I believe in Karma. If the good is sown, the good is collected. When positive things are made, that returns well.
Are you an active writer on Medium or elsewhere?
If so, when did you last check your stats for votes, reads, comments or earnings? I guess that was today, maybe more than once already because we all like to see how we’re doing by whatever metric we prefer.
I have another question. Have you read anything lately? Did you clap, vote, comment, review, or buy?
And if not, why not?
You’re expecting to get something you didn’t give. Karma says what goes around, comes around. Karma says you get what you give.
The Silent Majority
Most people consume without creating, and they consume without responding. Around 5–10% of buyers leave reviews on Amazon overall. Even the most popular articles on Medium or Quora have a tiny percentage of comments compared to claps, and claps compared to reads.
Consider this article, which gained almost 21,000 claps in thirteen days but just 79 comments.
Since each reader can give from zero to a maximum of fifty claps, we can infer that at least 420 people read this piece, but the true figure is likely to be many more.
As good as it feels to be read, it feels great to get applause. And comments? Well, a thoughtful comment is the sweetest nectar of all. It can give validation and the dopamine hit we all crave, but it can do something even more valuable. It can start a conversation. And conversations lead to relationships.
So if there are all these positive outcomes on offer, why don’t writers engage?
Paved With Good Intentions
Excuses are lies wrapped up in reasons.
There are reasons why you haven’t tended to your writer karma. Few of them stand up to closer scrutiny.
I don’t have time to read. Stephen King said if you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have time and the tools to write. A good writer, one who aspires to improve, must also read widely. It takes just a few minutes to read an article on Quora or Medium, or look at your favourite writer’s website. Step away from mindless scrolling and put that time to better use.
I don’t have time to respond.
Really? It takes seconds to vote or clap. Even a brief message can make someone’s day. It would make yours, wouldn’t it?
I can’t afford to buy a book.
Buying a book new at full price is the ideal, but maybe you don’t have resources. Buy secondhand, borrow from a library or a friend and review, tweet and Facebook post about it, tell your friends. You can download free books from Prolific Works and review.
Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads drive sales twice. First, because the algorithms favour books with more reviews. Second, because readers also favour books with reviews. In this era of almost endless choice, recommendations are even more important.
Nobody’s reading my stuff so why should I bother?
See point 2 above. Feel good by doing good. Your following is built one reader at a time, one comment and relationship at a time. The best follower is one who is invested in your work, and the numbers are only one way of measuring impact. You never know who will be your new cheerleader.
Your tribe of like-minded readers and writers is out there, but it can’t find you if you’re hiding silently behind a screen. You’re a creator, not part of the herd of consumers. Act accordingly.Connect. Reciprocate.
Keep The Faith
There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. Edith Wharton
You want to be a bright star, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes all you have is faith in yourself, faith that things will turn in your favour if you keep putting your work out there.
While you’re waiting, give what you want to see in the world. Acknowledge the impact someone’s words made on you. Be more than a silent consumer, because you’re part of the creative minority and you know how hard that road is, how lonely and unrewarding it can feel.
So don’t wait. You can improve someone’s day, right now, for free, and it only takes a minute.
This review is about Jericho Writers, a UK based writers’ website offering services and advice to get you published. I was lucky to be given a year’s subscription, but I’ve used their services previously when they were known as The Writers’ Workshop.
Helping to get you published
It was set up in 2004 by Harry Bingham, a successful crime author. Initially offering editorial reviews, the range for members now includes a wide range of videos and masterclasses covering all aspects of writing and publishing. They will give free advice on your stuck manuscript or query letter.
If you’re interested in self-publishing, they have that covered too, with masterclasses dedicated to independent authors.
Queries: asked and answered
I first watched the video on how to write a query, then decided to test the free query letter service. The reply came back within 48 hours. Stephanie gave useful suggestions which improved my letter enormously. I’m now using AgentMatch to find suitable UK agents. This searchable database is easy to use and focused on the questions I really want to ask.
Finding the right agents to submit to is crucial, and knowing if they are keen to build their list or fully committed is a key point. AgentMatch saves time looking at multiple websites. Finding an agent would definitely repay the cost of membership.
Opportunities to meet other writers as well as editors and agents come with the annual Festival of Writing weekend in York, and How To Get Published, a one day event in London. I attended the latter a few years ago. While I was nervous to go to a writers’ event alone, the day was a great boost to my confidence. I talked to varied writers, listened to talks by authors such as Emma Darwin, and had the chance to talk to an editor about my then fledgling novel.
