"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: May 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

On Inspiration - and How to Get it!

Dear Fellow Writer,

Probably about a year later than everyone else we watched The Social Network the other night. Enjoyed it. Beautifully shot with one of Jim Jannard's RED cameras I do covet.

Clearly the sub text is the irony that a guy with no real friends would set up the biggest 'friend' site on the Net. I don't know how true the film is to reality but I'm willing to believe its basic premise - that nerds, and their obsessions, are now set to rule the world!

What puzzles me about the Net is how free web sites with no real profit to show for themselves, like Facebook, can be valued so astronomically high. Five to seven billion - for a website? Give me a break.

The 2000 dot com crash (remember that) proved that Net sites were routinely overvalued - and yet we seem to have learned nothing - and continue the myth that hits mean profits for free website owners.

Ask any writer trying to get traffic to their book site and you'll discover that hits mean absolutely nothing in terms of sales!

Ah well. I guess it's about the investors, the venture capitalists out there - if THEY believe, then that's all that matters... perhaps.

Keep Writing.


Magellan Books

Writers! Click here to get published free by Magellan Books.


On Inspiration

Rob Parnell

Most writers I know are quiet people. Whether they have grand aspirations or not, they tend towards a more comfortable and ordered life - one where things are predictable. It's often a good part of a writer's temperament because, well, it needs to be.

If you're going to spend at least two or three hours a day writing, you need to know that your life is dependable enough to fit those hours in.

Fact is, if your life is unpredictable, full of turmoil and you're surrounded by people and commitments that will mess with your day, then writing is probably not a good career choice for you.

As an aside, this is one of the main reasons why a 9 to 5 job doesn't help a writer - there are simply too many destructive distractions.

The ability to concentrate for long periods is a prerequisite for a career writer. But not just on the writing. A writer also need to a special gift - the ability to see a whole manuscript in his or her mind in one moment.

A whole novel, a screenplay or non fiction book - in your mind, all at the same time. This is by no means a small feat. And one that requires practice. The more you do it, the better you get.

I remember the first time it happened to me. I'd been slaving away on a fat novel for a couple of years. Reworking pieces and flipping backwards and forwards through the text, trying to work out whether that bit matched this bit - and whether there was consistency between that character and this later plot line etc...

When suddenly I saw the whole thing in my mind. The entire story arc just popped into my head - like some kind of nirvana moment.

I could literally SEE the reality of my fictional world as one, all encompassing, whole. More than that, I KNEW it - and finally understood that, unlike any kind of computer, the human brain has this amazing ability to grasp entire concepts, worlds within worlds, and vast oceans of ideas all AT THE SAME TIME.

Pretty mind blowing, I can tell you.

Since then, a small thing like visualizing a screenplay is a breeze...

A 5000 word short story no more than a chain of instantaneous synaptic events...

An article? A passing thought, a blink of an eye...

Do you have this ability yet?

If not, I'm sure it will come.

Writers often ask me about planning and templates and outlines. I think all of these things are a good idea. A lot depends on the project or on how you work. I tend to work differently depending on the project.

Novels - an outline. Screenplays - a series of notes. Other, shorter works and I generally work without a grand plan.

Outline notes can provide a good framework on which to springboard your imagination. Not everything has to be written in stone before you start.

But if you're not yet used to finishing things, then a plan can help you through the less inspired moments that will inevitably make up part of the writing process.

And, if you're one of those writers who is constantly ecstatic when you write, then remember that Friedrick Nietzsche was the same - and he had syphilis! Feeling deliriously happy when you're writing is not always a good thing...

...especially for your eventual reader. (Again, read Nietzsche.)

Writing anything long or important is about being methodical, objective and rational. It's about this ability to see the logic and pertinence of a series of arguments (including fictional premises) that lead to a powerful, purposeful outcome, in one pure moment.

Some people regard this moment as "inspiration" - the defining time when a concept or an idea pops into your head. And writers will often then dedicate years of their life to essentially re-capturing that inspiration in book form.

Sometimes successfully, sometimes not...

