"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: April 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Oracle

Rob Parnell

Seven keys to unlock your dreams, seven words you need to hold dear on your journey. They are:

1. Passion

You cannot devote your life to anything without a passion for it. No amount of coulda, shoulda, woulda will help.

If you don't know what your passion is, look for it, identify it. You'll know what it is when you feel warm inside and a smile touches your lips.

Follow your passion.

2. Energy

You cannot fuel your passion without the enthusiasm to pursue your chosen path.

Enthusiasm needs your body fit and your mind alert. Then you can focus on what is important to you. If you're not feeling healthy, find time to relax and nurture your self, your being.

When you're relaxed, your energy will multiply and your enthusiasm go further - and your passion can become manifest.

3. Resolve

All the passion and energy in the world will amount to naught without a goal and the determination to reach it.

When you venture on a course you know to be fulfilling, you must see its end point and know you are committed to the journey.

A sure resolve in your heart will keep your energy high and your passion focused.

4. Study

You cannot continue or succeed in your chosen field without the right tools at your disposal, nor the attitudes that will help you.

Learn everything there is to know about your endeavors. Study the paths that others have taken, emulate their manners and their techniques, and you will surely arrive at the destination you desire.

Feed your thirst for knowledge to strengthen your resolve, to harness your energy and to fuel your passion.

5. Invention

Your vocation needs increasing. You must add your own self to that which you study.

Merely repeating or copying is not enough. You must love your work so that it grows. Find new meaning, new connections, new relevance and create as much as you employ.

Expand your inventiveness as you study your life's work, and your resolve will heighten, increasing your energy and passion.

6. Strategy

Anyone can dream, anyone can make a wish, but it is the superior person who makes a plan, and draws a map to show the way.

There are signs that point towards your success - and you must seek them out, acknowledge them and forever look beyond them into the distant hopeful horizon.

Know where you are going, write down the itinerary and follow the path. If the path is not there, invent it, resolve to make it clear with your multiplying energy and your passion.

7. Trust

You need faith to pursue a dream that others may believe is not for you. But others are not you - and cannot know your heart.

You must trust your instincts, your intuition and your intention. They will guide you on your journey. That is their purpose.

Believe that the Universe, or your God, lovingly wants you to succeed - and you will.

Passion, energy, resolve, study, invention, strategy, trust - they all come together and the first letter of each will remind you of the single most important directive you will ever need to tell yourself:


Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, April 22, 2010

If You Want To Get Published, Edit Out the Literary You...

Rob Parnell

As writers, we all know that careful editing makes the crucial difference between rejection and acceptance. Only a complete novice thinks that editing is not as important, if not more important, than the actual writing.

For the purposes of this article, I'm assuming you know all the usual advice about editing for publication. If not, go here: http://easywaytowrite.com/selfediting.html

Editing for publication requires a clearer focus on some very specific issues. The object of the editing and rewriting process is to get your book into a shape that is instantly recognizable as a serious contender in the marketplace by the agents and publishers you will send it to.

These people – people who read manuscripts all the time – recognize when you’ve done this work correctly. The signs are in fact all too clear. Right up front.

For instance, if your first line is meandering and vaguely pointless (a common enough scenario for 90% of all manuscripts), they know that the rest of the work is likely to be the same.

In order to impress, you need to show that your prose is focused and strong right from the outset. Your story – and only your story – should be blatantly apparent from the first line.

This is why you must not get caught up in the actual words.

Do you understand what I’m saying?

I fear not.

Here’s a clue. If you absolutely love what you’ve written from one page to the next, then it’s probably self indulgent – and unlikely to ever be published.

I know this sounds contrary to logic but trust me, it’s the way it works.

Because actually, the way to tell if your writing is any good is if the words don’t touch you anymore.

The only thing that matters is STORY. And it is this that you should focus on when you’re editing a publishable novel.

Any attempt whatsoever to look like you’re a great wordsmith will lead to failure – in the eyes of a publisher and in the eyes of a reader.

So how does this work in practice? How do you remove the literary writer in you and focus purely on the story? First, take a look at your own first line.

Any clues? Is it long winded and full of compound phrases that confuse and may cause a reader to balk? Probably.

Take a few tips from the masters...

Look at the opening line for The Da Vinci Code:

Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.

What is actually here? For a start, there is nothing in this sentence that suggests literary prowess, no sense that Dan is trying to show off. It is simply story – nothing more, nothing less.

In reality, Dan may have struggled over which precise words to use to get the exact image across. He may – and probably did – edit this first line a hundred times, but to what end?


To make it look as though it was the first thing that came into his mind.

Look at the opening line of Chapter One of Twilight:

My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down.

Again, there is no affectation, no desire to impress, simply the facts of the story moment. The writing is deceptively simple because it places an image in the mind of the reader – and serves no other purpose.

Too many new writers – perhaps the majority – believe that their words should somehow be beautiful and flowing and show great intellect and mastery of the English language.

For the bestseller in particular, this is simply not the case. The purpose of good writing is to place images in the mind of the reader, transparently, with no barrier – that is, without the WORDS getting in the way of the story.

Again, the first line of The Alchemist:

The boy’s name was Santiago.

How simple do you need to get?

Do you understand yet that writing good stories is not about the words?

Don’t fall in to the trap of loving your own words.

Only amateurs do that.

In fact, many professional career writers actually end up loathing words because they have a nasty habit of getting in the way of what they’re trying to say.

Just ask any old writer.

Your first line should be simple and direct with no affectation whatsoever. No author present. No narrator. Only the story, because that’s all that is necessary.

This is the lesson.

Great writing is that which appears not to be.

And, conversely, writing that aspires to greatness, ironically, often ends up sounding crap.