After that experience, I invested in an Editorial Report. It was the first time I’d had objective feedback, and the critique wasn’t always easy to accept. But it was a necessary step to making my story the best it could be. I didn’t realise then just how many revisions lay ahead… but that’s another story.
Every word counts
Editorial services form a staple of Jericho Writers’ offering. Manuscript assessment, copy editing and agent submission pack review are all on offer. If you have a children’s picture book, a screenplay or script you can access specialist advice here.
And if you want to learn, their online courses cover a broad range of subjects.
Like most memberships, Jericho Writers offers the chance to be a part of a community where you can share experiences online. Members receive a discount on paid courses and events. You can also sign up at no cost to receive regular emails, and get a free guide to being published.
Worth a look
The website is attractive and easy to navigate. If you just want to have a look, the free resources are really useful. If you decide to join, you can choose from monthly or annual memberships. I’ve already gained from my membership, and hope to find success with the support of Jericho Writers.
You’re a writer. You gave yourself permission, put your bum in the seat, and started cranking out words. They’re not perfect yet but that’s okay because you read advice articles that tell you how to do it better. You’re on your way.
Then you stumble. No matter how much advice you read and try to apply, the words don’t get any better. You’ve tried it all, and when you read your piece back you cringe. It’s dull, it’s bad, and it’s all yours.
Impostor syndrome sneaks up behind you like a cheap horror movie monster. It breathes down your neck. “I knew it. You’ve been found out, and not even the best advice can save you now. You’re no good. And you never will be.”
You stop trying.
Writing is too hard and you’re just not good enough. It’s enough to drive you to drink. Or back to Facebook and Netflix.
Invisible Growth — What You Don’t Understand About Practice
When something isn’t working, it’s tempting to give up. But you need to think about the way growth happens.
I used to plant sunflower seeds every spring with my young children. They were so excited, pushing seeds into the earth and imagining sunflowers higher than their heads. They looked at the picture on the packet, and they wanted all the flowers right now.
But the seed needed time to absorb water, develop roots, and grow a stem.On the surface, nothing was happening. The kids got impatient because progress was less than they expected. Under the surface, growth was already proceeding unseen. One day the shoot popped up, apparently overnight.
Then it grew really fast.
This type of progress in students as described by Thomas P Seager, PhD fits with my own experiences in the garden or the classroom.
Some students (black line) show linear growth at a steady rate. Others (green line) take instruction with little apparent effect until one day it clicks, and they take off. Soon they leave the others behind, despite being slower to start.
The move to higher levels of skill is often preceded by a stage in which nothing much appears to be happening. In fact a number of sub-skills are developing. When those skills reach critical mass they combine to produce a leap forward, followed by accelerated development.
In the early days of building a skill, a following, or a plant, progress seems slow. Patience and persistence are essential.
That means you must have faith and keep going. But although creativity is endless, it needs to be replenished.
Sometimes the best way to keep going is to stop.
Just Don’t Do It
You’ve read many articles about establishing a writing habit. You might know that Stephen King writes 2000 words every single day. All the advice says sit and write daily.
I suggest you do the exact opposite. Step away from the keyboard.
Just like any other human, a writer is the sum of many parts. The healthiest writers get out of their rooms and out of their heads regularly, and those experiences enlarge their characters and inform their writing. The more they see and hear of people, and the more things they do, the bigger their repertoire of subjects, characters, and situations to write about.
If you’ve been pushing harder but not seeing results, it’s time to change your approach. Staring at the blank screen for hours isn’t working. Rewriting the same paragraph isn’t working.
You need to move on and concentrate on another part of your skill set. Writing is more than butt in chair, just as soccer is more than kicking a ball. Stop writing and you’ll write better.
Three types of not-writing can help you reach the visible growth stage faster.
Mens sana in corpore sano A sound mind in a healthy body Juvenal
You need to build two types of break into your writing routine.
One is a short break after ninety minutes. Get up, stretch, move around. Look into the distance to rest your eye muscles which have been working hard to focus on the screen. Take five slow deep breaths, allowing your belly to relax. Your brain needs extra oxygen.
The second type of break is regular exercise. The type of exercise doesn’t matter; what’s important is that you engage regularly, which is more likely if you enjoy it. Some activities have a social element built in, which is very good if you sit alone all day to write.
