Writing Advice

Everyone Suffers from Impostor Syndrome — Here’s How to Handle It

29 September 2016

From Harvard Business Review:

One of the greatest barriers to moving outside your comfort zone is the fear that you’re a poser, that you’re not worthy, that you couldn’t possibly be qualified to do whatever you’re aiming to do. It’s a fear that strikes many of us: impostor syndrome.

I know I’ve certainly had those thoughts while publishing pieces of writing, whether it’s blogs or books. I’ve had them while teaching my first university classes and giving speeches to corporate audiences. I appear confident on the outside but feel deeply insecure on the inside, wondering who I am to be stepping up to this stage. What could I possibly have to say that anyone would want to hear?

. . . .

What can you do to overcome these feelings of inadequacy that so many of us experience?

A first tip is something that Portman highlights in her Harvard address, which I’ve found quite helpful: Recognize the benefits of being a novice. You might not realize it, but there are great benefits to being new in your field. When you are not steeped in the conventional wisdom of a given profession, you can ask questions that haven’t been asked before or approach problems in ways others haven’t thought of.

. . . .

A second tip for combatting impostor syndrome is to focus more on what you’re learning than on how you’re performing. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, the feelings that impostor syndrome leaves you with are ones we might actually be able to control. With a performance mindset, which people suffering from impostor syndrome often have, you tend to see your feelings of inadequacy or the mistakes you make as evidence of your underlying limitations. This mindset only fuels the concerns you have about being unfit for your job. But there’s something you can work to cultivate instead: a learning mindset. From this perspective, your limitations are experienced quite differently. Your mistakes are seen as an inevitable part of the learning process rather than as more evidence of your underlying failings.

Link to the rest at Harvard Business Review

How Our Internal Critics Enslave Us

26 September 2016

From Brain Pickings:

I have thought and continued to think a great deal about the relationship between critical thinking and cynicism — what is the tipping point past which critical thinking, that centerpiece of reason so vital to human progress and intellectual life, stops mobilizing our constructive impulses and topples over into the destructiveness of impotent complaint and embittered resignation, begetting cynicism?

. . . .

I found myself contemplating anew this fine but firm line between critical thinking and cynical complaint. To cross it is to exile ourselves from the land of active reason and enter a limbo of resigned inaction.

But cross it we do, perhaps nowhere more readily than in our capacity for merciless self-criticism. We tend to go far beyond the self-corrective lucidity necessary for improving our shortcomings, instead berating and belittling ourselves for our foibles with a special kind of masochism.

. . . .

[Author Adam] Phillips — who has written with beguiling nuance about such variousness of our psychic experience as the importance of “fertile solitude,” the value of missing out, and the rewards of being out of balance — examines how “our virulent, predatory self-criticism [has] become one of our greatest pleasures,” reaching across the space-time of culture to both revolt against and pay homage to Susan Sontag’s masterwork Against Interpretation. He writes:

In broaching the possibility of being, in some way, against self-criticism, we have to imagine a world in which celebration is less suspect than criticism; in which the alternatives of celebration and criticism are seen as a determined narrowing of the repertoire; and in which we praise whatever we can.

Our masochistic impulse for self-criticism, he argues, arises from the fact that ambivalence is the basic condition of our lives. In a passage that builds on his memorable prior reflections on the paradox of why frustration is necessary for satisfaction in romance, Phillips considers Freud’s ideological legacy:

In Freud’s vision of things we are, above all, ambivalent animals: wherever we hate, we love; wherever we love, we hate. If someone can satisfy us, they can also frustrate us; and if someone can frustrate us, we always believe that they can satisfy us. We criticize when we are frustrated — or when we are trying to describe our frustration, however obliquely — and praise when we are more satisfied, and vice versa. Ambivalence does not, in the Freudian story, mean mixed feelings, it means opposing feelings.


Love and hate — a too simple, or too familiar, vocabulary, and so never quite the right names for what we might want to say — are the common source, the elemental feelings with which we apprehend the world; and they are interdependent in the sense that you can’t have one without the other, and that they mutually inform each other. The way we hate people depends on the way we love them, and vice versa. And given that these contradictory feelings are our ‘common source’ they enter into everything we do. They are the medium in which we do everything. We are ambivalent, in Freud’s view, about anything and everything that matters to us; indeed, ambivalence is the way we recognize that someone or something has become significant to us… Where there is devotion there is always protest… where there is trust there is suspicion.


