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Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Art of Focus


More than half the battle when you're trying to write is remaining focused enough to complete a project.

It used to be that most writers complained about lack of time to finish their novels, even their short stories, and articles.

Life has always had a way of distracting us from our goals - and that was before the Internet.

Yes, there was such a time.

It reminds me of that old joke. "How did we ever look busy at work before computers?"

Now it's like, "How did we ever fill our time before the Net?"

A hundred years ago – in the evenings before TV - we sat in candlelight, singing songs around a piano. Or we got pissed on gin in a tavern.

Then came TV and we sat around watching black and white drama and variety shows on the BBC, who (my mum says) told you when to go to bed when they stopped broadcasting.

Now it's all gone crazy.

24/7 entertainment by the yard, distractions by the bucket load, total information overload - how is a writer supposed to think, let alone write!

And none of this includes dealing with our jobs, the shopping, the chores, our families and having real off-line friends to socialize with.

In Japan, they sell clean air - because it's such a rare commodity.

I reckon the person who can package and sell FOCUS will be the next billionaire.

We recently upgraded our broadband - from crap to vaguely acceptable - because these are the only two options Australia offers its customers.

Now, everything electronic in our house is permanently connected, not only to the Net but to each other. Things ding and ping randomly and we have designated charging points for all our mobile clutter. 

It's all great and wonderful - until I need to write!

The afternoon has recently become my "technology free" zone. It's hard - actually really hard - but I switch off my connection so I'm free to write articles, blogs and sometimes, my fiction.

It's absurd that I often have to go offline to answer emails - otherwise, they'd never get done!

And if I find it tough, what about those people who tweet every hour of every day? How do they find the time to do anything else?

Maybe they don't.

I guess that's it - tweeting IS what they do - maybe in between their novels?

I don't know.

It's hard not to be online, isn't it?

Just a quick peek that turns into an hour or two?

I've started editing manuscripts in bed - on my tablet - which of course is only a screen-flip away from the entire web. It's a wonder we get anything done these days...

And yet there are still thousands of authors out there who do get things done!

My hat is off to them.

Personally, I will continue to try and find that elusive balance.

I call myself a writer - because that's what I do (mostly). I would hate to get so distracted I lose sight of that imperative.

Which does happen sometimes - and I loathe myself for being so unproductive...

I hope you too find your balance, with the help of The Writing Academy.

And that we continually remind ourselves to FOCUS when necessary.

The best to you,

Keep Writing!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

7 Ways to Kickstart Your Mind


New writers often ask me what they should write about.

How do you get ideas? they ask. I know I want to write but I can't think of anything interesting enough to fire my imagination.

To be honest, I think that coming up with ideas is a largely a learned skill that gets easier with practice. Writing regularly has a way of triggering the mind into coming up with ideas, almost as a byproduct of the writing process.

But if you're stuck, how do you re-ignite your little gray cells? Here are seven strategies that may help you.

1. Read Outside Your Comfort Zone

Don't read whole books, be a browser. Pick up books and magazines you would never normally touch and read things at random.

Go to Amazon and download lots of free samples on science, anthropology, astronomy, history, eclectic stuff you wouldn't normally expose yourself to. Let your mind read enough to be puzzled, intrigued or fascinated, then stop and move on.

This process will help fire different neurons in your brain - the first step to lateral imagining.

2. Stop Thinking

A great way to fall asleep is to force yourself to stay awake. A fabulous way to gain weight is to go on a diet. Put your brain on a diet.

For ten minutes, try to think about absolutely nothing. Force every single thought out of your mind. Push them away. Try to get to a still point of silence in your brain.

When you stop the inane chatter in your mind and force it to understand that nothing is important, you open up more creative pathways for your left brain to explore.

3. Brainstorm like a Child

We're born with fertile imaginations because every new input is strange and needs understanding. Everything needs analysis when you're a kid.

Recapture that youthful playfulness by asking why? of everything, just like kids do. Don't accept the answer your mind automatically gives you. Think harder. Imagine different explanations.

Good writers do this all the time. They learn not to accept the failsafe answer but to keep questioning. Just asking the questions make your brain more active and healthy.

4. Rip It Up

Go to a yard sale and buy up an old dictionary, a Yellow Pages and another fat book, maybe a bible. Tear out all the pages, tear the pages into pieces and stuff all the scraps into a plastic bag.

Then make it habit to pull out three or four pieces of paper and try to see connections between the words and names and events in your grubby little hands.

Making connections between random words has a name: it's called inspiration!

5. What If - With Scapple

The wonderful people who made Scrivener have produced a mind-mapping software called Scapple. With just a little work, you can create words and bubbles and links to your heart's content.

Type in a word and ask 'what if' questions to yourself. What if my mailman was a frog? What if the sky was green? That kind of thing. Put your answers into Scapple and link them back and forth.

You can get a free copy of Scapple here: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scapple.php

You can also get a free copy of Scrivener here:
http://literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

The two programs are compatible - and if Scrivener doesn't get your imagination firing, you're probably not a writer!


6. Play Dice

Write down six names for imaginary characters. Number them one to six.

Throw a dice and pick the name that matches the number you just threw. Then write down six places, numbering them. Throw the dice, picking the numbered place you threw.

