her. Moreover, she begins to doubt herself.

I’ve read a ton of stuff on impostor syndrome, including a fair amount in the media, and it is striking to me that none of it addresses these deep roots of women’s insecurity. Indeed, most of the research I’ve read is instead focused on quantifying the extent of impostor phenomenon in a particular cohort, often women working in male-dominated environments.

When we talk about the environmental causes of impostor phenomenon – the toxic workplace, societally endorsed prejudice, etc – all that is layered on top of the mixed messages many girls get from their families as they grow up.

I fell into the ‘brightest kid in school’ trap. In primary and middle schools, I was seen as one of the most intelligent children in the school and was enrolled in special ‘stretch’ classes with just one or two other children.

The one careers advice session I had at upper school ended with the advisor saying, “Well, you seem to be very good at everything, so really, you can do anything you want”, which is crippling advice. It provides absolutely no framework within which to evaluate options and make decisions, and it led to a good 10-15  years of uncertainty as to what my “anything” should be.

Worse, I didn’t learn how to learn, because I didn’t have to until it was too late. And that led to my significantly underperforming at A Level and struggling at university. I think this is the first time I’ve had an inkling of where the foundations of my own impostor phenomenon came from.

Environmental factors

Clance and Imes devote just half a page to discussing environmental causes, or perhaps reinforcement, of impostor phenomenon, but their focus is on family rather than society, discussing “the societal sex-role stereotyping in the preschool years that can be transmitted through the parents”.

The closest they come to examining external, environmental factors is when they say:

Feelings of phoniness for both groups are further affirmed by the differential between high achievement and low societal expectations. The women’s own self-image of being a phony is consonant with the societal view that women are not defined as being competent. If a woman does well, it cannot be because of her ability but must be because of some fluke. If she were to acknowledge her intelligence, she would have to go against the views perpetuated by a whole society – an ominous venture indeed!

I’m not surprised that they skim over how women’s experiences as adults can affect their perceptions of their own competence. In 1978, feminism was only halfway through its second wave, with a long way to go before we reach our modern understanding of sexism and misogyny in the workplace and wider world.


Clance and Imes discuss several approaches to therapy, and recommend using “several therapeutic approaches […] concurrently” along with group therapy so that “one woman can see the dynamics in another woman and recognize the lack of reality involved”.

The approaches they recommend include:

  1. Help the woman “become aware of the superstitious, magical aspects of her impostor belief” and help her “consciously experiment with changing her ritualistic behaviors”.
  2. Ask her to “recall all the people she thinks she has fooled, to tell them in fantasy how she conned or tricked them, and to have her imagine out loud how each person would respond to her”.
  3. “Keep a record of positive feedback she receives about her competence and how she keeps herself from accepting this feedback. After she becomes aware of how she denies compliments, she is instructed to experiment with doing the opposite to listen, to take in the positive response, and to get as much nourishment as possible out of it.”
  4. “Role-play the opposite of ‘I’m not bright,’  i.e., to have her act out being bright, feeling it and expressing it in the presence of the group or therapist.”
  5. Women who engage in approval-seeking behaviour are “encouraged to risk ‘being herself’ and seeing what happens. Usually the catastrophic expectations do not occur. Also, by eliminating approval-getting behaviors, the woman can begin to accept compliments from others regarding her intelligence as being ‘real’ and can internalize the external reinforcement she does receive.”

These are all things that one can do for oneself, if one is capable of the self-reflection and brutal honestly necessary! Whilst I’ve not done it myself, a nightly journal that focused on working through these exercises in depth could be very helpful indeed. In fact, I might try it.

Have I changed my mind?

At the end of my last newsletter about impostor phenomenon, I had pretty much concluded that “the majority of what we consider to be ‘impostor syndrome’ is more likely a combination of low self-confidence, perfectionism, anxiety and depression on the one hand, and a normal reaction to bias and prejudice in the workplace and, indeed, wider world on the other”.

I still think that, but largely because the definitions of impostor phenomenon have become too wide and too vague, and other causes aren’t sufficiently ruled out. We have to move past prevalence studies based on overly broad impostor phenomenon scales, and look in more detail at the experiences of women who experience it, particularly:

  1. Mixed messaging about intelligence and talent during childhood.
  2. Societal reinforcement, such as the widely-held idea that women aren’t capable of succeeding in certain fields due to a gender stereotypes.
  3. Specific workplace and societal actions that cause impostor feelings, such as being undermined in meetings or or not given deserved promotions, and being bombarded with messaging that women don’t belong in certain jobs.

Where I have found the Clance and Imes paper interesting is their look at childhood experiences and how those can shape a girl’s feelings about herself as she grows into an adult, and how those experiences can really stay with you until you learn to confront them.

I am going to have to delve a bit more into the literature to see if there’s further research that looks as the root causes of impostor phenomenon. However, I fear that, as with so many other issues that predominantly affect women, researchers have been forced to spend so much time simply proving that the problem exists that they never get to devote time to understanding causation or cure.


Plus BAFTA Rocliffe, Channel 4 Screenwriting Course 2024 & Cheshire Novel Prize Kids, Scriptnotes on character and voice, Amazon’s AI guidelines and Taylor Swift vs Hollywood.

Well, hello there!

After too many days of obnoxiously hot weather, I’m relieved to say that my office is no longer a sweltering 30C. My brain doesn’t really function at such temperatures. (Although, truth be told, my brain being cooler doesn’t guarantee it will function better.)

Read these: We need to talk about blurbs

Book blurbs, ie the praise from authors and reviewers that’s plastered all over the cover, have been the subject of quite a lot of conversation recently after it came to light that Penguin, publisher of right-wing motormouth Jordan Peterson’s new book, had taken a critical review by James Marriott in The Times and made it sound positive on the book’s cover. They’d done the same with reviews from Johanna Tomas-Corr in New Statesman and Suzanne Moore in The Telegraph.

The Society of Authors described this misrepresentation as “morally questionable”. I’m sure that will put paid to the practice.

Barry Pierce, in GQ, argued that these reviewers don’t “have a leg to stand on” because they had “decided to throw Peterson a bone” and that they should have gone full scorched earth instead. The problem, he argues, is literary criticism is too nice, rather than that Penguin misrepresented three people’s views on Peterson’s book. Uh huh.

Helen Lewis, in The Atlantic, pointed out just how absurd blurbing has become. More contentiously, she suggested that the cause is the loss of “traditional critical culture”, replaced by online influencers, and that blurbs are really for “literary editors and buyers for the bookstores”.

Esquire’s Sophie Vershbow also weighed in, pointing out that “Authors hate them (both asking for them and being asked), agents hate them, and publishers hate them”, and that authors can give glowing blurbs for books they don’t believe in because to the social pressure to do so.

And publishing PR expert Kathleen Schmidt said that, in her experience, “Blurbs do not help sell books because the average consumer doesn’t care about them. Blurbs also do not help publicists secure reviews or other publicity.”

Like many things in the publishing industry, blurbs are irrevocably broken, but don’t expect to see change coming any time soon. Despite the fact that everyone hates them, readers don’t care, and it’s questionable as to whether they serve any purpose within the industry itself, FOMO will prevent any publishers from deciding that, well, perhaps we should just stop this nonsense. Like meetings that could have been emails, everyone does it because everyone does it.

Event: Susan Cooper in conversation at the British Library

Susan Cooper on the left, looking windswept and interesting, and Natalie Haynes.

Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series is one of my favourite of all time, so I was excited to see that she’ll be in conversation with author Natalie Haynes at the British Library on 27 October. In-person tickets are a very reasonable £14, with many discounts available, and it’s just £6.50 if you’d prefer to watch online.

The British Library has a load of really interesting events, many of which are also streamed online, so take a look at their calendar.

Opportunities: BAFTA Rocliffe, Channel 4 Screenwriting Course 2024 & Cheshire Novel Prize Kids

The BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition is closing to entries at 17:00 BST on Monday 18 September, a fact I’m painfully aware of as I try to whip my entry into shape. Costs £49 to enter.

The Channel 4 Screenwriting Course 2024 will be open to entries from Monday 18 September until Monday 2 October. I won’t be entering this one again, because they don’t take reworked scripts and I’m still working on Tag. No entry fee. Indeed, if you’re successful they’ll pay you!

The Cheshire Novel Prize Kids is a competition for un-agented writers which accepts picture books, first chapter books, middle-grade novels and young adult novels. Costs £29 to enter.

Stop, look, listen: Scriptnotes Ep 609 – Dialogue and character voice

I love a good craft episode, and this clip compilation about dialogue and character voice is no exception. If you find it difficult to work out if your dialogue sounds natural, and whether your characters are each distinctive people with their own voices, this episode might help.

