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Beta Readers: Everything You Need to Know

You\'ve finished your book, you\'ve edited it as much as you can, you\'re more or less happy with it - but is it any good? Have you achieved what you set out to do? You need to know the answers to these questions before you invest any more time and effort on a book that may not be hitting the right way. You haven\'t reached the final draft of any book until others have read it too. Which is where beta readers come in. What Is A Beta Reader? A beta reader is someone who\'s prepared to read your entire manuscript at a point where you feel it\'s ready to be read, and whose opinion you trust. Whether you know them personally or not, ideally you will have chosen someone who is the same demographic as your intended readership who you know should enjoy your book (you wouldn\'t ask your 89 year old religious grandfather to beta read your paranormal erotica, for instance). You also need to be able to trust them to give constructive feedback on a number of questions you will ask them prior to reading. So, if beta readers exist - does that mean alpha readers do too? The answer is yes - but they\'re slightly different. Whereas beta readers come in to play once the book is complete and you need someone just like your readers to look at the entire book with fresh eyes, an alpha reader is generally someone who is there at the beginning of your book\'s journey, helping you shape the story from the onset. For some writers this may be their agent, for others a close friend they like to bounce ideas off, or even a fellow author who always helps with plotting, language and pacing. Alpha readers are important - not just to help you get your book off the ground but for motivation and resilience too - but it\'s beta readers who will direct the next stage of your writing journey. They are the one who will help perfect your latest draft into hopefully the last draft. It is your beta readers who stand between you and an agent, editor or your readers. Why Are Beta Readers Important? You may be thinking \'my book is done now, why would I risk a load of criticism at this stage after spending so much time on it?\' The answer is that if you don\'t get feedback on the initial draft of your novel, you run a higher risk of agents, editors, and eventually readers having the same problems with it too. A beta reader is not there to tell you your writing is bad - they are there to answer specific questions so that you can be happy in the knowledge your book has achieved what was intended. How Many Beta Readers Do I Need? And How Much Do I Have To Change? The answer to both of these questions is the same - it\'s totally up to you. I would suggest you ask at least three to five beta readers to read your work at one time, perhaps a mix of friends, family and other writers. And remember, you are simply garnering doesn\'t mean you have to act on every one of their comments. With my last novel I sent it out to five beta readers and most of them said the same thing about the same parts (which means they were totally right, it needed changing). Other times their opinions were contradictory, meaning they were approaching the book from different angles. At this point I asked myself what was subjective and what was something I was comfortable changing. Where Do I Find A Beta Reader? If you are a new writer, the idea of anyone reading your work may be terrifying - let alone someone who then has to give you feedback. The easiest way to find fellow-minded readers is to join an author community. At Jericho Writers we offer free membership to our writers community, with thousands of people at different stages of their writing journey coming together looking for help, support and even to swap books and get feedback. Likewise you can join one of the many writing groups on Facebook, follow the #WritingCommunity hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, or join a local writing group. Then simply take a deep breath, be brave, and befriend other writers. I strongly recommend you look for others who write the same genre as you, and are also at the same stage of their journey as you. If this is your first book and you have no agent or deal in place, it\'s highly unlikely that a published author with three bestsellers under their belt will have the time to read your book for fun. They will probably already have a team of their own beta readers, critique partners, and an agent to guide them. Likewise, you should be seeking out writer friends to grow with so you can share the same trials and tribulations together as you progress on your writing journey. You can also ask friends, family members, or even your social media followers if they\'d like an early glance of your book in exchange for feedback. You\' be surprised how honoured people feel when asked and how eager they will be to be part of your process! Do I Have To Pay Them? No. Because a beta reader is normally a friend, a fellow writer, or already a big fan of your work they should be happy to help. Although they may ask you to repay the favour by reading their book too, and /or thanking them in the acknowledgements. Is A Beta Reader The Same As A Sensitivity Reader? No, although you may want to hire one at the same time as having it beta read. A sensitivity (or \'authenticity\') reader is paid and they are vital when covering topics, themes, and/or characters that you don\'t have personal experience of. Hiring a sensitivity reader is no different to paying a lawyer to double check your legal crime thriller, or a police officer checking for any inconsistencies in your detective novel. For instance, if you\'re a straight, white, man and you want to feature, say, a gay Indian girl with disabilities in your novel - it\'s a really good idea to pay a disabled queer Indian person to read your book and check that you haven\'t misrepresented an entire community. Like beta readers, a sensitivity reader is not there to silence you or censor your writing, they are there to strengthen the contents of your book. As authors we are all free to write about whatever we want, but if you want to cover themes that involve aspects of life you haven\'t had direct experience in, it always helps to work with those who have, in order to add a level of authenticity, accuracy and (most importantly) respect to your work. Unlike beta readers, sensitivity readers are paid and often someone you don\'t know. That way they can offer feedback that is unbiased and fair. How Do I Work With My Beta Readers? A beta reader is not: An editor A proofreader A sensitivity reader All of those jobs are performed by a paid professional who is there specifically to look at structure, spelling, or a certain theme that they represent. A beta reader is simply a friend, book-lover or fellow writer, who will read your book and give you their opinion of it based on a set of questions you have prepared for them. They will understand that this is not the very first draft...but likewise, it\'s not the final one either. It\'s a few drafts before the final one, where you still have the chance to move things about and hone characters and plot points. Because this person is someone you have recruited, like with