Now you have Patrick from Cincinnati for instance. Then write down six character attributes or plot ideas. Keep throwing the dice to choose between six options.

Let your mind do the rest. It's forcing your mind to make new connections that will jump-start your imagination.


7. Make Lists

You may not believe it yet but your mind is teeming with ideas. We have around 80,000 thoughts a day but less than 2,600 actually impinge on our consciousness. Of those, around 90% were the same thoughts we had yesterday.

The way to come up with new ideas is to force your thoughts down new pathways.

Making lists is a great way of opening up your neural networks.

List ten names of characters. List ten ways to cook an egg. List ten ways to climb a hill. Push yourself. Don't settle for less than ten.

List ten obstacles to getting your perfect mate. List ten ways a criminal might rob a bank. List ten ways a warrior might kill a dragon.

You can immediately see that by a slight shift in your thinking process, you're already coming up with story ideas.

This is the secret to coming up with ideas- and now you know it!
Keep Writing!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Bestselling Books of All Time


The biggest selling book of all time is, of course, The Bible

Given its place and significance in our cultural history, that’s probably not surprising. But, strictly speaking, the Bible doesn't count - for our purposes - because it's allegedly not fiction (though some might disagree.)
I want to restrict my study of the bestseller to fiction - because to me, any book about things and people that aren't obviously real would have to pretty powerful to inspire millions of people to buy it.

Okay. 

Would it surprise you then to discover that the bestselling novel, ever, is, in fact, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities? 

Shocked the hell out of me. Yep, we've consumed over 200 million copies of this saga about the French Revolution and its effect on English mores.

After that, we're on more familiar ground with The Lord of the Rings at around 150 million - and this figure isn't skewed by the book often being sold as three books - they're still only counted as one. 

The redoubtable Agatha Christie comes in third with And Then There Were None, which in pre correct times was called Ten Little Niggers and later Ten Little Indian Boys - a cracking good read with a brilliant twist, written in 1939.

Here we get the glimmerings of one of my first conclusions about writing bestsellers. That, from the first three entries, what is clear is that so-called 'literary' writing is not what counts. It's emphatically the story that is more important. 

This is especially apparent when we look at number five in the list.

By the way, The Hobbit is at number four - but clearly, Tolkien had the advantage of writing the number two bestseller.

The fifth bestselling novel of all time is, in fact, She by Rider Haggard.

What? I hear you gasp.

Again here we see another indication that story is king.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince weighs in next, for reasons not immediately obvious. I mean, it's a cute story about kingship and aliens but 80 million copies? Must have been a slow news year.

Next, at number seven, we're at least not so flummoxed by the news that The Da Vinci Code has earned its place in the top ten bestsellers of all time.

I can already hear that rumbling out there. You're wondering about young Harry, aren't you? Patience, please.

Number eight reveals our twentieth-century obsession with all things warped with Catcher in the Rye - the book that arguably spawned a jailyard of psychopaths - and to this day is a story I find impenetrable.

Whenever I try to read it, I'm struck by the thought that it really must be about something, though I'm not quite sure what. Maybe that's its vague adolescent appeal. I prefer the more familiar ground trodden in Camus' The Outsider.

Number Nine - and one my favorites: The Alchemist by Portuguese visionary Paulo Coelho. At least here a profound message is disguised as a great piece of deceptively simple writing.

And what about number ten?

Don't hold your breath, you'll be disappointed to learn - perhaps even disgruntled to know - that Heidi's Years of Wandering and Learning by the less than familiar Johanna Spyri takes that coveted spot.

Well, knock me down with a fevver, as they say in London.

So, I can feel that tug on my arm again...

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes in at number seventeen, believe it or not - after such evergreen classics as Anne of Green Gables, Black Beauty, The Name of the Rose, Charlotte's Web and the other Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

I think what's interesting about these bestsellers is that they're probably not the books you were expecting to see. At all.

I mean, where is the like of Twilight, 50 Shades, Catch 22, The Godfather or even Jaws, The Exorcist, 1984, or Jurassic Park?

Top ten movie lists tend to feature the most recent films simply because more people exist to go and see movies nowadays - and gross numbers are what count.

But this is not the case with novels.

Each new generation finds entertainment in well-worn classics - but surely that doesn't explain why so many classics aren't featured in the bestselling novels list.

Of course, most so-called bestseller lists produced by book retailers, the media, and book publishers are often self-serving.

They shamelessly list the books they want you to buy - and will feature books they think people should buy but don't (not in large numbers anyway.)

And as Mark Twain once said, a classic is a book everyone knows they should read, but won’t.

Thanks for reading this.


Rob Parnell

Thursday, September 21, 2017

5 New Realities Authors Don’t Want to Hear



Recently there have been articles in the media about the plight of the publishing industry and the state of play for authors in particular.

Here's a roundup of what these reports are saying. 
I believe you should take note, even if you don't want to be reminded of the new realities of writing books for a living!


1. Traditional Publishers Finally Reveal the Facts

The truth is that when you're signed to a traditional publisher, there's no guarantee you'll make enough money to live on.

