"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

So - What's Next For You?

So - we made it to the end of the year. 

I hope last year was all that you wanted - and needed - from your present life.

We often think that the new year is a time to recycle all those old resolutions. 

I think this can be a mistake. 

Because we then send a message to our brains that goals and ambitions are to be confined to January - and forgotten when the year gets under way!

The time to make resolutions is every day. 

Just five minutes in the morning - say at nine o clock - spent making a short list of the things that are important to you - bearing in mind the long term, as well as the short, will pay huge dividends when it comes to reviewing your progress towards your dream life.

Year's end is really only a time to ask: Am I living my dream life? 

And if not, what can I do to make that happen by the end of next year?

Usually any kind of success these days implies self promotion...

Writers are often expected to self-promote, either through social media, personal appearances or via TV and radio. 

This can be tough for many, more insular writers - actually like me.

I may look confident in my videos but it's really just an illusion created by editing and post production. 

At least it does prove that you can be introverted and still make the media work for you.

Actors and comedians often seem like extroverts - but this too can be an incorrect assumption. 

Performing is a skill that even the most shy writer can accomplish with enough practice - and indeed may become an essential component of a writer's career if we want success in this modern, sound bite, glitz driven age.

Besides which, it's about pushing ourselves, isn't it?

With every new writing project we want to improve, to stretch ourselves just that little bit further.

This should also apply I think to other areas of our lives.

Self-help gurus always talk about the need to get outside of our comfort zones in order to grow. 

And what could be more outside a writer's comfort zone than performing, acting and even speaking?

I understand!

It's rare that any of us like the look or sound of ourselves on film. 

Even Johnny Depp says he can't watch himself on screen!

But I think it's important to overcome these things - in much the same way we need to overcome any kind of social anxiety in order to successfully interact with other people - especially people that can help us.

Think of performing as a writer as a necessary evil...

I hate pitching my work in person, an increasingly often occurrence.

To be honest I find the whole idea of relating written material in verbal form to be slightly odd, even distasteful sometimes. 

I mean, why should writers be considered the best orators of their work?

They rarely are.

And how do publishers, producers and agents have the audacity to turn down ideas without even taking the merest glimpse at our writing?

I could be Shakespeare and these people would never know - just because they didn't think Romeo and Juliet had sufficient 'legs' as a viable idea.

It's a crazy new system.

To me, it's a thinly veiled insult to writers, really. 

It's basically saying that the writing is unimportant - anyone can do that - it's the idea that must sell itself.

Good in principle but I am offended by the unwillingness to even ask the question, Oh, by the way, can you actually write?

These days, the writer is often considered a necessary evil - and not always necessary at that.

I heard an artist friend complaining the other day when he suggested to a millennial they should read a book.

"Oh, yeah," the kid said. "I know books. They're like websites made of paper, right?"

All the best for your own writing projects this year!
Keep writing!

Rob Parnell
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Times They Are A'Changin...

It seems the longer time goes on, the more traditional publishers are shutting their doors to new authors. 

Writers I speak to are getting their manuscripts back sooner and more frequently with those customary rejections these days, even if they've had publishing deals in the past.

Anyhoo, where I live, South Australia has more than its fair share of successful writers - Sean Williams, who writes Star Wars novels, for one. 

DM Cornish, whose Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy has a Hollywood option. 

My wife, Robyn Opie, is the author of 85 internationally published books. 

Janeen Brian is the proud author of 75 picture books, the list goes on.

Wannabe professional writers should find this encouraging.

Of course a lot more writers find success online these days, being independent and carving a niche as an authorpreneur.

My subscribers often complain about how long it takes to gain some traction as an independent author.

But don't forget it's never been easy to gain traction as an author, even with a publishing deal.

The average author has always needed to write around five to fifteen novels before they might earn enough to live on. 

And that's assuming they're writing the kind of books a lot of people want to read!

The majority of authors have always struggled to get by - so nothing has really changed, except now we can at least get paid for books we sell monthly. 

But anyway, we get so wrapped up in our own issues, we often forget the real purpose of life: and that is to help each other.

It's sometimes hard to grasp what this actually means.

Does it mean volunteering at a shelter or involving yourself in community projects? 

It might. 

Does it mean coaching your local kid's soccer team or organizing garage sales to raise money for the needy? 


These are the more obvious manifestations of charity and giving. 

Sure, they can smack of unpaid work and a necessary short term duty.

I prefer to think of "giving" as a vocation that we can all participate in - all the time - in our own way, using our own personal talents.

Rich businessmen, for instance, might find their real purpose is to give back to the community by using some of their money to fund humanitarian causes... some do.

In a perfect world, lawyers and doctors would spend at least some of their time working for free (we can dream)...

Working people can, through little acts of kindness, make the day easier and more pleasant for everyone around them...

But what can artists, writers and musicians do?

It's rare that artists have much spare cash - and time away from their work is a luxury few can afford.

I would argue that the most an artist can give is to focus on his or her art. 

The more artists work on their projects, the more they are giving - to the community, to the world at large.

The act of creating is the greatest gift we can give to each other, to the Universe, to whatever you conceive of as God.

Because art can bring light into the darkness, true understanding, and joy into the hearts of us all.

What better gift could a person hope to offer?

It's scientifically proven that happiness can make a person stronger, more resilient, more ambitious, a better, more giving individual.

Plus, like the endless Mobius strip, being a better, more giving person can make us - individually and collectively - happier.

Happiness is apparently infectious. 

Viral, if you like.

You might think that my wife and I are a couple of old hippies. 

We live on the land, trying to build a forest and save the local wildlife.

We work on artistic projects as the mood takes us, and enjoy the benefits of working on books, film and music, and getting paid for being "arty-types."

Some people think we're strange and aloof.

But actually we like to think of ourselves as just slightly ahead of our time.

We believe that, as a culture and a civilization, we are on the brink of a new era of 'Universal Consciousness'.

A time when materialism and technology merge with a new spiritual awareness of ourselves and our place in the cosmos.

We're looking forward to a time when greed and self-interest become less important for the majority. 