anything it\'s important to be respectful with them and clear about your needs. If they are a trusted friend or fellow author, they may have asked for a favour in return (ie \'please beta read my wip too\' or \'mention me in the acknowledgements\') and all you have to do is honour that agreement. But if you have put together a group of beta readers made up of people you don\'t know well, you may wish to create a Facebook group, and clearly state the guidelines. Within those guidelines will be what you need from them, a deadline for feedback, and what they can expect in return. Likewise, you may want to offer them an agreement or NDA to sign, to ensure your story is not shared outside the group. NDA templates can be found online. Although, legally, a simple agreement you have drawn up may not carry much weight - it will at least show that you trust them and both parties are clear re: expectations. What Questions Should I Ask Them? Are the first three chapters engaging?If they aren\'t, then you\'re in trouble. It doesn\'t matter if you are trying to grab the attention of an agent, an editor, or someone on Amazon who wants to read the first few pages to get a taste of the novel before buying. If you can\'t hook your reader in the first three chapters then they won\'t keep reading. So ask your beta readers whether they were intrigued from the start. Plot and themesThis is an obvious question - but do they like what the book is about? Is it interesting? Is there anything they would cut that slowed down the story? Or is there more they need you to elaborate on? Are the characters rounded? Are they likeable or scary or whatever it is you are trying to achieve. Are their backstories clear? Are they all needed? Sometimes you can combine two characters into one to have them supporting the MC in the same way. Not all characters have to be \'nice\' or likeable BUT they do have to be interesting enough that people want to keep reading. Is the book consistent?If you are working on a series and your beta readers enjoyed the other books, ask them about continuity. Have you forgotten some world lore? Or do your characters act or sound different this time? And even if your book is a contemporary stand alone, you still need to make sure your world makes sense. You don\'t have a nurse living in an apartment and halfway through she\'s a doctor living in a large house! Worldbuilding If you are writing fantasy, it\'s really important that your readers understand your magic system and how your fantasy world works. The same goes if you are writing history - is this world believable and accurate? Again, this is important if part of a series as you need to ensure there\'s consistency. PacingIf it\'s a thriller, were they on the edge of their seat? If it\'s a romance, was their heart beating in the right place? Did the story sag in any places? Or was it too rushed or light in other places? Pacing is really important when it comes to engaging a reader and keeping them turning the pages. LanguageDo they like the way the book is written? It\'s OK at this stage to ask them for any errors they find (ie if the wrong ocean is referenced or a date is wrong) but I wouldn\'t worry about proofreading as you still have a long way to go until you present a final ms and a lot of the words may be cut anyway. What they loved and didn\'t enjoyAnd finally, it\'s a hard question to ask, but knowing what parts of the book they enjoyed and what they didn\'t enjoy will give you a clear indication of what your final readers will think. Opinions are subjective, which is why it\'s ideal to have three or four beta readers, and then if they all agree you know it\'s something you shouldn\'t ignore! How I Use Beta Readers I write both fantasy and thriller novels, and I absolutely love working with my beta readers. When I was a debut author I put together my own team of readers. I created a blog that explained I was looking for a dedicated team of readers, and I sent it to those who I thought would suit the trilogy best. I literally approached each reader, one by one, from Facebook writing groups and Twitter, ensuring they represented a diverse mix of readers. Those who accepted signed a confidentiality agreement and were added to a Facebook group. I capped it at 25 members and after around three weeks my beta reader gang was formed! The group lasted a few years, and they were instrumental in helping me develop my fantasy series. I would ask them questions and opinions, I\'d run competitions to name a character or to be picked to read an early draft, and in exchange they not only got to be part of my journey but were mentioned in the acknowledgements and all received a free book once it was published. Having a squad like this (especially when writing YA or fantasy) is really helpful once you are published too, as these readers have supported you from the very beginning and will continue to support you. My team went on to shout about the book online, creating a lot of organic buzz that\'s hard to build naturally. Now, five years after being published, I have retained some of my beta readers plus have added lots of fellow published authors and a few friends and family members who want a sneaky peak. I have five key critique partners, all successful authors in their own rights, and we bounce idea off one another as well as alpha/beta read one another\'s work. I find it helpful to have a mix of professionals and book-loving friends on my beta reading list as that way I receive feedback in general (ie \'I couldn\'t put it down\' and \'I got bored in this chapter\') as well as more structured professional feedback (ie \'the pacing was off in chapters 5-7\' and \'the motivation isn\'t strong enough for the MC in the third act\'). Plus having critique partners who are also authors means I get to show off that I have read some of the best author\'s books years before they make it to the shops! Being part of that book\'s journey is a real honour! Find The Beta Mix That Works for You I hope this article answers all your beta reader questions and has inspired you to put your own group together. Remember to be brave and offer to swap books with a writer who\'s at the same stage of writing as may be surprised and find they\'ve been just as eager to read your work as you are to work with them! If you don\'t reach out, you\'ll never know. And most importantly, if you don\'t get all those new eyes on your new book, you may well miss the opportunity to change something fundamental that could be standing between you and your perfect agent, editor, or five star review. My books and my career would not have progressed as far as they have without my beta readers, and I truly hope you find your perfect gang too. Good luck! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How to Ruin Your Author Brand