Less than one in a thousand authors with traditional publishing deals make over $100K per annum. In fact, 99% of published authors make less than $2000 a year.

Writers have long believed the myth that 'getting published' is the answer to their goals. The reality is different.

Even with all the “advantages” of distribution to retailers worldwide, third-party promotion, and the “kudos” of being signed to a publishing house, the vast majority of traditionally published writers will NEVER make enough in royalties to quit their day jobs.

Plus, The Big Five only publish a fraction of the books pitched to them by their in-house authors. So it's more than possible to get a publishing deal and then STILL not be able to release your books to the public!


2. The Net Has Come of Age

According to a recent survey of over 9000 writers, you're more likely to be making a living writing if you self-publish your work online.

The figures don't lie. Online authors who self-publish make, on average five to ten times the royalties per book than your average 'published' author.

Selling books online may be hard - but actually, no harder than it is for a publisher to sell books in shops. But, when you self-publish, you reap the rewards and don't have to give away up to 90% of your hard-earned royalties.


3. It's All in the Definition

Many people call themselves writers - but are probably not.

By government and welfare agency definitions, you can't be a writer unless you have a qualification of some sort, which is absurd.

But for the purposes of statistical analysis, the following is a useful definition: 
"An author is a person engaged in writing commercial fiction or nonfiction AND who is actively working on a manuscript intended for publication soon."

Is this you? Or is this just what you aspire to do? Chances are, if the above definition does not describe exactly what you're doing RIGHT NOW, you shouldn't class yourself as a writer.


4. Amazon Rocks

The average successful author on Amazon Kindle makes up to ten times more money than the average author with a publishing deal.

Now that's a real eye-opener which completely flies in the face of those authors who consider self-publishing to be a cop-out - or not a definitive sign of success.
The truth is different. Having a traditional publishing deal now means you probably don’t write books worthy of self-publication.


5. Keep Dreaming

What's clear is that becoming a traditionally published author and then expecting this archaic route to somehow facilitate writing success is a dream. It just doesn't square with reality.

These days, having a book on the shelf of a bookstore doesn't carry weight in your pursuit of success - or even help you get by as a writer.

Simply put, the odds are completely stacked against you UNLESS you self-publish.

This is what most new authors don't want to hear!

But why?

You would think that authors would love to sell books - and the way to do that, clearly, is to sell them yourself online.

Think about it.

If you can't sell your own books, then you're not going to appeal to a traditional publisher.
And even if you do all the right things to impress a publisher and one signs you, you're still most likely going to end up with the 99% of published authors who make less than $2000 a year!

If you’ve been paying attention, you'll have noticed a trend.

Publishers have been clamoring to sign bestselling Kindle authors.
The reason is obvious. Successful Kindle authors write books that sell - which is the ONLY thing publishers want.

Clearly, the best way to get a publishing deal is to write commercial books and PROVE they're commercial by selling them YOURSELF through Amazon and Kindle.

But you need to change your thinking about this because, the fact is, if you believe you're not ready to self-publish, then you're definitely not ready to send a manuscript to an agent or publisher!

You should be absolutely convinced you've written a huge bestseller before you consider offering it to a publisher.

But, if you think you have written a bestseller, what better way to prove it than by self-publishing?

Too many writers send their MSS to publishers because they're really not good enough to self-publish.

There, I've said it.

That's the new reality most writers don't want to accept.

Anyone can send in manuscripts to publishers and agents with some vague hope they may get signed and then get famous.

But publishers only want authors who sell lots of books!

Listen up.

In this digital age, self-publishing is key to a writer's success.

Independent authors are far more likely to kick their day jobs than their snobby friends with traditional publishing deals will ever be!

Are you hearing me now?

Keep Writing!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The 4 Phases of Wisdom



Achieving what you want is made possible - or impossible - depending on what you know, what you think you know - and where you are on your path toward success.

What follows is a guide to identifying where you are on the 'wisdom cycle' that defines your relationship with your current goal.

Knowing exactly where you stand will often help you!

1. Genesis & Generation

This is where you first get the idea. It's fresh. It's inspired. It's all perfectly possible.

Hold fast to this moment. Enjoy the feeling because this sensation rarely comes back with such intensity.

It's the time when a novel – or any big project - seems more than doable. So easy, in fact, your outcome feels like it already exists! It's the time when, despite all outward appearances or reality, absolutely anything is possible.

Use this first phase to dream - and dream big. See yourself in the position of power and success that your inspiration has brought you.

Generate the dream - live the reality for a while. Visualize your dream as real. Make it vivid, colorful and solid before the feeling fades. The stronger the image at this point the more forceful the motivation that follows.

2. Objectify & Organize


Now that you know what you want, you must gather all the facts on how you're going to achieve your goal.

Don't overwhelm yourself. Don't be too selective, or get too specific and detail obsessed. You need to understand how everything works before you drill down.

Read up on the subject in a non-critical way. Study the environment, liaise with its members and proponents. You don't want to know all the pros and cons yet - that's for later.

At this stage, you want the broad strokes. You want the overview.

After all, when you're sure that anything's possible, you don't want to be put off. Use this study period to place your goal into the context of reality. Your reality.

At this stage, you should still be enthused by your dream - beginning to see your vision coming into existence.

