Keeping Creative in Stressful Times

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about as much media overload as any one person can stand. In my corner of the world, my state has shut down non-essential businesses and issued a stay at home order for my county and several others. If we do go out in public, social distancing is strongly encouraged. And the stores…well, you’ve heard how people have been hoarding. But hubs and I did manage to find the groceries on our list, so hopefully we won’t have to venture forth again any time soon.

Well, other than for work. Because we’re also both essential personnel. I am a biologist, and my lab is still open, so I am in every day there is lab work and analyzing data and writing reports when I’m at home. And then of course there’s just life itself, and we all know how that can be.

It’s a lot for someone to handle. And I know many of you are feeling the same kinds of stress, or even just the stress of being at home, not having enough to do, or worrying about paychecks. And on top of this, I’m sure you may have seen the posts encouraging us writers to write a “quarantine novel.” I’d love to…if I wasn’t still working full-time. (Thanks to all you essential workers out there…you’re keeping us going!)

But how do we keep on top of our creative endeavors when we’re feeling so much stress and pressure, when things are so crazy out of control?

I have three quick tips, and feel free to add your own in the comments.

Set reasonable goals.

I say this one for a lot of situations, but one of the biggest things you can do to boost your creativity when you’re stressed is to set goals that are attainable. Write a sentence a day? Sure! Browse the interwebs for new ideas? That works!

Perhaps make a list of potential goals that can help you baby-step forward on your larger goals. Then, you can check less stressful things off in a way that’s still making progress.

Whatever you’re working on, just set goals you can hit that won’t overwhelm you during this time. And you may even find that once you start working on these smaller things, you’ll have the fuel to keep going longer than you expected!

Find and consume inspiring things.

I don’t know about you, but for me, consuming certain things can really boost my inspiration and make me excited to do creative work.

This may be reading articles or listening to podcasts related to writing. Or sometimes it’s looking at pretty pictures to inspire settings or paintings. Maybe what you really need is to take a few days to just read new books.

Whatever it is, find the thing that excites you to get back to work!

Cut yourself some slack.

Yup, don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Don’t be afraid to change your goals or even to step back for a bit to reset. It’s okay to take a break if you need to…without criticizing yourself for whatever you’re not getting done. It will still be there when you’re ready to go back to it.

Concluding Thoughts

This is a hard time for everyone, but there is so much community online. Reach out to your friends and peers, your fellow creative individuals. Let’s build each other up during these stressful days and try not to be hard on ourselves (or others), no matter how much or how little creative work we’re doing.

And don’t forget that we’re all in this together.

Stay safe, my friends! ❤

The Therapeutic Power of Writing

Did you know writing can be a powerful tool…for anyone?

In case you’ve been living under a rock, life is super crazy right now. There’s a pandemic outside our doors, the media is telling us the world is ending, and we still have to deal with life along with social isolation (though as an introvert, I really don’t mind that last part so much).

But it does get to be a lot to cope with, especially with all the hype about the risks and the constant updates. And the memes. And the people hoarding supplies (please don’t do that).

So how can we deal with these uncertain and anxious times? There are a lot of good coping options out there (and I encourage you to find what works for you, either through internet searches, therapy, or trial and error), but today I want to talk about the therapeutic power of writing.

Hint: writing isn’t just for “writers.”

So how can writing help us cope with difficult situations?

Writing is a way that we can truly examine our thoughts and feelings, to put them clearly down on paper in a way that we can understand things that weren’t clear to us before. It can help us think through difficult times and work out problems we struggle with, to better understand ourselves. We can think in complete thoughts and sentences by writing it out, and we can avoid censoring ourselves when we write just for us and give ourselves permission to examine our deeper thoughts and feelings.

Writing can also be a type of catharsis, especially in fiction or memoir writing. A chance to say something that happened. To find the resolution we wish we’d had. To finally say the thing we thought of days later. This is one reason I love first drafts. With a first draft, I can say whatever I want to the person who yelled at me at the grocery store! (that didn’t happen…at least not to me) And then, after I’ve gotten it out of my system, I can erase it from my next draft.

But what kinds of ways can we write? How do we apply these ideas?

  • As I mentioned above, you can write an experience out as fiction. This can distance yourself a bit while still leaving some of yourself in the story. Plus, it can always be erased in a later draft.
  • You can journal it out. I used to do this all the time, and just the process of putting my thoughts down let me get them out of my head so I stopped cycling through them over and over. This is also a way you can think to yourself without censoring yourself. Just letting you be honest with you.
  • You can write a letter. You don’t have to send it, but writing a letter to someone and saying what you’re thinking and feeling can help you articulate yourself better and figure out what needs to be said to them versus what you just needed to express and understand for yourself. I do this, too, so I can process how I’m feeling about something that happened with another person…and why. And how to fix it.
  • You can put it down into poetry. I’m still learning this one, but when I was younger, I found that I dealt best with really strong pain or other emotion by putting it into poetry. Now, mind you, they weren’t good poems. But they were only for me.

