Thursday, December 30, 2010

So - What's Next For You?

So - we made it to the end of the year. I hope your 2010 was all that you wanted - and needed - from your present life.

We often think that the new year is a time to recycle all those old resolutions. I think this can be a mistake. Because we then send a message to our brains that goals and ambitions are to be confined to January - and then forgotten when the year gets under way!

The time to make resolutions is every day. Just five minutes in the morning - say at nine o clock - spent making a short list of the things that are important to you - bearing in mind the long term, as well as the short, will pay huge dividends when it comes to reviewing your progress towards your dream life.

Year End is really only a time to ask: Am I living my dream life? And if not, What can I do to make that happen by the end of next year?

If you want free help in this regard sign up to my Easy Way to Success course and for next 23 days get inspirational messages to help you plan for 2011. www.easywaytosuccess.net

No more video newsletters for a while. They're so work intensive (you end up throwing away 90% of what you record) that I've decided to make them a monthly event rather than a weekly.

I know a lot of my subscribers like the videos but there are also many that prefer the written word. I get that.

But it is worth bearing in mind that we now live in a very visual world, media wise, where writers are expected increasingly to understand the visual medium. Hence, my next course will be on writing for TV - where the whole concept of writing deliberately for the screen is a fascinating 'switch of gears' for most writers.

Plus of course, writers are often expected to self promote nowadays, either through personal appearances or via TV and radio. This can be tough for many, more insular writers - actually like me.

I may look confident in my videos but it's really just an illusion created by editing and post production. But at least it does prove that you can be introverted and still make the media work for you.

Actors and comedians often seem like extroverts - but this too can be an incorrect assumption. Performing is a skill that even the most shy writer can accomplish with enough practice - and indeed may become an essential component of a writer's career if we want success in this modern, sound bite, glitz driven age.

Besides which, it's about pushing ourselves, isn't it?

With every new writing project we want to improve, to stretch ourselves just that little bit further.

This should also apply I think to other areas of our lives.

Self help gurus always talk about the need to get outside of our comfort zones in order to grow. And what could be more outside a writer's comfort zone than performing, acting and even speaking?

I understand!

It's rare that any of us like the look or sound of ourselves on film. Even Johnny Depp says he can't watch himself on screen!

But I think it's important to overcome these things - in much the same way we need to overcome any kind of social anxiety in order to successfully interact with other people - especially people that can help us.

Think of performing as a writer as a necessary evil...

Personally, I have real problems when we go to Australian screenwriting conferences and we're supposed to be sociable and easy going - as well as ready at any time to deliver a pitch for our latest project - whether that be a movie idea or two or a TV show.

To be honest I find the whole idea of relating written material in verbal form to be slightly odd, even distasteful sometimes. I mean, why should writers be considered the best orators of their work?

They rarely are.

And how do Australian producers, directors and distributors have the audacity to turn down ideas without even taking the merest glimpse at our writing?

I could be Shakespeare and these people would never know - just because they didn't think Romeo and Juliet had sufficient 'legs' as a viable idea.

It's a crazy system.

To me, it's a thinly veiled insult to writers, really. It's basically saying that the writing is unimportant - anyone can do that - it's the idea that must sell itself.

Good in principle but I am offended by the unwillingness to even ask the question, Oh, by the way, can you actually write?

The thing that bugs me the most is the way Australian film people (who in the great scheme of things have never known real success - especially if they're still here) tell you what's good and bad about your idea, how to tweak and change it to fit the 'industry' as though your ideas are just peices of mud that need the benefit of their deluded quirks and prejudices to work at all.

I prefer the British system where a writer can present his or her entire script to the BBC - without all this "pitching" nonsense and then let the production companies talk about the merits of the screenplay and how it might work on screen.

To me this system must work better when you see the quality of the programs and ideas that come from the UK - and also the quality of the writers.

In case you wondered, I'm not knocking American writers at all - because they're gradually taking back the control they deserve, especially in TV, where the writers are often considered the most important part of the "screen machine".

This situation, sadly, does not apply in Australia - where the writer is considered a necessary evil - and not always necessary at that.

Australian TV and movies are - with rare exceptions - appallingly tedious and unappealing and don't travel very well overseas.

Far be it from me to suggest that it's Australian producers and film makers (there's a difference which I wish these producers understood), and their contempt for the writer that is actually the root cause of the dire effluent that Australia consistently produces...

Australian producers with no idea, no vision, no real integrity and no artistic sense whatsoever, have been allowed to rule our industry for far too long - supported fully by the State and Federal financiers - to the detriment of all that we've produced in the visual media since the 1970s.

The rest of the world knows that good writers have the talent, the ideas and the business sense to know how to make TV and movies work. That's been definitively proved by the US, the UK, Japan, even places like Korea and South America.

But in Australia, we're yet to give writers any of the respect they deserve.

Do Australian producers want writers to learn how to act now? To perform like monkeys to make their jobs easier?

Well, here's a suggestion: Why don't Australian producers learn how to read?

Might help, though I doubt it.

My money's on the next generation of writers in Australia that have no choice but to wrest back control from the delusional old guard.

Apologies for the rant at the end there.

I have issues - and a 12 page film pitch to write by Jan 4th!

All the best for your own writing projects in 2011.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." Bill Cosby

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Times They Are A'Changin...

December is the time when publishers traditionally shut their doors and tidy their desks - writers get a lot of their MSS back, along with their customary rejections, at this time of year.

This 'tradition' begins at the printers - who, back in the 1840s, began the habit of closing down their presses early for Christmas and opening them up again around mid January. For some odd reason, this practice still persists to this day!

I guess everyone deserves a break - but many writers don't like it!

Below is a short video I put together for the local writer's center. I didn't know they were going to ask me for the footage when I filmed it - so it's a bit rough. If I'd known beforehand...

Anyhoo, you'll see that South Australia has more than its fair share of successful writers - Sean Williams, who writes Star Wars novels, for one. DM Cornish, whose Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy has a Hollywood option. Robyn Opie, author of 85 internationally published books, Janeen Brian, author of 75 picture books, the list goes on.

Wannabe professional writers should find this encouraging.

Christmas is a time for giving, they say.

It's a time when we take a break from the usual helter-skelter rat race and pause to reflect on the real purpose of our lives.

That is, to help each other.

You hear this so often it's sometimes hard to grasp what it actually means.

Does it mean volunteering at shelters or involving yourself in community projects? It might. Does it mean coaching your local kid's soccer team or organizing garage sales to raise money for the needy? Perhaps.

These are the more obvious manifestations of charity and giving. They can smack of unpaid work and a necessary short term duty.

I prefer to think of giving as a vocation that we can all participate in - all the time - in our own way, using our own personal talents.

Rich businessmen for instance might find their real purpose is to give back to the community by using some of their money to fund humanitarian causes... some do.

In a perfect world, lawyers and doctors would spend at least some of their time working for free (we can dream)...

Working people can, through little acts of kindness, make the day easier and more pleasant for everyone around them...

But what can artists, writers and musicians do?

It's rare that artists have any spare cash - and time away from their work is a luxury few can afford.

I would argue that the most an artist can give is to focus on his or her art. The more artists work on their projects, the more they are giving - to the community, to the world at large.

The act of creating is the greatest gift we can give to each other, to the Universe, to whatever you conceive as God.

Because art can bring light into the darkness, true understanding, and joy into the hearts of us all.

What better gift could a person hope to offer?

It's scientifically proven that happiness can make a person stronger, more resilient, more ambitious, a better, more giving individual.

Plus, like the endless Mobius strip, being a better, more giving person can make us - individually and collectively - happier.

Happiness is apparently infectious. Viral, if you like.

You might think that Robyn and I are a couple of old hippies at heart. But actually we like to think of ourselves as just slightly ahead of our time.

We believe that, as a culture and a civilization, we are on the brink of a new era of 'Universal Consciousness'.

A time when materialism and technology merge with a new spiritual awareness of ourselves and our place in the cosmos.

A time when greed and self interest become less important for the majority. A time when focusing on compassion and responsibility will literally change our view of reality and help us all to become 'new millennial citizens' of our universe.

We see these subtle changes in consciousness everywhere - and you might argue that's because we want to see them, even if they're not really there. We don't agree.

Personally, I've always believed that true happiness and personal creativity are inextricably linked.

Whenever I speak with people who are unhappy and unfulfilled, I always try to discover the central cause. Underneath all the surface reasons like perceived poverty, workplace angst, family problems and esteem issues, there is always a spark...

That little fire that knows instinctively we would we be much happier if we were free - and had the time - to simply create.

More and more people are seeing the light of that fire and following their passions - whether that's by starting their own craft businesses, or painting for pure pleasure, or writing on a vague promise of eventual success.

I always encourage people - especially writers, musicians and film makers - to follow their instincts and simply do what their heart is pushing them to embrace.

Because I believe, only through creativity - which spawns real fulfillment, true happiness and a more spiritual understanding of the human condition - can we hope to repair the ills of this world and manifest ourselves as the true noble citizens of the universe we've always been destined to become.

