September 2023

Plus David Koepp on his Jurassic Park first draft, WGGB calls for residuals, to branch out into ebooks, killer Barbie stats and more.

Hi there,

It’s a gorgeous autumnal day as I write this, with the sound of power tools humming outside as the neighbours get a new fence and shed put up. Good job I’ve got no calls in my diary for the next fortnight. Of course, the big victim in all of this is Copurrnicus, who won’t be allowed out until the works are done. He’s going to get very, very grumpy about that.

WGA strike breakthrough

The WGA announced on Sunday night that it has reach a “tentative” deal with the studios after 146 days of strike and five days of intensive negotiations. Although the exact terms of the deal haven’t been released as of time of writing, the WGA said that the deal was “exceptional – with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership”.

Before the strike can actually end, the WGA needs to finalise a Memorandum of Agreement with the AMPTP, then “the Negotiating Committee will vote on whether to recommend the agreement and send it on to the WGAW Board and WGAE Council for approval. The Board and Council will then vote on whether to authorize a contract ratification vote by the membership.”

These votes will happen today, so hopefully the strike will soon be over. Fingers crossed, now, for similar progress in the actors’ negotiations.

WGGB urges UK streamers to pay residuals

Sandi Toksvig speaking at the TUC

Perhaps inspired by the WGA strike, Sandi Toksvig, the president of the Writers Guild of Great Britain has called for streaming companies to pay residuals to British writers the same way that TV, film audio and theatre already do, and for an end to ‘buy-outs’, where writers sign away the right to create other works based on their intellectual property.

The WGGB tabled a motion at the Trade Union Congress in Liverpool earlier in September, where it passed. However, it’s not clear how much good it will do.

Unlike the US, closed shops have been illegal in the UK since the anti-trade union legislation of 1990 and 1992, meaning that it’s basically impossible for writers to strike. In order to force the famously recalcitrant and miserly streamers to share a bit more of their massive profits with writers, we’d almost certainly have to see legislation put in place. Chances of that happening anytime soon is nil, sadly.

Suw’s news: BAFTA Rocliffe submission submitted

After a fairly intense bout of work, I got my BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition entry safely submitted. It was a useful process, not least because it forced me to start refining my plans for what happens in each episode of Tag, which will help when I restart my rewrite, which is currently on pause due to Ada Lovelace Day.

Once ALD is done, though, I have to focus on converting the pilot into prose for the Discoveries prize (more on that below). That really will be an interesting process, as it will either make or break the whole idea of writing the series and novelising it. At this rate, the first 10,000 will the most polished thing I’ll ever have written, but it remains to be seen if they’re polished to a high shine or still a turd.

Opportunity: Discoveries 2024 is open!

The Discoveries writer development program, organised by the Women’s Prize for Fiction along with Audible, Curtis Brown Literary Agency, and the Curtis Brown Creative writing school, is open to submissions until 8 January 2024. That gives you more than three months to get your entry together, which is plenty of time!

Discoveries is open to unpublished and unagented women writers in the UK or Ireland who can submit:

the opening of a novel in English – up to 10,000 words – across any genre of adult fiction for the chance to take part in a bespoke creative writing course, secure personalised mentorship packages, an offer of literary agent representation and a prize of £5000. Unlike most initiatives of this kind, writers are not required to have finished their novel, and Discoveries is completely free to enter.

Find out more about eligibility and how to submit on their FAQ page.

Charlotte Duckworth on why the size of your advance matters

I’ve seen so many authors talking about how tiny advances are these days, but not so much chatter about why getting a larger (but not too large) advance bodes better for your book than a small advance.

“The truth is, the size of your advance is the biggest indicator of how likely your book is to be successful,” says author Charlotte Duckworth, because it indicates how much marketing budget your publisher is likely to allocate to your book. So is it even worth accepting a low advance?

Stop, look, listen: A Script Apart, Jurassic Park with David Koepp

I really enjoyed this conversation between A Script Apart’s Al Horner and Hollywood screenwriter David Koepp about the first draft of Jurassic Park, how Koepp wrote it and how it differs from the final film.

Jurassic Park was an adaptation of Michael Crichton’s book and although Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum in the film) is in the book, Koepp didn’t put him into the first draft of the screenplay because he felt Malcolm would be too challenging of a character to include. The section about how this actually helped Koepp to flesh out the other characters first, and then how important it was to the story overall to re-insert Malcolm back into the story is fascinating.

Tip-top tip: Get your order of operations right

I found this piece on how to write nonverbal communication by Shaunta Grimes really interesting. Grimes examines the impact on pacing, tone and meaning of swapping over dialogue and action descriptions.

When you put the action before the dialogue, the reader will make the shift to the action and dialogue happening in conjunction. Seamless.

When you put it after the dialogue, it reads like first there is dialogue and when that’s entirely over, hard stop, and then the action.

I had honestly never really thought about this, but not only is Grimes right, this is actually a really useful thing to internalise and apply when you need it.

Bookshop to branch out into ebooks?, the online book retailer which has passed on a $28 million share of its in profits to indie bookstores, is going to start beta testing ebook sales this November. The ebooks will be available on Apple, Android and web-based platforms.