A time when focusing on compassion and responsibility will literally change our view of reality and help us all to become 'new millennial citizens' of our planet.

We see subtle changes in consciousness everywhere - and you might argue that's because we want to see them, even if they're not really there. 

I don't agree.

Personally, I've always believed that true happiness and personal creativity are inextricably linked.

Whenever I speak with people who are unhappy and unfulfilled, I always try to discover the central cause. 

Underneath all the surface reasons like perceived poverty, workplace angst, family problems and esteem issues, there is always a spark...

A little fire that knows instinctively we would be much happier if we were free - and had the time - to simply CREATE.

More and more people are seeing the light of that fire and following their passions - whether that's by starting their own craft businesses, or painting for pure pleasure, or writing on the vague promise of eventual success.

I always encourage people - especially writers, musicians and film makers - to follow their instincts and simply do what their heart is pushing them to embrace.

Because I believe only through creativity - which spawns real fulfillment, true happiness and a more spiritual understanding of the human condition - can we hope to repair the ills of this world and manifest ourselves as the true noble citizens of the universe we've always been destined to become.

Make time today to reflect on these important issues.

By doing so, I believe you can begin to make a real difference to your own life - and by extension, everyone else's - and this year, now.

On that note, you most definitely need to...

Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy


"You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer." Margaret Atwood

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On Writers' Crit Groups


Many writers swear by critique groups.

They rely on them for good solid feedback from a wide variety of other writers - because it's helpful, confidential and, best of all, it's free.

But many new writers join critique groups for the wrong reason.

Actually, it's not so much wrong - and it's common enough - but it does hamper what you might get out of judgment by your peers.

Namely, newbie writers usually only want one thing, and that is: validation.

It can come as a great shock to new writers to venture out into the world - to finally summon up the courage to show their work to other writers - only to discover that they are not universally and immediately acknowledged as a genius.

I have seen this phenomenon over and again.

New writers come down to our own crit groups and read their material.

You can tell they most times only want one response - to be told that their work is brilliant!

Any other gentle criticism from group members can result in a tirade of explanations and justifications from the author - who is hell bent on defending his/her work to the bitter end.

At this point we often ask, "Why are you here?"

"Do you want help? Do you want to improve? Or do you simply want praise and accolades?"

Writing doesn't really work that way.

And writers are generally hard-wired to criticize other writers.

Not always in a bad way.

Most writers just want you to improve your own writing.

Mostly, when a new writer appears in a crit group, they need to be warned against all the usual mistakes that newbies make.

And, don't forget, we all make them.

My own experience at my first writers' crit group is typical.

I read my cherished story and in no particular order, the dozen or so writers around the table informed me of the importance of point of view (don't change it mid section etc), the overuse of adverbs, the desire for less verbiage, adjectives etc, the need to quash the indefinite article (it) and excessive description, the ugliness of exposition, being active rather than passive, and various of the other faux pas that tend to litter newbie's work.

Of course I was crushed.

Weren't they listening to the story, I wondered.

Why all this nit-picking?

Now I know.

It's the nit-picking that will teach you the most...

Because you can't really take anybody's writing seriously unless they get the basics right first.

And this, to me, is what writers' crit groups are best at providing: a sound basis to move on to a more professional attitude towards your writing.

The story and the concepts are all well and good.

The emotional roller coaster is a grand thing to create and experience. 

But the impact and relevance of a story can only be assessed when you have the basics down pat.

Style too is irrelevant before you get the fundamentals.

Every new writer has to learn this.

Technical competence is not something you can leave till later - or hope that an editor can fix for you.

No, you have to learn this stuff yourself.

And learn it quickly, so you don't spend years submitting work that is routinely rejected for basic errors.

Because this is the number one reason why 70% of all MSS are rejected.

Not story or ideas - but basic technique.

If this thought scares you, it's supposed to.

So, if you join a crit group and find the other writers tend to pick on the basics, don't fight it or be hurt by it.

Listen to what is being said, ask for clarification, appreciate the reasons for the basic rules of writing - and learn them quickly.

Because if you absorb the fundamentals immediately - and act on them - you'll find that the next time you read out your work - or submit it to a crit group - you'll find the reaction is completely different.

Because only when your basic errors are corrected - the ones we all make at first - does your writing deserve to be taken seriously.

Writing rules are made to be broken, sure, but ideally only when you know them all!

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy


"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." Howard Aiken

Thursday, November 18, 2010

News, Views & Clues to Writing Success

I hope you're well and happy and that your writing is going well.

Most of you will know by now that I send out a free newsletter every week - usually on Fridays. But I'm not sure everyone will know why.

Fact is, I have a dream...

I've always known I wanted to write. I actually started writing before I could read properly. I've kept a diary of my private - and not so private - thoughts since I was around five years old.

I don't know why, but it always seemed logical and somehow important to record my insights in written form. I guess that's how most writers start out.

Later, I wrote plays, short stories, movie scripts, even novels as projects that had to be fit around the rest of my life, working to pay the rent in whichever place I found myself. Mostly London, UK, as it turned out - where I submitted manuscripts and played music to earn a crust for almost two decades.

Over that time, I read as many books about writing as I could find. I took courses, did workshops, kept writing...

I began to notice something.

Whenever I tried to find out more about the mechanics of writing from other, more successful writers, I was struck by how hard it was to get decent, accurate information and advice.

Maybe I was just being paranoid but I started to get the feeling professional writers had secrets they weren't willing to share!

I realize now that mostly this is about protecting what they have.

Working writers want you to think that writing is hard - and that the way to writing success is fraught with difficulty and hardship. Either that or they don't want you know they personally find it easy!

Simply put, most successful writers don't want any competition.

If aspiring writers - the logic goes - fall by the wayside, then so much the better.

I've noticed too that publishers, editors and agents rarely help aspiring writers for the same reason.

They have enough to do with the writers they take seriously!

To encourage a writer, they seem to think, is to make a nuisance of them. Fact is, publishers want to deal with fewer writers, not more.

And then there's the way we writers let writing get to us.