Make this Christmas a time when you reflect on these important issues.

By doing so, I believe you can begin to make a real difference to your own life - and by extension, everyone else's - in 2011.

On that note, you most definitely need to...

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer."
Margaret Atwood

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On Joining Writer's Crit Groups

I hope you're happy and that your writing is going well.

Ever the sucker for more work - why do I do this to myself? - I have managed to talk a local theater group into staging my Christmas musical next November (2011).

I wrote "The Last Christmas Carol" in 2005 - and tried to stage it myself at the time, without much luck - spending oodles of cash in the process. This time, fingers crossed, it should work out.

Andrew Burt at Critters asked me to tell you that they have now opened up genre writing critique groups for every major genre of writing - fiction, non fiction, screenwriting, the lot.

Critters were the first to start "Writers Workshops" on the Net - fifteen long years ago to be precise - and they are still going strong. Here's what Andrew has to say:

Everyone is welcome, no matter what skill level - our 10,000 members cover the range from newbie to seasoned pros. So come on in, as long as your goal is to improve and write or create at a professional level.

To that end, Critters has perfected a unique sort of "Critters process," which emphasizes in-depth and courteous critiques from a wide range of reviewers. This has proven very successful at helping creative folks improve their craft.

We'd love to help you too; and perhaps best of all, it's completely free. For info or to join us, visit: http://Critique.org

I know many writers swear by Critters - and rely on them for good solid feedback from a wide variety of writers - because it's helpful, confidential and, best of all as Andrew says, it's free. Check it out.

Many new writers join critique groups for the wrong reason. Actually, it's not so much wrong - and it's common enough - but it does hamper what you might get out of judgment by your peers.

Namely, newbie writers usually only want one thing, and that is: validation.

It can come as a great shock to new writers to venture out into the world - to finally summon up the courage to show their work to other writers - only to discover that they are not universally and immediately acknowledged as a genius.

Robyn and I have seen this phenomenon over and again.

New writers come down to our own crit groups and read their material. You can tell they most times only want one response - to be told that their work is brilliant!

Any other gentle criticism from group members can result in a tirade of explanations and justifications from the author - who is hell bent on defending his/her work to the bitter end.

At this point we often ask, "Why are you here?"

"Do you want help? Or simply accolades?"

Writing doesn't really work that way. And writers are generally hard-wired to criticize other writers. But not in a bad way. Most writers just want you to improve your own writing.

Mostly, when a new writer appears in a crit group, they need to be warned against all the usual mistakes that newbies make. And, don't forget, we all make them.

My own experience at my first writers' crit group is typical.

I read my cherished story and in no particular order, the dozen or so writers around the table informed me of the importance of point of view (don't change it mid section etc), the overuse of adverbs, the desire for less verbiage, adjectives etc, the need to quash the indefinite article (it) and excessive description, the ugliness of exposition, being active rather than passive, and various of the other faux pas that tend to litter newbies work.

Of course I was crushed. Weren't they listening to the story, I wondered. Why all this nit-picking?

But it's the nit-picking that will teach you the most, we've found.

Because you can't really take anybody's writing seriously unless they get the basics right first. And this, to me, is what writers' crit groups are best at providing: a sound basis to move on to a more professional attitude towards your writing.

The story and the concepts are all well and good. But their impact and relevance can only be assessed when you have the basics down pat. Style too is irrelevant before you get the fundamentals.

Every new writer has to learn this.

Technical competence is not something you can leave till later - or hope that an editor can fix for you.

No, you have to learn this stuff yourself. And learn it quickly, so you don't spend years submitting work that is routinely rejected for basic errors. Because this is the number one reason why 70% of all MSS are rejected. Not story or ideas - but basic technique.

If this thought scares you, it's supposed to.

So, if you join a crit group and find the other writers tend to pick on the basics, don't fight it or be hurt by it. Listen to what is being said, ask for clarification, appreciate the reasons for the basic rules of writing - and learn them quickly.

Because if you absorb the fundamentals immediately - and act on them - you'll find that the next time you read out your work - or submit it to a crit group - you'll find the reaction is completely different.

Because only when your basic errors are corrected - the ones we all make at first - does your writing deserve to be taken seriously.

Writing rules are made to be broken, sure, but ideally only when you know them all backwards!

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." Howard Aiken

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Your News, Views & Clues - to Writing Success

I hope you're well and happy and that your writing is going well.

I bought a new camera and some editing software recently. I thought it might help with some of the film and TV projects we want to work on and pitch.

It occurred to me, too, the camera might help me connect with you better. I plan to create more video content for the Easy Way to Write - so look out for that. It's coming soon!

Magellan Books is re-launching soon in a slightly revised - but improved - format. More services. Better results.

If you're not familiar with the idea of getting your books published online - and off - go visit the Magellan Books website and look at the FAQS.

Soon we'll be offering a lot more from Magellan but the FREE packages are filling up - and may not be available for much longer. Click here to subscribe to Magellan Books.

Most of my Easy Way to Write subscribers will know by now that I send out a free newsletter every week - usually on Fridays. But I'm not sure everyone will know why.

Fact is, I have a dream...

I've always known I wanted to write. I actually started writing before I could read properly. I've kept a diary of my private - and not so private - thoughts since I was around five years old.

I don't know why but it always seemed logical and somehow important to record my insights in written form. I guess that's how most writers start out.

Later, I wrote plays, short stories, movie scripts, even novels as projects that had to be fit around the rest of my life, working to pay the rent in whichever place I found myself. Mostly London, UK, as it turned out - where I submitted manuscripts and played music to earn a crust for almost two decades.

Over that time, I read as many books about writing as I could find. I took courses, did workshops, kept writing...

I began to notice something.

Whenever I tried to find out more about the mechanics of writing from other, more successful writers, I was struck by how hard it was to get decent, accurate information and advice.

Maybe I was just being paranoid but I started to get the feeling professional writers had secrets they weren't willing to share!

I realize now that mostly this is about protecting what they have.

Working writers want you to think that writing is hard - and that the way to writing success is fraught with difficulty and hardship. Either that or they don't want you know they personally find it easy!

Simply put, most successful writers don't want any competition.

If aspiring writers - the logic goes - fall by the wayside, then so much the better.

I've noticed too that publishers, editors and agents rarely help aspiring writers for the same reason. They have enough to do with the writers they take seriously.

To encourage a writer, they seem to think, is to make a nuisance of them. Fact is, publishers want to deal with fewer writers, not more.

And then there's the way we writers let writing get to us.

We beat ourselves up about it. We almost want it to be hard - as though every word is wrenched from our souls. As though our writing can't be any good unless it pours like blood on to the page.

Which is absurd, of course.

Editing, polishing, perfecting - yes, that can be hard work. But the writing - especially the first draft - now that should be easy, automatic, I would suggest, fun even.

And that's what the Easy Way to Write is about.

It's about breaking down our self imposed barriers to writing easily - and just getting down the first draft of short stories, screenplays, novels and non-fiction books quickly - with no stress.

It's about channeling our subconscious mind into a voice that we can put down onto paper - or on the screen - as effortlessly as possible. Because, I believe, that's how you create your best work.

Not using the rational, critical mind to write. But accessing the endless store of inspiration and originality that is in your subconscious mind.

I really believe that writing is the most important, most creative, most inspiring thing we humans can do with our time. It defines and illuminates the human condition in a way that transcends every other activity.

Plus of course, writing is at the root of everything. There would be no culture, no business, no science or engineering, no inventions without writing. No books, no ideas, no movie franchises, and certainly no Internet without writers.

Writers often get criticized, marginalized and even ridiculed. And not just by the media and the general public. But by a writer's friends and relatives too. Ironically, they are often trivialized by the very people - publishers, agents and producers - that rely on writers' work to make them rich and powerful.

I've lost count of the number of times I've heard publishers and movie producers describe writers as a necessary evil, little deserving of respect.

Writers are often seen as ten a penny - and their efforts and inspiration next to worthless compared to the fortunes their work can spawn.

And this attitude can leave writers feeling bewildered, undervalued and yes, sometimes despairing.

My dream is for writers to be respected, sure - but mostly I want writers to respect themselves first.

I want writers to feel good about what they do - and understand that dedicating yourself to writing is worthy and courageous - and the right thing to do.

But mostly I believe that if you want to be a writer, then you should aspire to write well - and that there's an easy way to do it - and that becoming a good and successful and respected writer is totally within your grasp.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"In writing fiction, the more fantastic the tale, the plainer the prose should be. Don't ask your readers to admire your words when you want them to believe your story." Ben Bova

Thursday, November 11, 2010

You Got The Power!

It's most definitely hay fever season Down Under. It's not something I've ever suffered from before. In fact I used to think it was some kind of psychosomatic ailment invented by alleged sufferers to draw attention to themselves in the otherwise lovely springtime.

No more! I finally sympathize, having been slaughtered by the darned affliction all this week. Gah!

Onward. (And upward, of course!)

