"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Easy Way To Give Stuff Up


Have you ever tried to give something up? Like smoking – or drinking? What about drugs? Or sugar? Fat? Meat, Sex, Gluten, MSG, lemon popsicles, treating people badly, or even watching TV, or worst, scrolling Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok for hours…

            Well, I have good news for you because, after twenty years of successfully giving up lots of bad habits, I suddenly had an epiphany the other day that may help you in your quest to be perfect but remain perfectly happy.

            Because that’s the hard part, right? We all think that willpower should carry us through the difficult times, but it never does. Then we get depressed because we can’t fight the urge to return to our normal bad habit. And feeling sad makes us justify giving up stopping the thing we’re giving up!

            You know how it is. Everything is fine when you make the decision. “I will give up (insert habit here) forever, right now,” you might say to yourself, because being emphatic seems like the right way forward. Perhaps it is because, when you’re determined, you might last maybe three or four days but then, inevitably, the doubts set in. Your mind constantly mulls over the loss of your seemingly favourite activity and your resolve begins to falter. Before you know it, you’re back indulging – just a little bit because that won’t hurt, right? - and you get that wonderful dopamine rush that comes with succumbing to temptation.

            It’s like our bodies are designed to never change and, as we get older, to find more and more bad habits to drag us down.

            But it needn’t be that way. I’ve proved to myself that it is perfectly possible to give stuff up – the stuff that seemed impossible too – by simply looking at the issue in a completely different way.

            The trick is to accept that your “addiction” or “obsession” is OVER.

            It’s literally dead to you.

Personally, I think abstinence support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous don’t work, in fact they probably make things worse for most normal people. Sure, be a victim, relinquish control, be forever miserable about abstaining from your joy.

My feeling is that instead, you need to get over an addiction, physically and mentally, and that constantly reminding yourself of your weakness and inadequacy as a human being in daily meetings is cruel and unusual punishment for something that is, after all, often just a phase in your life or your development.

Better is a system that permits you to let go of your past behaviour and allows you to move forward with confidence. That’s where my revelation comes in.

Because, you see, whenever I give something up, I see it as a death moment.

And with death comes the various stages of grief that can equally be applied to bad habits, even addictions. The thing about death is its finality. Therein lies its power.  

Smoking is probably the most irksome of habits to give up. The physical and mental toll that giving up entails is literally Herculean. The worst part is that you never feel your addiction is over. Over time – and we’re talking two or three years here – the craving goes away. But not suddenly nor with any satisfactory step or signal. The craving simply reduces over time – a long time, in the same way as the gnawing grief for the death of, say, a friend or a family member. And it’s only when you accept that abstaining from a bad habit is exactly like grief that you start to understand the mechanism that is controlling your attitude towards the stuff you want to give up.

Once you realise that your craving is not going to magically disappear – and might never fully diminish - then you’re better equipped to deal with the ennui of giving up stuff.

We want to believe that giving something up is going to be momentous. We want to feel proud of our accomplishment. We want to feel energized and positive, be perhaps congratulated but the fact is, giving things up is boring. It takes time and worst of all, you only know you’ve succeeded when you feel a sense of anticlimax and, well, nothing much.

Just like the opposite of love is indifference, the opposite of addiction is torpor!

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.

Dullness is good, empowering, normal, safe, decent and strong.

Only the weak can’t say no to pleasure. We all accept that. And there’s nothing wrong with saying it nowadays. Times have changed.

That’s the thing. The days when addicts are seen as victims are numbered.

For instance. The AA came out of the 1920s, almost a century ago, when we could offload the blame and claim over-drinking might be an illness. We know it’s not really, except in very extreme cases. It’s simply a habit, which we know deep down we can stop or change at any time. It’s just that we don’t want to stop because it’s no fun.

Let’s face it, we smoked because we enjoyed it. Same with illicit drugs.

TV is cool. Endless scrolling is fun. It’s stimulating and distracting at the same time. That’s the kind of thing our brains enjoy. But can we stop?

Sure we can. To say otherwise is to legitimise the absolving of responsibility for ourselves and our decisions. We’ve got to stop doing that. We must take back control and accept we’re always able to change our behaviours at any time. It might take months and years to achieve success but what’s the problem with that? Most of us have plenty of time to change. We just need to understand the change might not be quick, and it may well be boring and noneventful.

Like losing a friend, or like getting over the death of a beloved pet, grief can be palpable, painful and depressing but, let’s face it, the feelings always subside over time.

Yeah, giving things up can be hard but…

So what? Do it anyway and enjoy the (yawn) benefits for years to come.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell

Thursday, August 23, 2018

On Being a Modern Writer

 The Writing Academy

Nobody will ever miss something you didn't write.