We beat ourselves up about it. We almost want it to be hard - as though every word is wrenched from our souls. As though our writing can't be any good unless it pours like blood on to the page.

Which is absurd, of course.

Editing, polishing, perfecting - yes, that can be hard work. But the writing - especially the first draft - now that should be easy, automatic, I would suggest, fun even.

And that's what my teaching is all about.

It's about breaking down our self-imposed barriers - and just getting down the first draft of our stories, screenplays, novels and non-fiction books quickly - with no stress.

It's about channeling our subconscious mind into a voice that we can put down onto paper as effortlessly as possible. Because, I believe, that's how you create your best work.

Not using the rational, critical mind to write. But by accessing the endless store of inspiration and originality that is within your subconscious mind.

I really believe that writing is the most important, most creative, most inspiring thing we humans can do with our time. It defines and illuminates the human condition in a way that transcends every other activity.

Plus of course, writing is at the root of everything. There would be no culture, no business, no science or engineering, no inventions without writing. No books, no ideas, no movie franchises, and certainly no internet without writers.

Writers often get criticized, marginalized and even ridiculed. And not just by the media and the general public. But by a writer's friends and relatives too. Ironically, they are often trivialized by the very people - publishers, agents and producers - that rely on writers' work to make them rich and powerful.

I've lost count of the number of times I've heard publishers and movie producers describe writers as a necessary evil, little deserving of respect.

Writers are often seen as ten a penny - and their efforts and inspiration next to worthless compared to the fortunes their work can spawn.

And this attitude can leave writers feeling bewildered, undervalued and yes, sometimes despairing.

My dream is for writers to be respected, sure - but mostly I want writers to respect themselves first.

I want writers to feel good about what they do - and understand that dedicating yourself to writing is worthy and courageous - and the right thing to do.

But mostly I believe that if you want to be a writer, then you should aspire to write well - and that there's an easier way to do it - and that becoming a good and successful and respected writer is totally within your grasp.

Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy


"In writing fiction, the more fantastic the tale, the plainer the prose should be. Don't ask your readers to admire your words when you want them to believe your story." Ben Bova

Thursday, November 11, 2010

You Got The Power!

The more you write, the more you realize how hard it is to get anyone to take any notice of you.

Newbies often worry that their words are going to have some awful and monumental impact on people - way out of proportion to reality.

First time novelists often email me in varying states of panic, asking if it's okay to say this or that.

Others are so afraid of putting their name to their own writing, they want to invent pseudonyms - usually just before publication! In case their own words come back to bite them somehow.

In today's world, it's hard to even get noticed, let alone raise a stir in people enough to provoke a response.

There's about billion new words appearing on the Internet every day. In the real world, probably a billion again appearing in new books, newspapers and magazines. Writers everywhere are trying to read and to be heard, to be taken seriously.

And yet, a celebrity's kiss will always be more compelling news.

You've got to see things in context.

While it takes courage and determination to stand up and be counted, you have to understand that there's a lot of people out there that are already on the journey - people that have already discovered that endless self-promotion is just part of a writer's job - and that 99.99% will most likely seem ineffective.

Especially nowadays when a reader's time is so precious.

It would be nice to believe that all the words we slave over will one day have impact and carry the weight we give them.

But the fact is most people are more interested in their own words than anyone else's.

Self-interest is hard wired into our natures...

Ironically it's understanding this that will help you improve your writing.

My articles often focus on the need to connect with your reader.

It's well known in the marketing world that a reader's primary concern is: "What's in it for me?"
I call this WiiFM.

This is true of fiction, too.

People read because they want to feel a connection with the characters and the story. They see themselves as your hero. When you are being completely honest, readers don't automatically think, "Ooh er, what's this writer like?"

No, they most likely think, "Yeah, I understand that. That's what I would feel, do, be like, act in that way."

Books like Twilight and The Da Vinci Code become bestsellers simply because more people relate to the characters and the stories than they do other, just as competently written books.

Again, 'connection' is the key.

And as a writer you have to constantly strive to find better ways to connect.

On a practical, down to earth level, that's why writing a blog is always a good idea for a writer, not only to improve your writing as you do it, to get used to regular writing, but also to 'converse' with your audience and potential fans of your work.

You need to work in different writing mediums too - to strengthen your writing muscles and your skill base.

You have to be aware of societal changes - and regularly adjust your perspective to incorporate new mindsets, new ideas and new technology.

Making a two minute YouTube video promoting your book might seem a daunting project but, given the mindset of the average punter, it's something you should seriously consider. If only to help a larger number of people visualize your writing, in a way that is more commonly apprehended today than the mere written word ever is or was.

Don't be afraid to experiment. Never say no to a new way of thinking - and never stop learning.

Too often old writers, even quite successful ones, get stuck in their ways and watch with incomprehension as younger writers rise to the fore and pass them by.

If you're not afraid to fail, you have more power than you think.

Especially if you embrace technology - and are determined to use it effectively.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy


"When a man becomes fully conscious of his powers, his role, his destiny, he's an artist and he ceases his struggle with reality. Thus, he is enabled to play the monstrous role of living and dying innumerable times according to the measure of his capacity for life." Henry Miller

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Moments of Clarity - and What to Do With Them

Writers are a stubborn lot.

Sometimes it can take us decades to learn a subtle truth about writing that forever changes us - and our writing - for the better.

At various stages in my writing career, more experienced writers and critics have said (in no particular order) "watch your point of view switches," "careful not to use the author's voice," "learn format and punctuation assiduously," "don't over justify your concepts," "don't overuse adjectives or qualifiers," "dump cliche and adverbs," "be totally honest in your writing," "know your characters inside out," "make your motivations believable," "write for the reader," etc., etc.

Each time I felt an inner resistance and fallen back on the age-old feeling of "I know what I'm doing - that's my style."

Only to realize, sometimes years later, that my peers and critics were right - and that I should have listened to them, and immediately acted on their advice.

The interesting thing about the last two months of the intense writing workshops we've been running is that we have been bombarded daily with fabulous advice from working writers and industry professionals - not so much about writing technically - but about the effect of our writing on our others.