We may not be able to imagine a life in which we don’t spend a large amount of our time criticizing ourselves and others; but we should keep in mind the self-love that is always in play.

But we have become so indoctrinated in this conscience of self-criticism, both collectively and individually, that we’ve grown reflexively suspicious of that alternative possibility.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings

10 things I learned rewriting a 20-year old manuscript

26 September 2016

From author Elizabeth Andre via Women and Words:

More than 20 years ago, I wrote a 65,000 word novel that I was convinced would make me the sweet young darling of literary circles. It didn’t happen. That manuscript was rejected by every English language publisher in the world. The manuscript was then lost to time until I reconnected with an old friend on Facebook. He revealed that he had the manuscript and was willing to give me a copy. I decided to rewrite it, andTested: Sex, love, and friendship in the shadow of HIV will be published October 7.

I learned a several valuable lessons in the rewriting process:

1: If a detail doesn’t move the plot or develop a character, leave it out, no matter how beautiful and poignant it is.

My 65,000 word manuscript was filled with this most common of rookie writing mistakes. Tested is a story of four 20-something friends in 1993 who spend the day getting an HIV test while contemplating the various risks they have taken that may affect the result. As well written as various sections were, nobody cares about my endless descriptions of high school homophobic bullying, the Chicago public transit system, Ethiopian restaurants or newspaper vendors. I had to kill my darlings, as much as it pained me, but I turned my 65,000 word flabby manuscript into a 23,000 word lean piece of fiction that says what it needs to and does it well.

. . . .

5: My work still mattered even though it wasn’t published.

I’m from a family of writers and grew up with the idea that you write something and then you publish it. If you don’t publish it, what’s the point? My old friend kept that manuscript all these years because a character was based on him. That manuscript meant something to him, and that is enough.

6: It’s a good thing it wasn’t published.

Really, it’s a much better book now. If it had been published in 1993, I would probably be apologizing for it today.

Link to the rest at Women and Words

Here’s a link to Elizabeth Andre’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

These 6 Words Helped Me Overcome My Fear of Failure

23 September 2016

From Medium:


My cursor pulsed on the blank page.

I wrote sentence and then deleted every word. I stood up 6 times for coffee in 2 hours. Surprisingly, my page would still be blank when I returned.

I wanted to start a blog. I wanted to start a business. I wanted to change the world.

But all those things invite ridicule. I had a fear of being ridiculed.

So I sat safely in the corner, dumping ideas into my hard drive where they collected dust.

One day, a friend of mine told me something which changed my perspective forever. He said this:

“Nobody cares what you are doing.”

Far from being depressing, this was the most liberating thing I ever discovered.

Obscurity is not a problem. It’s an opportunity. It allows you to lay the first brick in your idea without a judging panel. Then, you might find the confidence to lay another. And then another. Safe in your shroud of being a nobody, you have full reign to take whatever type of material you like and build whatever type of legacy you want.

Link to the rest at Medium

The Mighty Ellipsis

6 September 2016

From Medium:

When I tell people that the ellipsis (…) is the most amazing character ever, most people look at me like I’m crazy. Before you label me a lunatic, let me try to explain.

For decades, interface designers have been using the ellipsis to communicate all sorts of important details to users. As you’ll soon see, these 3 dots can pack quite a lot of meaning in just a little space.

. . . .

1. Ellipsis = “There’s a follow-up decision”

The first time I remember seeing an ellipsis in an interface was on Windows 3.1. It was my first computer. Ellipses showed up on a few buttons and menu options, and it meant there was a follow-up decision I needed to make after clicking it.


Ellipses were helpful here because it assured me the action wouldn’t happen immediately. I could start the action but then cancel it if I changed my mind.

This ellipsis pattern still exists on Windows and Mac today, but it’s used far less nowadays.

. . . .

4. Ellipsis = “Wait a few seconds”

Another common use for ellipses is to show that an action is in progress. “Loading…” “Connecting…” “Uploading…” You’ve probably seen this pattern hundreds of times.