It's the fun part - where inspiration meets intention.

3. Assimilate & Activate

Now it's time to go deeper.

Here at this point, it's okay to dwell on what's not going to work - and why your idea is terrible. It's important this is the third phase - and doesn't take place too early in the process.

People who never get anything done dwell on the negatives too soon - before the dream has had time to blossom.

This can be a tough time - when you realize just how high you will have to climb, how far you will have to travel from your current position, just how much work this will involve.

It's the time when you work out the personal cost this task will take to achieve. But it's important you take all this information in. It's the reality check - the final stamp of approval from your logical, rational side.

You may find out that some things are not doable. But that's okay. Focus on what you can achieve - the baby steps, the structure of your plan, the first push into physical construction.

At the end of this phase, you're finally ready to progress.

4. Leverage and Liberate


Now is the time to take action.

You have your dream. You now know how some things won't work - or will never bow to your preconceptions.

But that's okay. Armed with all the wisdom you need to start, you can now change the way things work. You can assert your dream upon the world. You can free your goal, let it loose, and make it happen.

The fourth phase may occupy the majority of your time but if you've done all the preparations - gone through the first three phases, nothing can stop you.

Setbacks and obstacles may alter your vision but not your course, your certainty.

Use the feedback you acquire to adjust your path toward your goal but never lose sight of the end result - the one you conjured during phase one, believed in phase two, and activated in phase three.

Finally, when your goal is achieved, the cycle is complete and you can return to the first stage - where dreams and inspiration can again foment into goals.

This time to aspire to larger goals, and bigger dreams.

Success is not really about getting stuff. It's about participating in the quest - being a creature of intention and creation, living out and through the four phases of wisdom.

Keep writing!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Six Secrets of Author Success


It's one thing to be able to write - but it's quite another to gain the mindset of a professional author.

Here are six tips that will make the difference between wishing for success and actually achieving your dreams - and being able to hold on to them when they come true!

1. Plan Everything

Being a full-time writer is not like having a normal job. You have no boss telling you what to do and you have no targets your department has to reach. You need to be entirely self-motivated.

When I meet people who are unemployed, I usually ask them what they do all day. When they say 'nothing much' I'm stunned. I'd rather they said 'get stoned a lot, party and play video games' - at least that's doing something!

But I understand that self-motivation is a hard discipline to master. It takes dedication and practice. Perhaps we should teach it in school. After all, gainful employment is no longer guaranteed in these days of economic uncertainty. 

When you have no-one to answer to except yourself, you need to make lists of things to do, set goals and targets and deliberately create projects that need developing and completing.

You must think like a small business: have plans, great and small, short and long-term. It's the only way.

2. Commit to Finishing

The difference between being an amateur and a professional is not quitting.

Too many wannabe artists keep stopping in the middle of projects, never to return. Or they start lots of things and finish none.

You often don't have this luxury when you're a professional.

Whether you're inspired or not, driven or not, happy or not, you have to finish the work anyway. Or else you won't get paid.

The way around this is to plan everything, make lots of notes on upcoming projects, use templates for outlines and know what you're going to say (write) ahead of time. You also need to know your endings, whether in fiction, nonfiction or articles.

Don't rely on inspiration.

Set yourself tasks, start small, finish everything you start and, as far as is possible, only work on one major project at a time.

3. Believe In the Impossible

The odds are stacked against you. Ask anyone, the likelihood of an artist achieving financial independence are slim to zero. You need a good workable strategy to compensate.

The trick is to totally believe in the impossible.

In Alice in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts tells Alice: "Try to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

There's an element of the profound in this advice. Wannabe Hollywood actors, Olympian athletes in training, even many corporate CEOs and aspiring writers, of course, all have to believe they can do the impossible on a regular basis.

It is not self-deluding or impractical, it's simply using your value system to serve you. Why shouldn't you believe in impossible things if it helps you realize a goal that other people think is unrealistic?

Because, let's face it, without extraordinary belief your task will most likely be impossible anyway.

4. Keep Changing Tack

A yacht doesn't proceed in a straight line. You inevitably need to adjust the sails to catch the wind. So it is with an artistic career.

Don't limit yourself to just one direction, or just one project. Diversify, look for new ideas, develop them, promote different aspects of your chosen field.

It's all about becoming successful - and you might not know where your true success lies.

There's nothing wrong with trying your hand at all types of writing. You may stumble upon a niche or discipline that will make you rich!

Don't get stuck in a rut. Winners change tack often. Experiment, try new things and keep looking for the Holy Grail: that thing that will set you free.

5. Strive To Improve

Study your craft. Stay informed. Be open to new thinking and new ideas.

Even after all these years writing, I study grammar, spelling and common word use on a DAILY basis. I love investigating the origins of words. I use dictionaries and thesauri all the time.

Fact is, you can never learn too much about writing. Indeed, the more I write, the more fascinated I become about words and using them.

Read up on other writers too, examine their style, subject matter, and their lives. When you're feeling down or blocked, there's nothing more inspiring than discovering an author who's been there before you - and made it through.

6. Act on Criticism

As painful as criticism gets sometimes, you should always act upon good advice and/or try to remove any reasons for criticism.