Hunter hopes to gain an edge over Amazon by making content from e-books more sharable and social, as well. “E-books have been too walled off from the rest of the internet and need to be more a part of the online conversation,” he says. “They are filled with interesting ideas and should be out there and given an opportunity to go viral.”

Finally, an ethical alternative for ebooks!

Barbie wins

The numbers are in, and Barbie has won a number of notable firsts. Barbie was:

  • Biggest hit ever for Warner Bros.
  • First movie solely directed by a woman to become the biggest hit of the year.
  • One of only 53 movies of all time with worldwide sales over $1 billion.
  • Highest opening weekend in the US for a movie directed by a woman.
  • Bigger hit that Frozen.

Maybe now we can put to bed the idea that movies made by and for women won’t sell.

Obligatory cat picture

Copurrnicus sitting on my fabricI have spent much of the last few years learning how to draft my own sewing patterns, primarily because I’m one of the approximately 15 per cent of the population for whom store-bought clothes just will never fit properly. I am in the process of sewing a top that I can wear on Ada Lovelace Day at the Royal Institution, so of course Copurrnicus had to come and help me cut out.

That’s it for now! The next issue of Word Count is due on Ada Lovelace Day itself, which might pose a few issues, so don’t be surprised if it’s a little late that week!

All the best,



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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.

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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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Is stability the key to your creativity?

by Suw on September 6, 2023

Maybe the best way to be creative is give yourself space and security.

The biggest enabler for creativity is stability. I wish that was made more central to the creative narrative. Figure out what your specific needs are to limit stressors and enable “boring” time and work to achieve that as hard as you’re practicing your art.

It’s not sexy, it’s often not fun. It often involves adulting and day jobs and planning and compromise. But it’s a lot easier to summon the muse when your brain isn’t tuned to the frequency of a low scream due to financial, relationship, etc. issues. It’s going to always be in flux. That’s the work.

When I saw the above two messages from science fiction and fantasy author Ryan Van Loan on Bluesky, I knew immediately what this week’s newsletter would be about, because this is probably the most important writing advice that anyone can receive, but also the hardest advice to put into action.

And it’s the one piece of advice I would give my younger self, if I could.

Optimise for money or for time?

For a very, very long time, I laboured under the misapprehension that the reason I wasn’t writing was because I didn’t have enough time. And that assumption underpinned all my career decisions from about 1998 onwards.

I graduated from university into a pretty crappy job market. It took me a year to get permanent work, and when I finally did I was grossly underpaid. (I didn’t actually realise that until a few years ago when I compared first job salaries with some friends who are about my age, at which point it became clear that I had been earning perhaps 70 percent of what they were earning at the same age. Worse, being lowballed on pay in your first job sets your pay scale, and your own pay expectations, almost permanently, perpetuating the problem.)

I didn’t feel hugely creative whilst I was working for these employers, but I misidentified the problem as a lack of time, rather than that I was being underpaid. The ‘obvious’ solution was therefore to go freelance and regain full sovereignty over my day. I thought that if I could decide when to work and when to write, I’d get more writing done.

But I didn’t do any creative writing at all for the first two years of self-employment, because I wasn’t earning enough money to live, was racking up credit card debt, and wasn’t sleeping well because I was so worried about my financially precarious situation. And I can’t write if I’m tired and stressed.

I had fundamentally misinterpreted my problem: What I actually needed was more money and more financial stability. If I had had that, I could have found the time. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t figure that out for years, leading me into a series of decisions that were predicated on maximising time instead of financial stability, which ultimately meant that I just spent more time worrying about how I was going to afford to live, instead of writing.

It’s hard for me to regret those decisions, though, because they led me to co-founding the Open Rights Group, via which I met my husband, and then founding Ada Lovelace Day, which has helped support and inspire countless women and girls in science, technology, engineering and maths. I’m very proud of both of those organisations and it’s safe to say that neither would exist now had I not decided that they needed to.

What do we need to do to foster our creativity?

However, I have wanted to be an author since I was a child, and it’s only in recent years that I’ve had the financial stability I needed, although that is almost entirely down to my husband rather than my career suddenly taking off. (Thank you, Kevin.) My personal financial situation still isn’t quite as rosy as I’d like it to be, but at least I now recognise that for the problem it is and I’m working on it.

When we talk about stability as an essential part of creativity, we each need to think about how we define stability for ourselves. Some people might have enough money, but need a stable, peaceful home life as well. For others, it might be the routine of job that’s not too demanding rather than one that fills every waking minute. Or it might be navigating towards a stable health situation (or, as stable as possible).

Whatever your necessary stability is, your first step is to properly identify it. Don’t assume you know what it is, because as we’ve seen, you can assume wrong.

Instead, think back over the last few years and try to identify when you felt most creative and when you were at a creative nadir. What changed? What circumstances have stopped you writing? What were most conducive to creative thought? How could you recreate those circumstances? How will they improve your stability?

If we want to prioritise our creativity, then we need to understand the circumstances that foster it, and be willing to make sacrifices to create and maintain those circumstances. I confess, I have not always been willing to make those compromises and it’s only now that I realise why. Sorry, Kevin.

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