The more you write, the more you realize how hard it is to get anyone to take any notice of you.

Newbies often worry that their words are going to have some awful and monumental impact on people - way out of proportion to reality.

First time novelists often email me in varying states of panic, asking if it's okay to say this or that. Others are so afraid of putting their name to their own writing, they want to invent pseudonyms - usually just before publication! - in case their own words come back to bite them somehow.

In today's world, it's hard to even get noticed, let alone raise a stir in people enough to provoke a response.

There's about billion new words appearing on the Internet every day. In the real world, probably a billion again appearing in new books, newspapers and magazines. Writers everywhere are trying to read and to be heard, to be taken seriously.

And yet, a celebrity's kiss will always be more compelling news.

You've got to see things in context.

While it takes courage and determination to stand up and be counted, you have to understand that there's a lot of people out there that are already on the journey - people that have already discovered that endless self promotion is just part of a writer's job - and that 99.99% will most likely seem ineffective.

Especially nowadays when a reader's time is so precious.

It would be nice to believe that all the words we slave over will one day have impact and carry the weight we give them.

But the fact is most people are more interested in their own words than anyone else's.

Self interest is hard wired into our natures...

Ironically it's understanding this that will help you improve your writing.

Last week my article focused on the need to connect with your reader.

It's well known in the marketing world that a reader's primary concern is "what's in it for me?"

This is true of fiction, too. People read because they want to feel a connection with the characters and the story. They see themselves as your hero. When you are completely honest, readers don't automatically think, "ooh er, what's this writer like?"

No, they most likely think, "yeah, I understand that. That's what I would feel, do, be like, act in that way."

Books like Twilight and The Da Vinci Code become bestsellers simply because more people relate to the characters and the stories than they do other, just as competently written books.

Again, 'connection' is the key.

And as a writer you have to constantly strive to find better ways to connect.

On a practical, down to earth level, that's why writing a blog is always a good idea for a writer, not only to improve your writing as you do it, to get used to regular writing, but also to 'converse' with your audience and potential fans of your work.

You need to work in different writing mediums too - to strengthen your writing muscles and your skill base.

You have to be aware of societal changes - and regularly adjust your perspective to incorporate new mindsets, new ideas and new technology.

Making a two minute YouTube video promoting your book might seem a daunting project but, given the mindset of the average punter, it's something you should seriously consider. If only to help a large number of people visualize your writing, in a way that is more commonly apprehended today than the mere written word ever is or was.

Don't be afraid to experiment. Never say no to a new way of thinking - and never stop learning.

Too often old writers, even quite successful ones, get stuck in their ways and watch with incomprehension as younger writers rise to the fore and pass them by.

If you're not afraid to fail, you have more power than you think.

Especially if you embrace technology - and are determined to use it effectively.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write


THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"When a man becomes fully conscious of his powers, his role, his destiny, he's an artist and he ceases his struggle with reality. Thus, he is enabled to play the
monstrous role of living and dying innumerable times according to the measure of his capacity for life." Henry Miller

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Moments of Clarity - and What to Do With Them

Been a long time since I did the newsletter stroll. We've been trapped in writing workshops for weeks now. We're still in one now in fact. I'm stealing a few moments to write this between screen writing exercises.

People often email me to tell me they're blocked. No such luxury here. The writers in this room with us are all writing to order. You get one hour, sometimes less, to write at least two pages of fiction that works.

You get blocked here and you're shown the door...

...and to think we applied for this gig!

We writers are a stubborn lot. Sometimes it can take us decades to learn a subtle truth about writing that forever changes us - and our writing - for the better.

At various stages in my writing career, more experienced writers and critics have said (in no particular order) watch your point of view switches, careful not to use the author's voice, learn format and punctuation assiduously, don't over justify your concepts, don't overuse adjectives or qualifiers, dump cliche and adverbs, be totally honest in your writing, know your characters inside out, make your motivations believable, write for the reader etc etc.

Each time I felt an inner resistance and fallen back on the age-old feeling of "I know what I'm doing - that's my style." Only to realize, sometimes years later, that my peers and critics were right - and that I should have listened to them, and immediately acted on their advice.

The interesting thing about the last two months of the intense writing workshops we've attended is that we have been bombarded daily with fabulous advice from working writers and industry professionals - not so much about writing technically - but about the effect of our writing on our others.

We have been encouraged to explore our ideas and concepts and deliberately find those that will connect with our potential audience - and reject those that might be good but have limited appeal.

Then, to hone those viable ideas into a form that will resonate with readers, agents, publishers, producers and people the world over.

Precision is the key.

We've learned that having a different effect on different people is actually not quite good enough. Our writing should be so clear, so meticulously transparent, that it has roughly the same effect - the one we desired - on almost everyone that reads it.

Look at it this way.

The job of a fiction writer is to elicit emotion in a reader. This is true of novels, short stories and screenplays, any fiction.

But the job of us professional writers is to elicit the precise emotion we intended - and at exactly the time we want. And we do this in a number of specific ways.

Being a student of human psychology can help. We have to know from experience what events and circumstances trigger certain emotions in others. But we need to do this in an objective way - so that we learn which emotions are triggered in general to the population at large.

Knowing ourselves too is vitally important.

The longer I live the more convinced I become that on some deep level we humans are all fundamentally the same. 99% of our DNA is similar to every other person on the planet. Simply put, we're made the same.

That's why, by relying on our own feelings and reactions to stimuli, we can get a pretty good handle on how others feel and would react given the same scenarios.

But what about originality? I hear you.

Uniqueness comes from the way we in particular process and describe the commonality of experience.

Genius is ascribed to us when we exactly personify that which others already know - but have perhaps been unable to exactly express themselves.

On a practical level, we need to be rigorous when plotting fiction.

You might take a character and say he does this then this then this. And you have to know why he does those things. It's not enough just to say 'yeah, well that makes sense to me'. You have to be sure that, based on empirical observation, that the character's motivations are logical and consistent to almost everyone that may later read your work.

That's what makes a fiction writer great. To be able to take the ordinary and mundane, even the extraordinary and fantastical, and make it shine with TRUTH.

Because, as I often say, fiction, at its best, is more true than real life. And basically, that's why we like it.

For most writers, moments of real clarity are few and far between. But when we're assailed by them, we must embrace them.

A while back I realized that, yes indeed, we are complete masters of our own destiny. That this was not some idle concept. No, it is absolutely true. And that revelation changed me forever.

Similarly, the last few weeks of writing workshops has convinced me beyond any doubt that unless writing connects with the reader in exactly the way the writer intended, it's not really working.

But the good news is that our real purpose as writers is to improve that one overarching aspect of our skill base.

We need to get better at eliciting exactly the emotion we intended, at exactly the time we intended.

That's the real reason why we need to improve our technique and constantly seek perfection.

Not to impress or shock or wow.

But simply to connect.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"A professional is a man who respects his trade, tries as hard as he can to perfect his work, and realizes that one failure isn’t the end of the world. Or two…or three." Nathaniel Benchley

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Culture of Positivity

Thanks to the hundreds of people that contacted me about my latest video song. It's nice to know so many people enjoyed it!

Next week we're back at the TV networks for another couple of weeks, so we're gonna try and get all our work out of the way this weekend - and as much as we can today.

But tonight, as a treat, we go out to paint the town red. I think we need a nice break once in a while!

Being a fan of Charlie Kaufman's early screenplays - Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - I sat down last night to watch the film he recently wrote and directed, Synodoche, New York.

I had high expectations I guess - perhaps too high. I had assumed that Kaufman's quirkiness came from a need to be original. Alas, the film betrayed his true fascination - in a line from the movie, he even says, "I realize now that nobody's interested in my misery."

And why should they be?

Kaufman's universe is a bleak one. Our lives are seedy and pointless and become all the more complex, or rather painfully complicated, as we strive to examine and make sense of them.

There's no joy in Synodoche, only angst, regret and loneliness. No love, only misunderstanding, lack of connection and fear - and the ever present specter of death.

The only line I found uplifting in an otherwise dire waste of screen time was: "There are no extras. Everyone of us is a star in our own lives." But even this I think Kaufman meant in a bad way, like it was somehow wrong that we might be self obsessed when each one of the billions of us can't possibly be that important.

Fair enough. I'm sure most people might disagree...

It's interesting to me because Hollywood screenwriters often talk about Charlie Kaufman in reverential terms - as a writer of integrity and vision, formerly shunned by 'the system'.

Ironically I think it was Kaufman's determination to succeed despite the need to 'commercialize' his ideas that made his work compelling.

Now that he's rich enough to do it himself - we can see exactly why Hollywood tries so very hard to make writers create fun and entertaining projects that are appealing to a wide audience.

Because, when you make a movie like Synodoche for apparently intelligent adults (instead of aiming at fourteen year olds) you end up with a self indulgent mess of drivel that nobody wants to go and see - unless you're feeling suicidal, I suppose.

There are many ways of getting a message across. I know that there are some writers out there that have grown cynical of the constant barrage of 'positivity' they are called upon to write.