Now imagine what would happen if we didn’t use an ellipsis here. Because we’re so used to seeing an ellipsis for ongoing actions, we might think something’s wrong when we don’t see an ellipsis.


Doesn’t it seem like something’s not right here? At least to my eyes, using an ellipsis reassures me that something is happening in the background. The lack of an ellipsis makes me think something is stuck.

Many design guidelines recommend using an animation if the user needs to wait. But as long as the user only needs to wait a few seconds, I think an ellipsis can be another helpful indicator that the system is doing its thing.

Somehow, using 3 dots at the end of a word assures me that an action is in progress — even though they’re just 3 static dots. Isn’t that amazing?

Link to the rest at Medium

Learn from the Pros

5 September 2016

From The Writing Cooperative:

Medium is truly a godsend — especially for those who just started writing on Medium to share snippets of their lives, build their business, or simply inspire others to change. What’s even more fascinating about Medium is that anyonecan bring their ideas and life stories and break into the wall of fame (aka. Top Stories).

You don’t need 10,000k followers, or 100. You don’t need to be in a publication. You don’t even need an English major or write a best-selling novel to be a big star here.

If you want your name embedded across the entire Medium community and people to recognize your work, pocket these tips I’ve taken from some of the most inspiring writers on Medium. They’re tips I personally believe that can completely transform your writing and make you the writer you’ve always wanted to be.

. . . .

It has always been stressful for me to release my thoughts on screen, because I wanted my 1st draft to be perfect. But then I realized, there’s no such thing as the perfect draft, just wasted time. It’s more important to get your main message out than edit your grammatical/spelling mistakes and fix the flow.

. . . .

 Your headline and opening image are the only things people have to judge your story on. Before they can even read your story’s first paragraph, they must answer a question. It’s the same question that we all ask ourselves every day: is this going to be worth my time?

. . . .

You can pour 100 hours of your life crafting your best masterpiece, but if your headline and image echoes mediocre, no one’s going to click your story. There are too many boring headlines and generic images. So change your game — tweak your headline until you believe it sounds mind-blowing. Get your own photographer to contribute their high-res images for your stories. First impression means everything when it comes to broadcasting your story. Take some time to do this right.

. . . .

 Now it’s time to write. Turn off the television, disconnect from the internet, and take away all distractions. Listen to music if it helps you concentrate, but not if it’s distracting (I have a special playlist of wordless music I like to write to). My most productive writing sessions took place on long flights. There’s a reason for that. (Internet-enabled airplanes will ruin me.)

Link to the rest at The Writing Cooperative

For those who are not familiar with Medium, here are today’s editor’s picks.


Better To Reign In Hell: Literature’s Unpunished Villains

28 August 2016

From National Public Radio:

Snidely Whiplash may have been famous for yelling, “Curses, foiled again!” And those “meddling kids” have spoiled many a villainous plot.

And if we’re going to talk about villains, let’s talk about the biggest of the Big Bads, the Grand-daddy of Ghouls, the Imperator of Iniquity — Satan himself. Specifically, the version of Satan set down by John Milton in Paradise Lost.

Like a lot of kids, I first encountered Milton’s Satan in high school English class. And luckily, my tenth grade English teacher Rhoda Trooboff still lives here in Washington, D.C., and is more than willing to talk Milton.

Satan doesn’t just get away with it, she says, “he brings his buddies into it. And together they form a community that sounds as they describe it, really exciting. I think that model of these really well-written villains are so compelling to the reader that they’re, I hate to say it, more interesting than the good guys.”

Sure, he’s been cast out of Heaven, but Satan pretty much has it made in Hell.

. . . .

[T]he more reading I did for this story, the more I noticed another kind of unpunished villain … people like O’Brien, the terrifyingly calm Inner Party member in George Orwell’s 1984.

“If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever,” O’Brien says, as he tortures protagonist Winston Smith into betraying his lover Julia.

Like death and taxes, O’Brien is inescapable. And like many successful villains, he truly believes in his cause. “Those are the ones that tend to get away with it, because they don’t get distracted,” says fantasy author Victoria Schwab.