So if you find yourself getting overwhelmed in these strange times, maybe try picking up a pen. At the very least, you’ve tried something new. And at best, you’ve found something you enjoy that helps you process difficult things.

Either way, I hope you find the thing that works for you.

Keep writing friends. Or whatever it is you do. Stay safe, and stay healthy. ❤

Polarizing Thoughts in Writing: Should You Pay for a Beta Reader?

Hey there! I figured this week we might as well dive into yet another polarizing topic. I mean, the last one I posted all about why you may need a sensitivity reader got me my first comment about how I was wasting everyone’s time and was a worthless writer (I consider that a win…and they obviously didn’t read the article). After all, if I get no reaction, am I really making anyone, including myself, think?

Anyhow, this week a question came up in one of my groups about finding beta readers. Common enough question, really. They can be hard to find, especially quality ones. But at the end of the question was a comment that the poster was originally willing to pay $100 for the beta read, except people were quoting her much higher than that.

Let me tell you, there were a lot of “NEVER PAY FOR BETA READERS” knee-jerk reactions, and I’m here to tell you that yes, that’s generally true.

But not always.

When I expressed that, I got those same knee-jerk reactions.

But I will remind you: just because one person wants to hire a beta reader doesn’t mean they’re wrong. You don’t know what brought them to that decision in the first place. So yes, by all means, tell them it’s not necessary to pay for a beta reader. But if that’s what they want, we should respect those wishes.

What are beta readers?

Let’s back up a second and define beta readers for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term. Beta readers are like your book’s first testers. They generally read a lot in your genre, so they know the tropes and can see when there are problems with a story. They read for fun. Oftentimes, the author can provide specific questions for the betas to respond to so they can find the problems in their story.

Beta readers are looking for any story problems to help the author improve the book before they start sending it out into the world.

Where are beta readers?

Typically, authors find beta readers in reader groups, often online, or they may exchange manuscripts with other authors for feedback (technically, exchanging with another author is considered alpha reading, as authors are professionals in the field rather than the intended audience, but few writers make this distinction).

So…you pay them?

Not really. Very rarely does anyone pay for this service, and it’s pretty standard to assume no payment.

However, there are some people who offer paid beta reading services. From what I’ve seen, the going rate is about $1 per 1000 words ($80 for an 80k word manuscript). And a lot of writers will get pretty mad when they see this.

Now, let’s just mention one elephant in this room. Wouldn’t this just be like content editing? I mean, yes, it could be considered content editing. Or at least a form of it. However, content editing will likely come with more detail, in-depth analysis, and a higher price tag. Editors likely have more experience in the field as well.

Paying for a beta read is like paying for a less intense form of editing.

So when should I charge for beta reading?

Short answer, rarely or never.

Long answer, it depends. And it’s up to you.

The idea behind charging for beta reading comes from the idea that our time is valuable. And I get that. Usually, this matter is resolved by offering an exchange or, if you’re a reader and not a writer, just getting a chance to be part of the book creation process.

But when there is a professional offering various editing services, beta reading may be part of them. These people may not want to do an exchange of services for a number of reasons, such as if they don’t have anything ready for exchange, already have all the help they need, they are solely editors and live off the money they make on their freelancing time, or don’t have the time available if it’s not paid work (freelancing can be tight).

Another option is that an author may want to pay for this service. And at that point, it’s about understanding their needs and meeting them as best you can as an editor. It’s part of that professional relationship.

Ok, then when do I pay for beta reading?

Honestly, ultimately, this decision is up to you. But here are a few examples of why some authors prefer to pay for beta readers:

  1. They’ve been burned by free readers in the past (such as getting many readers who take the book and become unresponsive).
  2. They’re looking for unbiased opinions and feel that paying for the service would offer that.
  3. They do not have time to find free betas or do a service exchange.
  4. They’re on a tight timeline or are struggling to find the right beta readers online.
  5. They want a more professional opinion (again, this would be considered more alpha reading than beta reading).

Concluding thoughts

I hope you can see how this might be polarizing. Many authors are adamant that you never, ever pay for beta reading, but in my experience, that’s not always fair. Just like it’s not fair to judge people who have their reasons for paying or for charging.

Should you charge? That’s up to you. You might get a lot of hate for it. But that’s still your decision and your time.

For me, I never charged until I had a client come to me and insist she pay me for beta reading. I don’t know her reasons, and it wasn’t my place to ask. I offered a service exchange. I told her I don’t typically charge for that. I offered anything I could to avoid charging her.