When Author Branding Goes Wrong Just as you put thought and dedication toward what you write as an author, the same focus should be put on your writer brand. Author branding tells your readers a story about who you are and inspires them to connect with your work.   Think about some of your favorite businesses. What draws you to them and what sort of characteristics come to mind? What about the brand keeps you coming back?  You should consider the same questions when it comes to your writer brand. Creating a strong, defined presence will significantly help you find and connect with your readers – helping them know if what you create is for them, and what to expect from you in the future.   Getting started on your branding involves several different factors from conceptualisation to marketing. In this guide you will learn exactly what elements to focus on, along with us sharing a few author branding examples for inspiration!  What is Author Branding?  Author branding is how you choose to present your values, mission, credibility, and personality to readers. In order to create your author brand, you should start by identifying your target readership. Remember you’re not aiming to appeal to everyone; a loyal target audience is more beneficial than trying to reach all readers.   Once you know who you want to connect with you can work on developing your brand voice and the face you will put out into the world. Tell your story and showcase what makes you different from other authors in your niche, it’s your USP (unique selling point). This also ties into your brand appearance, which might include consistent colours, logos, and fonts across your website and social media channels.   For instance, if you’re a horror writer then the images you share, posts you write, and general look of your social media will differ from that of a children’s writer who publishes books on unicorns and fairies.   As a horror writer you may link to horror-related shows, other books, funny images, explain your writing journey, run a competition around Halloween etc. Whereas a children’s author is more likely to talk about school visits, sharing cute pictures, talking about funny things kids said to them, inspiration for their books, and get behind child-related charities etc  Your writer brand should offer an experience for your readers, and as you gain your following you also want to make sure to stay consistent with reader expectations. Yes, building a winning brand is a lot of work but it’s 100% worth it for longevity (and can be a lot of fun). The Importance of Author Branding  So why is having an author brand so important?   For one, it’s what helps inform readers why they should buy or support your content. When you have a strong, effective brand, it shows your audience that you’re an expert and demonstrates why they can trust your writing.  Your author brand is also a bridge of communication with your audience, keeping them engaged and excited. When readers feel they have a personal connection with you and your work it keeps them coming back for more.   You can engage with your audience by asking their opinions, talking about real experiences, and most importantly, being consistent. Getting your author brand right is only a small part of your author marketing activity – it’s more PR than sales. Remember: only 10-20% of what you post online should be promoting your work (no one likes to be sold to). This is about giving a clear picture of what you stand for as a writer.  Your brand also goes a long way with reinforcing your overall reputation. For example, if you are going live on your social media and interacting with your followers, they’ll get to know you as a reliable brand. Responding to comments, answering inquiries, and providing meaningful content are all reputation boosters. A positive image is crucial for marketing success! Author Branding Mistakes Now that it’s clear exactly how beneficial author branding can be for your writing career, we want to also highlight just how damaging certain mistakes can be. It takes a long time to build a good reputation, but it doesn’t take long to ruin your author brand.  So take your time building your brand in order to avoid certain pitfalls that can diminish all of your hard work. Here are a few common author branding mistakes to avoid: Failing to Connect with the Right Audience  As previously stated, determining your audience should be the first step to take when considering your brand. If you fail to target the right audience then no connection will be built, and that is bad for business.   Your tribe will be naturally interested in you and your story, so it’s up to you to deliver stories, visuals, and content that match your niche audience and the product (i.e. books/your writing) you are promoting. This all helps to establish an emotional connection that must be maintained to keep your audience interested on a deeper level.  If you are struggling to pinpoint one specific target market, it can help to imagine an avatar, a literal representation of who your reader is. Then have that image in mind when deciding what to talk about and share. If your make-believe ideal reader is Jane, a thirty-year-old mother living in Idaho who enjoys pottery and poetry – then great. Think of all the things Jane would like to know about, not just about your books but your life and interests that may match hers too. And if 65-year-old Bob from London hates that content, then that doesn’t matter. Don’t change a thing. Bob isn’t your target market.  The more you stay focused and consistent, the easier it will be to naturally form a coherent audience that grows and supports you and your work. Poor Market Understanding As you start to consider yourself as a brand and a business, you’ll need to also think about competitors. You have to research the market to understand what others in your niche are doing. Focus on what they are doing well and what they could improve upon. How are competitors influencing audience perception? Not doing your due diligence when it comes to competitive analysis will adversely affect your author brand.   If you see that an author of similar books to you is getting a lot of traction by sharing certain pictures or asking certain questions, see how you could do similar things. But that doesn’t mean losing your individualism…  No USP Think about some of the most popular writers across different genres. The reason they stand out is because they have a unique selling point, also known as USP. Your author brand needs to convey how you are different from the thousands of other writers in the market. Simply matching what competing brands are doing won’t make a reader want to choose you over them. You must clearly communicate your own brand values, vision, and a strong author identity to be unique.   Inconsistent Messaging and Visuals Do you have a website? Social media channels? Do you attend public events or take part in school visits?  While completely different platforms, the content you post should be consistent across all forms of communication. Online you should identify colors, fonts, and logos that best reflect who you are as an author. Then ensure you use your branding kit when you post visuals. If people don’t automatically recognise your work, it’s impossible to stand out from the competition – this is especially relevant to those who write non-fiction, run a blog, or offer freelance writing services.  Your messaging should also be consistent, making sure that you (or a social media manager) always write in the same voice and tone. And when you are taking part in public events, reflect that brand. You should act, look, and sound exactly as they expect you to.  