We have been encouraged to explore our ideas and concepts and deliberately find those that will connect with our potential audience - and reject those that might be good but have limited appeal.

Then, to hone those viable ideas into a form that will resonate with readers, agents, publishers, producers and people the world over.

Precision is the key.

We've learned that having a different effect on different people is actually not quite good enough.

Our writing should be so clear, so meticulously transparent, that it has roughly the same effect - the one we desired - on almost everyone that reads it.

Look at it this way.

The job of a fiction writer is to elicit emotion in a reader. This is true of novels, short stories and screenplays, any fiction.

But the job of professional writers is to elicit the precise emotion we intend - and at exactly the time we want. And we do this in a number of specific ways.

Being a student of human psychology can help. We have to know from experience what events and circumstances trigger certain emotions in others. But we need to do this in an objective way - so that we learn which emotions are triggered in general to the population at large.

Knowing ourselves is vitally important.

The longer I live the more convinced I become that on some deep level we humans are all fundamentally the same.

99% of our DNA is similar to every other person on the planet.

Simply put, we're made the same.

That's why, by relying on our own feelings and reactions to stimuli, we can get a pretty good handle on how others feel and would react given the same scenarios.

But what about originality? I hear you.

Uniqueness comes from the way we in particular process and describe the commonality of experience.

Genius is ascribed to us when we exactly personify that which others already know - but have perhaps been unable to exactly express themselves.

On a practical level, we need to be rigorous when plotting fiction.

You might take a character and say he does this, then this, then this. And you have to know why he does those things. It's not enough just to say, 'Yeah, well that makes sense to me'.

You have to be sure that, based on empirical observation, that the character's motivations are logical and consistent to almost everyone that may later read your work.

That's what makes a fiction writer great. To be able to take the ordinary and mundane, even the extraordinary and fantastical, and make it shine with TRUTH.

Because, as I often say, fiction, at its best, is more true than real life.

And basically, that's why we humans like it.

For most writers, moments of real clarity are few and far between. But when we're assailed by them, we must embrace them.

A while back I realized that, yes indeed, we are complete masters of our own destiny. That this was not some idle concept. No, it is absolutely true. And that revelation changed me forever.

Similarly, the last few weeks of writing workshops has convinced me beyond any doubt that unless writing connects with the reader in exactly the way the writer intended, it's not really working.

But the good news is that our real purpose as writers is to improve that one overarching aspect of our skill base.

We need to get better at eliciting exactly the emotion we intended, at exactly the time we intended.

That's the real reason why we need to improve our technique and constantly seek perfection.

Not to impress or shock or wow.

But simply to connect.

Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy


"A professional is a man who respects his trade, tries as hard as he can to perfect his work, and realizes that one failure isn’t the end of the world. Or two…or three." Nathaniel Benchley

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Culture of Positivity

Being a fan of Charlie Kaufman's early screenplays - Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - I sat down last night to watch the film he recently wrote and directed, Synodoche, New York.

I had high expectations I guess - perhaps too high. I had assumed that Kaufman's quirkiness came from a need to be original. Alas, the film betrayed his true fascination - in a line from the movie, he even says, "I realize now that nobody's interested in my misery."

And why should they be?

Kaufman's universe is a bleak one. Our lives are seedy and pointless and become all the more complex, or rather painfully complicated, as we strive to examine and make sense of them.

There's no joy in Synodoche, only angst, regret and loneliness. No love, only misunderstanding, lack of connection and fear - and the ever present specter of death.

The only line I found uplifting in an otherwise dire waste of screen time was: "There are no extras. Everyone of us is a star in our own lives." But even this I think Kaufman meant in a bad way, like it was somehow wrong that we might be self obsessed when each one of the billions of us can't possibly be that important.

Fair enough. I'm sure most people might disagree...

It's interesting to me because Hollywood screenwriters often talk about Charlie Kaufman in reverential terms - as a writer of integrity and vision, formerly shunned by 'the system'.

Ironically I think it was Kaufman's determination to succeed despite the need to 'commercialize' his ideas that made his work compelling.

Now that he's rich enough to do it himself - we can see exactly why Hollywood tries so very hard to make writers create fun and entertaining projects that are appealing to a wide audience.

Because, when you make a movie like Synodoche for apparently intelligent adults (instead of aiming at fourteen year olds) you end up with a self indulgent mess of drivel that nobody wants to go and see - unless you're feeling suicidal, I suppose.

There are many ways of getting a message across. I know that there are some writers out there that have grown cynical of the constant barrage of 'positivity' they are called upon to write.

Indeed many writers complain to me that they can't get their 'downbeat' stories published or taken seriously.

But that's because publishers, agents and producers know we live in a largely adolescent culture where the most voracious markets want fantasy (with a small F), action and escapism.

Seeing joy and love and justice on our screens fills us with hope - for our own lives and for that of our own species.

On a fundamental level I believe humanity doesn't want to wallow in nihilistic self absorption. Not all the time anyway. If you want to tell stories with a 'tough' edge (whatever that means) then you, as a writer, must also show the counter-balance.

Because writers should strive to be objective - and see both sides.

Hollywood is apparently famous for creating the 'happy ending'. In terms of creating successful, popular movies, they have enough experience to know that it works. They know that when you tell a story, you need to leave the audience on a positive note.

But this was no Hollywood invention. The happy ending is, as Carl Jung explained a long time ago now, an archetypal symbol hardwired into our collective psyche. It's been that way since we crawled out of the swamp - and is indeed perhaps symbolic of that mythical event.

Writers shouldn't think that a happy ending is a cop out. It's not.

You can be as brutal and confronting as you like - just watch the average modern horror movie to know that. But without love and hope, without the vanquishing of evil and the protection of the innocent, there's no real point to a story...

We all know this deep down - but the artist in us will occasionally resist what we might regard as the cliche.

Of course death is inevitable - but so is our desire to triumph and create a better, more compassionate world. It doesn't matter that this seems like a vain exercise in futility. It's part of who we are.

To quote Kaufman, we may be "just the tiniest fleck of insignificance in a vast uncaring universe" - but surely that's the point.