For this reason, choose your own writing style carefully. And, if you want to be a successful fiction writer, choose story over the love of words – every time!

Thanks for reading this short excerpt from Anatomy of the Modern Bestseller (http://easywaytowrite.com/modern_bestseller.html).

Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Don't Think, Write

Do you ever have those days when you're feeling muzzy and unmotivated?

You know how it is. Sometimes you feel you should write, but you don't feel like it. And even if you did, you're plagued by the thought you can't think of anything to write about.

Or maybe you know you have an important scene or an article to write and you can't find the necessary impetus to get you started. Worse, you just can't be bothered to write at all - it's too hard to even contemplate.

What do you do when this happens to you?

If you write for a living, this can be especially troubling. After all, if you're not writing, you're not working. So you feel bad because you know that not writing equals no money coming in, now or in the future...

What's the solution?

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

And the big secret is that career writers don't need a reason to write. They don't need inspiration or a good idea. They don't even need to be in the right mood.

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

When you write all the time, as a habit, it's like breathing. You just sit yourself in front of the computer and the words simply pour out. This is because the brain doesn't use its logical side to write. It uses the creative side, which is hard-wired to the subconscious.

And, as I often point out to new writers, it's your subconscious that writes for you. Best thing is that this wellspring of ideas never runs out. As long as you keep tapping out words, the ideas will keep coming.

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

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

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

Great idea, right?

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

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

My problem is that I always have too much to do. I end up writing even when I don't feel like it because, well, I have to.

Nothing would happen unless I wrote. From little things like business strategies I hand over to my assistants, to lessons I'm writing for students. These things have deadlines.

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

Actually that's not true. I feel the urge to write pretty much all the time. It's what I write - and for how long - that's my greatest issue.

Take this article for instance. I started out thinking last night about how social sites seem to be taking over the Net. I thought maybe I could write an article about that. As the night wore on I realized that I could probably write a book about social marketing - the arena is so complex and fascinating (to me, anyway!) So I decided I'd put off that article and write about something else.

But I couldn't think of anything.

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

An hour later and this is the result.

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

Now if I can do that...

...you can too!

Keep writing!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

When You Hate Your Own Writing...

Rob Parnell

It's one of those bizarre phenomena - the way writers see-saw between a love/hate relationship with their own writing.

You're in the throes of a story or an article - you don't want to stop because you're feeling inspired. Each word and phrase seems to resonate with profound meaning. The drama and/or the thought process seems to be unfolding well - and you're on a high. Finally, it seems as though the hotline between your thoughts and the page are in sync - you're writing well and all is right with the world.

This feeling can last a few hours, even a few days...

... until you look back at what you've done.

Then the angst sets in.

The writing you thought was superb suddenly seems clunky and inadequate. The phrases you particularly liked now seem awkward and ill-formed. Worse, your intellect seems exposed: you feel as though your writing shows you to be the hack you never wanted to be: the metaphors lack depth and the imagery is weak. The writing doesn't work. It's just, well, awful...

"The horror, the horror!" to quote Joseph Conrad who, irritatingly enough, wrote in several different languages and still managed to look like a genius in all of them. Gah!

What's a writer to do?

First take comfort in the fact that all writers go through this.

There's not a one that at some point didn't think they were the worst writer in the world (even Joseph Conrad.) It's got nothing to do with talent or dedication or practice or experience. Every writer goes through periods of self doubt. It's part of the landscape.

Next, take stock.

What have you got?

At the very least you've got some words on paper. You can congratulate yourself that you've at least done something 90% of would be writers struggle with - actually doing it.

If you're working to a, usually self imposed, deadline, this is good. At least you don't have to go through the pain of starting. There's something down. The rest is surely just editing...

If only it were that easy.

Sometimes I wish I was more easily satisfied. It would be wonderful to write a few lines and think, Now that's cool. Perfect, I don't need to change a thing.

But that's not how it works.

I have a semi-finished novel I've been editing for months. I do a little every day if I can. It's around 85,000 words altogether and do you know what?

Every single time I sit down to work on it, I end up reworking the damned opening paragraph!

I can't understand why but every time I open up the file, I feel the need to edit the beginning. Is that perfectionism? It doesn't feel like it. Seems more like insecurity - or simply frustration that I can't find a bunch of words that work for me every time. I mean, how hard can it be?


We have to be patient.

We have to take our time.

As you know, I'm all for writing the first draft of a novel in around thirty days. Or around 30000 to 50000 words a month.

Stephenie Meyer says she wrote Twilight in just three months. Makes you want to throttle her, doesn't it?

If there's any justice it took at least a couple of years to edit.

Because editing is where the work is. My novel has around ninety chapters - and after beating myself up over the final manuscript for the last week, I've made a few decisions.

1. It's not really ready to send out. (I have actually sent it out twice and received two rejections. I can handle it - not.)

2. If I'm going to edit it again, I need to do it slowly, taking care over every singe word. Only then will I be happy - won't I?

3. At one short chapter a day of around 1000 to 2500 words, it will take me about three months to edit the whole novel (again). But that's okay. What's three months when the final, final, final version will last forever, right?

Fiction in particular I think is hard to get right. Easy to write, hard to get right. Fiction needs to look effortless - which ironically requires more effort on the part of the writer.

But in my own case, I'm sure it will be worth it.

I want this next novel to be perfect - to impress everyone who reads it. I want it to be a bestseller...

Is that asking too much?

Maybe. You can't expect everyone to like a story.

Okay, I can accept that.

It's just that I have to like it first!

Thank you for letting me vent.

I hope this little rant helps with your own writing demons.

At least now you'll know you're not alone...

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

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