Craig Mazin and John August talk about aspects of dialogue such the impact of power imbalances, emotion, and subtext, and how to get characters to provide exposition without sounding like they’re only there to provide exposition. There’s also a fascinating look at how dialogue has developed from plays to silent movies to the talkies to TV, and the impact each format has had on how speech is written.

And if you’d rather read than listen, you can read the transcript instead.

Amazon releases AI guidelines

Amazon’s Kindle platform has long had rules about the quality of books published on its platform, but it has now added explicit rules about the use of computer generated text, images and translations.

We require you to inform us of AI-generated content (text, images, or translations) when you publish a new book or make edits to and republish an existing book through KDP. AI-generated images include cover and interior images and artwork. You are not required to disclose AI-assisted content.

I honestly can’t see this making the slightest bit of difference to the flood of computer generated crap that’s being published on Kindle. Software that claims to detect computer generated text just doesn’t work, to the point where OpenAI withdrew theirs because it was rubbish, so it’s hard to see how Amazon is going to be able to tell that the rule has been broken.

Read these, two: Taylor Swift cuts out the studios, and cable TV’s broken

Gotta say, I was highly amused to learn that Taylor Swift has ignored the studios and cut a deal direct with AMC Theatres to distribute her Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour film. Apparently, the studios are seething, with Universal Pictures “extra-pissed”, but it’s their own fault.

According to a report by Puck News, the Swift family hired director Sam Wrench to shoot “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” for a budget of around $10-20 million, and were directly discussing distribution with studios. However, at least one distributor was thinking of a 2025 release, long after the live tour had ended, and the Swifts wanted it to play in theaters alongside the tour. So, they began negotiating directly with AMC Theatres CEO Adam Aron, put together a deal in secret over a number of weeks, and announced it without any of the studios getting a heads-up.

Taylor Swift is sharp, and it seems like the studios massively underestimated her ability to know what’s best for her business and to go get it.

Meanwhile, major American cable company, Charter Communications, has finally (finally!) realised that cable TV packages are too expensive and that’s why people are cutting the cord and going streaming-only, thus undermining the whole cable TV business. Charter’s in the middle of negotiations with Disney, which appear not to be going too well. Disney wants to charge Charter more than Charter wants to pay for bundles that include channels Charter’s customers don’t watch, and Charter knows that if it bumps up prices to cover the extra cost, they’ll lose even more customers.

Both of these stories have one thing in common: The Hollywood studies are so big and so used to setting the terms of business that they don’t quite know how to handle it when someone either does an end run around them (Swift) or is prepared to just walk away (Charter). You can see the same dynamic working in the writers’ and actors’ strikes. It’s not that the studios can’t afford workers’ demands, it’s simply that they believe that compromise is death. Reaching a deal would, in their eyes, show weakness, but their real weakness is that they don’t seem to understand the reality they are now living in.

So is this the year that Hollywood is humbled? We can but hope.

Obligatory cat picture

My husband and I went up to North Wales again over the long weekend and were delighted to meet this glorious fuzzball, Indi, who was incredibly difficult to take a photo of due to the fact that she didn’t stop moving.

Indi is extremely affectionate and was very keen on getting scritches from any human who’d give them. Which was us, with great relish.

Right, that’s it for now! See you in a couple of weeks!

All the best,


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Plus podcasts about The Good Place and Asterix, some writer’s strike news, and extremely fluffy snow leopard cubs.

Hi there,

This issue of Word Count is brought to you from the past! I’m going to be spending the weekend in what is promising to be a very rainy Llandudno, where I will be saying an enthusiastic ‘Diolch’ to every shopkeeper, regardless of whether they look like they might speak Welsh or not, so I wrote this last Thursday. Let’s hope it ages well!

Arthur C Clarke Award winner announced

Venomous Lumpsucker book coverThis year’s Arthur C Clarke Award, which is presented for the best science fiction novel published during the previous year, was won by Venomous Lumpsucker by Ned Beauman.

The venomous lumpsucker is the most intelligent fish on the planet. Or maybe it was the most intelligent fish on the planet. Because it might have just gone extinct. Nobody knows. And nobody really cares, either. Except for two people.

Mining executive Mark Halyard has a prison cell waiting for him if that fish is gone for good, and biologist Karin Resaint needs it for her own darker purposes. They don’t trust each other an inch, but they’re left with no choice but to team up in search of the lumpsucker. And as they journey across the strange landscapes of near-future Europe – a nature reserve full of toxic waste; a floating city on the Baltic Sea; the lethal hinterlands of a totalitarian state – they’re drawn into a conspiracy far bigger than one ugly little fish.

Chair of the Judges, Dr Andrew M. Butler said:

“Ned Beauman’s Venomous Lumpsucker, is a biting satire, twisted, dark and radical, but remarkably accessible, endlessly inventive and hilarious.”

And Award Director Tom Hunter said:

Venomous Lumpsucker takes science fiction’s knack for future extrapolation and aggressively applies it to humanity’s shortsighted self-interest and consumptive urges in the face of planetary eco-crisis. The result is a bleakly funny novel where the only hope for our species is working out the final punchline before it’s delivered.”

Read this: The music of Guardians of the Galaxy

I loved this article from Cole Haddon about the music that writer-director James Gunn chose for his Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy.

It had never really occurred to me that the music might have meaning, but Haddon makes a convincing argument that Gunn uses it to explore the stories of “children trapped in adult bodies, crippled by arrested development, almost all of them struggling with (typically lethal) parent issues” and the “dangerous allure of nostalgia”.

I really need to sit down and watch all three again now!

Stop, look, listen: Comfort Blankets 6 and 12 – Asterix and The Good Place

I listened to two utterly delightful episodes of Joel Morris’s podcast, Comfort Blanket, last week. The first with comedian and writer Bec Hill about Michael Schur’s comedy, The Good Place, a show that I love so much I’ve seen it from beginning to end five times now. There were two particular insights into the show that utterly blew me away and that I was slightly cross I hadn’t spotted myself. I won’t tell you what they are, though – you’ll have to listen to find out!

The next episode I listened to was with comedian Jay Foreman, who talked about his enduring love for Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix. Again, I learnt so much not just about Goscinny and Uderzo themselves, but about how smart these books really are – that’s not necessarily something you notice as a kid. I had three Asterix books at one point, but I now have the disturbingly strong urge to go buy the whole lot.

Anyway, subscribe to Comfort Blanket. It has become one of my favourite podcasts, not least because it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Strike news: AMPTP’s offer doesn’t impress

I’m taking a bit of a risk writing this now, days before this newsletter will end up in your inbox, as it’s likely to go out of date before it gets sent!

However, the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony) went back to the table a few weeks ago.

Finally, early last week, the studios published their response to the WGA’s demands in a clear attempt to do an end run around the Guild and appeal directly to the writers themselves. The Wall Street Journal writes, “Some members of the AMPTP hope that if their offer is seen as compelling by a significant amount of the membership […] it will create tension within the union.”

Despite both sides agreeing to a media blackout, the AMPTP has repeatedly leaked to the media. The WGA, on the other hand, has generally been reserved in its response, but the statement on this offer from the studios is full of quiet fury:

We accepted that invitation and, in good faith, met tonight, in hopes that the companies were serious about getting the industry back to work.

Instead, on the 113th day of the strike – and while SAG-AFTRA is walking the picket lines by our side – we were met with a lecture about how good their single and only counteroffer was.

We explained all the ways in which their counter’s limitations and loopholes and omissions failed to sufficiently protect writers from the existential threats that caused us to strike in the first place. We told them that a strike has a price, and that price is an answer to all – and not just some – of the problems they have created in the business.

But this wasn’t a meeting to make a deal. This was a meeting to get us to cave, which is why, not twenty minutes after we left the meeting, the AMPTP released its summary of their proposals.

This was the companies’ plan from the beginning – not to bargain, but to jam us. It is their only strategy – to bet that we will turn on each other.

Strikegeist has the AMPTP proposal, and Deadline an analysis, though to be honest, I don’t know enough to pass comment on whether that analysis is even-handed. certainly isn’t impressed with the trades’ coverage of the strike, pointing out that Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Deadline are all owned by Penske Media Corporation.

In a follow-up covering the WGA response, Deadline says, “its seems the AMPTP and top CEOs may have strategically overplayed their hand.”

On Friday, UK time, the WGA released a more detailed statement, saying that the AMTPT was “seeming to give while limiting the actual gains” and calling their proposal “neither nothing, nor nearly enough”.

And if what I’ve seen on Twitter is anything to go by, all that the AMPTP has achieved is to stiffen writers’ resolve.

Obligatory cat picture

Snow leopardsIn April 2018, Cleveland Zoo’s snow leopards Sombra and Amga had three cubs –Bodhi, Omid and Zara. We went to visit them in the August, and oh my word they were the cutest, fluffiest things. Just look at that ear furniture! (That really is what the fluff inside a cat’s ear is called, btw. Ear furniture!)