Never be afraid or loathe to edit, rework, rewrite or re-imagine any of your writing. Especially if you're asked to. More especially if you know that you need to do more work on your manuscripts.

You can't shirk on striving for perfection.

It's okay to change a book's direction based on someone else's input. It's good to be flexible and open to change based on criticism.

Your writing is a gift to others. It should be well-presented and as perfect as you can get it.

Finally, you should think of yourself as a servant to your fans. Your job is to serve, to be inspiring, and entertaining.

Remember the three Ps: Persist, Persevere, Promote.

Did I leave out patience? Yes, deliberately. Patience is not a virtue anymore. You don't need to wait for longer than you want. You don't need publishers or agents anymore. This is the best time in history to go it alone - and do it yourself.

Nobody is going to save you or make you rich and famous.

If you want to be independent and successful, dream, then dream bigger. Then go out and take what you want.

Be the person you want to be.

Keep Writing!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What is a Story Premise and Why is is So Important?

Once you know your premise, it will make writing your story much easier and quicker.

Using a premise as a starting point is about creating a CONCRETE idea that will not allow you to drift and wallow in self-indulgence.

A premise is a rudder and a steering wheel.

It’s a road map for your fiction writing.

Let me explain why in terms easier to understand.

In the visual arts, that is: TV and the movies, the premise is EVERYTHING.

People will give you millions of dollars for a great premise for a show BUT it must be specific and compelling.

Think about the TV shows you love and then summarize them.

A bestselling author and a female New York cop investigate murder mysteries and their relationship deepens over time. CASTLE

A Smithsonian anthropologist and an FBI agent investigate murder mysteries and their relationship deepens over time. BONES

An ex Baseball player and a private eye investigate murder mysteries and their relationship deepens over time. PRIVATE EYES

Notice any kind of pattern here?

As you can see, there doesn’t have to be anything particularly original about a premise.

Besides, original doesn’t mean what you think it does.

In many ways, ORIGINAL really means the SAME but DIFFERENT.

Do these above examples help us understand a premise? Perhaps.

A dictionary definition is more specific:

         “A premise is a proposal from which a conclusion can be drawn.”

Actually, a bit like a s scientific theory: a mix of “ingredients” that will result in some kind of magical formula - for a hit show or a bestselling book.

In this definition, the premise is the concrete idea that drives a story. It’s a story’s reason to be. The inspiration and MORE - the end result becomes inevitable BECAUSE of the way the PROPOSAL (the FORMULA) plays out.

And as we all know, the deepening of these various “relationships” MUST end in consummation and often marriage EVEN THOUGH this will always destroy the original premise!

Think of a premise for a story now.

For instance, a character finds a magic stone that makes him invisible.

He decides to rob a bank with it and become rich.

Now, if you’re any kind of fiction writer, you can see where this is going.

It will no doubt end badly.

But already the premise is suggesting a structure - even a character type and possible scenario.
PLUS, if your ultimate message is going to be that having a magic stone will get you put in prison, your message - and your moral code - is already going to be intrinsic to your story outlines.

Now, if you follow the modern trend and make your protagonist somewhat successful in his first “evil” endeavor, then you’re indulging in a kind of moral ambiguity - and perhaps eliciting sympathy for a bad guy before his “inevitable” downfall. This is good, to be expected.

Here, by thinking through our premise, we’re beginning to touch on THEME - which is really an expression of our internal world - and a reflection of our ethical viewpoint.

If you were writing this magic stone story, where would you stand?

Can the magic stone be good?

Can the character be IMPROVED by having a relationship with the magic stone - without your story seeming trite and predictable?

This is a great time to test your story for originality - BEFORE you write it.

And you do that by asking pertinent questions about your theme and premise BEFORE you start the
writing!

Try it.

Invent a premise Then ask yourself:

Is it BOLD? Which means:

Is it Believable?

Is it Original?

Is it Logical?

Is it Durable?

Finally, ask yourself:


What can I do to make the premise better, more interesting, more compelling - but still in line with my value system? 

Keep Writing!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Aim For Perfection - Nine Writing Tips




Writing is not a race. Nobody wins it by getting something out there first.

The work that succeeds is often not the most original. It is the work that is finely honed to perfection before it gets released.

There's really only one duty writers owes to themselves and their readers - and that is to constantly strive to improve.

Ask any seasoned writer and they'll tell you that getting better at the craft is probably the most fulfilling aspect of writing. Because you are effectively getting better at communicating your ideas - and placing your worldview into the minds of others. To me, this is an almost magical concept.

So - constant improvement - how does one achieve it? Here are nine tips:

1. Read Like it's Going Out of Fashion
You've heard it a million times before. You can't love writing without first loving to read. Read a lot. Read everything. Analyze writing and writers. Study what works, what doesn't, wonder why and learn from it.

Realize too that the published writing you see has probably been worked and reworked over and over to appear effortless.

Don't assume professional writers get it down perfectly every time.

They do not.

Their work has been analyzed, edited and beaten into shape by themselves and other editors.

2. Study Your Own Writing
Study every word, every sentence, every phrase. Are you maximizing the effect of your words? Could you say the same thing a different way?