The trick is to spend as much time developing the ability to experience inspirational moments as you would on the writing proper. You have to understand that not all of your inspired moments are brilliant. Some of them are just ordinary. Many inspired moments are occurring to several thousand other writers at exactly the same time as you experience them.

(Ask any publisher about this phenomenon!)

As an ambitious writer, you need MORE inspired moments in order to compete...

The great writer simply experiences more flashes of inspiration than most wannabes. (Ask Ray Bradbury or Stephen King to confirm this!)

The good news is that you can train your own mind to do the same by demanding it of yourself.

Every night, before you go to bed, ask your brain to give you an inspired idea by the following morning. It will do it for you.

Every day, look at the world around you with new eyes. Demand inspiration and it will come.

See connections in everything. Invent connections. Let your mind wander unfettered.

Live in the fast lane - of your mind.

And even if you crave a quiet life for your body and soul, let your mind - and awareness - soar.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"To give off light, one must endure burning." Viktor Frank

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Show Don't Tell"
Writer's Quote by John Lennon

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Show Don't Tell - How's it Done?

Show Don't Tell

Dear Fellow Writer,

Ideas are plentiful. Artists know this and exploit the fact. The real problem an artist, writer or musician faces is how to filter those ideas into a creative and original whole.

It's the ideas that an artist rejects that defines his or her art, their vision. And it's your instinct that helps you make the decision whether to use or ignore an idea. YOUR instinct alone.

Artists suffer critics like dogs suffer fleas. They're irritating but, like all parasites, they can't exist without the host.

Don't let critics, or any kind of negativity, undermine your confidence and faith in your abilities. Your vision is unique, original and valid.

Keep Writing.


Magellan Books

Writers! Click here to get published free by Magellan Books.


How to Show and Not Tell

Rob Parnell

Many writers get confused over the difference between showing and telling a story. And before they understand the difference, will argue that one thing is the other, especially when it comes to their own writing.

Writers tell stories, the argument goes, so how can a writer do anything but 'tell' his or her own story. By definition surely, any kind of 'showing' is 'telling' in disguise.

Don't you just love semantics? You can argue pretty much anything with words - when you know how to use them.

The fundamental point is that writers don't actually tell stories - or shouldn't. The characters tell the stories. The writer is merely a conduit for the characters.

It wasn't always this way - and I think this is where the confusion lies.

At school we're taught that people like Homer, Dickins and O Henry are great storytellers, which they are, but that doesn't mean they knew all the secrets to writing great fiction.

Fiction works best when there is no author present in the text.

One of the reasons why so many people still read Sherlock Holmes stories around a hundred years after they were written is because the stories are told, not by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - even though on a literal level we know he wrote them, but by Watson, the great detective's assistant.

Using a character in your own fiction to tell the story is one of the great literary techniques hiding in plain sight to wannabe writers.

Similarly, The Great Gatsby is not told by Fitzgerald, but by Nick, the long suffering friend of the eponymous hero.

New writers often find it difficult to separate themselves from their own stories. They will write pages and pages of exposition from the omnipresent authorial perspective. And no matter how good the writing may be, readers will for the most part be unimpressed - and not know why...

It's about identification.

Readers generally do not want to identify with writers - only other writers do that.

No, readers want to identify with characters. They want to be those characters and vicariously experience the character's high and lows while journeying through a story.

Without compelling character identification, your stories are dead in the water.

But how do you achieve character identification?

Are there tips and techniques a new writer can learn?

Yes, and Robyn Opie's Show Don't Tell masterclass goes a long way to revealing those techniques to you in a deceptively simple way.

She goes right to the heart of show don't tell, even down to how to construct sentences with subtle nuances that suck in the reader - rather than unintentionally push them away.

In many ways show don't tell is about technique - but it's also a crucial mindset that the fiction writer needs to acquire - and often does with an epiphany or straightforward light-bulb moment.

Funny thing is, once you 'get' it, you'll wonder why you never wrote that way before - and will mostly likely be embarrased by your previous efforts.

Then you'll know how all the bestselling authors of our modern (and more enlightened) age pull off the feat of showing and not telling stories, to such great effect.