And guess what? She still insisted on paying me.

Again, whether or not to pay or charge for betas is a question to be answered by each person, and each situation, individually. So while we can offer all the advice in the world, we need to respect other people even when we don’t agree with their decisions and understand that there’s probably more to it than we can see from the outside.

Just like pretty much everything else in life, right?

Write on, my friends. ❤


Do you have polarizing thoughts on this polarizing topic? That’s ok! This is a conversation, and my only intent is to remind us to be considerate of the needs of others and remember we don’t have all the details of this decision.

But if you share your thoughts below, I’d be happy to chat!

What TV Got Wrong: Being a Writer (New Girl Edition)

Okay, New Girl is one of my absolute favorite shows. I love the characters. I love the antics. It makes me happy. And as the series progresses, we learn that one of the major characters is a writer (and writes an absolutely terrible first book, that includes a word search).

But there is one particular episode in season 6 that drives me absolutely insane (potential spoilers if you haven’t seen it): the episode all about Nick’s Pepperwood Chronicles novel. Specifically when he gets his first rejection from a publisher and his friends push him into selling it himself.

You see, in episodes leading up to this one, it’s slowly being established that Nick is a writer working on a book. And I have issues with some of those moments as well, such as when every. Single. Person. On the show. Tells Nick his book is perfect with absolutely no corrections or issues (hint: no book is ever perfect, even after publication). But for now, I’m going to focus in on this one episode.

So anyway, back to this episode. Here are the things New Girl got wrong about being a writer, as well as a reality check.

Myth: If you get a rejection, your career is over.

Nick submitted his Pepperwood Chronicles book to a publisher, and they rejected it. He was so embarrassed he wouldn’t tell anyone, and he decided it meant his career is over.

Here’s the hard truth: if you want to be traditionally published, whether you submit to an agent or directly to publishers, you will have rejections. So many rejections. And you know what? None of them mean your career is over.

Think about this: J.K. Rowling got over 100 rejections for Harry Potter, and that series is one of the best selling series of all time.

A rejection doesn’t end your career. And it doesn’t mean your book is bad.

Myth: As soon as you finish the book, you’re ready to submit it. Or publish it.

Okay, so truth be told, I do not really know what Nick did after finishing the novel. But as I said before, everyone told him it was perfect.

Your book is never ready to be published as a first draft. Even if you draft fast or clean, you need beta readers to make sure you don’t have loose ends, offensive material/misrepresentations, or major plot errors, and preferably a series of developmental editing, copyediting and line editing, and proofreading. Then you can move on. Even indies should follow these steps, even if they don’t hire people for them and just find good readers to help (many indies just don’t have that kind of money starting out, and I’m learning that’s not as big a deal as I once thought).

And if you’re going traditional? You still need beta readers and several more rounds of revision to polish it so it is as close to publication ready as possible. No agent or publisher will take a first draft, and it makes you look unprofessional.

Truth is, you’re going to have several drafts of your book as you tweak it and make it either publication ready or ready to submit. Never ever ever a first draft.

Myth: You should make your own books to sell. And you can do it in a day.

This one is weird, but in the episode, Nick’s girlfriend gets him a book reading at a bookstore. For his unpublished book. The night she finds out about the rejection.

Problem is that he’s unpublished so has no book to sell.

No problem for New Girl’s title character, Jess. She just whips up a bunch of books for him to sell (honking beasts, by the way…note: page count is important!).

NO. You are not going to make your own books as an indie. You upload your work to a print-on-demand site, they print when they have an order, and it takes a few days to be available. Also, you’re going to want to order yourself a proof copy to make sure you didn’t screw it up. And if you have the money, you’ll probably be hiring someone to design a professional cover that’s not literal bits of paper cut and glued to a brown cardboard cover.

Myth: As an unpublished, unknown author, a book reading will solve your problems.

If no one knows you exist, you’ll be lucky to get a few butts in chairs at a reading, unless it’s a collaboration with a better-known other author. In the episode, Nick packs his reading (even though it isn’t a ton of chairs). And it’s viewed as the solution to his problem, the jump start his career needs.

A reading (or a book tour) is unlikely to sell you many books, and it’s a gamble that even traditional publishers rarely take anymore.

Concluding Thoughts

Bottom line is that TV gets a lot of things wrong (most people know this already), so don’t be discouraged if you see TV writers hitting it big while you’re still struggling to break in or be read. Or even to write.

Writing is a complicated thing that is mostly different for each person, but stick to it! And keep your eye out for more misrepresentations in media. 🙂

For now, though, do you have any pet peeves in TV or misrepresentations of what you do that drive you crazy? Share with me below!