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

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

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Stand Up and Be Counted

Today, we look at staying on top of your writing game.

It's been a great week writing-wise - but it reminded me how fragile we are as humans - and how we've got to look after ourselves, even if all we aspire to is comfort and happiness.

I finished the first draft of a new novel Wednesday last. 

My partner's doing a proof of it now so that it's ready for publication next week.

Finishing a project brings up odd emotions. 

Nearing the end of the MS last Friday, I felt a curious wave of sadness - as though I was composing farewells to old friends I would miss dearly.

By Tuesday, and the completion of the final chapter 'wrap up', this feeling had morphed into elation at a job (I thought) well done. 

Riding this high, I did something I never do:

A complete copy edit in one go. 

Took me seven hours not stop Wednesday to go through and do a final proof before handing the MS over to Robyn.

I guess I deliberately wanted to get this done quickly so I could circumvent the next inevitable emotion: doubt.

You know, that horrible little gremlin that sneaks under the covers at the end of a project and says, "What were you thinking? Spending all those hours and days and weeks - for that?"

It's a nasty niggly voice and maybe I'm the only one who suffers from it, though I don't think so. 

My subscribers often complain of a similar gremlin.

Of course now, while I know my partner's reading the MS, I'm going through the "please say you like it" phase where any kind of criticism of my latest baby will hurt like a burning poker through the spleen.

Thankfully she's said some nice things so far - but then she would, wouldn't she?

Partners can be ruthless with their criticism, but at least Robyn's a multi-published author so I think I'm getting honest feedback!

Fingers crossed they're not just platitudes.

You need things like that to keep you getting your work out there.

You could be the next big thing but if nobody's reading your work, how will you ever find out?

It's too easy to reside in a comfort zone - unwilling to receive feedback that might shatter the dream.

But it has to be done. 

You can't rely on bumping into a fabulous contact in an elevator who can rocket you to fame and fortune.

You have to do what other writers have done since the beginning of tablet etching: submitting to publishers and agents and editors continually - and now, as I prefer, self-publishing on Amazon..

Fitzgerald famously said he could paper the walls of his writing room with rejections. 

That's how it is, and should be, for writers.

And I feel bad sometimes because I know I don't get nearly enough rejections to know I'm really trying hard enough.

There again, I have nearly forty books on Amazon and they sell all the time, every day, so I can't be that bad, right?

What about you? 

Are you publishing what you write?

Are you getting yourself out there?

I woke up this morning with a pain in my knee. Don't know what it is - probably nothing.

But it did remind me I'm only mortal and that one day I may not be in a position to keep writing, let alone submitting.

Get a move on, Rob, I thought, get a darn wiggle on...

Know what I mean?

Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy


"I'm astounded by people who take eighteen years to write something. That's how long it took that guy to write Madame Bovary, and was that ever on the best-seller list?" Sylvester Stallone

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Seize the Writing Day

Many people write to me about writer's block.

They hate it when the urge to write drops off in the middle of a novel or a non-fiction book or a screenplay, even during a short story.

They worry about what that means.

Are they really a writer?

Has the Muse deserted them?

Or is it symptomatic of some more serious psychological issue?

Some writers worry about stopping even before it happens to them.

A recipe for disaster if ever there was one.

Whatever the problem, my feeling is that if you get stuck, you need to go back and examine the reasons why you started in the first place.

That place was most likely the strongest position you ever occupied in relation to your writing.

Why did you start to write?

To make order from chaos?

To right wrongs?

For catharsis?

Or simply to enjoy the creative process?

Personally, I've written for as long as I've been able.

I wrote little pamphlets about hating my sister and stealing candy from the local shop at least a couple of years before I learned to read properly.

I kept a yearly diary up until I was eighteen.

I think I started to write stories because I didn't much like the world.

It seemed endless and pointless and I really needed some certainty and symmetry that made sense - and the only place I could get that was from fiction.

(That's still how I feel.)

Reading helps with that too.

When reading you're aware that lots of other authors want that sense of control over a world - even if it's only imaginary.

Especially if it's imaginary.

I've got into a rhythm recently, one I'm very happy with.

I write fiction in the mornings, up until lunch.

Good days I write 1500 words - good unhurried words that I like.

Bad days I'll eke out 500, just to feel I did something.

I don't worry about blocks so much as getting distracted into other projects.

There's always the temptation to do something else.  Other projects.

But I try to focus on the fiction because that's what I know gives me the most satisfaction - in the long term.

I'm only really happy when I'm writing - or thinking about writing, which is what I tell myself I'm doing when I watch movies or TV.

I'm seeing how others do it. How other artists put stories together.

I'm learning from other craftsmen and women.

Do you have excuses like this?

I guess we all do.

We can't write all the time - to the exclusion of everything else - although some writers have tried - and others do.

I guess it's about balance.

You can't force the Muse. She's too elusive for that. Try to confront her and she dissolves. Call on the Muse and she's busy. You have to let her creep up on you and peek over your shoulder when you're writing. Then don't acknowledge her, just let her hover nearby, nodding unseen approval.

I think the trick is not to beat yourself up.

Write every day if you can. Stay on top of your self-imposed goals.

A block isn't so bad as the effect you might let it have on you.

If you start to hate yourself, then immediately write something - even if it's just a shopping list or a set of new goals.

Your brain likes repetition - but most of all it likes the reinforcement of values already held.

So if you remember why you started writing, all those neurons and synaptic gaps will fire up again - and help get you back on your path.

If all else fails, take one of my courses.

People are always telling me how inspiring they are!

Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy


"One of your first jobs, as you write for money, will be to get rid of your vocabulary." Jack Woodford

The Writing Academy

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