Indeed many writers complain to me that they can't get their 'downbeat' stories published or taken seriously.

But that's because publishers, agents and producers know we live in a largely adolescent culture where the most voracious markets want fantasy (with a small F), action and escapism.

Seeing joy and love and justice on our screens fills us with hope - for our own lives and for that of our own species.

On a fundamental level I believe humanity doesn't want to wallow in nihilistic self absorption. Not all the time anyway. If you want to tell stories with a 'tough' edge (whatever that means) then you, as a writer, must also show the counter-balance.

Because writers should strive to be objective - and see both sides.

Hollywood is apparently famous for creating the 'happy ending'. In terms of creating successful, popular movies, they have enough experience to know that it works. They know that when you tell a story, you need to leave the audience on a positive note.

But this was no Hollywood invention. The happy ending is, as Carl Jung explained a long time ago now, an archetypal symbol hardwired into our collective psyche. It's been that way since we crawled out of the swamp - and is indeed perhaps symbolic of that mythical event.

Writers shouldn't think that a happy ending is a cop out. It's not.

You can be as brutal and confronting as you like - just watch the average modern horror movie to know that. But without love and hope, without the vanquishing of evil and the protection of the innocent, there's no real point to a story...

We all know this deep down - but the artist in us will occasionally resist what we might regard as the cliche.

Of course death is inevitable - but so is our desire to triumph and create a better, more compassionate world. It doesn't matter that this seems like a vain exercise in futility. It's part of who we are.

To quote Kaufman, we may be "just the tiniest fleck of insignificance in a vast uncaring universe" - but surely that's the point.

We really don't want - or need - to believe that.

And surely the legacy we would want to leave behind is that despite all the pain and suffering, our spirit made us strong and resourceful.

And as writers, we need to remind our audience of that as much as we can.

There may be a thousand bad things that can happen to us but, when it comes down to the final judgment, we are capable of transcending the body and becoming spiritual beings full of love and joy - and of maintaining a never ending optimism for the future.

And what's wrong with that?

If you never felt positive, you'd never write anything - and nobody would ever know about your misery and despair.

Not that they'd be interested in it anyway, of course.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"Before I came here I was confused about this subject. Having listened to your lecture I am still confused. But on a higher level." Enrico Fermi

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Be Your Own Mentor

It's springtime here Downunder. Everything in our garden is growing back in abundance - the birds are singing as I type and the new bright sunlight makes everything in the house look a little grubby - no wonder there's such a thing as Spring Cleaning!

But hey, it's probably autumn where you are - so the need to clean up is still six months away...

A lot of people ask me how I manage to get so much done. I often wonder myself.

I was lucky. When I'd done schooling, I decided I didn't want to work for a living. Of course I had to - for a while. I did some pretty horrible jobs, gravitating from factory to office work because I noticed that the office workers seemed to get an easier time of things - and got paid more.

Of course I could have done the life journey properly and got a nice cushy career type job in a bank or a corporate company. It's not as if I wasn't bright enough. I was even offered a few positions like that. But, much to the chagrin of my mother, I chose not to take them - mainly because it seemed like a cop out. The easy option.

I deliberately chose the hard way - because I wanted to loathe the 9 to 5 I suppose. I'd watched my Dad living a life of quiet desperation for twenty years and I believed there had to be a better way to exist. Actually, I guess that's a kind of adolescent way of thinking - a rebel without a cause mentality. But at the time 'the hard way' seemed, if not fulfilling, then purposeful.

Getting a music career off the ground wasn't hard in retrospect, but it took more time than was absolutely necessary. When I was seventeen I sent a demo to EMI Music - which was rejected of course - and it took another ten years to eventually get signed to EMI as a rock artiste. I got distracted along the way - as tends to happen when you're young and think you have all the time in the world.

But even in those days I knew that finishing projects was what it was all about. A song is a not a song until it's written and recorded and in someone's office.

You can't get gigs without a demo - and because studio time is expensive I begged a home recording set up that stood me well for over a decade. Even EMI thought I had a 24-track studio I worked out of - which was actually a home 4-track in my bedroom. (Sorry to have to tell you now, Clive!)

I still do that now. Except technology is cheaper and smaller nowadays - so I have a 64-track set up in my house with guitars and keyboards and FX that make me sound like a cross between U2 and Beethoven on a good day. God - what wouldn't I have done if I had access to all these toys when I was a kid!

Fact is, when it comes to getting things done, writing is the same as music. No-one can take you seriously unless they see that you've completed a manuscript and are consistently sending it out.

Ideas and hopes and dreams are one thing. They can make you feel good - and they can take you a long way into the right mindset to be creative.

But in order to compete, you need to finish what you start.

I know many writers with great projects that they start and get bored with - or run out of time to progress - and then a year or so later start another project where the same thing happens.

It's natural. You brain is a marvelous instrument, capable of limitless creativity, but just like a child, it gets bored with the same old thing and will want to move on.

That's why you have to work quickly - or push through the blocks - to get a project finished before you get bored of it.

Many writers assume that it's their perfectionism that makes them work on a project over and over, taking years to feel some sort of satisfaction over the finished product. But this is to misunderstand how the mind works.

Basically, every three to six months, your brain has changed physiology. So in effect you're a different person two to four times a year. If you've ever tried to get a project finished by committee you'll know how hard it is to get more than two people to agree on something. It's the same with YOU.

Take too long over a project and you're merely handing it over to a newer you each time - and each time you'll review the ideas, or their execution, find them wanting, and most likely feel the need to start over again.

This is why you must finish at least the first draft quickly. Get it all down before the excitement inevitably wears off.

This is the real "secret" to success.

It doesn't matter whether a particular project is perfect or not. Finishing it is what counts. Only then can you know whether it works. Only then do you feel you are capable of other, larger and more complex commitments.

When I mentor writers, I like to make sure they're used to finishing small projects. Articles, short stories, even blogs.

Because the ability to finish is the revealer of character. Many writers complain to me that they feel unmotivated around the half way or three quarter mark of their novels. And nine times out of ten we can trace back the problem to their inability to finish even small projects.

It's not the work that's hard - it's the mentality that's wrong. The mindset wasn't pre-programmed for completion.

I think this is the real problem with the 9 to 5 mentality. There's a very real sense that work is never really over - and that there's always going to be more time.

When you're an artist, especially a working artist, this paradigm no longer applies.

If you want to be a paid writer, you need to get used to finishing what you start. Good or bad - you'll never know unless you can hold it up and say: "It's done."

Be your own mentor - and force yourself to get things finished!

Write down your goals, make time to work on them, and whip yourself - and your work - into shape. As fast as you can.

And don't forget to send your stuff out into the world.

That's where it will really begin to take effect.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
The Easy Way to Write


THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"It is better to resist at the beginning than at the end." Leonardo da Vinci

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Create Your Own World

As if I'm not busy enough already, a local director has asked me to write the music for his latest production - and have it to him by the 11th of October.

So on top of the two pitches for TV series we're producing, running Magellan Books and the EWTW and editing my latest novel during the day, I'm composing and recording music in the evenings...

No Rest for the Wicked, as I once sang!

BTW, as well as Lydie M Denier, I'm proud to announce another Hollywood star has chosen Magellan Books to launch her latest book to coincide with her new TV series in October. Cool, or what?

More news on that soon - coming to an inbox near you!

Anyway...

I'm probably one of the last people in the world to read "What the BLEEP Do We Know?"

By now most of the ideas in it are well publicized and known thanks to movies like The Secret and the media blitz that accompanied it a few years back.

A lot of self help gurus are still peddling the Law of Attraction or their version of it - so it's interesting to revisit some of the precepts now that the big splash has more or less passed.

In case you don't know, the premise of BLEEP is this:

Quantum physicists have established that, at the very fundamental level of atomic structure, measurement of subatomic particles seems dependent on - or at least relative to - the observer.

Much as modern physicists hate it, self help gurus (now, oddly, called 'philosophers' in some circles) say this is proof that consciousness affects, even shapes, reality.

And by extension the theory says that, through our intentions and interactions with matter, we actually create our own lives.

On a metaphysical level, ancient cultures and mystical traditions have been saying this for centuries - but only now do we have 'proof' from the scientific community that this may indeed be so.

Of course the majority of serious scientists are extremely upset they've let this particular Schroedinger's cat out of the bag. Some say they've been misquoted - and that the current theoretical ideas about the quantum world are too important to be trivialized by the general public.

BLEEP doesn't agree. One of their main arguments seems to be that this stuff is too important to leave to matter-bound scientists with no imagination. They want this life and perception altering information out there - in our hands - so that we can finally understand exactly how consciousness and our universe rely on each other for their existence.

One of the sections I liked in the book was where Dr Andrew Newberg said that the quantum problem was like discovering we're actually all living on some kind of big Star Trek holodeck - where the information about life's building blocks don't make any sense unless there's some huge computer 'outside' merely simulating our existence.

Of course, any self respecting Christian would say that this huge computer was God - and that we're probably not supposed to fully understand this stuff.