We really don't want - or need - to believe that.

And surely the legacy we would want to leave behind is that despite all the pain and suffering, our spirit made us strong and resourceful.

And as writers, we need to remind our audience of that as much as we can.

There may be a thousand bad things that can happen to us but, when it comes down to the final judgment, we are capable of transcending the body and becoming spiritual beings full of love and joy - and of maintaining a never ending optimism for the future.

And what's wrong with that?

If you never felt positive, you'd never write anything - and nobody would ever know about your misery and despair.

Not that they'd be interested in it anyway, of course.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell
Your Success is My Concern


"Before I came here I was confused about this subject. Having listened to your lecture I am still confused. But on a higher level." Enrico Fermi

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Be Your Own Mentor

A lot of people ask me how I manage to get so much done. I often wonder myself.

I was lucky. When I'd done schooling, I decided I didn't want to work for a living. Of course I had to - for a while. I did some pretty horrible jobs, gravitating from factory to office work because I noticed that the office workers seemed to get an easier time of things - and got paid more.

Of course I could have done the life journey properly and got a nice cushy career type job in a bank or a corporate company. It's not as if I wasn't bright enough. I was even offered a few positions like that. But, much to the chagrin of my mother, I chose not to take them - mainly because it seemed like a cop out. The easy option.

I deliberately chose the hard way - because I wanted to loathe the 9 to 5 I suppose. I'd watched my Dad living a life of quiet desperation for twenty years and I believed there had to be a better way to exist. Actually, I guess that's a kind of adolescent way of thinking - a rebel without a cause mentality. But at the time 'the hard way' seemed, if not fulfilling, then purposeful.

Getting a music career off the ground wasn't hard in retrospect, but it took more time than was absolutely necessary. When I was seventeen I sent a demo to EMI Music - which was rejected of course - and it took another ten years to eventually get signed to EMI as a rock artiste. I got distracted along the way - as tends to happen when you're young and think you have all the time in the world.

But even in those days I knew that finishing projects was what it was all about. A song is a not a song until it's written and recorded and in someone's office.

You can't get gigs without a demo - and because studio time is expensive I begged a home recording set up from a manager that stood me well for over a decade. Even EMI thought I had a 24-track studio I worked out of - which was actually a home 4-track in my bedroom. (Sorry to have to tell you now, Clive!)

I still do that now. Except technology is cheaper and smaller nowadays - so I have a 64-track set up in my house with guitars and keyboards and FX that make me sound like a cross between U2 and Beethoven on a good day. God - what wouldn't I have done if I had access to all these toys when I was a kid!

Fact is, when it comes to getting things done, writing is the same as music. No-one can take you seriously unless they see that you've completed a manuscript and are consistently sending it out.

Ideas and hopes and dreams are one thing. They can make you feel good - and they can take you a long way into the right mindset to be creative.

But in order to compete, you need to finish what you start.

I know many writers with great projects that they start and get bored with - or run out of time to progress - and then a year or so later start another project where the same thing happens.

It's natural. You brain is a marvelous instrument, capable of limitless creativity, but just like a child, it gets bored with the same old thing and will want to move on.

That's why you have to work quickly - or push through the blocks - to get a project finished before you get bored of it.

Many writers assume that it's their perfectionism that makes them work on a project over and over, taking years to feel some sort of satisfaction over the finished product. But this is to misunderstand how the mind works.

Basically, every three to six months, your brain has changed physiology. So in effect you're a different person two to four times a year. If you've ever tried to get a project finished by committee you'll know how hard it is to get more than two people to agree on something. It's the same with YOU.

Take too long over a project and you're merely handing it over to a newer you each time - and each time you'll review the ideas, or their execution, find them wanting, and most likely feel the need to start over again.

This is why you must finish at least the first draft quickly. Get it all down before the excitement inevitably wears off.

This is the real "secret" to success.

It doesn't matter whether a particular project is perfect or not. Finishing it is what counts. Only then can you know whether it works. Only then do you feel you are capable of other, larger and more complex commitments.

When I mentor writers, I like to make sure they're used to finishing small projects. Articles, short stories, even blogs.

Because the ability to finish is the revealer of character. Many writers complain to me that they feel unmotivated around the half way or three quarter mark of their novels. And nine times out of ten we can trace back the problem to their inability to finish even small projects.

It's not the work that's hard - it's the mentality that's wrong. The mindset wasn't pre-programmed for completion.

I think this is the real problem with the 9 to 5 mentality. There's a very real sense that work is never really over - and that there's always going to be more time.

When you're an artist, especially a working artist, this paradigm no longer applies.

If you want to be a paid writer, you need to get used to finishing what you start. Good or bad - you'll never know unless you can hold it up and say: "It's done."

Be your own mentor - and force yourself to get things finished!

Write down your goals, make time to work on them, and whip yourself - and your work - into shape. As fast as you can.

And don't forget to send your stuff out into the world.

That's where it will really begin to take effect.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell


"It is better to resist at the beginning than at the end." Leonardo da Vinci

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Create Your Own World

As if I'm not busy enough already, a local director has asked me to write the music for his latest production - and have it to him by the 11th of October.

So on top of the two pitches for TV series we're producing, running Magellan Books and the EWTW and editing my latest novel during the day, I'm composing and recording music in the evenings...

No Rest for the Wicked, as I once sang!

BTW, as well as Lydie M Denier, I'm proud to announce another Hollywood star has chosen Magellan Books to launch her latest book to coincide with her new TV series in October. Cool, or what?

More news on that soon - coming to an inbox near you!


I'm probably one of the last people in the world to read "What the BLEEP Do We Know?"

By now most of the ideas in it are well publicized and known thanks to movies like The Secret and the media blitz that accompanied it a few years back.

A lot of self help gurus are still peddling the Law of Attraction or their version of it - so it's interesting to revisit some of the precepts now that the big splash has more or less passed.

In case you don't know, the premise of BLEEP is this:

Quantum physicists have established that, at the very fundamental level of atomic structure, measurement of subatomic particles seems dependent on - or at least relative to - the observer.