People don't wish they could find a genius they are unaware of, hanker after a writer to inspire them, or wish they could find the book that hasn't been written.

It's the harshest reality a writer must face. 

Nobody cares whether you finish your magnum opus - or gives a toss whether you work on it at all.

A book is nothing until it's published - and even then, given the way things are, it's unlikely to sell more than a few copies.

Funny, I write for a living. Have done for the last 20 years. You can get a lot of eyes on things if you include the words: “money, fast and easy” in your marketing but write about anything else and your stuff pretty much disappears. 

It’s never stopped me though, because I’m a writer, and writers write, no matter what happens… can you say that?

Writers must find their own reasons to write - and be self-motivated enough to continue without anything but selfish reasons to finish what they start. As Dorothea Brande said in "Becoming a Writer", writers create their own emergencies. They have to, because nobody else really gives a damn.

Recently I was rereading Stephen King's "On Writing" and I noticed something I'd previously missed.

He said he used to believe that writing was a craft and that it could be taught; a skill that, with enough training and guidance, anyone could master. Note, he said he used to think that.

Later in his career, after he'd written around twenty novels, he changed his mind. He realized that the urge to write consistently must be something you're born with.

Think about it - writing for no good reason (except a personal compulsion) is an urge that is so specific - even a little bizarre - that, without it being somehow hard-wired into a writer's DNA, most people, no matter how keen to learn, simply wouldn't bother.

It's not like it's easy, after all.

Some people say that if you find writing easy, you're probably not doing it right. I know from experience that authors who tell me they found writing their novel a breeze, signals that there’s usually a need for some serious editing!

Don't get me wrong. I do think that writing the first draft of a story or a book should be quick, painless, or at the very least, an exhilarating experience. That's usually how your best work feels. When you're 'in the zone' and being productive and inspired, you're a writer, just like any other Dan Brown, Emily Bronte, or Tolstoy.

But that's not all there is to it. 

There's endless editing and polishing too. And having something important to say. And having the ability to hold an entire book in your mind - and get it all down on paper. And, of course, the toughest call: being able to arrange your life to find the time and inclination to write every day.

Not everyone thinks writing is glamorous. Even many professional writers have no great regard for the process, only the conviction that, to create something of value and importance, you have no choice but to do it. 

You and only you.

Of course, 'value' and 'importance' are relative terms. That's the point. Only Tolstoy thought it was vitally important to write War and Peace. It had no value to his wife, most likely, and none of us would have missed it - or him - if he'd become an alcoholic and never got around to writing more than a few hundred words and threw them away, like many would be authors do.

The next time you're tempted to write a book, think it through.

Is it important you get it all down?

And are you willing to spend 80% of the process on making it perfect?

Because, like Mr King, I used to think that writing half a page of scribbled lines gave you the right to call yourself a writer.

But now, after I've written a couple million or so words, I'm beginning to think that being a writer is more involved.

It's somehow innate in a writer's makeup.

Perhaps practice is all it takes - consistent action and dedication to the art. 

But more likely you need to discover the writer within - that guy or gal inside who was never going to be satisfied until you gave them free rein to take over your life. 

But if the muse isn’t there, except as a vague yearning, maybe the best thing is to quit while you're ahead!

Because being a full-time writer is still one of the hardest ways to live. Ask any author. Even when you're successful, the motivation to write, stay focused, inspired and clear for long periods can be tough.

Sure, it's rewarding - and often fun. 

That’s if readers find you – and like what you do…

But be clear on this: commitment to writing books is not for the faint hearted. And it’s certainly not for those who might be looking to make money fast and easily.

You need patience, and to be a little bit crazy.

Take one step at a time – walk slowly and surefootedly - but be sure you have good sturdy shoes before you start.
Keep Writing! 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Always Write For Your Readers

When writing for publication it's important to keep your eventual reader at the forefront of your mind.

Writing primarily for yourself can be a lot of fun and, if that's what motivates you, then that's the best way forward, at least for the first draft.

Eventually, however, it's your readers who will decide whether you have written a book that they find satisfying, worthy, and purposeful.

It could be that, during the writing and editing process, some degree of self-discipline is required to fulfil the objective of writing a book that people actually want to read - and will enjoy reading.

My preferred approach is to write quickly and edit methodically later.

I find writing the first draft fast and furiously keeps the juices pumping and doesn't allow for too much time to reconsider word-choice, direction, momentum etc., until after the first draft.

Writing slowly, painstakingly, I find, tends to make me hesitant, overly self-conscious, and can sometimes lead to getting blocked if I can't decide little things, for instance, like where to put a comma.