Some authors like to be visually recognised when at public events: Terry Pratchett was known for his hat and scarf, V E Schwab wears cat ears to her signings, and Jackie Collins wouldn’t be seen dead without her big jewellery, big hair, and very glam outfits!  No Brand Strategy Without a brand strategy, you won’t have any structure for your author brand. Without structure, you won’t have consistency and that can contribute to brand failure. A solid brand strategy is built from your values and vision. You need to find the balance between authenticity and having a clear direction.  Once you have achieved that, you can identify your goals, and then determine how you will track them. These can include financial goals, marketing goals, or goals set around content production. Consider how you’ll position your brand and iron out how you will highlight your value proposition.   With all of these elements in your strategy, you will have brand success.   All this may not be as relevant to fiction authors who are simply wanting to showcase their books and talk about their writing journey (some authors are lucky enough to have huge support from their publishers in terms of marketing, so don’t feel the need to be on Twitter every day). But it’s highly important if you write non-fiction and wish to prove your worth as an expert in your field, if you want to interact with your readers, or if you are looking to create hype in order to sell more self-published books, attract an agent, or get readers excited about a new book release.  A Subpar Website You don’t have to invest a lot of money in a web designer. In fact, there are plenty of DIY website builders like Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress that are more than good enough for writers.   However, you do have to ensure your site looks professional and accurately represents your brand. Your webpage is where readers (as well as reviewers, press, interested publishing professionals etc) can go to learn more about release dates or new announcements. It’s also a hub for your social media channels and contact info.   Keep your domain active and make sure your site is up to date, has a press kit with working purchase links, author photo, your contact info, and that it all loads properly. It can reflect poorly on your brand if your website looks subpar.  Stay On-Brand Many authors gets sucked into Twitter wars or make mistakes in their career. That’s OK, we are all human, but often it’s not the strident opinion that the public and their fans take umbrage at…it’s that their opinion is off-brand.  If you are an children’s author writing stories about equality, but you don’t think kids in the UK should have free school meals, you’re off-brand. If you write about saving the planet and you wear a fur coat to a signing event, you’re off-brand. If you spend a year posting funny content and wise writing advice, then all your post from then on are photos of your pet snake, people will stop following you. A huge U-turn is the fastest way to undo your hard work and stop your hard-won readers from trusting you.  So pick three words that represent you, your values, and your work – and ensure all you do reflects that.  Get Branding! Author branding is something all writers should create a strategy for. Showing your readers who you are and connecting with them on an emotional level is key to building a fanbase. Yes, it takes dedication but as long as you avoid these common branding mistakes you will easily win the hearts (and trust) of your readers – and in turn, you will have an audience that will not only support you but encourage others to as well!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How Authors Can Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Imagine you’ve been invited to a dinner party. On the invitation, the words ‘We can’t wait to see you!’ are printed in big, bold letters, embossed in gold foil for good measure. On arrival at the party, you’re greeted warmly by your hosts, and you feel welcomed, wanted, and validated.   I can do this, you think, and you hold onto that feeling as you take your seat at a long, fancy table laid out with cut glass champagne flutes and silver cutlery. Wow, you enthuse, this is great! I’m sitting at the table, about to eat the fine food and enjoy the even finer company! I finally fit in!   And it’s a wonderful feeling.   Until, that is, you look around you, and you see the other dinner party guests. The glamorous, intelligent, gorgeous, witty, celebrated, funny guests who all look like they belong in that room, seated at that table.   As for you, it becomes quickly apparent you do not belong. You don’t deserve your seat at this soiree of talent. You are nowhere near as successful, talented, or brilliant as these people. You are, in fact, an imposter, and any minute now someone is going to turn to you and say ‘Excuse me? Aren’t you at the wrong dinner party?’  You shrink into yourself and withdraw, hoping nobody will notice your presence, and remain that way until the end of the evening. What’s more, your internal critic will not let you forget this feeling until the next party invitation, which you turn down, due to your unworthiness.   Welcome, my friend, to Imposter Syndrome.   What is Imposter Syndrome? My favourite imposter syndrome (sometimes known as ‘impostor phenomenon’ or ‘perceived fraudulence’) definition is: ‘Chronic feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and fraudulence despite objective success’. Or, in basic terms, feeling terrible about your own abilities despite there being actual, real evidence of your qualifications and talent.   Of course, it’s different for everyone. Feelings of self-doubt are entirely unique to the person experiencing them, and there is no universally accepted singular definition of what severe Imposter Syndrome is or feels like. But what it boils down to for me is a skewed opinion of my own worth - either in a personal sense, or a literary sense, or both (fun times) depending on my mood.   I regularly battle with feelings of worthlessness and of not ‘belonging at the table’, despite outward appearances of being confident, competent and, although I dislike this word for its vagueness, ‘successful’.   My particular brand of crippling Imposter Syndrome is extremely unpredictable and can be triggered by a number of things: award nomination announcements (why wasn’t I nominated? I must not be good enough), book deal announcements (why haven’t I scored a three-book deal with a Big Five publisher yet? I must not be marketable enough), collaboration announcements (why wasn’t I invited to contribute to that anthology? I must not be credible enough), to simply reading someone else’s work (dear God, why can’t I write this well? I may as well stop right now, I’m a hack).   It doesn’t help that these days, especially with the onus on authors and creatives to be able to effectively market themselves in such a competitive industry, this game can sometimes feel like a ‘popularity contest’ that you haven’t ranked highly in.   