One of the adults was asleep on a roof, though I very much advise not yanking the bell pull.

Right, that’s it for this week! I’ll be back in a fortnight with another round-up of interesting links.

All the best,


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How to stick the landing

by Suw on August 23, 2023

“Finishing” doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

I was chatting to an early career writer last week who mentioned that she really struggled to finish anything, and oh my, did I empathise. In the first half of my writing life, I finished barely anything. One early attempt at a novel saw me painting myself into a plot-based corner that I simply couldn’t see a way out of. I’d made my antagonists so powerful and the protagonist so vulnerable that there was just no plausible way that she could ever triumph.

Other stories just fizzled out within a few thousand or a few tens of thousands of words, perhaps because I got bored, or because when I read them back I hated my writing, or because I got distracted by things that weren’t writing and lost momentum.

But one key problem I had was that I often didn’t know where the story was going. I didn’t know anything about structure or how to plot a novel and, back then, if you wanted to learn to write you either did a course, which I couldn’t afford, or bought books, which I also couldn’t afford. This was either pre-web, or at the very beginning of the web, so going there for writing advice wasn’t a goer. (I’m sure there were writing communities online at the point I joined in the mid-90s, but I didn’t know about them.) And I didn’t know any writers, or know how to find any writers, to talk to about writing.

Part of that latter point is that I was painfully, horribly shy and introverted, and even if you’d walked me into a room full of experienced, friendly and helpful writers, I still would have found a floor-to-ceiling curtain to hide behind.

Finishing a story is hard. Finishing a novel is harder.  Finishing anything should be celebrated. And now that I am better at finishing, here are a few thoughts on things you can do to make it easier:

Getting lost along the way

Like, I suspect, many people, I started my writing career as a pantster – someone who comes up with an idea and starts writing to see where it goes. No plotting, no planning, just the raw joy of letting a story unfold in front of you.

Or not.

Writing by the seat of your pants can be very risky, particularly for new writers, because it means that you’re putting a lot of time into something that may or may not come good in the end and you don’t necessarily have the experience to steer you through 100,000 words. If that is genuinely the only way you can work, then you’re going to have to learn how to recognise the duds as early as possible, make peace with tossing work out, and develop the ability to immediately move on to a new idea.


Action: Learn to plot

Plotting can be a bit tedious, but even if you just do high-level bullets for key plot points, it can help you work out what comes next and give you something to refer back to when you get stuck. There are so many books about structure and plot available, but my current favourite is Actions and Goals by Marshall Dotson which takes a character-oriented view of story structure and comes with a handy worksheet.

Action: Start only when you have a destination

One way to ensure that you get lost is to start writing before you know what the ending is – if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you’ve got there?

I have started winnowing story ideas by whether or not they offer up a clear end-point or not. Those where the ending is fuzzy are left to ferment a little longer, and those that have a clear ending go into my “start this next” pile. Some story ideas are just too vague to be actionable, so those get noted down in case they are useful for something else and then largely forgotten. But I now no longer start writing until I know that what the ending is.

I thought I had an ending but the character(s) can’t get there

Sometimes our characters just seem to fade before our eyes, becoming thinner and more translucent the more we write. Their dialogue sounds generic, their actions predictable, they lack humanity and three dimensionality.

When we’re working with underdeveloped characters, our subconscious knows and it, frankly, I think it just stops bothering.

Action: Do some character development work

There are so many techniques for character development, from sketching out their Big Five personality traits to doing Holly Lisle’s very cheap but very good Create A Character Clinic. I’ve heard of people doing astrological profiles, Myers-Briggs tests for characters, or working with tarot. You don’t have to believe, you just have to find the outcome useful for understanding how your character thinks, what they believe and how they would act.

I can’t seem to sit down and write

I’ve had long periods in my life where I’ve not been able to write because I let other things get in the way. This could be, and indeed has been, an entire post on its own:

Action: Make writing a habit

If the issue is about getting into the swing of writing, then habits are your friend. Writing for five minutes a day every day will get you into the habit, and once you’ve settled into a nice routine you can expand the time you spend writing. Don’t worry if you break the habit – you can just start it up again as many times as you need to.

I have a mountain to climb and I just can’t

Sometimes, external pressures make it very, very hard to feel creative. I have found that money stress and depression absolutely kill my creativity stone cold dead, and it’s not something that it’s easy to get through.

Action: Get professional help

It’s much easier to find professional help in the form of therapy, debt counselling, etc now than it used to be when I was at my lowest, though it’s difficult when the debt is causing the depression and you can’t afford counselling. But even if you can only get a little bit of external help, it will be worth it.

Action: Get career help

Few people get to write for a living now and my biggest mistake was to think that I could have been one of them. I spent two years as a horribly underpaid freelance journalist, then I started working as a freelance web designer and slowly became what I can only describe as ‘deinstitutionalised’, unable to imagine that anyone would want to hire me as an employee.

Better would have been to get a career advisor or mentor to help me develop the bit of my life that pays for the writing. Had I learnt how to earn more sooner, something I am still in the process of doing, my creative life would have been more vibrant.

I’ve read it and it’s shit/I’m scared it will be shit

We all hate our own work at some point or another. It’s inevitable. I know experienced published authors who get halfway through the first draft of their book and want to throw it all away and go live in a nunnery/monastery somewhere instead. They never do though.

Action: Just keep going

Don’t read it back until you’ve finished your first draft. You can read a few paragraphs to pick up your train of thought again, but don’t edit, and don’t be tempted to read through from the beginning until you’ve typed those glorious words, The End.

Action: Accept your first draft will indeed be shit

It’s OK for your first draft to be shit. There’s a reason people often call it ‘the vomit draft’ – it exists to be shit. That is its purpose. If it’s not shit, then well done, you are amazing! If it is shit, then the rewrite is when you deshittify it. But no matter how you feel about your first draft, you can’t let its probable shitness stop you from finishing it.

Ultimately, it’s your job to do the best writing you can do; it’s not your job to judge the end result.


There are, of course, other problems with other solutions, but these are some of the ones that I’ve struggled with or seen other struggling with.

When it comes to finishing, the place to start is to diagnose your problem as best as possible, and then just try stuff. Be stubborn. Because if you keep looking, you will find the right solution for you. You have it in you to finish, so finish!

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Plus BBC Writers Room Open Call, Kindle Newsstand closes, fake books on Amazon & Goodreads, FTC lawsuit could break up Amazon, Filmmakers Podcast talks to Christopher McQuarrie, and Grabbity update.

Hi there,

I’m writing this on a grey and dismal day and it feels like we’ve not had a summer at all this year. Good job writing isn’t weather-dependent, eh?

Suw’s News: Tag and the Six Act Structure

Prompted by the BAFTA Rocliffe Competition deadline looming, I’ve started really, properly rewriting Tag, my six-part urban fantasy TV script. As you’ll know if you’ve been reading along for the past five months, it has been giving me a hard time, but I think I’m finally coaxing it into shape.

As I was searching for advice on how to structure a six episode TV show, as opposed to a movie or novel, I stumbled on Marshall Dotson’s Six Act Structure and his book, Actions and Goals. I’ve read quite a few books about writing, but this is possibly the most useful analysis of story structure that I’ve ever seen. Better still, it comes with a six act template, so my first step was to download and work on that.

I like working on paper, so I printed the whole series out, cutting and gluing the pages together so that each sequence (sometimes a scene, sometimes a few scenes that are related) was one piece of paper. As you can see, I do have some sequences that are, ahem, too long.

Then I went through the pilot and marked scenes for deletion, shortening or moving, and made notes regarding how to clarify character, goals and action towards those goals. I transferred those notes into Highland 2, and have started the hard work of actually making the changes. So far so good, but I just need to finish it in time for deadline of 18 September, which seems far away, but really isn’t.

First Five Minutes: Sex Education

As you might have seen, I have a new occasional series of essays exploring the first five minutes of a TV pilot. We all know that it’s crucial to hook your audience within the first five minutes, but what do we learn about the characters, their relationships, conflicts and themes within that time? How much information can a writer feasibly cram into just five or six pages of script?

I’ve kicked off with Netflix’s fabulous comedy, Sex Education, which takes a sometimes racy but always hilarious look at the sex lives, insecurities and relationships of a group of teens.

Written by Laurie Nunn and featuring Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa and Gillian Anderson, it treads an interesting transatlantic line, pulling out aspects of American teen culture to weave in with its ineluctably British attitude.