Much as modern physicists hate it, self help gurus (now, oddly, called 'philosophers' in some circles) say this is proof that consciousness affects, even shapes, reality.

And by extension the theory says that, through our intentions and interactions with matter, we actually create our own lives.

On a metaphysical level, ancient cultures and mystical traditions have been saying this for centuries - but only now do we have 'proof' from the scientific community that this may indeed be so.

Of course the majority of serious scientists are extremely upset they've let this particular Schroedinger's cat out of the bag. Some say they've been misquoted - and that the current theoretical ideas about the quantum world are too important to be trivialized by the general public.

BLEEP doesn't agree. One of their main arguments seems to be that this stuff is too important to leave to matter-bound scientists with no imagination. They want this life and perception altering information out there - in our hands - so that we can finally understand exactly how consciousness and our universe rely on each other for their existence.

One of the sections I liked in the book was where Dr Andrew Newberg said that the quantum problem was like discovering we're actually all living on some kind of big Star Trek holodeck - where the information about life's building blocks don't make any sense unless there's some huge computer 'outside' merely simulating our existence.

Of course, any self respecting Christian would say that this huge computer was God - and that we're probably not supposed to fully understand this stuff.

But that aside, if we really can shape our destinies with our thoughts, then this is surely where the real fun starts.

But can we really shape matter? And control our lives?

I guess it's a question of degree. How much control do we potentially have?

The problem is that as wonderful as these ideas sound - they don't appear to actually work to any great degree.

After all, the Global Intention Experiments by Lynne McTaggart have, notwithstanding the hype, been largely disappointing.

Much as we might want to believe it, there's seems no real definitive evidence we can get rich just by thinking about it.

However, having faith, acting upon our dreams and sticking to our goals, now that's what works - and is practically provable.

At the very least we now have some scientific data to act as a back-up to these basic self-help tenets:

That if you really want something, and go after it, then you'll get, not necessarily where you want to go, but most likely where you need to be - to achieve at least some degree of success.

I know this has worked for Robyn and I - and has worked for many of our subscribers.

BTW: did you know that over the last eight years, the Easy Way to Write has fostered over a dozen New York Times bestselling authors? We have their names on our subscriber database to prove it - not that they broadcast this fact to anyone! But I respect that - and their right to privacy.

It's just nice to know we may have helped in some way.

Anyway, I think the main point about the BLEEP factor is that now you have no excuse.

It's clear that the message is to take full responsibility for your actions. Because you just never know how much you really are creating your own reality - and that - and this is the kicker - your lack of success could be ultimately of your own making.

The next time you want something amazing to happen to you, start believing it's at least possible - and take positive action to let the universe know of your intentions.

To quote Star Wars - why not - fiction is just a valid reality as the real thing, isn't it? At least to our subconscious, which can't tell the difference anyway.

When Yoda lifts the downed starfighter with his mind, Luke says: "I don't believe it."

Whereupon Yoda replies, "That's why you can't do it."

Keep writing!

The Easy Way to Write


“Life isn't about finding yourself. It's about creating yourself." George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Writers have a tendency to complicate things.

We think that's what is required of us.

Character depth, we tell ourselves, is what counts.

Plot complexity, we think, is what impresses.

Layers of story threads woven into a sophisticated tapestry will mark us out as a literary master, we want to believe.

But actually in the modern marketplace I don't think this is true.

At least not when it comes to selling our work to agents and publishers, producers, indeed the general public.

Just look at the way books, TV and films are pitched to us - in the media especially.

You might think that it's journalists and editors that create these little snippets and brief synopses designed to encapsulate our work.


It's us - we have to do it.

Novelists write their own back-blurbs.

TV listings are derived from the screenwriter's original log lines...

Even after we've written something as word-weighty as a novel, we have to learn how to distill down the essence of our ideas into bite-sized pieces that are succinct and easily digestible.

This is a skill all its own.

Most every writer will tell you that the synopsis is to be dreaded.

Creating a shortened version of our work seems to go against the grain.

To somehow cheapen and disfigure the face of the manuscript.

But the publishing industry doesn't see it that way.

The film industry is worse.

In today's world, unless you can encapsulate your work in 15 words or less, you're often not even going to get a look in.

In most cases - in movie production offices - you are judged solely on your 'short pitch'.

It seems grossly unfair that you can have your manuscripts rejected (unread) because the person on the other side of the desk doesn't like the sound of your pitch.

This has happened to me so many times, I know it must be the way of the world now.

Of course it works in reverse too.

I've had agents, publishers and producers react to the most facile of short pitches - and commission me - based on 'the idea' rather than any question of whether I might be up to its execution.

I guess this is because it's only writers that care about the words.

The rest of the industry - or the vultures, as I like to call them - have this notion that it's (and I've heard them confirm this) the "ideas they can get excited about" that make the deals with publishers, agents, distributors and financiers who seem to revel in the buying and selling of writer's creative ideas.

They don't seem to realize that writers are more than just 'idea generators' who should be discarded if they don't come up with at least six new ones a day - and commercial ones at that.

I had a lovely email conversation with a cherished subscriber this week.

He was having trouble fleshing out one of his characters.

He was trying to understand what he needed to do to make his character come alive.

He asked me about inner conflict and how that could be represented on the page.

After years of studying these issues, I gave my response:

"A character's inner conflict is not something you need to think of first. It's the character's agenda - his goals - that define his modus operandi. And it's the story's antagonists (the people who will stand in the way of the character's agenda, or the so called 'obstacles') that dictate the story. This leads to an outer conflict - the story's events - which imply the 'inner conflict' - that is, the personal, sometimes unspoken, changes the character must undergo to become 'the hero.'

"Indeed, a character's inner conflict often happens in the reader's mind - and is not always on the page.

"This is all basic stuff you need to learn to make stories work - and being able to fashion writing using these principles are techniques that professional writers are supposed to know how to encapsulate instinctively."

But it sounds complicated, right?

It's not - but that's the dilemma.

How do you distill ideas into their most basic form?


Study and practice.

You need to work on getting those 'short form' pitches into shape. And work just as hard on them as you would your longer works.

