"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: March 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ideas - And Where They Come From

This must be the single most fascinating issue amongst new writers - and non writers.

Throughout their careers, authors are consistently asked the same question: Where do you get your ideas from? As though there is some secret locked store-room full of them, hidden away,
and that only the best writers are mysteriously given the key.

If you're one of those people that has apparent trouble coming up with ideas, let me reassure you right away. You already hold the key to the 'idea store'. Just like any other writer or creative person, the ideas are inside your head - and all you need is an easy way to tap into them.

Something I'm just about to give you.

You may not be conscious of it now but your subconscious is a swirling mass of ideas just waiting for your attention.

The problem for most long term writers is not 'Where do I get ideas?' but 'Which one of the thousands I have am I going to work on next?' The dilemma then becomes 'When am I ever going to have enough time?'

Because once you gain access to the 'idea store', you'll most likely never have problems coming up with ideas again.

Gaining Access to Ideas

The notion that ideas are plentiful - and you already have them - is comforting to know, right? But you're probably still wondering how to unlock that store.

Easy. First of all, try this exercise.

Write at the top of a page: "Ten Ideas for Stories"

The simple act of doing this begins to open your subconscious mind. Let it do its magic, you really don't need to force it.

Let me explain.

Your subconscious mind is dumb. It cannot distinguish between fact and fiction, real and imagined, true or false. It is constantly taking in information and impressions from the conscious mind and trying to make sense of what it sees and hears and experiences.

It takes the data it has and tries to understand it, quantify it and file it away for reference later.

During this process it compares and contrasts different notions, sees if they fit and when they don't, continues. Most of the time we let the subconscious do this without question, without even knowing it's happening.

The KEY is to interrupt this process and let the notions that don't quite fit come to the surface of your conscious mind.

The Old 'What If...'

Ideas, as in scenarios and interesting propositions that are worth a writer pursuing, usually come in the form of two disparate notions that wouldn't normally be melded together.

For instance. 'A person with a lisp' is not strictly an idea worth pursuing. Similarly 'a person giving an important speech' is not necessarily an intriguing subject. But - 'a person with a lisp giving an important speech' is an idea with potential.

Another example? 'Aliens taking over the earth' is fairly tired subject matter for fiction writers nowadays. As is, 'kids have fun skateboarding' I would suggest. But what about 'Skateboarding aliens having fun taking over the earth?' Now THAT's an idea!

Open your mind to possibilities. Let impressions come in to your mind, let them ferment in your subconscious and take a sidelong look at how your subconscious deals with them.

Ask yourself, what if I put this fact with that fiction? What if this person were in that situation? What would happen if this notion were true? This imaginary place existed, or this particular scenario happened? How would that affect people, my characters, me?

Do this and soon, you'll be scribbling down ideas for stories in no time.

Practice Makes Productive

If you deliberately ask yourself every day to come up with ideas, you'll find that your brain will start to do it automatically.

You will begin to think laterally and see connections where previously you thought there were none.

One the things that helps this process immensely is the simple act of writing.

Many new writers think they can't start writing until they have an idea. Consequently they may never start. This is wrong thinking.

Most ideas only come AFTER you begin writing. As a useful metaphor, it's like turning on the tap. You have to get the water flowing BEFORE the ideas will come.

Writing a story is about letting images and thoughts form as you write, and being open to your subconscious, which is literally bursting with ideas all of the time. But if you don't turn on the tap, you'd never know it.

Don't ever stop writing because you think you have no ideas. Write anyway. And if you get stuck, write about that. Keep asking your mind for ideas, even if you have to write: 'I need an idea. I need something to write. Hey, brain, give me an idea.' You'll find the subconscious reacts well to this kind of stimulus. It works far better that staring out of the window - every time!

What's a 'Good' Idea?

You may be tempted to wonder whether an idea is 'good' or 'bad'? And what's the difference?

Again, this is upside-down thinking. There is no difference between a good idea and a bad one if you never put either of them down on paper. The 'good' idea is anything that gets you writing - and finishing a piece of work, whether that be a paragraph or a novel.

A bad idea is simply one that doesn't get written down.

It's about your personal preference. You may have a great idea that doesn't inspire you to write.

