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

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What's Hot and What's Not

I get asked this question all the time.

Writers everywhere want to know what's popular, what will sell now and in the future. They think there might be some great oracle out there that can answer this question - or that maybe publishers and agents on the inside might know this information and are somehow keeping it to themselves.

Would that this were true!

Think about it. Five years ago could you have predicted what you are doing now?

Most of us don't know where we're going to be living in five years time - and even if we think we do, events conspire to change our plans. Life is organic, some might say unreliable.

Even two years ago, is there any way you could have foreseen today's news? Could you have known which celebrities or politicians were going to be in the spotlight? Or which ones had faded from view?

Of course not. It doesn't work that way.

The bestselling books and movies that are with us today were conceived and written AT LEAST two years ago - many much more than that.

Sometimes an artist, writer or director may have been working on an idea for decades before it reaches the public.

What's hot now may have seemed a completely naff idea five years ago - but the idea was pursued until it was fully formed and ready for the public.

Writers have a responsibility to write what's important to them - without forever casting nervous eyes at the marketplace and wondering if they're misguided or somehow missing the boat.

Because it's the writer's vision, dedication and enthusiasm for her chosen subject that will eventually resonate with the public.

It's simple really. People like good ideas that are well expressed - no matter what genre or subject matter is currently trendy.

Think about the books, movies, writers and artists that you like. They have a timeless quality, right? Being a slave to the market doesn't make a creative person better or even more successful.

We see many people who try to jump on bandwagons - but do we respect them for that? Do they last?

Rarely. It's a person's work or personality, their uniqueness that we respect, relate to and cherish.

Your personal integrity is important. It's your love of a subject and your faith in your vision that will carry you forward. It's these things too that will inspire publishers and producers to believe in you.

There's no point in thinking, oh, JK Rowling and Dan Brown are successful, therefore I should do something like that - because that's precisely what publishers don't want writers to do.

You have to think in terms of yourself. Not, is there room for another ---------- (insert author's name here), but is there room for ---------? (Insert your name here!)

It's being passionate about your work that will - if you're serious, willing to work hard and okay, get lucky too - that will make YOU the next big thing, YOU that hot new trend that lesser writers aspire to.

Life's too short to be forever trying to predict trends. If it were at all possible to know the future, we'd all have won the lottery by now - or we wouldn't have wasted time with all those nasty people we wished we hadn't met!

The best we can do is write from the heart, and keep on writing to the best of our ability.

Accept rejection as positive criticism, rewriting and reworking ideas until they're strong and incontrovertible - until they shine with an inner light that can't be doused or ignored.

Most of all, believe in yourself and your work.

Do that, and the rest will follow.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What is Writing Style?

Let's get one thing straight. A lot of people search the term 'writing style' when they're actually looking for 'writing fonts'.

I know. I regularly get Google visitors who've typed in 'tattoo writing styles' or 'graffiti writing styles'. Clearly, they're not looking for 'writing style' at all but rather a collection of fonts they can refer to, copy, or learn from.

'Style' is different - more aligned to technique than anything else.

There are various official writing styles - but these are more specifically ways of constructing essays or theses rather than refering to what most writers regard as 'ways of writing'.

The APA style is set by the American Psychological Association and is basically a way of organizing information for reports and social science documents. Hardly of use to the average creative writer.

The MLA style dictated by the Modern Language Association is favored for college essays and english literature papers. Again, helpful when you're at school - but nothing a creative writer need worry too much about.

The Chicago style, or CMS, is most often cited as 'correct' for American English in that most editors and publishers aspire to using its recommended formats. First published in 1906, the Chicago Manual of Style is now in its 15th incarnation - and is the standard for writing non fiction in journals and magazines.

But what about fiction?

What's a writer supposed to refer to when it comes to developing an acceptable writing style?

Easy answer. Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.

It's an old book - first written in 1918 - but its rules (most of them anyway) are still relevant today. You can download a copy of the first edition from my Academy for free.

When it comes to fiction, writing style is often personal.

Your own mind - and your own sense of balance - will dictate how you put a piece of writing together.

Of course it's important to tighten what you do - to make your writing clearer, more succinct and therefore more powerful.

You need to look at your sentences and make sure you're actually saying what you mean - and meaning what you say.

The way to do this is to write first - and then be thorough with your editing afterwards.

It's much too hard to write perfect prose the first time around. For a start, you're not always sure what you have to say before you start writing!

So write first, then edit.

Edit out wordiness, cliches and qualifiers - the things we put in in speech naturally but clutter the writing when it's on paper.

Edit out the passive voice from your writing. Readers should be able to quickly identify the noun (the object in the sentence) and the verb (the doing word). Writing passively - where the verb often gets mistaken for the object - is not literary, it's lazy.

Edit out the big words, unnecessary adjectives, and reconstruct sentences into their simplest form.

Use the correct punctuation.

Be grammatical.

Your goal is to be understood, not to impress. Being understood - and using language effectively - impresses far more than hiding your meaning behind a fancy writing 'style'.

Because, perhaps ironically, the best writing style is invisible.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy
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