For instance, despite everything we are taught or led to believe, Shakespeare is not 'in' any of his plays. He may well have acted as one of the characters on stage but nowhere are his voice or opinions or issues overtly stated as a character in the plays.

In fact one of the reasons why the real Shakespeare is such an illusive identity is that his characters express equally compelling arguments for diametrically opposed points of view - as should all great authors.

Transparent objectivity, deliberately constructed empathy and a reader's willing suspension of disbelief are crucial elements to understanding why fiction works at all.

Because as soon as a reader, or viewer or audience member becomes aware that the author or screenwriter or playwright is speaking to them through the book, film or performance, then the writer has failed - majorly - in his or her function as a storyteller.

And if the above paragraph confuses you - or you don't see the relevance of the argument - then my guess is that you're still struggling with 'show don't tell.'

Being a writer is not just about having something to say. It's about learning how to say it effectively.

I was at an interview yesterday where three authors were asked about writing and what advice they'd give to new writers.

They were unanimous on three points.

1. Write every day.

2. Writing something bad is better than writing nothing.

And most importantly,

3. Keep learning as much as you can about writing.

Your apprenticeship as a writer is never over. You can never learn too much nor hear good advice too often.

It's when you think you know it all - or don't think you need to listen to what other good and great writers advise - then you stop being the best writer you can be.

And your reader will somehow, mysteriously, know that.

Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"Reality leaves a lot to the imagination." John Lennon

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Tame Your Creativity"
Writer's Quote by Phil Cosby

Friday, May 13, 2011

TAME Your Creativity - Get Things Done

The way to feel good about yourself, your life and the work you do is to keep yourself in a positive frame of mind.

Read uplifting books and articles - stay away from the bad news in the media - and surround yourself with affirmative influences.

Too many people want to tell you the sky is falling in. These Henny Penny types waste your time and creative energy warning you of all the things that can and will go wrong. But just like the Henny Penny character, these people bring the worst scenarios upon themselves.

Focusing your mind on the positive not only creates better results, it's easier and less stressful to produce successful outcomes.

Your creative spirit is precious - and always right and good. Use it liberally and your life will begin to blossom into a magical adventure.

Probably the single most important issue writers faces is the ability, even the inclination sometimes, to finish what they start.

We all know how this works.

We have a great novel inside of us, which we'll get to one day.

We've written some part of a great work, which we don't seem to have time to return to.

We have a host of ideas that, though we are well intentioned, never seem to make it out of our heads or notebooks on to the computer screen.

Worse, we have whole manuscripts we can't show anyone because they're not finished, polished or edited well enough to present.

There are five main issues at work here, which need to be TAMED.

1. Time

2. Action

3. Motivation

4. Energy

5. Discipline

Think of your creativity as a wild animal. It rages inside your head, crashing against the bars of your subconscious. It's always hungry. Always ready to break out and run free, eager for freedom, sustenance and the ability to forage on its own terms.

Trouble is, wild creativity is useless at remaining focused. It has no sense of direction and, just like an unwillingly captive animal, will run until exhausted unless restrained on a leash.

Creativity needs to be tamed, trained and directed if it is to be a faithful friend or of any use to you.

1. Time

There's never enough time, is there?

Strange that as our lives become theoretically easier, there's more things to fit into each day. Life seems to veer towards complexity, even chaos, as we try to fulfill all of our obligations.

But really, this is an illusion we thrust upon ourselves to, perhaps, make us feel more important. Fact is, nothing we do is really very important in the great scheme of things. It's worth meditating on this fact at least once a day. I mean it.

Take five minutes out of every day to remind yourself that absolutely nothing is important. Not only is this very liberating - it can magically free up hours of creative time.

Having enough time to write is about assigning priorities.

And if there's something - anything - you can put off until tomorrow, do exactly that. Write it down as something to do tomorrow and then forget about it. Eliminate it from your mind.

Then use the extra time you create today to write more.

Easy, right?

2. Action

Nothing can happen unless you take action. Nothing will be achieved unless you begin. As a writer this means that you have to write.

Don't worry about what you're writing. Remember this: Every writer's first draft is bad. If it's not, then you're some kind of freak that's never existed before. If the first thing you write is genius, you belong in a laboratory where scientists can experiment on you.