Far better to get down as much as possible of the meat without questioning the creative process and stick with the decision to come back to the writing later when the first draft is fully written and complete. Even if the first draft strikes you as a mess.

I'm a great believer in having a plan and sticking to it.

So, having made the decision to write a thriller, for example, you should write with the intention of thrilling your reader. You need to know your purpose before you begin.

When writing your first draft quickly and without too much agonising, try not to get sidetracked into overdeveloping ideas that are not pertinent to your purpose. Stay as focused, in other words, as you can on the intention of your writing.

The key difference between writing literary work and genre fiction is, to me, about maintaining discipline.

Literary works may meander without purpose, hopping from one set of profound observations to another. This may lead your reader to feel rudderless.

Genre writing is often more focused on the needs of the reader and invariably requires more work in the writing and the editing from the writer.

To me, the important issues are clarity and direction. Your story or nonfiction piece should shine with a clear and obvious thrust that takes a reader on a focused journey.   

A good narrative contains logic that can easily be followed by most readers, whatever their upbringing or education level. The author's job is to present an alternate view of reality that is compelling. Only text that is easily understood can be fully absorbed and endorsed by a reader.

The need to emphasize logic and sense in your stories may mean that your final editing process is ruthless. You may need to remove paragraphs, sections, and even chapters that have little or nothing to do with the story intention.

When editing, you will need to become acutely aware of how the writing flows from the point of view of the reader.

This is one of the main reasons why you should take time out between edits to distance yourself from your own work: you need to be able to see your writing from a reader's perspective.

If you can't manage that trick, show your work to others before you publish or submit to legacy publishers.

At the end of the day, writing for publication is about writing for other people: to entertain, to inform, and to help them transcend the norm. Your friends and fellow writers are often the very people who will tell you whether you're succeeding in that objective.    

There's a whole new industry growing online that offers to edit your material for publication - for a price, of course.

But actually, to me, using a third party editor can cause long term problems for you. Not least because, unless you edit regularly, you'll never learn how to do it properly.

You really should be editing to the best of your own ability at all times.
This does not mean giving your work a cursory once over just after you've written it (as far too many new writers do.) No. It means studying every word, sentence, every piece of punctuation, grammar, every nuance and stylistic inflection - and to keep editing until you know for sure that what you've done is good enough for mass market consumption.

If you're not sure of the quality of your own work, join writers' critique groups. 

Offer to read and give feedback on other writers' work in return for feedback on your own. Sure, show your manuscripts to your friends and family. They can be the most brutal critics, when they're not trying to be nice.

Other writers are most often the best critics because they're coming from a different place than you and they may have higher standards than even most readers.

Before you proceed to publication or submission, my advice would be that your thoroughly edited manuscript should be read by at least two or three other writers.

Keep Writing!
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Don't Think, Write

Ever have those days when you’re muzzy and unmotivated? 

You know how it is.

Sometimes you're aware you should write, but you don't feel like it.

And even if you did, you're plagued by not knowing what to write about.

Or maybe you have an important scene or an article to write and you can't find the necessary impetus to get you started.

Worse, you just can't be bothered to write at all - it's too hard to even contemplate.

What do you do when this happens to you?

If you write for a living, this can be especially troubling.

After all, if you're not writing, you're not working.

So, you feel bad because you know that not writing equals no money coming in, now or in the future...

What's the solution?

First of all you need to get your head around what I call 'The Big Secret.'

And the big secret is that career writers don't need a reason to write.

They don't need inspiration or a good idea.

They don't even need to be in the right mood.

Fact is that thinking - as in trying to come up with ideas - doesn't work as a way to make you write.

When you write all the time, as a habit, it's like breathing.

You just sit yourself in front of the computer and the words simply pour out.
This is because the brain doesn't use its logical side to write.

It uses the creative side, which is hard-wired to the subconscious.

And, as I often point out to new writers, it's your subconscious that writes for you.

Best thing is that this wellspring of ideas never runs out.

As long as you keep tapping out words, the ideas will keep coming.

Stopping and thinking for a moment disrupts this process because you're disengaging the subconscious to consider something with your logical brain.

So next time you're struggling, don't think, just write.

I met one of the writers of Shrek once and he said he would sit down and sometimes write: Can't think of anything to write today. But I need an idea. Come on brain, give me something to write about. I need you to... and so on, until something came.

Great idea, right?

My partner is a full time fiction author and she writes every day without fail - she gets up in the morning, makes tea then sits down to write for three or four hours. I ask her, "What do you do when you don't feel like writing?" 

"Fake it," she says. "Pretend you want to write and sure enough, the muse kicks in after about ten minutes and then everything's fine. I just keep going after that."