Don't just blindly accept your words as perfect. Professionals know there is always another way of stating something, setting a scene, capturing an emotion.

Many novice writers fall in love with their words, refusing to accept there might be a better way to get to what is true.

3. Learn to Love Criticism
When we start out, criticism hurts - big time. We've bared our soul. We've agonized over our words and are proud of what we've said. Off-hand comments about our work can feel like a body slam, an attack on our capabilities, our character, our integrity.

But that's not what is going on. People love to criticize - it's human nature. Even the best writers are criticized. The point is to learn from criticism and rise above it. Listen to what is being said, make changes if necessary but do it for yourself. You are the final arbiter - but don't be blind or sulky about it. Take it all on board.

4. Read Aloud to Others
Reading out loud can highlight the strengths and weaknesses of your writing. Especially in the areas of rhythm, wordiness, and dialogue. It's a great test.

Read to friends and family, yes, but also read to other writers. Let them make comments. Enjoy the process.

Try this.

Read a short piece to a group of friends/writers. Make note of how your writing sounds to them. Listen to suggestions. Make changes, read it aloud again. Keep doing this until everyone involved thinks the writing - every word, every phrase - is perfect.

5. Try Different Styles
It's too easy to get stuck in one area of expertise. If you're a fiction buff, try writing magazine articles or screenplays. If you're a journalist, try free-form fiction. If you're a literary type, try writing advertising copy. Don't limit yourself. All types of writing are good in their own way and experimenting with them can teach you little tricks that help you become a more mature, fully rounded writer.

Novice writers tend to think they shouldn't experiment, that somehow it might taint their art.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

6. Take Courses, Read More Books on Writing
The process of being taught, of exposing yourself to the ideas of others, cannot be underestimated. Even if you disagree with what is being said, it all helps stretch you and give you a deeper understanding of what is good and right for your writing.

When you take lessons in writing, study hard, do the exercises, listen to the feedback, act on it and write some more. Your writing will improve the more you do it. Don't sit and fret over your writing.

Thinking about writing is NOT writing. Just do it.

7. Seek Out Good Advice
I often hear novice writers complain that they're learning nothing new about writing from the various authorities they consult. They sound disillusioned, as if perhaps there's more pertinent information out there, somewhere, if only they could find it.

Odd. considering I've never met a seasoned writer who didn't love to debate the absolute basics of word-play, grammar, sentence structure and all the other little things that novices seem to grow so weary of hearing - and doing nothing about!

Remember. You can never hear good advice too many times.

8. Give Back
Share your knowledge. Teach what you have learned about writing to others. Too often novice writers can feel there's some sort of clique of professionals who don't want to talk to them or associate with them.

We writers, whatever our abilities, must learn to see ourselves as a community with similar aims - to actively enhance all our writing - to raise the bar and to act for the betterment of all writers.

9. Constantly Want More From Yourself
Stretch yourself continuously. Find new ways of expressing yourself.

Writing is sometimes a strange past-time. A writing project that begins like an adventure can quickly become an obsession that ends up feeling like some self-inflicted curse!

But all writing experience is good, whether it's fun or not. Not all of your writing is going to be joyful and fulfilling. Some of it may be a hard slog or a nuisance. 

This is okay.

If you want to succeed in writing, it should become your life, your passion, your reason to be. It's a fine and noble way of life. If you want it, embrace it, and your writing will benefit enormously.

Best of luck and - whatever you do - keep writing!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Who's Your Antagonist?


 When writing fiction, writers are forced to consider the protagonist and his or her agenda. We need to ask what our hero's goals are and where they want to end up as people.
Now usually, there is an antagonist whose desire to thwart the hero's goals is at least as strong, if not stronger than the hero's.

But what about writers? Who is our main antagonist?

Alas - usually ourselves.

When it comes to writing, there's that little guy inside your head who wants to criticize - endlessly. His voice reminds you constantly that you have no special talent, that your writing is average at best, and that you should never, ever show your work to anyone because, well, it's crap.

Helpful little fella. And to think, he lives inside of us!

Suppressing the inner critic is a necessary part of the writing process. If we couldn't silence the little rascal, we'd never write anything. Indeed many writers get stuck on page one because they can't ignore the nagging doubts the inner critic has no qualms about repeating and reinforcing every time they sit down and write.

Much of my teaching is about dealing with your internal critic because I think, especially for the first draft, he's not very helpful. The inner critic's job comes later, after the main thrust of the story is down - from beginning to end.

Because one of the main problems with the inner critic is that he stops you from finishing anything. I know many writers who never finish anything because the critic takes over their thinking before they get anywhere near the end of their stories or pieces. Not good.

Disastrous in fact.

It gets worse. 

Because even after you've completed your work, polished it, worked hard and let yourself believe you have created something of value, the critic is still there. 
You have the submission envelope in your hand, ready. But he's waiting by the door, arms folded, foot tapping, looking at you with that nasty smug expression, saying, "You've not actually going to send that out are you?"

And you're forced to wonder:

Just how embarrassing would it be to send this out?

Just how bad is my writing?

What will people think of it?

What will people think of me?

None of which is helpful to you - or your potential career.