But if you're a normal, even exceptional writer, your first draft will embarrass you. That's almost the point - to make you want to improve on it.

But remember too, that if you never get the first draft down, you don't have anything to improve upon.

So just do it. Get it all down on the page, quickly and without too much thought, in what M Night Shayalaman calls 'the vomit pass.'

And keep writing - no matter how unpleasant or restless you feel - until you've reached the end. The idea that writing is always fun is a myth. And if you rely on feeling good to write then you'll rarely finish anything. Because your mind and body prefer effort to constant joy.

We, as humans, are designed to work - and take action. It's our basic survival instinct. Use it to your advantage.

3. Motivation

Change your expectations of yourself. Move the goalposts.

Most writers - most people - will say they work better under pressure. There's not much more motivating than having a deadline you can't alter.

Writers have a harder time because there's no real reason to write. I mean, if nothing is particularly important, then such a frivolous activity as writing has to be even lower on the nothing scale...

The way to get around this paradox is to create artificial deadlines. Give yourself time limits. Finishing dates. And stick to them.

And if that's not working, invent reasons why these dates are important. As Anthony Robbins once said, give your motivation 'legs'.

Why does something have to be written? List the reasons.

Start with the end result - something huge and profound. Make a long term plan for your work. See it all in your mind - and work backwards to the smallest steps you must take to create your dream outcome.

Use the big dream to prod you on a daily basis.

That'll work.

4. Energy

As a writing and motivation coach I've heard all the reasons why writers can't write - all the excuses under the sun. Lack of energy, some physical or psychological block, addiction to chemicals or erratic behaviors, even hostile partners. I've heard and sometimes witnessed them all.

But it's YOU that places these blocks in your path. Remember that every time you find an excuse not to do something, someone else, in exactly the same circumstance as you, has made a different choice.

They are writing when you are not.

You took the easy option when they did not.

Again, it's about priorities. And if writing isn't at the top of your list of priorities, then stop calling yourself a writer and take up something less stressful - like needlepoint, wine-making or cookery.

Face it, you don't even need to get out of bed to write. How hard can it be? That is, if you really want to do it.

Everyone gets tired. Everyone works sometimes until they drop. It's about finding the motivation to do something of lasting importance, instead of frittering away your energy on inconsequentialities.

5. Discipline

Understanding yourself - your instincts, your behavior and your motivations - is a life long job. You're not a bad person because you have evil urges or self defeating habits. Conversely, you're not always a good person just because you project an image of piety.

Somerset Maugham pointed out that we hold others to a standard way, way higher than we hold ourselves. Don't be too hard on yourself - or others for that matter. We all have faults and parts of our psyche we'd rather were not publicly known.

It's called being human.

And you're allowed to be one. Really.

If you'd rather get drunk than write, go for it. There's nothing wrong with that. Just don't complain the next day because you can't write with a hangover!

Think about what you do and who you are. Don't suppress your energies, even your darkest desires. No, merely take charge and direct them into your best, most positive and creative endeavors.

Take responsibility for your time, motivation and your energy. Take action to tame your creativity and make it work for you.

Because when your creativity is T.A.M.E.D. to your satisfaction, the creative animal roar inside of you can - and will - make the world sit up and listen.

Keep writing!


Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"Change should be a friend. It should happen by plan, not by accident." Phil Crosby

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May Madness Special

Isn't technology wonderful?

Currently I'm penning this newsletter to you in my car. It's warm outside and Robyn's in a meeting - she'll be about an hour. Enough time for me to put together an article and then relax with my Tarot book and cards.

I've been seriously studying the Tarot recently. I find some of the insights into the human condition fascinating - and good research into some of the finer points of motivation that helps bring good fictional characters alive.


Keep Writing.


Magellan Books

Writers! Click here to get published free by Magellan Books.


Directing Your Writing

Rob Parnell

For anyone who doesn't feel they have enough control over their life, or enough motivation to write sometimes, I recommend directing - either plays or videos, even short movies.

