August 2023

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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