But that aside, if we really can shape our destinies with our thoughts, then this is surely where the real fun starts.

But can we really shape matter? And control our lives?

I guess it's a question of degree. How much control do we potentially have?

The problem is that as wonderful as these ideas sound - they don't appear to actually work to any great degree.

After all, the Global Intention Experiments by Lynne McTaggart have, notwithstanding the hype, been largely disappointing.

Much as we might want to believe it, there's seems no real definitive evidence we can get rich just by thinking about it.

However, having faith, acting upon our dreams and sticking to our goals, now that's what works - and is practically provable.

At the very least we now have some scientific data to act as a back-up to these basic self-help tenets:

That if you really want something, and go after it, then you'll get, not necessarily where you want to go, but most likely where you need to be - to achieve at least some degree of success.

I know this has worked for Robyn and I - and has worked for many of our subscribers.

BTW: did you know that over the last eight years, the Easy Way to Write has fostered over a dozen New York Times bestselling authors? We have their names on our subscriber database to prove it - not that they broadcast this fact to anyone! But I respect that - and their right to privacy.

It's just nice to know we may have helped in some way.

Anyway, I think the main point about the BLEEP factor is that now you have no excuse.

It's clear that the message is to take full responsibility for your actions. Because you just never know how much you really are creating your own reality - and that - and this is the kicker - your lack of success could be ultimately of your own making.

The next time you want something amazing to happen to you, start believing it's at least possible - and take positive action to let the universe know of your intentions.

To quote Star Wars - why not - fiction is just a valid reality as the real thing, isn't it? At least to our subconscious, which can't tell the difference anyway.

When Yoda lifts the downed starfighter with his mind, Luke says: "I don't believe it."

Whereupon Yoda replies, "That's why you can't do it."

Keep writing!

The Easy Way to Write

THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

“Life isn't about finding yourself. It's about creating yourself." George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, September 23, 2010

K.I.S.S.

It's good to be back. Three weeks is a long time to go without a newsletter. Don't know about you but I was suffering withdrawals!

Strange that during an intense writing workshop the thing I missed most was writing - and the nice home-bound routines I've set up for myself.

Writing in the morning, publishing in the afternoon - all that was on hold while we studied TV, drama, comedy and wrote and pitched ideas to TV executives for almost three weeks 24/7.

Hopefully something good - perhaps wonderful - will come of it.

One important thing I learned - TV people, writers and producers especially - work hard. Very hard in a very tough and demanding industry.

Don't ever think those programs you sit and watch every night - even the crap ones - are in any way easy to put together - they surely ain't!

THIS WEEK'S ARTICLE:

K.I.S.S.

Rob Parnell

We writers have a tendency to complicate things. We think that's what is required of us sometimes.

Character depth, we tell ourselves, is what counts.

Plot complexity, we think, is what impresses.

Layers of story threads woven into a sophisticated tapestry will mark us out as a literary master, we want to believe.

But actually in the modern marketplace I don't think this is true. At least not when it comes to selling our work to agents and publishers, producers, indeed the general public.

Just look at the way books, TV and films are pitched to us - in the media especially. You might think that it's journalists and editors that create these little snippets and brief synopses designed to encapsulate our work.

Wrong. It's we writers who have to do it.

Novelists write their own back-blurbs. The TV listings are derived from the screenwriter's original log lines...

Even after we've written something as word-weighty as a novel, we have to learn how to distill down the essence of our ideas into bite-sized pieces that are succinct and easily digestible.

This is a skill all its own. Most every writer will tell you that the synopsis is to be dreaded. Creating a shortened version of our work seems to go against the grain. To somehow cheapen and disfigure the face of the manuscript.

But the publishing industry doesn't see it that way.

The film industry is worse.

In today's world, unless you can encapsulate your work in 15 words or less, you're often not even going to get a look in. In most cases you are judged solely on your 'short pitch'. It seems grossly unfair that you can have your manuscripts rejected unread because the person on the other end doesn't like the sound of your pitch.

This has happened to us so many times, we know it must be the way of the world now.

Of course it works in reverse too.

We've had agents, publishers and producers react to the most facile of short pitches - and commission us - based on 'the idea' rather than any question of whether we might be up to its execution.

I guess this is because it's only writers that care about the words. The rest of the industry - or the vultures, as I like to call them - have this notion that it's (and I've heard them confirm this) the "ideas they can get excited about" that make the deals with publishers, agents, distributors and financiers who seem to revel in the buying and selling of writer's creative ideas.

They don't seem to realize that writers are more than just 'idea generators' and should be discarded if they don't come up with at least six new ones a day - and commercial ones at that.

I had a lovely email conversation with a cherished subscriber this week. He was having trouble fleshing out one of his characters. He was trying to understand what he needed to do to make his character come alive. He asked me about inner conflict and how that could be represented on the page.

After years of studying these issues, I gave my response:

A character's inner conflict is not something you need to think of first. It's the character's agenda - his goals - that define his modus operandi. And it's the story's antagonists (the people who will stand in the way of the character's agenda, or the so called 'obstacles') that dictate the story. This leads to an outer conflict - the story's events - which imply the 'inner conflict' - that is, the personal, sometimes unspoken, changes the character must undergo to become 'the hero.'

Indeed, a character's inner conflict often happens in the reader's mind - and is not always on the page.

This is all basic stuff you need to learn to make stories work - and being able to fashion writing using these principles are techniques that professional writers are supposed to know how to encapsulate instinctively.

But it sounds complicated right?

It's not - but that's the dilemma.

How do you distill ideas into their most basic form?

Truly? Study and practice.

You need to work on getting those 'short form' pitches into shape. And work just as hard on them as you would your longer works.

In a sound bite world, we need to write better sound bites than spin doctors, politicians and news readers.

You need to know your stories so well that you can squash them to any length. From a six word sentence to the one paragraph 'elevator pitch' to the one page synopsis - and you need to memorize them, just in case you ever need to use them.

I know. I know this is not what you signed up for when you became a writer. But Robyn and I have learned the hard way that this is pretty much a requirement in today's world.

Your writing career can live or die on a verbal pitch to the right person at the right time.

You might be at a convention, or meet a publisher at a party, or be interviewed by a potential fan in the street - you never know when a succinct version of your book will come in handy.

Best thing is - if you're good at making your ideas sound good - then your skill as a writer is often taken for granted.

And wouldn't that be a nice position to be in?

Keep writing!
The Easy Way to Write


THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much doing nothing." Gertrude Stein

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Seven Simple Strategies to Cure Writers' Block Forever!

I've always been loath to tackle the subject of writer's block. A personal, largely superstitious thing - but still I get asked what writers should do about it - all the time!

So here goes:


1. Crisis, What Crisis?

First off, you need to deny that there is any such thing as writer's block. This debilitating condition can only hurt you when you give it the privilege of a concrete name. Take away its name and you begin to take away its power over you.

Tell yourself, there is no such thing as writer's block. There is writing and not-writing. Only writers have a name for something they're NOT doing.

Think about the absurdity of builder's block, or doctor's block, or pilot's block. Any kind of inability to write is similarly absurd.

Writing is like breathing - something you learned to do a long time ago without thinking. Stop thinking about it - and just do it.


2. Stop! In the Name of Love.

If you've run out of ideas or you're struggling over the next sentence, take a break.

Many writers agree that a short pace around the garden, or a quick stint at housework, taking a shower or partaking in a brief period of meditation can help to shift your mindset away from a block.

You need to interrupt mental stagnation by briefly doing something else. Again, you need to stop thinking about the writing and give your mind the space to develop another way in.

A short break will give you a new perspective. Don't think about the writing, focus on the ideas, then go back to your desk and put those thoughts on paper, or the screen.


3. Everybody Say, Word Up.

Play with words. Make a game of it. For instance, take two unrelated words from the dictionary and make a sentence out of them.

Make a list of cues to pin on your wall. My first kiss, my best train ride, the last time I saw Paris etc. When stuck, use your cues to kick start your mind. Don't write, simply notate your thoughts.

Describe anything in your room. Describe someone you know from memory. Anything to get images on the page.

Again, don't think about the words, think about the thing you're describing - the characteristics, the emotions evoked, the conclusions made - and put those impressions onto the screen.

The quality of the writing is unimportant. Getting your thoughts out is all that matters.


4. Twas a Dark and Stormy Night...

Every writer has been there before you. See how they made it through by taking a book and copying out a paragraph, word for word.

Edit it. Try rephrasing some of the syntax, the clauses, the dialogue. When you do this, you're in another writer's mind.

Not so different from your own, is it?

All of us writers live in the same place. Some of us - the more prolific - are just better adjusted to the environment. They see the reality within and behind the words. Don't let the words get in the way. They're not important. What is important is relating the thoughts and impressions that the words represent.

Get past the words, leapfrog them, to get to the images in your mind. Don't say you don't have any ideas because your brain is full to the brim of them - and the more you write, the more you'll realize the truth of this phenomenon.