The discipline required to direct a visual project is not only great fun, it can teach you a lot about organization, inspiration and the many other techniques required to bring fiction to life.

Because writing isn't just about putting your thoughts on paper and reading them back with a sense of personal satisfaction. Writing is really about creating something believable and true out of nothing - and having readers (your audience) respond appropriately.

And directing actors, technicians and the many others involved in realizing your vision can teach you heaps about what it means to tell convincing stories to an audience.

You have to know your story very well in order to successfully relate it to others - without reading them the writing. Plus, the act of directing focuses you on the need to sharpen up your communication skills in order to have your 'helpers' fully understand what makes your story different and worth telling.

Quite apart from the simple fact that if you can't relate your story consistently well to many people, you probably shouldn't have spent time writing it in the first place!

Currently I have around 30 people involved in my latest musical production. Far from being difficult, it's actually enormous fun. The part I enjoy the most is letting my mind brainstorm before, during and after rehearsals.

I know from experience that live performances rarely go as planned. They're organic and the trick is to remain flexible. I have back up plans for everything so that if something doesn't work out, then I have an alternative to fall back on.

It's this necessity to think laterally and quickly that adds real spice to the project and often strikes me as a metaphor for life.

Directing something requires your full involvement. Directors are often seen as the 'last man standing' in a creative project.

In life too, when you commit to getting fully involved, you're more likely to attain the outcomes you seek.

So too in writing - unless you fully immerse yourself in your story, you can't expect yourself to grasp exactly what it is you're trying to say.

But you might feel that directing anything isn't something you want to do - or are even capable of.

I often feel the same way!

In non creative situations I'm often paralyzed by self consciousness, fear and doubt. I become so worried about how I'm coming across, I end up coming across badly - the old self fulfilling prophecy...

But when I'm communicating a creative vision, some other power takes over and I'm amazed at how my character changes to accommodate the person I need to be. It's almost bizarre.

Whatever is happening - I recommend it to you.

Perhaps there's a spirit world out there that helps you in these situations. I don't know. Maybe it's always there and most of the time we're so involved in our mundane lives, we don't see it, or ignore its influence.

I guess what I'm saying, hopefully without sounding too pretentious, is that perhaps there's something spiritual about directing. It's hard work of course - there are so many things to think about all at once - but it's so all consuming that it enables you to disconnect from your material self and move into some other, more creative, realm.

Of course, Robyn says I just get obsessed...

...with pretty much every creative project I'm working on at the time. Whether that's a music track, a video, an Internet promotion or a piece of fiction writing I care about.

If I do get obsessed, it must be because I've trained the right side of my brain, the intuitive side, to take the pilot's seat. I deliberately lower the volume of the left hand side, the more self critical side, and let the inspiration flow, for better or worse - until the project is done.

(I hope I've got the sides of the brain the right way round. I'm sure you'll let me know if I'm mistaken!)

I guess it's all about the power of visualization.

Before or during the writing, you need to let your mind see the stories you want to communicate. Just like a director, you need to visualize your characters, the plot and the various actions and events play out in your mind first - before you can fully describe those things in words.

And in order to let your mind pre-visualize your story, you need to let go of the real world - and descend into your subconscious, where all true inspiration lies.

If you're one of those people that suffers from self criticism, you need to let go of that.

The subconscious is not rigid. I've noticed that many artists hold fast to their ideas once formed - but it's the logical side of the brain that's doing that. Your creative and intuitive side is more flexible - it sees meaning in a myriad of combinations and doesn't stick to just one interpretation.

Yes, you need to hold on to a vision - whether you're writing or directing - but the vision is the castle on the horizon. How you get there is not set in stone. It's not a concrete path from A to B.

True creativity requires malleability and a willingness to learn from any and all influences, right or wrong.

After all, we write to be read - and the more readers that 'get' you, the more popular and successful you will become.

That's why directing is such a thrill - because it's not just a project you have to make work on your own terms. You have to make it work for the audience too - something writers often forget.

You are always writing for your audience, whether you like it or not.

And being sharply focused on their needs and their reactions to your work will, I believe, help you become a much better artist and, more especially, a superior writer.

The Writing Academy

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