Opportunity: John le Carré Scholarship with Curtis Brown Creative

Curtis Brown Creative represented master spy novelist John le Carré (David Cornwell) for many years, up until his death in 2020. To honour his legacy, they run a scholarship “providing the full course fee for one talented writer of limited financial means to join our three-month online Writing Your Novel course (13 Nov 2022 to 11 Mar 2023)”.

Applicants will need to submit the first 3,000 words of their novel in progress, along with a one-page synopsis, via the application form. Deadline for submissions is 29 October 2023.

Opportunity: BBC Writers Room Open Call

If you have a script just waiting to be discovered, you have two months to get it all polished up ready for the BBC Writers Room Open Call, which will accept submissions  between 12 noon on Tuesday 7 November 2023 and 12 noon on Tuesday 5 December 2023.

They are looking for “Drama or Comedy/Drama scripts written for Film, TV, Radio, Stage, Online or Children’s TV/Radio scripts which are a minimum of 30 pages long (excluding title/character pages)” from writers who are over 18, based in the UK, and who have written an original script.

You cannot re-submit a previously submitted script, no matter how much you’ve worked on it, which is kinda pants in my opinion. How are writers supposed to grow if we can’t re-submit substantially improve scripts? Still, that’s a row for another day.

Read this: Kindle Newsstand closes

Not new news, but bad news nonetheless. Amazon is shutting down its Kindle Newsstand subscription program in September, which will be a major blow to literary magazines and other publications that have depended on it for revenue.

Clarkesworld have been banging the gong about this for a while, and hopefully their subscribers will move to their other subscription options, but because Amazon doesn’t share subscriber information there’s no way for Clarkesworld or other publishers to just port people over. Some publications will still be available via Kindle Unlimited, but as Clarkesworld points out, they get a lot less money that way.

Read this, too: Fake books turn up on Amazon & Goodreads

A slew of fake books about writing and self-publishing, probably written by people using LLMs, have turned up on Amazon under author Jane Friedman’s name and, on Goodreads, attached to her official profile. Friedman says in her blog post:

A reasonable person might think I control what books are shown on my Goodreads profile, or that I approve them, or at the very least I could have them easily removed. Not so.

If you need to have your Goodreads profile corrected—as far as the books credited to you—you have to reach out to volunteer “librarians” on Goodreads, which requires joining a group, then posting in a comment thread that you want illegitimate books removed from your profile.

When I complained about this on Twitter/X, an author responded that she had to report 29 illegitimate books in just the last week alone. 29!

Goodreads did remove these fake books from her profile, but when she reached out to Amazon, they were less helpful:

“Please provide us with any trademark registration numbers that relate to your claim.” When I replied that I did not have a trademark for my name, they closed the case and said the books would not be removed from sale.

The next day, however, the books were removed from Amazon as well.

Now imagine you’re an author without a big, public profile trying to get the  famously recalcitrant Amazon to behave. Honestly, is it any surprise that there is a lawsuit coming.

Read this, three: FTC lawsuit could break up Amazon

There’s no doubt that Amazon is a behemoth of a company, dominating not just book sales but online shopping in general as well as being a major cloud computing provider. It’s hard to really quantify the damage Amazon has done to the publishing industry and retail in general, but when a deserted mall near us in Cleveland became an Amazon distribution centre, the irony wasn’t lost on me.

Now the Federal Trade Commission is putting together an antitrust lawsuit against the company, according to Politico which says:

The FTC has been investigating the company on a number of fronts, and the coming case would be one of the most aggressive and high-profile moves in the Biden administration’s rocky effort to tame the power of tech giants.

Although the lawsuit would likely take years, it’s possible that it could result in the giant being broken up.

Just a few days ago, Reuters reported that Amazon is meeting with the FTC before the latter decides whether to file the lawsuit.

Amazon is expected to argue at the meetings with the commissioners that the FTC should not file an antitrust suit against the company

Well, duh.

Stop, look, listen: The Filmmakers Podcast – Christopher McQuarrie

You’d expect a conversation with writer and director Christophe McQuarrie to be interesting, not least because of his involvement in Mission Impossible and Top Gun: Maverick, but this interview from Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir includes way more practical storytelling tips than I had thought it would.

One of the more surprising insights was about how important it is to set your exposition scenes in locations that are easily to recreate because if you need to reshoot to cope with a plot change, it’s easier to do that in a car than halfway up the Burj Khalifa! His anecdote about how trying to ramp up the pressure on Pete “Maverick” Mitchell during the beach volleyball scene in Top Gun: Maverick threw off the following love story scenes was also fascinating. The temptation, he explains, was to cut the love scenes, but the solution to the problem was actually to ease up on Maverick a bit instead.

This interview is just so thought-provoking, from the way McQuarrie works to cut a gag that would cost $15 million to shoot, to how flexible the script remains throughout shooting, and how collaboratively he works with actors.

Obligatory cat picture

I have good news: We took Grabbity back to the vet to see how her corneal ulcers are getting on, and the ulcers themselves have healed! Yay! Poor girl has had me putting ointment or drops in her eyes nearly every day for 2.5 months, and although that’s not going to stop for another two or three months yet, at least now we’re down to once a day.

The damage to her cornea has been quite significant, so that’s going to take a long, long time to properly heal, if it ever does, but at least the ulcers are now in the past and we can focus on her recuperation. She certainly seems much bouncier and brighter than she has been for months, which is a huge relief.

Right, that’s it for now. See you in a couple of weeks!

All the best,


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Cat peering out from behind a cardboard box

Too shy to come out and meet you? Or lying in wait to attack your ankles?

I’m starting to suspect it’s impostor syndrome that’s the impostor.

In 2019, Dena Bravata and her colleagues carried out the first review of studies of impostor syndrome in order to understand prevalence, to see if there were any predictors or co-morbidities (ie health issues that tended to occur alongside impostor syndrome), and assess the efficacy of any treatments being used.

They found 62 studies, with a total of 14,161 participants, that fit their criteria and were included in the review. Half of the studies had been published in the six years prior to the review.

Bravata and her colleagues defined impostor syndrome as “high-achieving individuals who, despite their objective successes, fail to internalize their accomplishments and have persistent self-doubt and fear of being exposed as a fraud or impostor” and say that “People with impostor syndrome struggle with accurately attributing their performance to their actual competence (i.e., they attribute successes to external factors such as luck or receiving help from others and attribute set-backs as evidence of their professional inadequacy).”

Through the lens of last month’s post asking whether impostor syndrome really exists, I can’t help but hear a little voice chatting away in the back of my head that wonders if perhaps attributing successes to external factors such as luck or receiving help from others might be, well, accurate? Perhaps some of the people exhibiting what we consider to be symptoms of impostor syndrome are just being honest about the level of collaboration they engage in or, heaven forfend, perhaps they’re being modest?

We know that women are more modest and less likely to self-promote than men, not because they want to be, but because they have to be – they are judged more harshly than men for any perceived immodesty. Women, and other minoritised groups, learn early on to keep their heads down because there is a cost to taking credit where it’s due.

Looking at both the Young and the Clance impostor syndrome scales that I have to hand, it strikes me that there’s not a question on them that couldn’t also be explained by a lack of self-confidence, and/or excessive modesty, and/or perfectionism.

Bravata notes that impostor syndrome isn’t a recognised clinical psychiatric disorder, despite its presence in both academic literature and in the general media. And it’s not even clear whether it’s widespread or rare:

Prevalence rates of impostor syndrome varied widely from 9 to 82% largely depending on the screening tool and cutoff used to assess symptoms.

To me, this suggests that there’s neither consensus on the symptoms of impostor syndrome nor on what level of ‘severity’ warrants the label. Without some consistency, comparing studies surely becomes challenging, if not impossible, unless you’re going to take the raw data and reanalyse everything the same way.

Another problem that’s highlighted by this paper is that about half of the included studies were of students with a mean age of 20 years. Five studies evaluated elementary and high school students. Just 17 studies had a mean age of 30 years or more.

Now, I’m not saying that young people can’t be high achievers, but I’m really struggling to see how feelings of inadequacy are in any way abnormal for people in that age group. I don’t mean to be glib, but surely a lack of self-confidence is de rigueur for many children going through puberty and adolescence?

Students with impostor syndrome had fears that were significantly related to maintaining their social standing and not wanting to display imperfection to others

Once again, this feels like a pathologising of normal reactions to periods of great change. Going through puberty and just existing as a teen can really suck. That doesn’t mean that they have some sort of syndrome, it means that they are navigating a challenging part of their lives that they will, eventually, grow through.

This is, as it happens, emphasised by the fact that students with strong social support structures and higher self-worth experienced less impostor syndrome, and those who experienced more also experienced pessimism, perfectionism, and low self-esteem. Colour me so unsurprised I need a whole new Pantone number.