5. Gah! You Cannot Be Serious.

There's nothing quite like reading something terrible to make you feel you could do better.

Choose a dire paperback, read and scoff, then get back to your desk.

Whatever you do, don't stop and think about writing. Thinking about writing is not the same as writing.

The only time I ever got blocked was around ten years ago when a writer friend told me a story of mine didn't make sense. It took me a whole year to realize that no amount of thinking was ever going to improve the story. I sat down then to fix it.

More writing and editing is the only way forward. Stop writing and you die a little, and your writing dies with you.


6. I'll Have What She's Having

If you can't raise the enthusiasm to write, fake it.

Habit is king when it comes to writing. The more you do it, the easier it gets - because you lose the inhibitions created by lack of practice.

Plus, when you spend ten minutes writing, even if you're not really enjoying it at first, then somehow the subconscious kicks in and begins to write for you.

You've got to bypass the logical rational mind - the critic - and go to the source of your creativity, the subconscious - that never-ending well of ideas that is always bursting for a means of expression.

From childhood we are taught to suppress out imagination. As writers, we need to consciously become kids again. Let your inner mind run free and make mischief.


7. Take This and Come Back in a Week

Here's the solution to writer's block that always works.

Write it out.

When you're blocked, tell the page, I'm blocked. Ask for guidance, in writing. Work through your block on the screen, typing one painful word after the other if necessary.

"Come on, brain, you've got to help me. What should I write now? Just one more line, that's all I need to get me back on track."

Don't stop until the block has passed. ONLY stop when you feel you could write more. Always leave a little extra writing in reserve for the next time. Tomorrow.

In general, whatever you do, don't wait for inspiration.

Not only does this approach not work, it's messing with your brain and giving it all the wrong messages about writing being some kind of special activity. It's not.

Writing should be automatic to you. Just something you do, like eating, breathing or sleeping.

Now, I hate to put a downer on stuff at this point but if none of the above seven strategies work, then maybe you need to give up.

Because, simply put, if you're not writing regularly, you're not really a writer - and maybe you never will be. So stop beating yourself up and shut down that avenue. Stop torturing yourself and go back to chopping wood for a living.

Does this idea scare you?

It should. Because at this point you have two choices.

Stop now, for good - or go write something!

Best of luck, my friend.

I know you can do it.

Keep writing!

rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Truth is Out There

Great news this week.

Robyn and I have been offered spaces on a TV Development Workshop sponsored by SAFilm. It's an intense two month project designed to help us (and 8 others) pitch to TV execs in October.

We applied at the prompting of a producer/director friend of ours - had to put together an idea for a TV series - never believing we'd get in - but we did. Woohoo!

Needless to say I shall be reporting back to you on all the writing tips and tricks we pick up along the way. Wish us luck!

"Getting paid for your writing, son, is a triumph of tenacity over your intelligence."

I love this quote - it's one of my favorites - not least because it's one of my mother's.

Mommie dearest has always regarded writers - and me especially - as odd sorts. The idea that we would spend a large portion of our day knocking out words has always struck her as, in her word, silly.

A waste of time basically and not the sort of occupation for a sane person. She may be right but that doesn't stop it from being a compulsion for me - and most other writers I know.

I remember once when she came to visit me - which only happens about once a decade. I was at a particular low point. Can't remember why. I think I'd just lost my way after a deal fell through. One of those times, you know?

It was with great glee and insistence that she leaped on my misfortune and told me the situation was a God-given sign that I should give up all this arty stuff and settle down - get a proper job and be normal, as though that's a cure for anything.

That one time I thought she was on to something and I got a job as a storeman then a purchasing manager for a big city investment firm. God how I hated that place - although the experience of working 9 to 5 did teach me a lot about human nature - more especially the dark side of my own.

Three years later, a broken marriage and a near nervous breakdown (I realize that now) later, the City and I parted on bad terms and I vowed, "Never again" - again, like you do.

I shouldn't have listened to my mother but I did. It wasn't her fault. I guess she thought she knew best but didn't really get my total inability to work under other people. As I say, not her fault. Mine entirely for not understanding that you really do have to follow your own instincts, even when they seem 'contrariwise'.

A decade later I was able to tell mom about some of my paid writing credits and the quote above erupted from her.

She meant it in a derogatory way, as mothers often do, in case you were wondering. Implying the intelligence that would have me 'settle down' was again being corrupted by my 'arty' side.

So be it. At least now I'm happy... probably all the more for having hovered near the abyss of the rat race and backed away from its empty allure before too much toxic exposure.

I was reminded of these incidents because I'm putting the final touches to a new writer's resource - due for release next week.

It's called "The E-Files" and its a collection of everything I've learned about making money as a writer, specifically on the Internet.

It's a huge project but something many people have asked me to do - basically to let them know how you can use the Internet to further a writing career - without falling for all the traps that often ensnare would-be professional writers who surf the Net looking for opportunities.

As I'm putting together The E-Files, I'm reminded constantly of the need for an almost blind faith in yourself as a writer. But a faith that is moderated by the feedback you get.

And I don't mean feedback on your writing.

I mean the experiences you can encounter. There are many sharks out there - not all of them evil. Some just want you to work for nothing because you're there - and they think that's what Internet writers do.

Working for free is okay sometimes - if it's going to lead somewhere but most times it doesn't. It takes a particular tenacity (that word again) I think to recognize good opportunities - and profit from them as a writer in a world wide web that is set up to regard writers as odd arty types who will (too often) work very hard for zip.

The E-Files is a genuine attempt to show writers they can indeed take control of their careers and use the Internet to their advantage - as long as they're not naive - and have a good guide - someone like moi (IMHO) to guide them.

For a long time I've been preaching that the real writing jobs are off-line but I know this is not what modern would-be writers want to hear. Especially now that the Net is such a big part of many writers' lives. Many need to believe that the Net can help - and it can, wonderfully, IF you know what to do, how and when and why.

It's my hope The E-Files will finally answer those Net bound writers who "want to believe" the truth is out there!

In the mean time my best advice would be: "Don't take too much advice from your mother!"

She doesn't always know best.

Keep writing!

rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"Don't compromise yourself; you're all you've got."
Janis Joplin - advice from a whiskey-soaked hedonist who died too young to get help. Works for me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tempus Fugit

Vin Smith has a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for being the first ever night-time DJ. We've been friends for a long time in Internet terms - years - and we're both great supporters of writers and the issues they face in terms of self promotion and career management.

This is a preamble to announce Vin Smith's new website. He's still heavily involved in radio and PR - and encourages writers to use their own voice to tell potential readers about their work. Go visit. It's a great resource for writers with there's lots to see.

I lost a day this week. Yesterday I was under the impression it was Wednesday (it's Friday today). Robyn had to battle to right me of this misconception last night until I eventually had to accept I'd lost a whole twenty four hours.

I'm not sure how this happened. I have my writing week so carefully mapped out these days.

I worked on Magellan Books last weekend and all day Monday - perhaps a little of Tuesday. Two new books came out. No problem.

I spent a day somewhere in the week editing my latest novel again - after Robyn had done an edit/proof run through. She'd made notes on where she thought I needed to tighten up a couple of logic inconsistencies. Fixed those, hopefully.

Oh yeah, I spent around half a day sending out hard-copy editions of my Easy Writing books - which sold out - had to go round to the printer and get some more done because I'd run out.

I designed a two page promotional flier for a Writing Academy mail-out - and fixed up my database of Australian subscribers.

Plus of course I spent many hours answering the constant stream of emails that go with having a high profile Net presence...

But I still felt I had a spare day - Thursday - to get some other things done. Only to discover I'd lost it. It's now Friday, newsletter day - and I feel like I've slipped feel through some time wormhole.

Or perhaps I fell asleep on Tuesday and woke up thirty six hours later, missing a complete day. Don't think so. I'm sure Robyn would have mentioned it.

The subtlety of this sense of loss may not strike you as a big deal but to me, it's a little unsettling.

I know they say time flies (tempus fugit) when you're having fun but a whole day?

All I can think is that I must be so absorbed in my work that I literally don't know what day it is.

Do you get like this?

I didn't think I was the type.

I remember once when I was musician living on a houseboat in Chelsea. I was between record deals and I decided I needed a new batch of songs to play to a music publisher friend (the famous Don Black's son).

Much to the chagrin of my then girlfriend I literally locked myself into my recording studio on the boat (not quite as glamorous as it sounds) and didn't come out until I had five new songs composed and recorded. I lost track of time then because there was no natural light in my recording studio - and no clock.

I emerged after a week looking like Robinson Crusoe, thinking I'd been there perhaps two days and it was in fact a week later. But that made sense to me. I'd simply got so involved that time didn't matter.

Plus I used to live on alcohol and chips in those days so I rarely had any normal routines to punctuate the day. I wonder now why my GF didn't come to check on me...

No matter. Rock chicks are probably more used to eccentricities than your average housewife.

But that only happened once. They were great songs by the way and got me a deal with EMI. So it was worth it.

But now I like to pride myself on being way more organized and mature about hard work.