In a sound-bite world, we need to write better sound-bites than spin doctors, politicians and news readers.

You need to know your stories so well that you can squash them to any length.

From a six word sentence to the one paragraph 'elevator pitch' to the one page synopsis - and you need to memorize them, just in case you ever need to use them.

I know.

I know this is not what you signed up for when you became a writer.

But I have learned the hard way that this is pretty much a requirement in today's world.

Your writing career can live or die on a verbal pitch to the right person at the right time.

You might be at a convention, or meet a publisher at a party, or be interviewed by a potential fan in the street - you never know when a succinct version of your book will come in handy.

Best thing is - if you're good at making your ideas sound good - then your skill as a writer is often taken for granted.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy


"It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much doing nothing." Gertrude Stein

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Seven Simple Strategies to Cure Writers' Block Forever!

I've always been loath to tackle the subject of writer's block. A personal, largely superstitious thing - but still I get asked what writers should do about it - all the time!

So here goes:

1. Crisis, What Crisis?

First off, you need to deny that there is any such thing as writer's block. This debilitating condition can only hurt you when you give it the privilege of a concrete name. Take away its name and you begin to take away its power over you.

Tell yourself, there is no such thing as writer's block. There is writing and not-writing. Only writers have a name for something they're NOT doing.

Think about the absurdity of builder's block, or doctor's block, or pilot's block. Any kind of inability to write is similarly absurd.

Writing is like breathing - something you learned to do a long time ago without thinking. Stop thinking about it - and just do it.

2. Stop! In the Name of Love.

If you've run out of ideas or you're struggling over the next sentence, take a break.

Many writers agree that a short pace around the garden, or a quick stint at housework, taking a shower or partaking in a brief period of meditation can help to shift your mindset away from a block.

You need to interrupt mental stagnation by briefly doing something else. Again, you need to stop thinking about the writing and give your mind the space to develop another way in.

A short break will give you a new perspective. Don't think about the writing, focus on the ideas, then go back to your desk and put those thoughts on paper, or the screen.

3. Everybody Say, Word Up.

Play with words. Make a game of it. For instance, take two unrelated words from the dictionary and make a sentence out of them.

Make a list of cues to pin on your wall. My first kiss, my best train ride, the last time I saw Paris etc. When stuck, use your cues to kick start your mind. Don't write, simply notate your thoughts.

Describe anything in your room. Describe someone you know from memory. Anything to get images on the page.

Again, don't think about the words, think about the thing you're describing - the characteristics, the emotions evoked, the conclusions made - and put those impressions onto the screen.

The quality of the writing is unimportant. Getting your thoughts out is all that matters.

4. Twas a Dark and Stormy Night...

Every writer has been there before you. See how they made it through by taking a book and copying out a paragraph, word for word.

Edit it. Try rephrasing some of the syntax, the clauses, the dialogue. When you do this, you're in another writer's mind.

Not so different from your own, is it?

All of us writers live in the same place. Some of us - the more prolific - are just better adjusted to the environment. They see the reality within and behind the words. Don't let the words get in the way. They're not important. What is important is relating the thoughts and impressions that the words represent.

Get past the words, leapfrog them, to get to the images in your mind. Don't say you don't have any ideas because your brain is full to the brim of them - and the more you write, the more you'll realize the truth of this phenomenon.

5. Gah! You Cannot Be Serious.

There's nothing quite like reading something terrible to make you feel you could do better.

Choose a dire paperback, read and scoff, then get back to your desk.

Whatever you do, don't stop and think about writing. Thinking about writing is not the same as writing.

The only time I ever got blocked was around ten years ago when a writer friend told me a story of mine didn't make sense. It took me a whole year to realize that no amount of thinking was ever going to improve the story. I sat down then to fix it.

More writing and editing is the only way forward. Stop writing and you die a little, and your writing dies with you.

6. I'll Have What She's Having

If you can't raise the enthusiasm to write, fake it.

Habit is king when it comes to writing. The more you do it, the easier it gets - because you lose the inhibitions created by lack of practice.

Plus, when you spend ten minutes writing, even if you're not really enjoying it at first, then somehow the subconscious kicks in and begins to write for you.

You've got to bypass the logical rational mind - the critic - and go to the source of your creativity, the subconscious - that never-ending well of ideas that is always bursting for a means of expression.

From childhood we are taught to suppress out imagination. As writers, we need to consciously become kids again. Let your inner mind run free and make mischief.

7. Take This and Come Back in a Week

Here's the solution to writer's block that always works.

Write it out.

When you're blocked, tell the page, I'm blocked. Ask for guidance, in writing. Work through your block on the screen, typing one painful word after the other if necessary.

"Come on, brain, you've got to help me. What should I write now? Just one more line, that's all I need to get me back on track."
Don't stop until the block has passed. ONLY stop when you feel you could write more. Always leave a little extra writing in reserve for the next time. Tomorrow.

In general, whatever you do, don't wait for inspiration.

Not only does this approach not work, it's messing with your brain and giving it all the wrong messages about writing being some kind of special activity. It's not.

Writing should be automatic to you. Just something you do, like eating, breathing or sleeping.

Now, I hate to put a downer on stuff at this point but if none of the above seven strategies work, then maybe you need to give up.

Because, simply put, if you're not writing regularly, you're not really a writer - and maybe you never will be. So stop beating yourself up and shut down that avenue. Stop torturing yourself and go back to flipping burgers for a living.

Does this idea scare you?

It should. Because at this point you have two choices.

Stop now, for good - or go write something!

Best of luck, my friend.

I know you can do it.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Truth is Out There

"Getting paid for writing, son, is a triumph of tenacity over intelligence."

I love this quote - it's one of my favorites - not least because it's one of my mother's.

Mommie Dearest has always regarded writers - and me especially - as odd sorts. 

The idea that we would spend a large portion of our day knocking out words has always struck her as, in her word, silly.

A waste of time, basically, and not the sort of occupation for a sane person. 

She may be right but that doesn't stop it from being a compulsion for me - and most other writers I know.