Sitting for extended periods is known to increase your risks of premature death. That alone should motivate you to get moving. Walking, running, gym work, and yoga are all beneficial. Vigorous gardening and housework are alternatives.
Get enough sleep
Insomnia is a problem for many of us that tends to increase with age. However, finding and keeping good sleep habits is essential to mental and physical health. If you have problems start your search for help here or here.
Simple measures like regular sleep and wake times, keeping your bedroom dark and the bed only for rest or sex, and writing a to-do list for the next day can all help. Cut back on the nightcap because although alcohol might help you nod off, it then causes broken sleep.
My one best tip, gleaned from personal experience and professional practice as a family physician is this;
if you wake in the night, never check the time.
Your brain immediately starts working, calculating the time you’ve been awake, the time left before the alarm goes, and so on. Turn the clock away. Do not look at your phone. Slow deep breaths can help.
It’s natural to wake during the night and it will happen more often as the years go by, so have realistic expectations. Learning to go back to sleep is the skill you need.
Whatever your health status, you can improve fitness levels and give your brain what it needs to function more effectively.
Staying mentally fit and well needs to be a priority. It’s certain that you will have to navigate personal or professional difficulties at some time, while continuing to meet your obligations. It’s all too easy to withdraw from people, but if you write you already spend a lot of time with your own thoughts. Balance that with positive contact.
Humans are social creatures. We all need different amounts of interaction to feel our best, but looking at the same walls every day can drag you down, especially if you live where winters are long and dark. Figure out how much social interaction you need to be energised, not depleted. Then make sure you schedule time to get it.
Combine social contact with exercise by going to the gym or taking a class. Dog walkers know that pets can be a great icebreaker.
Stay in contact with friends and family. Avoid being hijacked by Facebook and Twitter by setting a time limit on checking updates.
Sit in a cafe and listen to people talking for clues on dialogue and people’s current concerns. You might hear a character or a problem for your next piece.
Join a writers’ group and interact with people who understand the struggle. Even difficult interactions can be a source of material for your writing.
Writers are often introverts who find being in groups more or less difficult. Online connections can be as real and nurturing as real-life ones, if not more so. Don’t let extroverts mock you for not going out all the time.
Part Of The Fabric
Maybe you’re a religious person. In that case, honouring your faith will be key to your wellbeing. Even if you’re not religious, feeding your spirit is essential to wholeness. Finding meaning, a reason to go on with life, is a matter of realising that you are part of something larger than yourself.
There’s more than one way to tap into a sense of awe and wonder that enlarges your sense of being. Prayer works for some, while contemplating the natural world or spending time with a child or pet is preferred by others. Quieting the endless chatter in your mind can be achieved by gardening or stargazing or knitting.
Concentration on a single thing is the essence of meditation. It doesn’t have to mean chanting and impossible poses. Find the thing that absorbs your attention to the exclusion of external stimulus. Do that regularly.
Feeding your spirit might come from watching the ocean, singing along at a concert, or volunteering. It can come from seeing art or listening to music, or sending a supportive message to someone who’s struggling.
Don’t underestimate the value of laughter.
We smile and laugh much less as we grow up, and who can blame us? Adult life is tough. Share a joke with your server or your partner. Watch a comedy show before bed rather than depressing news. Humour is essentially linking familiar things in an unexpected way. It’s one of the most creative activities around and it’s calorie free, so indulge.
Connecting with people has an element of looking outward and giving rather than receiving. Altruism makes us happier by focusing attention outside our selves while making a positive contribution. Even though each one of us is a tiny part of the fabric of life, we can still make a difference.
And as writers, isn’t connection and making a difference all we want?
Burn Bright, Don’t Burn Out
Nobody can be ‘on’ all the time. Balancing work, rest, and recreation is the key to a healthy life for everyone. Sometimes before we can push forward we need to stop and catch our breath a moment.
Solutions often bubble to the surface after a period of letting problems percolate unseen. While you’re occupied in another activity, your subconscious is busy figuring out the questions you’ve been stuck on.
Your body will benefit from the improved physical health that comes from being strong, well rested and well hydrated. A healthy brain is more flexible and resilient, able to think faster and process the many different things it sees and feels. And creativity is about making new connections.
Creativity is just connecting things.
Now you have more material and a better machine to work with. Come back to your screen refreshed, and get growing.