That sense of not belonging is compounded when we work in an industry where our work can be partly judged by our own likeability or public persona, which is, for the majority of us, an understandable source of Imposter Syndrome anxiety. Because often, when I think I Do Not Belong Here, I conflate it with People Do Not Like Me, which is Imposter Syndrome at its worst as it makes me question my absolute value as a person.  How Does Imposter Syndrome Affect Writers? While researching this article, I thought it would be an idea to ask some of my Twitter followers how Imposter Syndrome felt, and the answers were a little heart-breaking. You can read the responses here, and when you do, notice how many times the following words and phrases are used:  Fraud Fake Not legitimate Not earned Not deserved Luck Fooled everyone Fear Self-doubt Worth Get found out   It paints a sad picture of how a common syndrome can radically affect a creative career, in some cases stalling it before it has a chance to flourish.   What’s more, if you think the more ‘successful’, ‘legitimate’ and ‘proper’ creatives you look up to do not suffer from Imposter Syndrome, you’d be wrong. Oscar winning actor Tom Hanks once said “‘No matter what we\'ve done, there comes a point where you think, \'How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?\'\"   In a similar vein, Jodie Foster also said she thought winning her Oscar was a ‘fluke’. “I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take the Oscar back,” she continued.   If we return to my tweet above, seasoned horror stalwart Ramsey Campbell, who has been writing for over fifty years and won a metric ton of awards, stated “I often feel as if I’ve brought nothing to my field but imitations of better work,” which is mind-blowing to me, as someone who looks up to Campbell and his lifetime of achievements.    The point is, Imposter Syndrome doesn’t seem to discriminate when it comes to choosing a victim. It can hit at any point throughout your career and have a dramatic effect on your ability to write, focus, and feel motivated. Whilst it is perhaps unrealistic to expect to avoid Imposter Syndrome completely, there are ways to begin to overcome it or at least manage the effects if you are suffering. How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix, no Imposter Syndrome treatment out there in the shape of a pill or a jab. Overcoming Imposter Syndrome starts exactly where it lives…in the mind! Let’s beginning with learning to recognise it.   Recognition Much like the advice we gave for how to handle writer burnout, the first step to dealing with any problem is to identify what that problem is.  That means asking yourself a few questions:  Do you constantly compare yourself to others? Do you sometimes find it difficult to celebrate the success of your peers? Do you experience self-doubt more regularly than most? Do you self-sabotage? Do you have a poor understanding of your own skills and competence? Are you consistently hard on yourself? Do you attribute success to external things like luck, or being in the right place at the right time? Are you constantly afraid of letting people down or failing to live up to expectations? Do you set extremely high goals for yourself and get disappointed when you can’t meet them?  These could all be examples of Imposter Syndrome, which can be driven by a number of things: existing personality traits, a competitive environment, stress, and even your upbringing and childhood experiences. Recognising that you’re struggling and being able to put a name to your symptoms can be empowering and enable you to take the next step after recognition: tackling the problem.   But how do you treat Imposter Syndrome? Well, there are a number of things you can do.  Stop Thinking About it   Quite literally, stop.   I know, I know. If it was that easy, you wouldn’t be here, right? Telling someone to ‘stop thinking about it’ when they are in the middle of an anxiety attack or genuine crisis is not the most sympathetic thing a person can do and trust me - I’ve been on the receiving end of many well-meaning comments along those lines.   But bear with me, because in dark times when I question my place at The Table, I’ve found that the quickest and most successful way out of my funk is to literally stop thinking about it. Stop dead, switch that part of my brain right off. I’m aware that spiralling into self-doubt is not helpful, and while it is understandable and natural and not really something we invite or anticipate, I also know that thinking about my own inadequacies obsessively is a poor use of my time and limited energy. So, I try to stop. I try to identify when I’m trapped in a downward spiral.   There are a number of ways I do this, but most of them involve me physically changing my situation by going for a walk, going into another room, getting away from my desk and making a coffee, listening to music, taking a shower, sometimes even having a nap or putting a movie on to distract myself from the looming sense of worthlessness. Once I have broken the cognitive loop and given my brain a desperately needed break, I find it is easier to move onto other, healthier ways of thinking.   Self-Belief  This one involves you making a deliberate and mental shift in your thinking every time fraud syndrome strikes. I call it reframing, and it can be as simple as reversing the narrative when you catch yourself having thoughts of self-doubt, for example: instead of thinking ‘I don’t belong at this table,’ you deliberately decide to adjust your thinking to ‘I deserve my place at this table, because I have worked hard for it’. And just to be clear: we all deserve a place at the table, despite what you may hear, have been taught, or be led to believe. This article talks about how women and women of colour suffer more from Imposter Syndrome than other peers due to societal imbalances and prejudice and is an interesting (if somewhat depressing) read.   While positive thinking cannot, sadly, help with systemic discrimination in the workplace or within your chosen career, it can help lighten your mental burden a little if you are prone to being consistently hard on yourself. Even if you know, deep down, that you don’t believe the more positive statements you are forcing yourself to say, over time, continuously retraining your internal narrative can have a rather dramatic effect on your ability to shrug off Imposter Syndrome.   Instead of focussing on the things you can’t do, it forces you to recognise the things you can. Put simply: if you switch your focus actively from the negative to the positive, the chances are you’ll feel better in yourself and more confident in your own abilities as a result.  Recognise the Difference Between Being Humble and Self-Loathing  Us writers are a very self-aware bunch, but sadly many of us have grown up in a world where self-deprecation is more acceptable than tooting our own horn. This industry is especially harsh on anyone crowing too loudly. But there’s a fine line between being wry about yourself and continuously running yourself down. Indulging in some affirmative behaviour might not come naturally, and feels awkward at the best of times, but it has benefits.   Meditation and Mantras  Positive thinking is often the starting point in a healthier self-fulfilling cycle – but these aren’t easy to do alone so try a meditation app or looking up some positive/self-affirming mantras.  