I remember once when she came to visit me - which only happens about once a decade. 

I was at a particular low point. Can't remember why. I think I'd just lost my way after a deal fell through. One of those times, you know?

It was with great glee and insistence that she leaped on my misfortune and told me the situation was a God-given sign that I should give up all this arty stuff and settle down - get a proper job and be normal, as though that's a cure for anything.

That one time I thought she was on to something and I got a job as a storeman then a purchasing manager for a big city investment firm. 

God how I hated that place - although the experience of working 9 to 5 did teach me a lot about human nature - more especially the dark side of my own.

Three years later, a broken marriage and a near nervous breakdown (I realize that now) later, the City and I parted on bad terms and I vowed, "Never again" - again, like you do.

I shouldn't have listened to my mother but I did. 

It wasn't her fault. 

I guess she thought she knew best but didn't really get my total inability to work under other people. 

As I say, not her fault. Mine entirely for not understanding that you really do have to follow your own instincts, even when they seem 'contrariwise'.

A decade later I was able to tell mom about some of my paid writing credits and the quote above erupted from her.

She meant it in a derogatory way, as mothers often do, in case you were wondering. 

Implying the intelligence that would have me 'settle down' was again being corrupted by my 'arty' side.

So be it. 

At least now I'm happy... probably all the more for having hovered near the abyss of the rat race and backed away from its empty allure before too much toxic exposure.

I'm often reminded of these incidents when I'm working on resources for my Academy.

The Academy is of course a collection of everything I've learned about making money as a writer, on and off the Internet.

It's my life's work but I feel compelled to show new authors how to make it on their own terms - without falling for all the traps that often ensnare would-be professional writers looking for opportunities.

I'm reminded constantly of the need for an almost blind faith in yourself as a writer. 

But a faith that is moderated by the feedback you get.

And I don't mean feedback on your writing.

I mean the experiences you encounter. 

There are many sharks out there - not all of them evil. 

Some just want you to work for nothing because you're there - and they think that's what writers do.

Working for free is okay sometimes - if it's going to lead somewhere but most times it doesn't. 

It takes a particular tenacity (that word again) I think to recognize good opportunities - and profit from them in a world that regards writers as odd arty types who will (too often) work very hard for zip.

My Writing Academy is a genuine attempt to show writers they can indeed take control of their careers as long as they're not naive - and have a good guide - someone like moi (IMHO) to guide them.

For a long time I've been preaching that the real writing jobs are off-line but I know this is not what modern would-be writers want to hear. 

Especially now that the Net is such a big part of many writers' lives. 

Many need to believe that the Net can help - and it can, wonderfully, IF you know what to do, how and when and why.

In the mean time my best advice would be: "Don't take too much advice from your mother!"

She doesn't always know best.

Keep writing!

Your Success is My ConcernRob Parnell's Writing Academy


"Don't compromise yourself; you're all you've got."

Janis Joplin - advice from a whiskey-soaked hedonist who died too young to get help. Works for me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tempus Fugit

I lost a day this week. Yesterday I was under the impression it was Wednesday (it's Friday today). Robyn (the lovely wife) had to battle to right me of this misconception last night until I eventually had to accept I'd lost a whole twenty four hours.
I'm not sure how this happened.

I have my writing week so carefully mapped out these days.

I worked on my new course last weekend and all day Monday - perhaps a little of Tuesday.

No problem.

I spent a day somewhere in the week editing my latest novel again - after Robyn had done an edit/proof run through.

She'd made notes on where she thought I needed to tighten up a couple of logic inconsistencies.

Fixed those, hopefully.

Oh yeah, I spent around half a day sending out hard-copy editions of my books - which sold out - had to contact the printer and get some more done because I'd run out.

Plus of course I spent many hours answering the constant stream of emails that go with having a high profile Net presence...
But I still felt I had a spare day - Thursday - to get some other things done.

Only to discover I'd lost it.

It's now Friday, newsletter day - and I feel like I've slipped feel through some time wormhole.

Or perhaps I fell asleep on Tuesday and woke up thirty six hours later, missing a complete day.

Don't think so.

I'm sure Robyn would have mentioned it.

The subtlety of this sense of loss may not strike you as a big deal but to me, it's a little unsettling.

I know they say time flies (tempus fugit) when you're having fun... but a whole day?

All I can think is that I must be so absorbed in my work that I literally don't know what day it is.

Do you get like this?

I didn't think I was the type.

I remember once when I was musician living on a houseboat in Chelsea.

I was between record deals and I decided I needed a new batch of songs to play to a music publisher friend, Clive Black (the famous Don Black's son).

Much to the chagrin of my then girlfriend I literally locked myself into my recording studio on the boat (not quite as glamorous as it sounds) and didn't come out until I had five new songs composed and recorded.

I lost track of time then because there was no natural light in my recording studio - and no clock.

I emerged after a week looking like Robinson Crusoe, thinking I'd been there perhaps two days and it was in fact a week later.

But that made sense to me.

I'd simply got so involved that time didn't matter.

Plus I used to live on alcohol and chips in those days so I rarely had any normal routines to punctuate the day.

I wonder now why my GF didn't come to check on me...

No matter.

Rock chicks are probably more used to eccentricities than your average housewife.

But that only happened once.

They were great songs by the way and got me a deal with EMI.

So it was worth it.

But now I like to pride myself on being way more organized and mature about hard work.

I have lists of things to do, schedules and calendars - not to mention hour by hour rituals that I like to work to...

So what happened this week?

Who knows?

Perhaps I'm just going senile. Can that happen at forty two?

Come to think of it, maybe I've lost a few years somewhere and haven't yet realized.

I could be eighty two and not know it!

Just like the old proverb that says you're as old as the partner you feel, I think for writers it could be you're as old as your characters.

My latest protagonist is fifteen.

Maybe that's it.

I'm going through a second adolescence - and a carefree sense that time doesn't matter because I have my whole life ahead of me.

I hope so.

Because I've got a lot more to get written - and at least another lifetime's worth of stories!

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell
Your Success is My Concern


"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation." Graham Greene

The Writing Academy

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