You may also have a dumb idea you find endlessly fascinating, that keeps you writing for hours.

The good idea is the one that keeps you writing.

And out of the wilderness, I hear the mournful cry:

But I Can't Think of Anything Original!

So what?

Many new writers have this idea you can't write unless you have an original idea or some momentous new thought.

Tosh! There's no such thing as an original idea. There's nothing new. Nothing.

What's original is your particular way of writing. What's 'good' is your unique way of thinking - and expressing your ideas. And by the way, you're already unique - just because you're you.

Don't ever think that it's your ideas that define your originality. It's not. It's your ability to get them down on paper that is far more important - in any writing arena.

Are we inspired yet?


Now go and write down those ten ideas for stories!

Keep Writing!

Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, March 19, 2009

DLB - The Only Good Advice You'll Ever Need

Are you the kind of person who dwells on the past?

We all do it to an extent. Some of us more than others.

But have you ever found yourself getting stuck in a groove, replaying a mistake in your mind, over and over, ten, twenty, even thirty years after the fact?

You know the old maxim: "You get what you focus on." Has it occurred to you that when you dwell on past mistakes, you're setting up yourself to fail - again?

We all make mistakes. That's why there's a delete key on your computer. If everything we did was perfect first time out, our lives would be bland and most likely, unmemorable.

Our mistakes, our errors in judgment, our embarrassing interludes, help us grow and learn and become wise. But replaying them in our minds, cringing and wishing they'd worked out differently is a surefire way of ensuring the same kind of result in the future.

Don't Make Excuses

Have you ever noticed that most people have a hundred reasons why they shouldn't pursue their dreams?

Worse - they have a hundred reasons why you shouldn't pursue your dreams.

It's like some unspoken pact between 'ordinary' people.

They will present 'evidence' that supports their cause. Evidence that comes from experience, advice, feedback and watching TV. Evidence that seems compelling - but only if you happen to be in a negative frame of mind.

Super-successful people don't do this. They look for evidence of the opposite.

Super-successful people know that in amongst a thousand ordinary folks determined to live their lives 'hanging on in quiet desperation,' there are others who refuse to believe that life should be simply endured.

Opportunities hit all of us, all of the time. Trouble is, we're so wrapped up in our own little worlds, we ignore them or rationalize them away, even reject them.

Don't You Look Back

Stop for a moment.

How much time every day do you spend thinking about past events? I'm willing to bet the older you get, the more times you do it - almost automatically.

If you find yourself thinking about the past more than two or three brief times a day, you're holding back your dreams.

As an experiment, make a log - whenever you catch yourself thinking about something that happened way back, note it down - and resolve to correct this limiting habit.

Why? Because your past is irrelevant. Outside of your own mind it doesn't even exist. Mostly, it's just junk that clutters up your brain.

And slowly destroys you...

So - what's the answer?


If you want a fun, exciting and super-successful life from this point on, you have to start thinking about tomorrow.

Seek Wisdom

You meet them all the time - people with rigid views about everything. People who can list all the reasons why things happen, why individuals and groups act and react the way they do, and why certain things are possible and why most wonderful things are impossible.

These are the same people whose lives are over. They've stopped learning and keeping their minds and hearts flexible.

Our lives are a series of events from which we learn and adjust. But to believe that one opinion holds true forever is a myth.

Tomorrow is another day and new truths, new evidence will emerge that disproves the past, again and again.

The generation before us was convinced that safety and security were all there was to aspire to. And what did they experience? Hardship, depression, two world wars, disease and poverty, violence and cruelty that caused more suffering than at any other time in history. And they tell us they were the good old days?

Don't Be Fooled

We live in our most exciting time. And that time is now.

Wisdom is not just knowledge. The pursuit of wisdom involves a willingness to absorb the future and its endless possibilities. True wisdom is never closing your mind to believing you can improve, excel yourself and follow your dreams, whatever your age or skill level.

There are no limits. You are only ever limited by what you believe.

Start believing that tomorrow can and will be different. That there is hope - and a chance for us to make a better world, where we can fulfill our destinies, if only we choose to do that.

Let Go of Your Past

The past is holding you back. It's like a large stone fastened to your neck that won't let you move forward. But remember: you have always had the key to your own shackles.