Likewise…  Establish Healthy Habits  If you are prone to anxiety-induced self-doubt, cutting back on stimulants (coffee, sugar, alcohol) and getting as much sleep and exercise in as you can, will calm the body…and the mind. Maybe combine yoga and running with a podcast on positivity or author success stories to inspire you (if they don’t make you feel worse)!  Track Your Successes  I know it’s weird, but I track everything. Every single thing. Pages read in Kindle Unlimited. Royalties earned. Copies sold. New followers on social media. Subscribers to my newsletter. Reviews on Goodreads or Amazon.   For some, this might be extreme and perhaps a tad pitiful, but for me, the metrics serve as reference points for when I’m wildly spiralling into the depths of despair. In particular, I like to make a point of looking at how far I’ve come since I began my journey as a writer. The benefit of statistics is that it is extremely easy to see at a glance how much progress you’ve made.   When my first book came out it sold tiny numbers of copies in its first few months, (although I still considered it amazing that anyone bought a copy at all). Over the years the book has performed steadily, until the number of copies sold tipped over into the thousands. This was a benchmark that was hard for my brain to argue with - looking at demonstrable growth helped with my feelings of inadequacy.   In times of severe self-doubt, focusing on measurables rather than the sensation of being under qualified or fraudulent made a big difference. Also: spreadsheets and graphs are amazing confidence boosters and I’ll die on that small, unimpressive hill. Build a Network of Other Creatives  This is probably the most important one for me. Surrounding yourself with supportive creatives who understand what Imposter Syndrome feels like and can not only commiserate, but also bash you around the head affectionately with a pillow and tell you how silly you are being, is everything.   You are more likely to be understood by another person within your industry than by other friends and relatives, who perhaps won’t understand as much about the stresses and pressures of a creative career as you would like them to.   There’s a wonderful community of folk out there who are more than happy to hold you up when you’re feeling down, and I have become a lot less shy about asking my peers for support with severe imposter syndrome, which they are happy to give. Keep Writing  It’s vital, when you are stuck on a project that is making you think negatively about yourself, to keep writing. Some find that having more than one project on the go at once helps as you always have something left to pin your hopes on.  You may also wish to get other authors and reviewers whom you trust to beta-read your latest works (if and when they have time). It certainly helps me with self-doubt, because their fair, balanced feedback not only motivates me, but also helps to improve my writing - which is a win-win.   Take Your Seat at the Table Hopefully, knowing you’re not alone when it comes to the struggles of Imposter Syndrome is helpful, as is the knowledge that it’s an unfortunate but natural part of a demanding writing career full of highs and lows, stresses and uncertainties.   Being able to cognitively drag your brain away from negative thoughts and learning to lean on like-minded people, as well as employ positive self-talk and thinking wherever possible, should help you through the darkest days and hopefully, diminish the symptoms a little.   And remember: the feelings of worthlessness do not tally up with the actual evidence of your abilities. That nasty voice in your head can’t be trusted. So the best thing to do is ignore it and keep writing. You’ve earned your spot at the table - it’s time for you to pull up a chair and get comfortable.   Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Writing And Burnout

If you’re here, you’re probably burned out. You should be writing, but your desire to do so has evaporated. I\'ve been there. It is exhausting and frustrating in equal parts. The act of writing no longer feels like the transformative, relaxing or impassioned experience it usually is. It has become a chore. Your mind feels fuzzy and unfocussed, engulfed by a thick fog. The thought of returning to your work in progress only to struggle with it makes you tired, rather than excited. In fact, you’d rather do anything other than write. These are the signs of writing burnout, and it’s fair to say that at some point in a person’s creative career, we all experience it. In these troubled times of pandemic-related anxiety and stress, it is perhaps no surprise that burnout is more prevalent than ever. The good news is that overcoming creative burnout is entirely possible. In this guide, we examine what writer burnout means, offer tips on how to avoid burnout as a writer, and hopefully, help you rediscover the joy of writing if you’re struggling with it.    What Is Writer’s Burnout? Writer’s burnout is a state of exhaustion that makes you unwilling and unable to do what you love best and can lead to you questioning your entire identity as a creative. This is not the same as writer’s block, which is characterised as an inability to write. Writer or creative burnout is more extreme, and manifests as a writer being physically, mentally and emotionally incapable of performing the most basic of tasks or assignments. I spent much of 2020 in that state, missing several key deadlines as a result. Thankfully, my publishers were understanding and patient, but the inability to do what I have always loved to even a basic degree was heart-breaking. There are many contributors to burnout: stress, fatigue, a pervasive culture of ‘hustle’, and the pressures that come with being self-employed or freelance to name a few. Writers often keep irregular hours, are beholden to tight (sometimes self-imposed) deadlines, and have to contend with a string of other considerations like imposter syndrome, marginalisation, low income, and a highly competitive industry. Writing can also be a lonely business, with a distinct lack of support and opportunities to socialise. Long hours bound to the desk juggling deadlines means you’re left with little time to indulge in healthy, non-work based hobbies, exercise, or other pursuits. All these things combined can sometimes be overwhelming. Signs Of Writing Burnout Recognising writer\'s burnout can be key to making sure you overcome it in the future. If you’re still unsure, ask yourself the following questions: Are you constantly exhausted?Are you struggling with motivation?Is your mindset increasingly negative, or are you often in a bad mood?Are you having a hard time remembering things?Do you feel anxious and overwhelmed?Has your output slowed down, and the quality of your work suffered? Do you feel rundown and in a general state of poor health?Has writing lost all its joy for you?Are you using alcohol, drugs or other stimulants as a crutch?Do you sleep badly?Are you becoming more insular and retreating from the world at large? If the answer is yes to several or all of these, then my advice is simple: stop for a moment. Get used to the idea that you are going through something serious and start taking care of yourself a little. Admitting to and accepting that you are dealing with burnout is the first step towards improving your situation.  