. . . .

“They have their own ethics, they have their own system, they have their own code that they’re following. So even if it’s not our code, the fact that they do have a code, that they’re not anarchic, is something that readers and viewers find really appealing.”

Link to the rest at NPR

How to design words

27 August 2016

From Medium:

Technically speaking, I’m a writer. I get paid to write words. But here’s something most people don’t know about me: I hate to read.

Now don’t get me wrong—I still read quite a bit. I wade my way through books and blogs, news feeds and magazines. But when writers get wordy, my eyes get glossy. My brain gets bored.

As a kid, I always thought my aversion to reading was a weakness. It wasn’t until years later that I realized this weakness helped me become a better writer.

You see, I mostly write interface text for apps and websites. It’s a style of writing where brevity beats brilliance, and every character counts. Writing interface text is actually a lot like design—designing words for people who hate to read.

. . . .

 Numerous studies have shown how people don’t read on the web. The same goes for apps, games, or any other screens you interact with. Most people just scan around, picking up words here and there.

. . . .

Are people lazy? Careless? Or do they just hate to read? Whatever theory you go with, the results are always the same. People don’t read most of your interface—no matter how great your words are.

Because of that, you shouldn’t just write words and paste them into your design. As you write your words, you might find that your design needs to change. If you can’t explain an action in a few words, it’s a sign that your design is probably too complex.

To put it another way: You shouldn’t design with lorem ipsum. You should design with words.

. . . .

1. Trim it down

The most important thing you can do to help people read is to shorten your text. After writing your first draft, trim it down, again and again. Cut out details, use simpler words, and just get to the point. Be ruthless.

. . . .

3. Make lists

When viewing webpages, our eyes tend to scan up and down. Because of this, lists are usually easier to read than paragraphs.

If you find yourself using words like “and” or “also” multiple times throughout a paragraph, try rewriting that paragraph as a list.

. . . .

6. The slow reveal

When you’re trying to educate users how to do something, it’s tempting to just throw all that info into a single screen and hope they’ll get it. But chances are, if your text is longer than a couple of lines, many people won’t read it. So what do you do?

Sometimes you can show the user a little bit of info at a time. In textbook-speak, this is called progressive disclosure, but I like to call it the slow reveal. (Sounds more dramatic, doesn’t it?) Try breaking up your info into small chunks and presenting it step-by-step.

Link to the rest at Medium

Creating Incredible Dialogue

25 August 2016

From FastCoCreate:

Look on the coffee-stained, Post-it strewn desk of most aspiring screenwriters and you’re bound to find the same mighty tome. Robert McKee’s Story has been hailed like ancient scrolls handed down unto the mountain. It is the alpha and omega of three-act structure; the (type)face that launched 1,000 laptops into San Fernando Valley coffee shops. McKee’s Academy Award-winning acolytes are populous enough to fill a modest-sized concert venue.

. . . .

Although he got about halfway through writing Character, and still plans on finishing it soon, the author’s latest work is Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action For The Page, Stage, and Screen. What separates this book from its predecessor beyond the tighter focus, however, is the range of media McKee covers in it. The don dada of screenwriting gurus is now doling out advice for playwrights, novelists, and TV writers as well—an entire spectrum of scribes—and teaching them all the ins and outs of verbal sparring.

. . . .


“There’s always an element of natural talent and some people have it more than others, but the ability to write great dialogue depends on the genre and medium you’re writing in,” McKee says. “If you’re writing for the screen especially, having a great poetic touch helps. If you’re writing a novel, you can write without any explicit quotable dialogue. The whole thing could be implicit. But if you’re writing for the screen, it’s amazing how far you can get with a mastery of technique. When people say that they don’t have a natural instinct for dialogue, it’s often not a reality—it’s just a doubt.”

. . . .


“Bad writing can be more helpful to read than good writing,” McKee says. “Because the first draft of anything you write is not going to be your best work. So you have to figure out how to rewrite yourself to make it better. One of the best ways I know to rewrite yourself is to get bad writing and rewrite it. Rewriting other writers and making their scenes better teaches you the techniques of what you need to do with your own writing to make it the best it can be. So you listen and you watch onscreen and then when you see something that’s either particularly bad or particularly good, stop and reread it. Find out why you responded to it. In the book, I do a scene from Gladiator, which is a superb example of on-the-nose writing—subtext into the text—and it is just amazing. You don’t have to look far, though, for examples.”