My problem is that I always have too much to do.

I end up writing even when I don't feel like it because, well, I have to.

Nothing would happen unless I wrote.

From little things like business strategies, to marketing blurbs, to lessons I'm writing for students.

All these things I give deadlines.

And the way I make myself write more fiction is to apply a deadline to that too.
Otherwise I probably wouldn't do it...

Actually that's not true.

I feel the urge to write pretty much all the time.

It's what I write - and for how long - that's my greatest issue.

Take this article for instance.

I started out thinking last night about how social sites have taken over the Net.

I thought maybe I could write an article about that.

As the night wore on I realized that I could probably write a book about social marketing - the arena is so complex and fascinating.

I decided I'd put off that article and write about something else.

But I couldn't think of anything.

So I sat down this morning, knowing I had to write something for the newsletter, and just started typing. 

An hour later and this is the result.

I look back and have no idea where all the above words came from - and I'm amazed at how much I had to say about nothing much at all.

Now surely if I can do that...

...you can too!

Especially if you heed the advice in the title!

Keep Writing!

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Book Inside of You

Do you ever have those days when you don't know what to write about?
And worse, do those days turn into weeks and months, even years?

You're not alone.
I know this for a fact because people email me about it all the time.

According to most surveys, 80% of people feel they have a writer inside, someone who could - and thinks they should - write a book at some point in their lives.
80% is a huge statistic.

So huge that it's the kind of percentage that would have marketers foaming at the mouth!
But real life shows that only around 5% actually get around to any kind of serious writing in their lifetimes - and only around 1% of that 5% end up getting paid to do it.

That's why, in marketing terms, writing remains a niche - one of those nebulous terms that means 'so specialized' as to be largely irrelevant to modern demographics.

Clearly that doesn't quash the urge to write for you and me.
(And yes, “me” is grammatically correct here.)
But this issue of "I want to write but I can't think what to write about" remains for many a point of frustration for much of their lives.

The feeling is usually caused by having too high expectations of ourselves.

We tend to think that our words and sentences should be good and wonderful the moment we put them down on paper.
The beginner can feel immense distress after writing a paragraph and then realizing it's either awful, or nothing like the thoughts they wanted to transfer.

We should take comfort in the fact that this phenomenon is as true for seasoned writers as it is for the beginner!

Removing the barrier between our thoughts and their expression is something a writer may take a lifetime to learn – and, even then, never quite thoroughly master.

I think it was Evelyn Waugh who said that he found writing in his old age much harder than in his youth because the more he tried to get down precisely what he meant, the more laborious the process seemed to become.
A few throw away lines that may have sufficed as a younger man became pages of exposition that delved further and deeper into delicate nuances that seemed almost impossible for him to capture.

Churchill expressed the same concerns as he aged - and his later works became longer and denser.

One of my intentions with The Writing Academy is to short circuit this dilemma.

Because I believe that our subconscious minds have a much better grasp on writing, story, theme, structure and style than our conscious, rational minds.

This is one of the reasons why thinking too much doesn't seem to help us write.
Thinking is thinking.

But writing is writing.
And the only way to solve a writing problem - a block or a lack of ideas - is to write.

I've noticed this over and again.
That if you switch off your inner critic somehow - ignore it, or deliberately suppress it - and just write the first thing that comes into your head, then the subconscious somehow kicks in and takes over.

I've also noticed that if you write every day, the subconscious can actually guide you through an entire novel.
I used to wonder how I could hold an entire 150,000 word opus in my mind - until I realized it can't, and doesn't.

It's the subconscious that does this job. It holds the novel in a hidden databank. And if you're true to yourself - and have an objective moral compass - then your storylines will surface naturally.

Writing professors will often tell you about their favorite novelists. Those who've managed to weave profound themes into their work - and still created superb prose to house them.

But this is to misunderstand the process a writer uses.

I've yet to see a writer interviewed who will say they had all their themes - even subject matter - worked out before they started writing.
This is not how it works.
Themes, indeed stories, characters, and plots are subconscious manifestations of the writer's mindset and attitudes that come through the work, rather than being deliberately planned and executed to any formula.

Writing is not a mysterious process that defies explanation.

It just happens if we trust the process, and don’t overthink it.
This is good.
It means that all of us can do it - if we let go of preconceptions or expectations of our abilities.

Let go, and write.

Don't think, write.

That is, to me, what my Writing Academy is all about.

Thanks for reading.
Keep Writing! 

Rob Parnell
Your Success is my Concern

The Writing Academy

Welcome to the official blog of Rob Parnell's Writing Academy, updated weekly - sometimes more often!