How To Avoid Burnout As A Writer ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is the foundation of much in modern healthcare, and it applies to writer’s burnout too. There are several things you can do to pre-emptively stave off burnout: Set Firm Boundaries Boundaries are a formidable tool in any writer’s toolbox. Having a clear idea of your preferred daily working hours, routine, how you want to be communicated with, the number of deadlines and projects you are comfortable with, and who you want to work with is a great way of making sure you don\'t get overwhelmed. Write your boundaries down and stick to them. It will make life much simpler, clearer and easier to navigate.  Be Actively Nice To Yourself Be your own cheerleader and shout about your achievements and successes as many times as you feel you need to. Doing so can be an affirmative process that actively makes you feel better about yourself and your abilities, and this can go a long way towards fighting off burnout before it takes too firm a hold on you.  Keep It Simple And Structured Decluttering your workspace can help create a calmer mindset. Then do the same with your working day. Divide your day into chunks and figure out how you want to use that time. If writing is too difficult, schedule in some admin, or perhaps do some valuable writer research. Answer a few emails, especially if your inbox is filling up. Grab a notebook and do some gentle planning, or jot down ideas. Keep it simple and try to stick to some sort of structure. You’ll still be working and moving forward, even if you aren’t writing. Most importantly, make sure you factor in lots of breaks. A coffee break, lunch, a walk around the block, podcast time while you do the dishes or maybe even calling a friend for half an hour. Break times are important for creative energy. It can be difficult to remember that when all we see is a looming deadline.  Look After Yourself It’s important to look after your physical health and mental wellbeing. A healthier body can mean a healthier mind, and taking care of both is extremely important, especially in today’s world. While it’s certainly beneficial to exercise and get fresh air wherever possible, that isn’t always an option for creatives with mobility issues or other limiting factors, but you can take care of yourself in other ways. Getting enough sleep can make a huge difference. So can carving out time to spend with friends or an inner circle of peers that you trust, like your local writer’s group. Meditation might be beneficial, as is self-soothing: a weighted blanket, a hot bath, time spent with a novel, music, a jigsaw, your kid’s Lego, a freshly cooked, healthy meal, or a special cup of coffee. Simple, small things can make a big difference when you’re burned out.  Take It Easy On Yourself ‘You shouldn\'t write if you can\'t write’, Ernest Hemingway once said, and he was absolutely right. One of the worst ways to recover from writing burnout is by ‘writing through’ it. Slogging ahead whilst battling extreme mental and physical fatigue will only exacerbate the symptoms of burnout. The quickest and best way to tackle your situation is by taking control of your work schedule, as stated above, and, most importantly, allowing yourself to rest. If you can, reassess your deadlines and ask for more time where needed, or, if they are self-imposed deadlines, adjust them to accommodate your current situation. Give yourself some slack when it comes to your own expectations of what you can achieve. If stopping work entirely for a while is not an option for you, then get used to the idea of working at a slower pace until you feel better. Introducing breaks in your working day will also help, especially if they involve time away from a screen, social media, email, and anything else likely to make you feel overwhelmed. Ways To Recover From Writing Burnout If you are currently in the grip of burnout, try not to worry too much. That’s easier said than done, I know, but there are ways to facilitate your own recovery. The most important thing you can do is to prioritise yourself. But what does that look like? Plenty Of Rest And Sleep At the risk of sounding like your favourite aunt, sleep is important. Getting adequate rest on a regular basis can vastly improve both mood and overall health, reduce stress and clear away that brain fog. Frustratingly, burnout and stress can often impact sleep, and ‘coronasomnia’ is also an emerging issue thanks to disrupted routines and prolonged uncertainty. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy could help introduce a better bedtime routine and habits. Having a device-free bedroom could also help, with working in bed on your laptop a big no-no. There are also a range of apps that play white noise, soothing music, or read you a bedtime story. Even if you’re not sleeping, being in a quiet, calm bedroom or sleeping space can help put your body to rest and kickstart the restoration process a little. Explore Other Creative Outlets And Experiences For many writers, their hobby has suddenly become their career. This can make it difficult to find other ways to relax. Art, music, gaming, cooking, crafting or spending time in nature could help. It’s about finding another outlet to express your creativity that isn’t governed by deadlines, pay rates or client expectations. Getting away from your desk, home or studio for a while is also beneficial, as is trying something completely new like life-drawing, pottery, stamp collecting, pony trekking, you name it - anything that intrigues you and gives you the chance to meet new people and gather a different perspective on life. Relax And Socialise Relaxation time allows you to put your needs front and centre for a concerted period. Whether it’s a hot bath, a gentle walk, yoga, meditation or a massage, it’s important to allow your body and mind to relax as much as possible. Downtime also doesn’t have to be all about low lights, baths and herbal tea, however. It can involve hanging out with close friends and letting your hair down during games night, a sports event, a night out at the pub or dancing at a gig. If you’re having fun and socialising, you’re restoring. Just be careful you don’t push it too far and burn the already depleted candle at both ends. Deal With Mundane Chores Sometimes I deal with burnout by diving into household chores. When I am incapable of doing much that requires real brainpower, I can cope with menial, practical tasks. I often tee up my favourite true crime podcasts and dive into cleaning, tidying, gardening, or DIY tasks I’ve been putting off. It creates a sense of momentum that helps me feel less hopeless about my situation. Again, if you are someone with mobility issues some of these things might not be accessible, but you could find that dealing with household admin, finances, or general day to day things you have been putting off equally as helpful. Change Your Writing Location A change can be as good as a rest, and this is especially true if you work from home. The pandemic made getting out and about extremely difficult, and a lack of variety in setting can compound burnout. I