Interestingly, those who experienced impostor syndrome were less likely to cheat or plagiarise. Perhaps having too much self-esteem can be a bad thing in young people whose impulse control has yet to finish developing?

Now, what about the professionals that were studied?

Given the tendency of people with impostor syndrome to aggressively pursue achievement while not being able to accept recognition when success is achieved, affected employees may experience increased levels of stress, burnout, and decreased job performance and satisfaction over time. Employees who persistently question their professional legitimacy are at higher risk of experiencing adverse psychological outcomes with implications to career retention, advancement, and job performance. Moreover, impostor feelings among employees is associated with fear of failure, fear of success, and low self-esteem. Employees who report more impostor feelings report less career planning and motivation to lead.

Well, that sounds awful. Impostor syndrome appears to ruin everything. But, as the mantra goes, correlation isn’t causation. There’s no indication here about the direction of causality. Is impostor syndrome actually causing these outcomes, or are high levels of stress, burnout, low job satisfaction causing the impostor feelings?

Viewed through the lens of the hostile workplace, where women and other minoritised groups experience bias and prejudice on a regular basis, it doesn’t make sense that it’s impostor syndrome causing poor outcomes, but that the poor outcomes and the impostor feelings are both caused by hostile workplaces.

I might be missing something, but I can’t see anything in this paper that refutes that idea.

individuals who struggle with impostor syndrome may be limited in their ability to fully develop their professional potential

Or, maybe, let’s just throw this out there, shitty workplaces make it difficult for women and minoritised groups to reach their potential? Maybe?

Bravata et al mention that none of the papers they found discuss specific treatments for impostor symptoms, and for that I’m glad. The more I read, the more I think that interventions should be either environmental, ie fix shitty workplaces, or based on treating the co-morbidities that are genuine diagnoses such as depression or anxiety.

I currently don’t believe that impostor syndrome is an actual syndrome worthy of being listed in diagnostic manuals. What I can see is a need to examine causality in a more robust way: What is actually causing these impostor feelings? And are they independent of other problems such as workplace hostility, depression, anxiety, etc. (noting, of course, that workplace hostility can cause depression and anxiety).

You might, at this point, wonder what this has to be with writer’s block? I’m glad you asked!

One of the points made by this paper is that there’s an absolutely huge number of articles in the non-academic media about impostor syndrome:

During the year (March 28, 2018–March 18, 2019), 2317 Internet articles were published on impostor syndrome (150– 200 articles/month).


the vast majority were tagged as “What is…” articles, which define impostor syndrome followed by “How-To” articles, which offer treatment tips. Many of the articles classified as “What is…” articles also include tips about how to manage impostor syndrome.

Impostor syndrome is mentioned regularly in relationship to writing and writer’s block, but before we start reaching for treatments, we have to ask whether impostor syndrome really exists as a separate thing that can be defined and measured. Because if it doesn’t, then we’re going to get the wrong answers to our questions.

I’m going to continue my reading of the academic literature on impostor syndrome and I guess we’ll see if I change my mind. But for now, I’d say that the majority of what we consider to be ‘impostor syndrome’ is more likely a combination of low self-confidence, perfectionism, anxiety and depression on the one hand, and a normal reaction to bias and prejudice in the workplace and, indeed, wider world on the other. Thinking of it like that allows us to look at our own impostor feelings a little bit more critically and ask ourselves what’s going on underneath, because that will help us find better solutions.

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Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man

Iron Man, the film that kicked off the MCU and made it cool to fancy Robert Downey Jr again.

Plus massive Bloomsbury profits, a brief history of Marvel Studios, TikTok owner ByteDance becomes a publisher, two writing craft podcasts, and the escape room someone ought to lock me in.

Hi there,

This newsletter was actually written a few weeks ago, just before I went on holiday. But whilst I was away, the SAG-AFTRA strike kicked off and I decided to cover that and punt this for a fortnight, so this is the email you would have received then if that hadn’t happened!

My reading at that time was dominated by publishing and film/TV industry news, and generally not the good kind. Plus I’ve a couple of good writing craft podcasts, and an escape room I think I need to be locked in.

BAFTA Rocliffe Competition 2023 opens its doors

The BAFTA Rocliffe screenwriting competition is open for entries until 17:00 on 18 September 2023, and cost £46 per submission, although a bursary is available. TV drama, dramedy and comedy-drama scripts are eligible for entry, but not sitcom scripts.

Prizes include an industry online showcase at BAFTA with professional actors and directors, a one-to-one development discussion and two years’ access to BAFTA events and workshops, plus access to their alumni program and a bespoke career planning session. Slightly more importantly, all entries, which comprise ten pages of script, will receive a feedback report, so it’s worth entering just for that.

Read their Ts&Cs for more info about eligibility and how to submit.

GQ spikes article critical of Warner Bros. Discovery

In shenanigans worthy of Barbara Streisand, GQ spiked an excoriating piece by Jason Bailey about Warner Bros. Disovery’s CEO, David Zaslav less than a day after it was originally published, ensuring that the Wayback Machine’s version immediately did the rounds on Twitter.

Zaslav became the Big Bad of the WGA writers’ strike when in early May he said that writers’ “love for the business and a love for working” would bring them back to the table. Not, y’know, a decent pay offer, to pull a random idea out of thin air.

And he isn’t just really good at putting his foot in his mouth, he’s also been great at setting some appalling precedents, such as binning Batgirl and Scoob!: Holiday Haunt after they had been mostly completed because it was a convenient tax write-down.

Bailey’s piece is a catalogue of Zaslav’s awfulness, one that apparently GQ wouldn’t stand behind because, almost certainly, someone got on the phone and threw a strop.

The Golden Age of Streaming sputters out

I remember walking through  Sheboygan, WI, back in about 2017 or 2018 when I lived there, chatting with my husband about how the streaming TV bubble was gonna burst at some point. It lasted significantly longer than I thought it would (thankfully), but its number’s up according to Vanity Fair.

Surprise, surprise, Zaslav features, and is described as “on a mission to drive shareholder price up by cutting costs and easing the debt load” at Warner Bros. Discovery. Vanity Fair lets him off at least some of the hook and instead lays the blame for the streaming industry contraction on Wall Street.

“Wall Street changed the rules of the game,” says Marc Guggenheim, a veteran showrunner. Instead of chasing subscriber growth with great content, streamers are now directed to focus on profitability. “Overnight, all the streamers will suddenly be measured by a completely different yardstick that they weren’t built to meet.”

Yay, late stage capitalism.

It’s a long read, but it’s really worth your time.

Watchers become readers

Talking of TV’s boom mutating into a bust, some of that is because running multiple streaming subscriptions rapidly becomes expensive. I’ve recently cancelled Netflix, in part because of their intractability over the WGA’s really very reasonable demands, but also because we already have more TV that we can feasibly watch.

And I’m not alone in ditching subs. Bloomsbury’s sales have soared as people drop streaming services in favour of buying more books, because it’s cheaper, says the FT.

Paperback books have become more attractive as an affordable source of entertainment as people relinquish subscription services such as Netflix, according to the head of Bloomsbury Publishing, as the group reported record annual sales and profits.

And yet authors are still paid a pittance. Hello again, late stage capitalism.


Sales growth was boosted by the success of the series by fantasy author Sarah J Maas. Bloomsbury has contracts for seven new titles with the US writer, whose success is partly attributable to the BookTok social media trend on TikTok and whose sales grew 51 per cent in the year.

Keep that quote in your pocket for a moment.

How Marvel became a movie-making juggernaut

I’m quite partial to the occasional Marvel movie, so was fascinated by this very long read in the New Yorker about how Marvel Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to be. It also raises the question of how long the MCU can keep expanding, and the problems that arise from having one person – Kevin Feige – as a creative bottleneck.

Scientists predict that our own universe will begin to contract in the next hundred million years; the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having reached its outer limits, may be subject to a similar law of nature.

As I’ve heard over and again – usually in wistful but not hopeful tones – from people in the book industry that maybe producing a bit less content that you know is of higher quality is better than flooding the zone and crossing your fingers.

TikTok becomes a publisher

In news literally no one wanted to hear, TikTok owner ByteDance has decided to become a publisher. Renowned for shifting huge numbers of books via #BookTok, this foray into publishing is a further development of what Cory Doctorow has described as the enshittification of TikTok.

TikTok has accumulated a massive audience based at least in part on its users recommending stuff they like, including books. But TikTok has subverted these recommendations by “heating” certain videos, ie ranking them artificially high in their algorithm, thus pushing them out to more viewers than would otherwise have seen them.

If ByteDance starts publishing books, they will absolutely then push those books harder on TikTok than anyone else’s books, and no one will be able to stop them because they’ll own the entire supply chain. ByteDance is, of course, taking a leaf out of Amazon’s book, and not just in terms of dominating their own vertical (ie all parts of the supply chain). They are also planning to open an online store too which, given that a lot of physical bookstores already have a TikTok shelf, could wind up as bricks-and-mortar too.

