"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: March 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Passion, Patience and Pride, A Writer's Guide

There's a lot about living a writer's life that is frustrating.

Endless rewrites, rejections, angst, self-loathing - but not least is the sheer amount of time people take getting back to us!

Publishers are the worst, agents second with editors being marginally faster. The worst response of all - and the reason why the wait can be so hard - is no response at all.

Email has made things worse. I don't know how they do it. I make a point of answering all of my emails. 

But I don't understand professionals who simply choose not to respond at all. I regularly send out submissions to agents when I have a book idea. Strike rate? I'm lucky if 30% respond. The others clearly think the delete button or the waste basket are their most effective business tools.

They might be right - for them. But the poor writers who are being ignored, shunned and demeaned by this response surely deserve better. Writers are made to feel sometimes that pride is optional.

The crazy thing is that the 'bigger' the person is - as in the higher up the chain or the more important in an organisation - the MORE likely you are to get a reply. It seems that it's the lowly, the lazy and the arrogantly small-minded that are the worst culprits.

This makes sense to me. It's those that have a greater sense of responsibility for their business that do the right thing. After all, that's probably how they got to be in that job in the first place. Avoiding work or avoiding a relationship with a potential writer is clearly the MO of the loser.

It's okay for most of them. They've got their nice 9 to 5 jobs where all they have to do is keep their heads down, smile at their boss and get on with endless, largely meaningless, paperwork at a speed that seems painfully slow to most writers.

Full time writers like Robyn and I - who in contrast seem to work at what we call 'bullet time' - have to write without artificial securities like regular pay, company pension plans and sick leave. We work for the love of it - with a passion and commitment to art and writing - and yet even we are often made to wait as though we're last in the line for the soup!

Why are writers treated so badly? And with such contempt?

I've always thought it odd that in society we revere successful artists, musicians, actors, writers but regard anyone doing the same who doesn't happen to be successful yet as a bum.

In France at least you're allowed to sign up for unemployment benefit as a poet. But in the UK you're not allowed to write 'musician' as your profession at the dole office. Now that's stupid.

We have this theory that the reason why writers - even in Hollywood- are considered the lowest form of grub life is that there's this resentment over the idea that anyone should be paid for doing what they love. The logic being that a writer would and should be writing anyway - so why do they deserve to get paid?

Last Wednesday night we went to a Writers' Guild seminar where they outlined the pay rates for professional writers right across the board. Their message was clear - it doesn't matter how hard you work, how good you are or who you're working for, the writer is generally regarded as an irritant - a necessary evil - and the first and last to get shafted.

The Guild's talker said the writer's motto should always be: "Trust no-one." This is grim news from a body specifically set up to protect writers' interests - and is based purely on their experience of the way non-writers feel about and treat even professional writers.

As writers we are passionate - and have pride - because writing is the hardest and most important part of the creative process. We know this - and so do non-writers, though they posture and parade as though it's not.

We may have a passion for what we do. Passion is good. Passion is productive and creates results. And we use that passion to create the writing that everyone else feeds off and gets rich by.

But, because of the sad lack of respect we encounter - it's up to all of us individually to work for the good of writers collectively - by having the courage to say NO occasionally.

So the next time you get a dodgy or insulting deal offered to you, don't think, "Well it's just me, what I do doesn't make a difference" - because it does matter. We need to stand together and send out a message to those who would exploit us.

It's about taking responsibility for ourselves as writers.

Because the real reason why writers are so badly exploited by non-writers is because, for all the right and wrong reasons, we often let them do it.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Answer to Writing, the Universe and Everything

Scientists studying nature are getting inceasingly good at working out how things work. From the Big Bang Theory to DNA. From the evolution of species to how chocolate can make us happy.

We now have a pretty good idea how life works from the smallest chemical action to the largest atomic reaction. It seems as though one day we will know how everything in our Universe works... but there is one crucial element missing.

The why.

We know that sunlight makes plants photosynthesize carbon dioxide into oxygen. We know that when an electrical spark is applied to gasoline it explodes. We know that when water boils it turns to steam. We know these things and a host of others because we can prove them - every time. But do we know why they happen?

Scientists say that these reactions are 'coded' into the makeup of the elements. That these reactions are inevitable, given the right circumstances. We know that during the Big Bang, for instance, certain elements came together, making it happen, but we still don't know why they came together in the first place.

It's too easy to say God does these things, smile, and act as though that's the end of the argument.

But I think there may be another factor - a fifth dimension - at work here - one that I have recently labelled 'Intentionality'.

What is Intentionality?

Basically, I think there may be a set of independent universal forces that direct matter and biological organisms, including humans - co-existing within our Universe.