I have lists of things to do, schedules and calendars - not to mention hour by hour rituals that I like to work to...

So what happened this week?

Who knows?

Perhaps I'm just going senile. Can that happen at forty two?

Come to think of it, maybe I've lost a few years somewhere and haven't yet realized.

I could be eighty two and not know it!

Just like the old proverb that says you're as old as the partner you feel, I think for writers it could be you're as old as your characters.

My latest protagonist is fifteen.

Maybe that's it. I'm going through a second adolescence - and a carefree sense that time doesn't matter because I have my whole life ahead of me.

I hope so.

Because I've got a lot more to get written - and at least another lifetime's worth of stories!

Keep writing!

rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation." Graham Greene

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Stand Up and Be Counted

Watched Scorsese's Shutter Island last night on cable. A masterful piece of Kafka-esque paranoia vs conspiracy nightmare. I love stories that blur the line between reality and what the mind can perceive as real. I especially like 'double twists' at the end of movies.

Ironic that the most outlandish of the paranoid delusions the DiCaprio character experiences are based on actual facts about the CIA and FBI's actions during the 1950s when trying out their own real-life version of the Manchurian Candidate.

Today, we look at staying on top of your writing game.

It's been a great week writing-wise - but it reminded me how fragile we are as humans - and how we've got to look after ourselves, even if all we aspire to is comfort and happiness.

I finished the first draft of a new novel Wednesday last. Robyn's doing a proof of it now so that it's ready for submission next week.

Finishing a project brings up odd emotions. Nearing the end of the MS last Friday, I felt a curious wave of sadness - as though I was composing farewells to old friends I would miss dearly.

By Tuesday, and the completion of the final chapter 'wrap up', this feeling had morphed into elation at a job (I thought) well done. Riding this high, I did something I never do:

A complete copy edit in one go. Took me seven hours not stop Wednesday to go through and do a final proof before handing the MS over to Robyn.

I guess I deliberately wanted to get this done quickly so I could circumvent the next inevitable emotion: doubt.

You know, that horrible little gremlin that sneaks under the covers at the end of a project and says, "What were you thinking? Spending all those hours and days and weeks - for that?"

It's a nasty niggly voice and maybe I'm the only one who suffers from it, though I don't think so. My subscribers often complain of a similar gremlin.

Of course now, while I know my partner's reading the MS, I'm going through the "please say you like it" phase where any kind of criticism of my latest baby will hurt like a burning poker through the spleen.

Thankfully she's said some nice things so far - but then she would, wouldn't she?

Partners can be ruthless with their criticism, but at least Robyn's a multi-published author so I think I'm getting honest feedback!

Fingers crossed they're not just platitudes.

Just in time this week I got a lovely rejection letter from an editor I admire greatly. He didn't want the particular story I submitted to him but he did take time out to say he thought I was a 'skilled writer', which I found hugely encouraging.

You need things like that to keep you getting your work out there.

I consulted my submission spreadsheet this week and realized this whole 'submitting' bit needs work on my part. Of the fifteen fiction projects I might consider 'live' at the moment, only around three are actually with a publisher. Not nearly enough.

How am I ever going to get up to the requisite 100 rejections if I don't apply myself more vigorously to submitting manuscripts?

Because we know it's a numbers game. The best evidence confirms that if you're not receiving a multitude of rejections, then your writing efforts are pretty much for naught.

You could be the next big thing but if nobody's considering your work, how will you ever find out?

It's too easy to reside in a comfort zone - unwilling to receive feedback that might shatter the dream.

But it has to be done. You can't rely on bumping into a fabulous contact in an elevator who can rocket you to fame and fortune.

You have to do what other writers have done since the beginning of tablet etching: submitting to publishers and agents and editors continually.

Fitzgerald famously said he could paper the walls of his writing room with rejections. That's how it is, and should be, for writers.

And I feel bad sometimes because I know I don't get nearly enough rejections to know I'm really trying hard enough.

I woke up this morning with a pain in my knee. Don't know what it is - probably nothing.

But it did remind me I'm only mortal and that one day I may not be in a position to keep writing, let alone submitting.

Get a move on, Rob, I thought, get a darn wiggle on...

Know what I mean?

Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"I'm astounded by people who take eighteen years to write something. That's how long it took that guy to write Madame Bovary, and was that ever on the best-seller list?" Sylvester Stallone

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Seize the Writing Day

I see Lindsay Lohan only did 14 days in prison, instead of the 90 she was supposed to. It's probably 14 days more than I could do. Horrible.

But maybe it'll be good for her career. Not to be too flippant but it does seem to be that way with celebrities nowadays.

Look at Robert Downey Jr. Started off in movies, forced to do TV for a while. Then a stretch in prison. Then back into movies - and now a bigger star that he ever was.

Bestselling storyteller (in all senses of the word) Jeffrey Archer did three years for treason and is now the favorite for London mayor.

Tut, the world we live in.

You couldn't make this stuff up in a novel and expect anyone to believe it!

Many people write to me about writer's block.

They hate it when the urge to write drops off in the middle of a novel or a non-fiction book or a screenplay, even during a short story.

They worry about what that means. Are they really a writer? Has the Muse deserted them? Or is it symptomatic of some more serious psychological issue?

Some writers worry about stopping even before it happens to them.

A recipe for disaster if ever there was one.

Whatever the problem, my feeling is that if you get stuck, you need to go back and examine the reasons why you started in the first place.

That place was most likely the strongest position you ever occupied in relation to your writing.

Why did you start to write?

To make order from chaos? To right wrongs? For catharsis? Or simply to enjoy the creative process?

Personally, I've written for as long as I've been able. I wrote little pamphlets about hating my sister and stealing candy from the local shop at least a couple of years before I learned to read properly.

I kept a yearly diary up until I was eighteen.

I think I started to write stories because I didn't much like the world. It seemed endless and pointless and I really needed some certainty and symmetry that made sense - and the only place I could get that was from fiction.

Reading helps with that too.

When reading you're aware that lots of other authors want that sense of control over a world - even if it's only imaginary. Especially if it's imaginary.

I've got into a rhythm recently, one I'm very happy with.

I write fiction in the mornings, up until lunch. Good days I write 1500 words - good unhurried words that I like. Bad days I'll eke out 500, just to feel I did something.

I don't worry about blocks so much as getting distracted into other projects. There's always the temptation to do something less 'Art' oriented. But I try to focus on the fiction because that's what I know gives me the most satisfaction - in the long term.

I'm only really happy when I'm writing - or thinking about writing, which is what I tell myself I'm doing when I watch movies or TV.

I'm seeing how others do it. How other artists put stories together.

I'm learning from other craftsmen and women.

Do you have excuses like this?

I guess we all do. We can't write all the time - to the exclusion of everything else - although some writers have tried - and others do.

I guess it's about balance.

You can't force the Muse. She's too elusive for that. Try to confront her and she dissolves. Call on the Muse and she's busy. You have to let her creep up on you and peek over your shoulder when you're writing. Then don't acknowledge her, just let her hover nearby, nodding unseen approval.

I think the trick is not to beat yourself up.

Write every day if you can. Stay on top of your self imposed goals.

A block isn't so bad as the effect you might let it have on you.

If you start to hate yourself, then immediately write something - even if it's just a shopping list or a set of new goals.

Your brain likes repetition - but most of all it likes the reinforcement of values already held.

So if you remember why you started writing, all those neurons and synaptic gaps will fire up again - and help get you back on your path.

If all else fails, take one of my courses. People are always telling me how inspiring they are!

Keep writing!

rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"One of your first jobs, as you write for money, will be to get rid of your vocabulary." Jack Woodford

Thursday, July 29, 2010

That Competitive Edge

Many people are surprised that I write an article every week, just before I send it to you. They seem to think I have a store of them that I plunder for each weekly newsletter.

Uh-uh. These are always hot off the press!

That's why they're always relevant to now, this day, this week! (And sometimes have typos!)

Writing is a habit that needs reinforcement. It's a good discipline - especially if you aspire to be a professional. Personally I just enjoy having to write articles on Fridays. I look forward to doing them.

And I hope you enjoy reading them too! And on that note...

I've been reading a few thrillers recently, branching out into authors I'm unfamiliar with. I thought this might be good for my writing - to get to know what other writers are doing.

I noticed a pattern, as is my wont.

Good reads are not always just about drama, conflict and characterization. More and more there seems to be a need for an over-arcing theme that is independent of the story.

Often this will take the form of an historical event or a branch of science or an intimate affinity to a subject unfamiliar to the reader.

I remember that Stephen King once said that he'd noticed that novels written by people with specialized knowledge had less trouble getting published than himself sometimes. (Who knew?)

Tradesmen who knew how to fix fences or pan for gold - and who weaved their specialization into their fiction - could sometimes create stories that were more compelling than mere dramas.

I suppose that's why certain authors have used their former professions to lift their books out of the ordinary. An ex-cop like Joseph Wambaugh springs to mind. An ex-doctor like Robin Cook. And ex-lawyers like John Grisham and Richard North Patterson. Many ex-teachers too like Dan Brown and JK Rowling use their gift for simple instruction to help guide their readers through complex storylines.