As with Amazon, this is not going to go well for other publishers who had somewhat hoped that TikTok would save them. Publishers are now listing books both online and in bookstores under the headline TikTok Made Me Buy It, a branding disaster that needlessly cedes credit for the discovery of a great book to TikTok.

Let’s face it, most publishers have no idea how TikTok works, no idea why certain books take off and other don’t, and even less idea of what to do to leverage the site’s popularity. Very soon, TikTok won’t bother with them, because it will have its own books to push.

Now, remember that quote from the Bloomsbury story above? Hm-mmm.

Stop, look, listen: The Writers Panel – Karen Graci and Marc Bernardin

All the screenwriting podcasts I listen to have stepped away from any content that might be interpreted as promoting work being done for the struck studios, which has had a delightful side effect: More discussion of the craft of writing!

The two most recent episodes from Ben Blacker have been really good from a craft perspective. Karen Graci talks about getting into a character’s unique point of view, and Marc Bernardin gets into world-building. Both are well worth a listen!

Tweet of the week

OK, so it’s Tweet of the Fortnight really, but that doesn’t rhyme.

Tom Gauld imagines the escape room that pretty much every author ought to be locked in at some point or other.

Read this: Michael Marshall Smith and Julian Simpson in conversations

I really loved this conversation between Michael and Julian about their routes into writing, their experiences and their careers. I love Julian’s answer to the question of why he keeps writing, despite how difficult it is:

I guess the simplest answer to the question is that I don’t know how to do anything else. I still find myself, thirty-some years on from that fateful decision, walking down the street, watching other people doing their jobs and thinking, “Could I do that? If this all ended tomorrow, is that a thing I could do?” And the answer is invariably no. So the complete lack of options is certainly a factor somewhere in the thinking.

*cries in self-employed*

With Ada Lovelace Day still on shaky financial ground, I am again thinking about having to get a job in November, and I’m again wondering what the everliving fuck I would actually do. Answers in the comment please. No, please. Because I have no clue.

Obligatory cat photo

A white and tabby cat sitting by a book of vegetarian recipes.Back in 2017, I was staying with a friend in London ahead of Ada Lovelace Day Live at the Royal Institution and we went out for dinner at The Lord Stanley where I met this handsome fellow, Alfie. I’m pretty sure Alfie had no interest at all in the vegetarian recipes of Madhur Jaffrey, but he was guarding it as if he life depended on it.

Right, that’s it for this this time round! I’m working on another essay for you, so keep an eye on that coming up some time this week.

All the best,


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Being hyper-independent cuts you off from essential creative support.

I’ve just come back from a couple of weeks off, a break I really needed and which successfully recharged my batteries. Whilst I was away, I got to thinking about hyper-independence and how bad it can be for a writing career. My husband has more than once joked that if there’s an easy way to do something and a hard way to do something, I’ll always pick the hard way. Except it’s really not a joke, it’s just a statement of fact.

I have no doubt that I have at least a little hyper-independence, which can be defined as “unhealthy and excessive need for self-reliance”, having been bullied a lot as a child and teen. And I also have no doubt that it has led me to making my life more difficult than it needed to have been.

Growing up in a household with self-employed parents in a family where half my relatives were self-employed also emphasised the idea that the standard path of graduating and getting a job was undesirable. Independence was everything. Indeed, I lasted just a few years in employment and became self-employed in 1998. In retrospect, that was an error of judgement, but that realisation came about 20 years too late.

There’s a lot I could say about how hyper-independence has affected my professional life, how I tried to tackle it before I really knew what it was, and how I’ve become less hyper-independent as I’ve  grown older, but that will have to wait for another post. This one is about how the book industry unintentionally encourages hyper-independence and why we need to be aware of it and work to ensure that we don’t become creatively hyper-independent.

The obvious source of creative hyper-independence is the myth of the lone genius slaving away over a hot typewriter to write their Great Novel, which is perfect on first draft. (Perfectionism, by the way, can be a result of the same circumstances that produce hyper-independence.)

Most novels are indeed written by one person, which means that one person gets all the attention if it does well. When a book becomes an explosive bestseller, it’s only the author who’s applauded, profiled and photographed, despite the fact that the book will have been a team effort, from agent to editor to cover-designer, typesetter and beyond.

Some novice authors can learn the wrong lesson from this narrative, believing that their writing should be done in isolation, which in turn leads them to put unnecessary pressure on themselves. Excessively self-reliant people already have a problem delegating work or trusting others, which makes it harder to bring in external help during the creative process and starves them of valuable insights into how to improve their work.

This level of self-sufficiency is not just emotionally exhausting, it can also cause burn-out. Talk to any author the day after they’ve handed an early draft over to their agent and they’ll tell you how wiped out they feel. But authors with a healthy support structure around them will bounce back faster than those who have completely drained the well and are having to start again from rock bottom on their own.

Books can be, and frankly should be, a more collaborative endeavour than many people imagine. Even before you have an agent and publisher, whose job it is to help you refine your manuscript, you can find story editors or development editors to provide feedback on improving structure, pacing and character. Beta readers can be great for soliciting useful insights into how your work is being read and a copyeditor can help you pick up typos that have somehow slipped through that eleventy-billionth edit. Hyper-independent writers, however, feel that they ought to be doing all this themselves.

Another way that book-writing culture damages hyper-independent authors is the set of norms we have for soliciting feedback: Editors, beta readers, agents are all brought in after the novel is complete and has at least had a bit of a polish, if not several redrafts. This is poor practice for a couple of reasons: It’s harder to accept feedback, and that feedback can come so late that fixing the problems becomes harder than it needs to be.

I have certainly struggled to accept substantive feedback when I have reach the point of feeling that the work “should” be “finished”. At that point, my feeling emotionally done with the story combines with my hyper-independence to make it almost impossible for me to hear that major changes need to be made. And I know I’m not alone in that. I’ve felt bad giving feedback to friends when I’ve sensed that all they really want to hear about are easily fixed typos.

And, as I’ve written here before, getting feedback towards the end of the writing process for Tag and discovering that I needed to make some pretty major changes was really disheartening. Had I realised 18 months ago that I needed to rethink the structure of the series, it would have been much, much easier to do.

But rarely do authors solicit feedback at the idea generation stage, when everything is still malleable. Perhaps we would benefit from doing so.

Of course, this ties in with another problem that (not just) hyper-independent people have: Trust. How do we trust that our ideas aren’t going to be stolen by the people we share them with? We could ask them to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) but firstly that doesn’t engender trust and secondly it’s impossible to enforce if you don’t have lots of money for lawyers.

But as with anything in life, trust is earnt, either through developing a relationship over time or by social proof, ie seeing that others have trusted a person and not been burnt by them. We develop trust in all sorts of people and institutions in the rest of our lives, yet creative trust seems particularly hard to come by. And if you’re hyper-independent, it’s even harder.

Yet if you look at some of the very best storytelling around, it’s on TV and it has come to us via writers rooms, where a group of people bat idea around until they have honed them down to a sharp point. Why don’t we do this with novels? Why isn’t story development in the very earliest stages of novel writing a more common thing? I know some people like to write to find out where the story goes, but thrashing out the basics before you put fingers to keyboard doesn’t preclude that.

Part of it, perhaps, is that hyper-independence comes with another more insidious trait: The desire to feel that one has conquered the mountain entirely on one’s own. It’s not just that we feel that we can’t depend on or trust other people to help us, it’s that we feel that our achievements are made lesser if we’ve accepted help. And I say ‘we’ because I know that this is something that I’ve been guilty of, and it’s especially true when it comes to creative work. The desire to be able to say “This masterpiece sprang fully formed from my brain, and my brain alone” can overwhelm any feeling that perhaps we might actually need some help, or that we might produce better work if we collaborated.

But no man is an island, and no writer’s work is entirely original. We are all standing on the shoulders of the giants whose work we’ve read before. It’s impossible to write without reading, and everything you read goes into your head where your subconscious mushes it up with everything else that’s ever happened to you and it all comes out in your writing.

The healthy response is to accept this. It’s not just OK that we are influenced by others, it’s good. It’s normal. It’s an essential part of being a writer. Indeed, it makes you a better writer. So trying to control your creativity and keep it entirely separate from your influences is a task that can only end in failure. Know that, accept it and move on.

One piece of advice on dealing with hyper-independence is to “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable” and to practice relying on people. So perhaps the next time you start to feel isolated and lonely as a writer, ask who you can bring into your creative process. Who can you trust? Perhaps it’s only to bat about a single plot point or read a single page, but start nibbling away at your phobia of relying on other people.