rearranged my office so that my desk was closer to a window and added some plants to my workspace, which helped a little. I also took paperwork I needed to do into the garden during good weather, and once restrictions lifted and it was safe to do so, I took my laptop back to my favourite cafe, which helped enormously. A change of scene can work wonders. Identify Sources Of Stress In a similar vein to setting boundaries and structuring your working day, identifying the exact stressors in your life can be enormously helpful. Too many deadlines? Prioritise or cut them down. A particular person bothering you? Limit your interaction with them. Writing project stalling close to deadline? Consider asking a peer to beta-read or give constructive feedback to help kickstart you again. Tackling a series of issues methodically can give you great peace of mind and a better sense of control. Go On Holiday Again, this is not always possible for everyone, but if you do have the means, a vacation is a fantastic way to recharge your depleted creative batteries. But when we say vacation, we mean it - leave the laptop at home, ignore your emails and try to disengage completely. A notebook might be good for capturing any ideas you have whilst relaxing on a sun lounger - but keep it brief and simple. No new novel attempts! From Burnout To Churn Out Finding yourself in a position of creative burnout is nothing to be ashamed of - it is a natural by-product of many individual factors and stressors working against you. There are measures you can take to make sure it doesn\'t happen again: implementing more structure, setting firmer boundaries and being kind to your body and mind key among them. For those in the thick of writer burnout, you can navigate your way out by identifying the symptoms, making a real effort to rest and be good to yourself, and slowing down your expectations when it comes to output for a while. You aren’t alone in feeling this way, and in this line of work you’ll probably encounter writer’s burnout more than once, but hopefully, by following these tips you’ll soon be going from burnout to ‘churn out’ in no time.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Dealing With Writer’s Block

Guest author and blogger Jane Struthers is the author of over twenty non-fiction books on a range of subjects, including Red Sky at Night: The Book of Lost Countryside Wisdom and Beside the Seaside: A Celebration of the Place We Like To Be. She lives in a rural corner of East Sussex. You know how it is. You’ve spent ages thinking about what you’re going to write, anticipating it, feeling frustrated because other things are getting in the way of it. Finally, you clear a couple of hours from your busy schedule, switch on your computer or get out your pen and paper and...c nothing. The words won’t come, or they seem laughably trite or clichéd or flaccid. You’re gripped by the urgent need to wash the kitchen floor, track down a sock that’s been missing for the past five years or surf a favourite website. Hey, maybe you could call that research. Or maybe you could call it procrastination. Or writer’s block. It’s an insidious business because the more you allow it to happen, the more often it will happen. So how do you stop it? Here are some of my favorite tips. 9 Tips To Conquer Writers’ Block 1) Sit Down and Show Up As Mark Twain so famously said (and as other writers have echoed since), writing is all about application: the application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Don’t give in to those internal urgings to tidy up, sow some lettuce seeds or do anything else that will curtail the agony of sitting there and not writing. You’ll never make any progress if you don’t get those words down. Sit it out! 2) Cut Out the Internet If you find that you’ve spent two hours at your desk but most of that time has involved writing emails or surfing the web, then the only answer is to switch off your Internet connection at its source before you start work. If you don’t, you’ll be drawn to the icon of your chosen browser sooner or later. Don’t give yourself that temptation. 3) Write Something Else Instead If the words really won’t come, write something else instead. Write about how you’re feeling. Write a letter to your dog. It doesn’t really matter what you write, as long as you write something. (But don’t write anything self-defeating, such as telling yourself how pathetic you are. That won’t help.) Write for ten minutes and stop. Switch to your current project and start writing that. Don’t think about it. Just do it. (Julia Cameron created a whole creative practice built on this called \"Morning Pages\" and it can work really well even beyond breaking writers\' block.) 4) Embrace the Mess Writing is an untidy business, but published books rarely reflect that. If they’ve been edited and produced in a professional manner, the prose is seamless. It flows in a way that may make you tear your hair on a bad day. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by this. The raw manuscript of your favourite novel was probably just as messy as yours is right now. That’s OK. No one is going to see it. You aren’t completing an exam paper. 5) It Doesn\'t Have to Be Perfect If you want every sentence to be perfect as soon as you’ve written it, or you fret that your grasp of apostrophes isn’t all it could be, you will probably agonize over every word so much that the flow will soon dry up. Right now, you need to get the words down. The editing stage can come later. And if there really is room for improvement, maybe you could start teaching yourself grammar, spelling and syntax in your spare time. 6) Take Notes for Later If you aren’t happy about a word or a sentence when you write it, and you keep coming back to it instead of moving ahead, highlight it so you can come back to it later and keep the flow going in the meantime. If you use Microsoft Word, get into the habit of using Track Changes. This allows you to insert a comment into your text at the relevant point, so you can flag whatever is necessary. Track Changes also remembers your editing in case you have second thoughts about it and want to revert to your original text. 7) Set an Achievable Goal If you’ve only got half an hour of writing time, there’s no point in telling yourself you’re going to write 1000 words. It’s unlikely to happen, which will be discouraging. If you are really struggling, aim to write a single paragraph. Then, if you’ve got time, write the next one. 8) Give Yourself a Stopping Point Some writers like to stop work when they reach the end of a chapter. Others always stop mid-chapter or even mid-sentence, so they can plunge straight back into what they were writing because they’re excited about what happens next. Figure out where it feels good to stop, when you know that you\'ll have something exciting to come back to -- because you\'ll be setting yourself up for success tomorrow. 9) Write at the Same Time Ideally, try to write at the same time each day. This makes it part of your daily routine, so it becomes a habit. If you show up every day for the muse, the muse is more likely to show up for you. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 
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