. . . .


“The character’s first actor is the writer,” McKee says. “You’ve got to be able to put yourself in the mind of the character you’re creating, and imagine yourself in that situation as if you were the character yourself. So you’re writing inside out. The starting point of dialogue is desire, what does my character want overall and what does this character want in this scene, and given that, what would my character do to take a step toward their desire at that specific moment? What they would do is use language to cause a reaction in another character, or the world around them. And they would realize that they cannot just say out loud ‘I want you to stop doing this, and do that instead.’ They’re not going to say exactly what they’re thinking and feeling. They’re going to say something that will be effective, they feel, in persuading somebody to change their behavior. People never say out loud exactly what they think and feel. There’s always a subtext.”

“The hallmark of beautiful dialogue is transparency, you see characters saying whatever they say, and you go right through those words to what they’re thinking and feeling, even down to the subconscious level,” McKee says.

Link to the rest at FastCoCreate

The Dos and Don’ts of Writing About the Disabled

23 August 2016

From Literary Hub:

Recently I have read several articles about disabled people by non-disabled writers. The authors have clearly projected their own fears and prejudices onto the subject of their piece, and spoken for them from that place. If I could say one thing to those authors it would be this: Do not assume that empathy equals experience. You might think you know what it’s like, but you don’t.

For example, if you think that using a wheelchair would make you feel trapped, isolated, broken, and shunned, you might assume a wheelchair user regards themselves as trapped, isolated, broken, and shunned. But they might not. For some of us, a wheelchair represents freedom, the ability to get out and about autonomously; it is a device that makes more possible a life full of friends and work and opportunity—on our own terms.

In other words, one’s empathy can be unreliable. I offer these guidelines to help you find your way beyond it. They are general guidelines for non-disabled writers who may have occasion to write about a disabled person or people. They are (mostly) formulated to apply to all genres and categories of writer, for example, journalists, novelists, bloggers, critics, poets, essayists, academics, and dramatists.

No one can speak for a group unless they have been explicitly elected to do so. I do not pretend to speak for all disabled writers; do not assume all disabled people feel and think the same on this subject.

. . . .

Never equate physical, psychological, or intellectual impairment with loss of personhood. People are people. Period.

Never speak for a disabled person unless you have explicit permission to do so—and then only use direct quotes.

Never assume you know what a disabled person thinks, feels, or wants. Empathy is not experience. There is no substitute for listening.

Never project your experience—your fear, discomfort, or unhappiness—onto us. Your experience is not ours. We might not be afraid, uncomfortable, or unhappy.

Never present your assumptions, projections, or guesses as fact.

Never use disability as “narrative prosthesis.” That is, don’t use a crip as a prop, or an impairment as a signifier of or metaphor for anything (especially evil, degeneracy, or corruption). Do not magically eliminate or fix the disabled person for narrative convenience.

. . . .

Always, before you publish, ask the opinion of readers with the disability you portray. Listen to what they say; believe their experience.

Always, if you are writing fiction (or lyric, or drama), be clear in your bio that you are not disabled; that you are writing from a center you imagine, not one you experience.

Always, if you are writing non-fiction, write from the perspective of a non-disabled person. Make sure you are clear that the piece is about you and your feelings/experience/opinion as a non-disabled person. A serious profile of, say, a disabled artist might be better being written by a disabled writer.

Always, if you draw an analogy between some aspect of your experience as a non-disabled person and the experience of a disabled person, make it clear you are guessing. Bear in mind you could be mistaken.

Always, if you are told by a disabled person that what you’ve written is wrong—even if you don’t understand what the problem is, exactly; even if you meant well and feel hurt by the response—be prepared to accept their criticism. Be prepared to apologize. Learn from your mistake.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

PG is working on a list of dos and don’ts for those who write about handsome, intelligent and charming males of a certain age.

He regretfully announces that he must wait for Mrs. PG’s list relating to beautiful, intelligent and charming females of a certain age before he can write about her again.


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