Because in order to really flourish, you have to let people in.

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De-aged Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones

I don’t know whether to make a joke about wishing I could de-age myself or wishing I could do a de-aged Harrison Ford. I guarantee both would have been hilarious.

The actors are striking and it matters for all of us.

Note: I’d already written this week’s newsletter, because I’m technically on holiday, but this all felt rather time-sensitive, so you’ll get that newsletter next time. I’m also really jetlagged so any incoherency is because of that. Honest.

Hi there,

Well, it happened. Last week, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) went on strike after it failed to reach an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), ie Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Discovery-Warner, NBC Universal, Paramount and Sony.

As I said back on 9 May about the WGA strike, this isn’t a localised dispute that non-Americans can safely ignore. The outcome of these negotiations will have knock-on effects for actors around the world because these studios have global reach. What happens in Hollywood will become the template for what happens in the UK and elsewhere. If AMPTP can reduce the amount of money they pay actors and writers in the US, then you can be your bottom dollar they’ll gut contracts in other territories as well.

But what if we aren’t actors or writers? Or at least, not actors or writers in Hollywood. Should we still care?

Well, apart from the obvious fact that we should all care about people who aren’t us getting treated fairly just as a matter of principle, if these strikes fail, anyone who watches anything from any of the AMPTP studios should care, and particularly about generative computing (still refusing to call it AI).

One of SAG-AFTRA’s beefs with the AMPTP is about the studios’ proposal that they should be allowed to scan an actor’s likeness and voice, and keep that data forever.

When asked about the proposal during the press conference, Crabtree-Ireland said that “This ‘groundbreaking’ AI proposal that they gave us yesterday, they proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get one day’s pay, and their companies should own that scan, their image, their likeness and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity on any project they want, with no consent and no compensation. So if you think that’s a groundbreaking proposal, I suggest you think again.”

AMPTP denied that they wanted to hold this data in perpetuity, but we all know that given the chance, they will. They’re already doing it do voice actors, and that’s a cow path that will only turn into a seven lane highway when it’s paved.

Now, as much as I love a de-aged Harrison Ford – and I really do love a de-aged Harrison Ford – the last thing I want is an industry dominated by established stars being de-aged to feature in endless sequels and prequels. Industrial Light & Magic, who did the effects for Indiana Jones & the Dial of Destiny, emphasise that it’s not easy to de-age an actor.

ILM used a set of tools it calls FaceSwap. Like the the purpose-built tech ILM developed to let Martin Scorsese de-age actors for The Irishman, Dial of Destiny utilized a proprietary system called Flux that used two infrared cameras perched on either side of the one filming Ford to gather information from his performance. Unlike The Irishman, it also involved what the actor called “dots on my face” that captured even more data. All of that info was then combined to create a “CG mask” that could be placed on Indy in every frame.

To ensure Ford looked like his younger self, the ILM team used machine learning tools to scour years of footage of the actor that Lucasfilm had in its archives. The team also worked with VFX tools from Disney Research and a “smattering” of other sources to fine-tune the de-aged shots.

But that’s where we are now. In a year, or three years, or five years, where will we be? Obviously, de-aging is only going to get easier, as will constructing entirely new sequences from scratch. (Or removing the clothes from an actor who didn’t want to do a nude scene. Just think about the ethics of that for a second.)

Hollywood already has an unhealthy obsession with sequels, prequels, reboots and existing IP. The ten highest grossing movies of 2022 that were released in the US were all sequels or reboots, without a single original film in the list. (If you include non-US titles then Water Gate Bridge, a Chinese propaganda movie, comes in at no 9). The next ten are all based on existing IP, whether novels, computer games, short films, other movies, or comics.

This over-reliance on the familiar may be backfiring. Arash Amel, the Welsh-Iranian screenwriter, has a great thread about how this summer’s blockbusters aren’t doing as well at the box office as expected. Amel puts this down, correctly I think, to a loss of creative risk-taking caused by the need to make big profits to satisfy Wall Street. And it’s only going to get worse, as he points out, because of the destruction of the talent pipeline – if movies are dominated by established names and franchises, how do new actors and new ideas get a foothold?

I’ve heard the same point made by writers with regard to their experiences in TV. Young writers aren’t getting the security of, say, a 13- or 24-episode contract, and aren’t getting to learn and grow. And they aren’t being given the opportunity to go to set and see how a TV show is actually made and learn how to be that on-set writer.

This is all storing up trouble for the future because the big names are not going to live forever. Or are they? Is generative computing going to be able to replicate both writers and actors, to the point where we don’t need anyone new?

How fucking dull would that make movies and TV?

It’s not just SAG-AFTRA members who are worried about this. Equity, the UK acting union, are also concerned.

Liam Budd, of UK acting union Equity, said: “We’re seeing this technology used in a range of things like automated audiobooks, synthesised voiceover work, digital avatars for corporate videos, or also the role of deepfakes that are being used in films.”

But as film-maker and writer Justine Bateman points out:

“Tech should solve a problem and there’s no problem that those using AI solves. We don’t have a lack of writers, we don’t have a lack of actors, we don’t have a lack of film-makers – so we don’t need AI,” she said.

“The problem it solves is for the corporations that feel they don’t have wide enough profit margins – because if you can eliminate the overhead of having to pay everyone you can appease Wall Street and have greater earnings reports.

“If AI use proliferates, the entertainment industry it will crater the entire structure of this business.”

Another pain point for actors, as with writers, is money. Residuals – the payments you get when an episode is repeated – are tiny for streaming because the last time writers’ and actors’ contracts were negotiated, streaming was still new and the studios argued to keep residuals low. Now, of course, streaming is the norm and both writers and actors are struggling to make a living from their work.

The Guardian has a depressing piece about just how hard it is for actors to make ends meet, with stories from the actors on Orange Is The New Black:

Kimiko Glenn, who played Brook Soso, posted a video to Instagram in which she opened a Sag-Aftra foreign-royalty statement and, despite starring on a huge, award-winning series that helped pave the way for the current glut of streaming originals, discovered she had been paid just $27.30 (about £21). Another cast member, Matt McGorry, replied to the post revealing that he had to keep his day job throughout filming, because he couldn’t support himself on his acting salary. A further star, Beth Dover, revealed that, after deducting travel expenses, she lost money on the show.

Residuals from cable/terrestrial TV repeats used to be enough to keep an actor going between jobs, but that is no longer the case. Again, if actors can’t earn a living, the talent pipeline will completely hollow out, and the only people who’ll become actors (or writers) will be those who are independently wealthy. It’s the same with novelists, by the way, whose advances have cratered over the last decade or so.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Hollywood has the money. Mostly.

“Arts and cultural economic activity” accounted for 4.4 per cent of the US’s GDP in 2021, which is $1.02 trillion. The net worth of Hollywood as an industry is $95.45 billion as of 2022 and it employs around 2.1 million people.

The picture is a bit more complicated than that, however, as Billy Ray explains in this episode of Deadline’s Strike podcast. Some streaming services are losing money hand-over-fist, whilst others are doing OK, and others yet (guess which ones) can afford to lose money because they’re sitting on piles of cash from other arms of their business.

And, I’ll note, that the CEOs aren’t hurting for cash either, with eight major Hollywood studio CEOs collectively earning $773,000,000 last years.

So why not just pay up? The cost of the proposals from the WGA, SAG-AFTRA and Director’s Guild of America are estimated to be between $450 million and $600 million per year, which is frankly peanuts for an industry the size of Hollywood.

But this really isn’t about the money for the AMPTP. It’s about union busting.

Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, made that clear when he said that writers and actors weren’t being “realistic” in their demands and said he found the strike “disturbing” and then went on to blame the strikers for the impact that the strike is having on associated workers, such as the Teamsters and IATSE members.

This is basic abuser talk. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender”, and we have much of that in Iger’s response:

Deny: “We managed, as an industry, to negotiate a very good deal with the directors guild that reflects the value that the directors contribute to this great business. We wanted to do the same thing with the writers, and we’d like to do the same thing with the actors.”

Attack: “There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic. And they are adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.”

Reverse Victim and Offender (sort of, but you get the idea): ”It will have a very, very damaging affect on the whole business, and unfortunately, there’s huge collateral damage in the industry to people who are supportive services, and I could go on and on. It will affect the economy of different regions, even, because of the sheer size of the business. It’s a shame, it is really a shame.”

This is not good faith talk.

Worse, insiders are saying that the AMPTP’s intention is to let the strike drag on until writers and actors start to go broke.

the studios have no intention of sitting down with the Writers Guild for several more months.

“I think we’re in for a long strike, and they’re going to let it bleed out,” said one industry veteran intimate with the POV of studio CEOs.