Well, there's hope. Because the fact is, it doesn't matter how far you get, that inner critic never goes away. So while you can consult with him on technical issues and listen to his advice sometimes, you really just have to shut him up, lock him away in the shed, when the time comes to submitting.

You need to develop a brave and cavalier attitude towards your work once it's done. Get it out there.

What's the worse that can happen? 

You get rejected. So what? Join the ranks of the writer. We all get rejected all the time, for all the wrong reasons - and only occasionally for the right ones!

I remember a story from the music business (my favorite sources of anecdotes) about Marianne Faithful. She was a pop star in the sixties and had a fling with Mick Jagger if memory serves. Well, at one point she was making a comeback single with the Pet Shop Boys and got very angry with herself during the vocal take.

In the studio, she started crying, beating herself up for being less than perfect. At which point Neil Tennant said to her, "Hey Marianne, get it together, it's only a song."

There's a lesson here. Your submission is only a story. You might attach all kinds of significance to it but, really, it's just another bunch of words that, if you never send them out, are not going to be read - or missed.

So again, what's the worst that can happen? 

If you get rejected, write some more. Send those words out instead. Any successful writer will tell you that the more you send out the luckier you seem to get. And better probably, simply because you will not give up.

You don't have to be superb anymore. You don't have to be literary. You just have to be out there. 

You have to catch the tide of popularity - and find your own fans.

They're out there. Waiting for you.

You just gotta believe it.

Keep Writing!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Finding Your Author's Voice


A writer friend asked me the other day, "When I read, I find I'm influenced by other authors. Depending on who I'm reading, my writing style is either playful, deep sounding or whatever. How can I stop writing like other writers and find my own voice?"

(She also added that I might want to write an article based on my response - hence what you're reading now!)

Before we get on to practical tips, we should cover some basic preconceptions about voice.

First of all, your voice should never be some affectation you acquire or work on. I think you know what I mean. When we're at school or in the office, we're told there's a way to say things - a style we must adopt to conform to the medium.

Many novice writers think the same applies to fiction - that there is perhaps some predetermined mental attitude and/or demeanor one should adopt - usually a 'superior, more learned' version of ourselves - to sound more authoritative when telling stories.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

You should always write in the style that is most natural to you. It may well be different from your speaking voice but should always reflect the way your mind works.

Secondly, your voice doesn't have to be 'original'. You can waste years of your time wondering what 'originality' is and trying to define and acquire it.

When critics, publishers, and agents say they want 'originality', I believe they have no idea what they mean. They merely confuse writers by demanding something so nebulous and indefinable. I think what they should really be asking for is 'honesty'.

The simple truth is you already possess all the originality you need. You are already unique. No-one else thinks and writes like you do - trying to undo your own originality by constantly striving to be anything less than yourself is counter productive. Trust yourself.

Trusting yourself is probably the hardest trick you'll have to learn as a writer - but it is absolutely essential to your growth. Because it's only when you trust your ability to say what you mean with honesty and integrity, that your voice will start to come through.

The real test of a good authorial voice is consistency - it is as strong and recognizable at the beginning of a story as it is at the end.
So how do you achieve this consistency? How do 'get' your voice?

It's a process, of course - and here are some practical tips to strengthen and consolidate your own:

Practice

Consciously practice different styles and categorize them. Write using different voices - some that are deliberately difficult to sustain. This will attune your mind to noting differences in style. Try writing highbrow and lowbrow articles, egocentric columns, playlets, short dispassionate biographies - anything that stretches you. These pieces don't have to be publishable - they are designed to help you 'play' with the writing medium.

Detach

Try to write without thinking for short bursts. If this sounds too hard, try writing for ten minutes just after you've woken up in the morning - before you can think straight, just write anything.

Later, try looking up words in the dictionary at random and write for ten minutes without stopping on those words. Force yourself to write, whether you're inspired or not - this is a great technique for getting in touch with your subconscious voice (i.e. your true voice.)

Avoid

During writing spells, especially first drafts, don't read anything - no books, newspapers, magazines, cereal packets, nothing. Starve yourself of influences so that you can concentrate on just your voice and, not only the things you want to say but, how you want to say them.

Affirm

When you've written sections you're convinced are beginning to reflect your most natural and compelling voice, read them into a tape recorder and play them back. The very process will help - you'll probably find your best passages easiest to read. If not, delete the clumsy words, the extra adverbs, the overlong sentences and try again.

Experiment

Try writing two different versions of pieces - like short stories. Write one with all the literary might you can summon and write another with just a little casual indifference. Post out both to magazine publishers or read them to your friends to see what they think.

Strengthen

Consciously remind yourself every day that you are a writer, that you are thinking writers thoughts and you're determined that your writing will truly and accurately reflect your thoughts. Do not hide behind fear of honesty or the thought that exposing your inner psyche is in any way bad. It's not.

The real you is what your readers want, respect and deserve.

Until next time, sign up for free stuff at my Academy - then:

Keep writing!


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Genre Writing and Formulas


Many new authors assume that only romance writing is formulaic. This is not true. Almost all genre writing is formulaic. Indeed, it must be. Not because authors are at a loss to sustain originality but because unless genre fiction adheres closely to its own conventions, readers will often regard the work as unsuccessful.