There is already some evidence that in Nature growth and change develop in pre-assigned paths of 30 or 60 degrees, though the reasons for this are unclear. It's curious that the ancient Chinese divination system called the I Ching makes similar assumptions about the mechanics of change. Could it be that Nature, including ourselves, respond to an external force called Intention?

It might be like a kind of 'mist' that pervades all matter - and if so there may also be a set of mathematical principles that direct the Intentionality Dimension.

What Does This Fifth Dimension Look Like?

It's difficult to picture what another dimension might look like but I will make an attempt here:

Imagine a line drawn on a piece of paper going from north to south- that's one dimension, seen from above. Then another line drawn across it east to west - that's the second dimension. Now envisage a circle drawn around the two lines and imagine this in three dimensions - as a sphere dangling in space. Now think of the sphere as travelling in a straight line that represents time, the fourth dimension. The fifth dimension (intentionality) is the space through which the sphere is travelling through time.

This fifth dimension is a kind of 'ether' in which there are an infinity of impulses for and against, good and bad, order and chaos, right and wrong. At some point, I'm suggesting, we may be able to identify and record these 'impulses' into a coherent system, or at least a systematic group of 'influences' over the other four dimensions.

At that point we may realize that the real reason why the Universe exists at all is because the 'overriding impulse' of all of the five dimensions combined is towards order, right and goodness.

What Has This Got to Do With Writing?

Quite a lot actually - so bear with me!

There's an ancient Hermetic maxim that says "As above, so below." It was the ancients' way of positing that what happens in the heavens is reflected on Earth. It's a pretty cool idea that they probably didn't really understand when they said it - they might just have meant that the stars dictate our destiny.

(Okay this is a vast simplification of everything I've ever learnt about ancient lore, religion and magic - I guess I'm just trying to keep it simple!)

As Above, So Below

Curiously, as we enter the 21st century, we are discovering this maxim is largely true - in the sense that the smallest chemical and subatomic reactions actually mirror what happens in the largest of any and all of the actions and reactions in the Universe.

And, given this reality, I believe our minds may work in exactly the same way as the Universe. We are in effect, each of us, a microcosm of the Universe, capable of achieving anything we choose to set our minds to - because we, as human beings, have unlimited access to the dimension of Intentionality.

Our thoughts and our perceptions may make up the bulk of our version of the real world. But our intentions are what guide us. Man is the only living creature which can consciously change his mind. An animal will react and change its actions instinctively. But only we, as rational human beings, can do what is right or wrong or neither based on considered thought. We are the only living organisms that control our intentions. We can react and change and grow when we tap into our own Intentionality dimension. And, I believe, because we are intrinsically connected with the five dimensions of the Universe -we can influence the Universe with our thoughts.

Are You In Control?

Think of a river - as time. You drop in a stone and the effects -the ripples - extend outwards. Now imagine that where the stone hits the water is your sense of now. The stone is your intention.

You can either watch the results of your intention or you can analyse its effects. Your goals and dreams are not just idle whims. No, because of their interaction with the fifth dimension, they can actually change the Universe. They radiate outwards and alter the present and the future -and the perhaps the past for that matter.

One of the problems in us believing we're just normal human beings is that we're not aware of just how much we are influencing the Universe. And too many of us stop pursuing our dreams because we think we're not getting anywhere. But we stop because we haven't yet received any feedback from the Universe. Many of us might find that if we'd just hung in there a little longer, the feedback may appear.

I've tentavely called this the Acquired Response Marker or ARM. If we accept that this ARM is reaching out to us from the Universe to help us recognise that we are getting somewhere, we might not give up so soon!

Am I Crazy?

Now it could be I'm just being woolly headed or have lost the plot in some way. Maybe I've spent so long at home studying and thinking, I'm going gaga. But I don't think so. There's just something about the idea that there may be an Intentionality Dimension that appeals to me. It seems like a key - a concept that seems to fit.

It would explain so much.

What about psychic ability? Now I'm a sceptic but I do wonder how psychics are sometimes capable of knowing the future and being able to tap into events in the past or in a part of the world they have no obvious contact with.

What's to say they're not tapping into Intentionality - which would have completely different rules about what's accessible and what isn't. The dead - ghosts or the future - may be able to communicate with people receptive to another dimension filled with 'intention' rather than what we normally think of as physical reality.

I could go on (I've been thinking about this a lot) but I'll stop here before I start to sound Jacko.

As Far As Writing Goes

You already know I believe that writing success has a lot to do with setting goals and visualization - but imagine that there was a verifiable physical reality - a new dimension - that was real and measureable. And that when you work towards your dreams there was an actual physical response happening in the Universe - wouldn't that direct, concrete feedback make you more determined to change your life? Ithink it would.

And I'm tending towards the idea that if all of us thought that 'thinking could make it so', and that if we all believed it, then it might change us as a species, and help us create a far better world, perhaps overnight!

Just a thought.

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

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