And that’s been the game plan all along:

Receiving positive feedback from Wall Street since the WGA went on strike May 2, Warner Bros Discovery, Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Paramount and others have become determined to “break the WGA,” as one studio exec blatantly put it.

To do so, the studios and the AMPTP believe that by October most writers will be running out of money after five months on the picket lines and no work.

“The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” a studio executive told Deadline. Acknowledging the cold-as-ice approach, several other sources reiterated the statement. One insider called it “a cruel but necessary evil.”

Oh look, it’s late stage capitalism again.

It’s no coincidence that three members of AMPTP are big anti-union tech companies. As Bette Midler tweeted, tech has a long history of “destroying an industry by devaluing the product in the name of growth, and then realizing their business model doesn’t actually work.”

Unfortunately, massive amounts of damage will be done to the industry and, much more importantly, the people within it, by this Wall Street-focused approach. The AMPTP is going to kill their own business, because if you don’t pick up and nurture talent now, you’ll have no big hitters in 10 years time. And as much as people seem happy with prequels and sequels now, they will get bored of them. I mean, fuck, have you seen Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania? It’s a mess.

Everything goes in cycles, and there is going to come a point where people are going to want more original stories made by new talent, and that talent won’t exist.

Right, well, fuck, this was supposed to be a short round-up of the SAG-AFTRA situation, but 2,200 words later and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. And I’m supposed to be on holiday. But if you want more strike news direct from the front lines, subscribe to StrikeGeist, who are doing a grand job of keeping everyone up to date.

Obligatory cat picture

Three farm catsThese three, clockwise from top left, are Sativa, Custard and Archibald, whom we met at the Twin Brooks Farm near Union, IL. It was a gorgeous place to stay, and I’m gutted we only got one night there, not least because these were three of the friendliest barn cats you could ever hope to meet. Archibald was a real cuddle monster, Custard just flolloped in my husband’s arms when he picked him up, and Sativa was constantly coming over for fusses.

Right, that’s it for this week! If you reached this far, well done and a gold star for you!

All the best,



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Does impostor syndrome really exist?

by Suw on July 12, 2023

What if the majority of impostor syndrome is just a normal, sensible response to living an uncertain and precarious life in a challenging industry rife with rejection and poor communication?

Thanks to everyone who left comments or voted in the poll in my last newsletter. It was nice to hear that I’m not alone and to receive a little moral support! Writing can be a lonely business, so it’s nice to feel a bit more connection with you all.


As for the poll, most people either wanted me to do what works for me, or to see a roughly equal mix of posts drawn from the research and from my own experience.

So I’m going to this week kick off with a more research-oriented post.

As it happens I have some existing areas of interest that I’ve been reading up on for another project I’m involved with: The International Collaboration on Mycorrhizal Ecological Traits, or i-COMET. If you subscribe to Word Count, you might recognise that name – we’re using the tail end of our grant to fund work on a short film, Fieldwork.

My original contribution to i-COMET was to provide a year of mentoring for early career ecologists, and collect data on their experiences to compare with a control group who didn’t have any mentoring. As part of that project, I started reading up on four attributes that we felt might affect career engagement and wanted to gather data on:

  1. Mentoring efficacy
  2. Career satisfaction
  3. Self-efficacy (ie self-confidence)
  4. Impostor syndrome

I think all of these have some relevance to writing and writer’s block, but I’m going to start with impostor syndrome because it’s something that many of us are familiar with. But before we can get deep in the weeds, (which I will do in future newsletters), we have to ask:

Does impostor syndrome really exist?

Now, why would I go and ask a question like this? We all know impostor syndrome exists, and that it particularly – but not exclusively – affects women, people of colour and other groups that are subject to prejudice. What value is there in throwing doubt on its existence? That just makes it harder for those of us fighting for equality.

That, or something rather like it, is what I thought the first time I read Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey in the Harvard Business Review. But the more I read and re-read it, the more I had to admit that Tulshyan and Burey are right.

Much of what we think of as impostor syndrome is actually the impact of systemic barriers put up to keep us out of whatever industry, organisation, or group we’re trying to exist within. And this is as true of writing as it is of being a woman in science or technology. In fact, the publishing industry seems to have been designed to make people feel like impostors.

The first point Tulshyan and Burey make is that when women are subjected to workplace bullying, racism, and other forms of bias on a regular basis, any self-doubt, anxiety, or feeling like a fraud isn’t and shouldn’t be labelled impostor syndrome, but is instead “workplace-induced trauma”.

Writers regularly face rejection and, increasingly, ghosting when they submit their work to agents, small presses, competitions and the like. Many will say that learning to live with rejection and ghosting is just part of the job, but however you spin it, being on the receiving end of so much negativity is very likely to have an impact on our mental well-being. For many people it’s going to increase self-doubt and anxiety. That’s not impostor syndrome, that’s an impact of the wider environment we’re trying to exist in.

Tulshyan and Burey also talk about the medicalisation of impostor syndrome:

Imposter syndrome took a fairly universal feeling of discomfort, second-guessing, and mild anxiety in the workplace and pathologized it, especially for women.


The label of imposter syndrome is a heavy load to bear. “Imposter” brings a tinge of criminal fraudulence to the feeling of simply being unsure or anxious about joining a new team or learning a new skill. Add to that the medical undertone of “syndrome,” which recalls the “female hysteria” diagnoses of the nineteenth century. Although feelings of uncertainty are an expected and normal part of professional life, women who experience them are deemed to suffer from imposter syndrome.

When we take normal emotional reactions to challenging experiences – such as the uncertainty and difficulty of trying to develop or maintain a career as a writer – and pathologise them, we’re taking systemic problems and individualising them. That results in us looking inwards for solutions instead of seeking to change the actual causes of the problem, which are to be found in the way that the industry is set up.

There’s a parallel here with a strain of hypercapitalism which seeks to nationalise risk and debt and privatise profits. The publishing industry individualises risk, debt, and emotional burdens, which are all carried by writers and low-paid entry level employees, whilst profits are disbursed to execs and shareholders.

This doesn’t mean that impostor syndrome, which was conceptualised by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, doesn’t exist. What it means is that the way that we use the phrase “impostor syndrome” both in our day-to-day lives and, frankly, in academic research, needs to be re-examined and refined.

If someone has by all measures a stable professional life, if they are well-supported by their colleagues and management, if they are not having to deal with other people’s prejudice, bias or poor communication skills, if they are successful in their work, if they are praised and recognised, and yet still feel as if they are about to be ‘found out as a fraud’… Then we can talk about a syndrome of imposterhood.

For the rest of us, maybe we need to rethink things a little. Maybe we don’t suffer from an impostor syndrome which requires us to chant affirmations into the bathroom mirror every morning. Perhaps anxiety and doubt are just a normal response to the stress of being a writer, and we need to develop better coping strategies the same way we would for any other negative emotions we experience.

And perhaps we need to change the industry to remove some of these stressors.

Just a thought.

PS… As I’m currently absurdly busy with work and unable to give my lovely premium members the exclusive content I was hoping to, I’ve just gone ahead and made everything free. Which means that anyone who has taken out a paid membership is an even more generous and marvellous person now than before. Thank you for your support – it means the world to me.

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Word Count 53: The state of AI and the Goodreads fiasco

July 4, 2023

Just two main topics this week but one is important and the other is mindboggling. Lots of articles about so-called AI have crossed my field of vision over the last two weeks, so I thought now might be a good time to do a round-up. It’s really, really hard to keep up with all that’s […]

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When your brain is too full

June 28, 2023

Thoughts start dribbling out of your nose and are lost forever, which is why you should always carry a handkerchief. OK, I’m going to fess up. My brain is too full. I was chronically underemployed when I started this newsletter at the end of January. Ada Lovelace Day, which had been my full-time job since […]

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Word Count 52: Ada Lovelace Day is back! Fieldwork update, Clarke Award shortlist

June 20, 2023

Plus Alex North webinar available for catch-up, visualising plots, Blackadder lost pilot, why it’s hard to hear dialogue, group dynamics and more! Hi there, A couple of weeks ago, when I decided to move to a fortnightly schedule, I didn’t think it would be difficult to just write less. But did I really miss writing […]

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Fieldwork: Do you know where your keys are?

June 19, 2023

Are you sure? Absolutely sure? Because I know I don’t have them. I’m just over a month into the background research for Fieldwork and have already carried out half a dozen interviews with ecologists in a wide variety of disciplines. We’ve talked about everything, from the challenges of surveying plants in highland bogs, to working […]

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Needing help doesn’t make you a bad writer

June 14, 2023

We’re all always learning more about our craft and we should celebrate that as growth, not chastise ourselves for failing.  Some writers seem to instinctively know how to structure their novel or TV script, never paying much attention to acts or turning points as they lay down their first draft and, later, revise their final […]

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