You don't need to keep living in a phantom place that only you created. Unlock the ties that bind you. The key is in your thoughts.

Consciously decide you will no longer let the past absorb you. Whenever you find yourself dwelling on past events, deliberately reject the associated thoughts and images. Replace them with musings and uplifting visualizations on the future - the forever undiscovered country.

Make a commitment now to take every negative thought you have and turn it around. See the positive. See the benefits. See the bright light of hope and opportunity that exists for all of us, all of the time.

The past is gone. It has no hold over that you don't give it.

Believe in yourself - and your dreams.

DLB - Don't Look Back.

Trust in the future and...

Keep Writing!

Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On a Writing Seminar

Robyn and I spent nearly a week at a writing seminar recently. It was in the Barossa wine region - just north of Adelaide, SA, a beautiful spot.

For a full time writer used to sitting alone for hours working, seminars can be overwhelming. So many writers, so much to see, people you should meet, notes you should be taking - oh and the food and wine you feel compelled to eat and enjoy!

Up at seven - gosh, it's a very long time since we had to do that!

Most days we're lucky to be up by nine - and the office is just a short shuffle away! But at the seminar they had working breakfasts - a chance to 'network' as the brochure instructed. Who wants to network before your eyes have begun to focus?

Robyn's good at this sort of thing, but me? I'm shy at the best of times and so having to look confident, enthusiastic and passionate about my writing is a bit of a stretch - in real life. I mean, I am passionate about writing - very - but having to show that to strangers is like asking me to walk the high wire above a vat of fire.

At least when I'm at speaking engagements I've had time to prepare - get myself pumped - and anyway, talking to a hundred people is somehow easier than talking to just one or two - for me anyway. Does that make me strange? I hope not.


I can see the benefit of networking. You get to speak to people 'on the other side' - the people who commission writers, who have to deal with their foibles and their egos.

But that was what struck me. The most successful writers were the ones most relaxed - and least affected.

But the big thing that struck me?

Just how hard professional writers work - and how dedicated they are to re-writing, accepting criticism and consistently reworking their material until the client, publisher, producer, agent, whatever is happy.

No egos there. No artistic tantrums. None of precious protectionist attitude that amateurs are prone to display.

And that's the main thing I took away from the seminar. That professional writers are professional because they are flexible. They do not regard their work as definitive, merely a work in progress until it's published or performed.

Indeed it was clear that those who commission writers don't really understand that writers are people who string together words. They tend to see writers as 'people who come up with ideas.'

This is what they regard as your talent.

It's curious to me because I know that consistently coming up with ideas is really just a by-product of being a career writer.

It's one of things that happens along the way. It's interesting that this knack is regarded as the most useful - and I guess most sellable - talent a writer can possess.

Nothing about the craft. Spelling, punctuation, grammar - all the things we struggle with at first - all these these things are taken for granted, a prerequisite. But once you know all that, your ideas can begin to shine.

And if others don't like the shine - you have to change it, make a new model that glitters more in their eyes - and if that's not enough, you need to keep polishing, discarding, buffing, reworking and varnishing...

You see what I mean about hard work?

Writing is difficult enough sometimes without having the strength to throw out your most wonderful ideas if you can't interest a buyer with them!

But I guess that's the reality of the modern writer's world.

I read an article last week about writers sometimes 'singing the wrong song.' That sometimes constantly pushing your one great idea can sound the death knell for a writer's career.

In order to prosper as a modern writer, you need to be able to have lots of ideas - and work on only those that have 'legs' in the eyes of the people that can help you.

Literary agents in the past have said as much to Robyn and I - but at the time we probably didn't understand what they meant.

It works like this.

As much as you might love your work, it's all just words - fragile, disposable and so much detritus - until someone bites. It's an important lesson to learn if you want to be a professional writer.

That you can't really call yourself a successful writer until people want your ideas and respond to your work - and pay you to do it.

I hope this is not too depressing a thought.

I don't think it is.

It struck me as a revelation that I felt I needed to share with you.

I hope it helps you get your head around becoming a professional writer - and get rich doing it.

Keep writing!

The Writing Academy

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