This rule applies to movies too. Unless a big budget movie contains the usual genre conventions, it will invariably do badly at the box office. However, if the standard conventions are systematically dealt with in the movie-making process, the final result will almost always do well. So entrenched are we as a species in our desire, our need, for formulaic writing in books, movies, and episodic TV, that we inevitably regard writing that does not exactly fulfill our pre-conceived expectations as somehow lacking.

I use this inescapable fact of life as a starting point for my genre-writing courses. While there is undoubtedly a formula for the ideal plot or story, there is another crucial element that is harder to quantify. That is the particular variety of factors that come together to make one author successful and another, not.

I’ve read thousands of books by the great and good, and many by the not-so-talented. What I’ve noticed most keenly is that successful writers adhere relentlessly to formulas - or at least their often predictably endowed protagonists follow the same heroic journeys. I am forced to conclude, therefore, that the closer a wannabe author works to the established genre conventions, the more likely will be his or her success. 

This is good news for the aspiring author. Learn the rules to get the jewels.

It also explains why, in the traditional publishing world, the practice of book-doctoring is so prevalent. The heavyweight legacy publishers know what people want, and they want the same but different. They want the same formula, template-driven stories, and heroic, archetypal characters presented with different, often fresher, voices. This is also an important consideration for those writers trying to self-publish on Amazon and Kindle.

Different is not necessarily good.

Even from self-published authors, readers want genre fiction they recognize and stories they feel comfortable inhabiting. Take a quick look at the latest bestselling independent authors and you will see this phenomenon in action. It is not original ideas and new approaches that attract legions of fans. No, it is total adherence to genre specifications that are already known to have a market that sell the most.   

To many wannabe authors, this is counter-intuitive.

We’re told ceaselessly that originality is vitally important, crucial to a new artist’s success. But even just a cursory glance at what sells in books, film, music, even paintings, sculptures, and fashion, proves this idea is totally false, every time. People rarely respond to true originality favorably. Mostly, people find originality unnerving, even disturbing. People require the same old thing ad infinitum. But what they do want is for something to seem different the first time they come across it. This is why a new character, a new personality, a new actor, or a model, or a pop star, can appear to offer something fresh, never before seen. Whereas, in fact, what they’re actually presenting is merely another slant on something that people have demonstrated they already want.

Here lies the key to originality when it comes to writing fiction:

It’s not in the idea. It’s in its execution.

And what makes your story more compelling than anyone else’s?

Not the idea. Not the story, or the plot, or even the genre.

There is only one key difference that anyone is interested in, and that is…

YOU.

Originality is in the way you tell the story, as long as you supply all the genre specifications to prove you know exactly what you’re doing within the context of the conventions people expect, want, need, require, let’s face it, demand, before you may be acknowledged as worthy of serious praise or even consideration by the masses.

This is why you often have to write to formulas and templates, with all their easily recognizable components, in order to compete successfully within the genre writing market. And, increasingly, in order to guarantee some sort of success with Amazon, even in the legacy publishing world, you need to keep writing as many novel-length stories as you can, to the same formulaic specifications.

Recently I made a quick calculation of how many novels the average author needed to write in order to become successful, as far as financially self-sufficient and able to sustain a career. The average number was fifteen books. Only the top few household names have ever achieved respect and substantial sales with just five books. The majority of mid-list authors have to wait until their style and vision become popular over the very long term. Picking up a following is clearly, for most, an exercise in extreme patience.

Sure, some authors get lucky. You hear about half a dozen or so of them a year. But most working writers just plod along until their fan base is significant enough to create bestsellers for their subsequent books. Or, more likely, each subsequent book adds extra credibility to their first. It’s a well-attested phenomenon that an author’s first book will end up selling better than later ones, even when later ones sell truckloads. Interest in later books can lead to and force the sale of the first book to bestseller status. This too is good news for the struggling author. If your first book doesn’t sell well initially, keep writing more of the same, and one day that first effort may well outsell all of your later books.

Pleasant thought?

I hope so.

The good news, of course, is that releasing your own books on Amazon is nowadays often a quicker route to author success than spending five to fifteen years trying to get a New York agent and struggling to find a low-paying niche with a traditional publisher. Plus, you don’t have to live off meager advances until you hit the big time or give away 94% of your earnings to people who stand between you and your fans. 

My feeling is that, when it comes to achieving author success, there are five key principles at play:

1. The writer’s love of his/her genre.
2. The willingness to absorb, articulate, and develop the genre conventions.
3. The author’s courage to be him/herself within that genre.
4. Visibility - via self-publishing or by being in bookstores.
5. Persistence - the ability to stick at it, no matter what.

Of course, there is a luck factor too. But, I believe writers often create their own luck by sticking to the above five principles. Contrary to what most online success advocates preach, I do not believe that Internet social marketing is the final answer. Authors have a way of finding their own fans, as is evidenced by the fact that many, many writers manage to become successful and popular by simply being read - and letting word of mouth do the rest. 

Indeed, it could be argued that the average new author’s penchant for social media blitzing might be giving independent authorship a bad name! Being popular on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t generate substantial book sales. Only writing good books can do that.

Keep Writing!

The Easy Way to Write

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