This comes down to what media people call the 'angle'. Gone are the days when you can interest a publisher with lines like "this is a story about love, familial loyalty and triumph over adversity." You also need a theme, as in "set in a wildlife park" or "set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War" for example.

Writers often tend to suppress their other interests when it comes to fiction. Writers have a tendency to think that anything in their own lives is not appropriate for their own fiction.

This is a mistake I think.

If you have specialized knowledge about a subject, then by all means weave it into your story.

Do research and find little snippets of info, bizarre facts and show the methodology behind certain professions like banking, insurance or even plumbing, fishing or scrapbooking.

The most famous example of this in recent years is the new obsession with forensics. Who would have thought that something as intricate as DNA, fingerprints, blood spatter, pathology and criminal profiling would became such a fascinating arena, ripe for mass consumption?

Of course there's always been a huge market for crime and mystery. I suppose people like the combination of following clues and eventually seeking justice - especially if there's personal agendas and compelling characters involved.

In this regard, Sue Grafton is one of my favorite authors. She never ceases to inspire me. Not just as a good read, or as a great writer. I've found myself analyzing her technique too.

She writes mysteries from the limited point of view of her protagonist, Kinsey Millhone. Though the stories are written now, they're set in the late 1980s when forensics wasn't so sophisticated. Even computers were rarely used for anything (hard to believe this was such a short time ago, isn't it?)

I love the way Sue Grafton uses the 1930s detective genre to show her hero moving from place to place, interviewing a myriad of characters and uncovering the mystery while at the same time presenting the minutiae of Millhone's life. The detail is so personal you really feel you know this person's life as if it's real.

And that's the secret I think. To make fiction seem real.

This is where personal, specialized or well researched extra knowledge can help lift a story out of the ordinary.

Whether it's a deliberate focus on setting or reference to the specifics of a professional career or a detailed grasp of a subject other than writing - it all helps.

Being an expert - or appearing to be an expert - on something other than writing will help you sell your stories I believe.

I recently read "The Ghost" by Robert Harris - a fabulous novel about a ghost writer compiling a politician's memoirs. The main character says this:

"All good books are different but all bad books are exactly the same. All these bad books have one thing in common: they don't ring true. I'm not saying that a good book is true necessarily, just that it feels true for the time you're reading it."

Sage counsel indeed!

Worth bearing in mind the next time you want to bring something true - however seemingly minor or personal to you - into your own stories!

Keep writing!

rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Inspiration Point

I borrowed a book from the library, written by Ray Bradbury, called "Zen in the Art of Writing".

It's so packed with great writing advice I'm almost loathe to finish it - because then I'll have to take it back!

Writers often wonder about inspiration - and how to get good ideas for stories.

And often, when writers start out, they wonder what kind of writer they're going to be - and what kind of stories they will write, and in which genre.

Mr Bradbury has some advice on both of these issues. In the pages of his book, he explains what helped him.

He says he's been writing at least a thousand words every day of his life since he was twelve. Great. We like to hear that all the best writers have this simple habit ingrained.

He'd been reading a lot of science fiction since he was a kid he said and naturally thought he was destined to be an SF writer.

Trouble was, in his early twenties, he wasn't having much success with his SF stories. Editors complained that they were derivative and not very original. Ray agonized over this because he knew in his heart he would have to make a living from writing - there was after all nothing else he wanted to do - but how was he going to get his work published if editors weren't impressed with his stories?

He made a decision to take a couple weeks off to write down all his favorite words and phrases. Some of them intended as titles for works, some just words that he liked. Words that appealed to him and struck him as evocative.

This is the important part. He didn't just pick words that sounded good. He picked words that inspired an emotional reaction in him. The words on their own may have sounded innocuous to anyone else. Words like BODY, LAKE, CARNIVAL and DOLL. But to Ray the words personified events in his life and more relevantly, changes in his perception as he was growing up.

When he had a small notebook full of these words, he would then take one at random and write a short piece based on his personal reaction to the images and emotions triggered by them.

Hey presto, his work became, he says, more original overnight.

Original because his work became more honest, more uniquely "Ray Bradbury", he says. One of the first tales he wrote using this technique was "The Lake", a story that is still republished to this day, almost forty years later.

He said that the practice of writing down all the words he found evocative helped him to establish in his own mind what kind of writer he was. The list helped him to see patterns in his own preferences. In short, the pages of words in his notebook became the template for his "style" - his own unique way of perceiving the world.

He said what was interesting to him was that this list of words is still a source of inspiration to him to this day. Thirty years after he'd written down the list, he still plunders it for short story ideas!

So, as I said, the list became his own source of inspiration and originality at the same time. Certainly nothing to be sniffed at for a writer.

I don't know about you but this sounds like a fabulous idea - and one that may have already occurred to you. I remember being seventeen and writing down titles of books I would one day write.

I also wrote down snippets of dialogue that appealed to me. Phrases that still work their way into my stories, even now.

So if you're ever worried that you don't know what kind of writer you are, try this exercise:

Make a list of 200 words you like the sound of. Words that uniquely move or inspire you, or fill your head with images and emotions.

And when you have the list, study the words. Look for patterns.

You may discover you're not quite the kind of writer you thought you were.

Plus, you'll have a deep, ready store of inspiration.

Keep writing!

rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Don't Have Time? Change Your Mind

Here's the thing: sometimes you have no idea how your writing will go when you start.

Sometimes the thought of starting is so stressful, you'll do anything to avoid the work.

But you have to get started. You need a time in your day when you always write. You need to train your brain into knowing what that time is.

Then just turn up.

And let the writing take care of itself.

They say it takes about a month to change a habit.

That's why rehab centers use a 28 day program. A month is roughly how long it takes for the body and mind to adjust to a new set of rules and circumstances.

There's no real cure for an addiction. The best therapists know that replacing a bad habit with a new obsession is way more effective than simply denying an urge that will no doubt resurface.

The reason why most drug addicts go back to taking drugs is that, even though they may have rid themselves physically once, their situations, their daily lives, their friends and influences conspire to get them back on the road to their ingrained obsessions.

Our brains are chemically designed to associate pleasure with familiarity. This is why self destructive behavior can be so frustrating to observe - and counter.

This is why too, if you sometimes have a defeatist attitude towards your writing - one that may tell you that you'll never succeed and that writing is a waste of your time - the attitude will resurface.

It's not really that writing is a waste of your time, it's just that you've trained your mind to become comfortable with that fall back notion.

The only way to counter negativity is to consciously dismantle the things you tell yourself and replace dark thoughts with positive ones. Do this for a month and it will become a habit.

Cynics will say this is too easy an approach. I would argue that cynicism is the comfort zone of the underachiever and can spread like a virus amongst groups of individuals.

This is why success gurus will tell you to avoid negative people.

We all have synaptic paths in our brains that are well traveled. Failure can often seem inevitable and our minds recognize this reality - and will find ways, facts and means to endorse this crude simplification.

But that's the lazy way to approach the problem.

Reality also tells us that many people succeed despite huge odds, through luck or determination and persistence.

We need to train our minds to accept that despite the experience of the majority, there are those that rise above the mediocre and persist in their belief that anything is possible.

History is abundant with examples.

Edison, Einstein, Shakespeare, Da Vinci, all the way up to the present time. Dan Brown, Stephen King, JK Rowling. All experienced the idea that success was for others - but still they refused to accept they were wasting their time.

Theirs was a higher calling. The work was not just the means to an end, it was the end in itself. A great artist's work becomes his obsession, his primary motivation - his reason to be.

I often get emails from writers who have lost touch with their muses, or have let their daily lives get in the way of their dreams.

They speak as though this is be expected, that somehow it's acceptable that our goals are there to be quashed, abused and ignored - most often by ourselves.

But rather than endure what we regard as reality and the nature of things, we must rise above these attitudes.

Writers don't always succeed because they're lucky or have rich benefactors that enable them - or have more time than the rest of us.

Successful writers succeed because they make time - even when they have busy schedules or day jobs or children and a hundred other pressures. You might even say they don't succeed in spite of these extra pressures but because of them.

Pressure and the ability to find time to pursue a dream as well is the mark of a committed artist.

To be able to change your brain into seeing the value of your work in the midst of everyone else's negativity, cynicism and yourself being just plain too busy should be your real goal - every day.

If you don't have the writing habit, and you want to be successful writer, you've got to force one onto yourself.

Make a time each day, and stick to it.

Find a place to write, even if it's perched on the edge of your bed, and go to it, everyday.

Give your creativity time - and give yourself time to write.

Beg, borrow or steal the time if necessary.

Do it for a month and writing will become a habit, then an addiction, then an obsession.

As it should be for you.

Whatever you do...

Keep writing!

The Easy Way to Write

The Easy Way to Write

Welcome to the official blog of the Easy Way to Write from Rob Parnell, updated weekly - sometimes more often!