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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Consider This...


Watched Me and Orson Welles last night - brilliant movie if you haven't see it - and they used this Yowzah word in it (the film is set in 1937): I didn't realize the word had such old roots!

Anyway, talking of literary trivia, I see there's a kerfuffle brewing over the "Oxford Comma".

You may be wondering what all the fuss is about...

It's that little comma that goes before the 'and' in a list, as in:

The protagonist was cold, wet, and tired.

Purists like the Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White and even The Oxford University have argued that it's not strictly necessary - except where the sense demands it.

Oxford Uni has apparently changed its mind and advises students to use its eponymous comma liberally (at least in their internal correspondence.)

This - believe it or not - has caused a bit of a storm, at least in Twitterdom.

My experience has taught me that Americans favor its use whereas UK and Ozlanders tend to leave it out.

It seems such a little thing but...

Personally I prefer its omission if possible, if only to prevent a potential 'hiccup' in the flow of a sentence. But I understand, strictly speaking, it delineates a list more emphatically - and can remove potential confusion.

What to do in your MS submissions? Use common sense, I'd say, and know that leaving the Oxford comma in place probably isn't going to alarm an editor!

Paulo Coelho has a clause in his publishing contract with Harper Collins that allows him to give away some of his books free on the Internet.

After a fan published an online translation of one of his novels, sales of his books offline jumped from a mere 3000 copies to over one million in just three years. His penchant for offering his books free online has apparently made him the most Googled author in history.

Writers get funny about the idea of giving away their writing for free, especially if it's fiction. I guess they feel they should be compensated for all that hard work!

I'm not sure I agree. I mean, if you really want to be a successful fiction author, what do actually need in the long term?

Readers, clearly, fans, followers, a mailing list of potential customers.

What better way to acquire followers than by enabling the maximum amount of readers to actually see your work, enjoy it, send you their reviews and, hopefully, recommend it to others?

It's common knowledge - in the advertising milieu - that word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool in the world.

Even Hollywood relies on it. Good WOM in an opening weekend for a movie can turn an obscure flick into a blockbuster - without a penny spent on advertising. It happens all the time.

Okay, so the film, or your book, has to be good. That's a given. But why focus on just the money? Selling books is hard - any publisher will tell you that. Printing books and selling them yourself is also hard - and an expensive option if you're going to just give them away.

But with the Internet you have the opportunity to get your work out there for next to no expense - especially if you already have a website or blog.

I mention all this because I plan to follow in Mr Coehlo's footsteps.

Next week I'll be giving away my latest novel: PSI-KIDS: Willow.

It's about a young foster girl on the trail of a murderer, in which she garners the support of a psychic friend and a ghost to help her.

The subject matter, as far as I can tell, is a little ahead of its time, because it assumes the story's characters have no real issue with psychic phenomena. Though there are some skeptics in the book, the lead characters 'know' that some kind of 'other', some might say 'spirit' world is part of their - and by implication, our - reality.

Publishers I've sent it to have remarked on this aspect and don't believe that modern audiences will yet buy into this scenario.

I disagree. And I intend to prove them wrong by allowing you, my dear subscriber, to download the book for free - so you can read it and, if you like, let me know what you think.

All this next week!

Of course the main criticism leveled at the idea of giving away things is that people tend to regard anything free as essentially without value.

I understand this argument but also know that 'free' also triggers a natural response in the majority of humans which says: must have!

It's a swings and roundabouts thing. And for the sake of getting my latest novel out there, and read, I'm willing to take the risk.

After all, I didn't become a writer for the money. Writing chose me - a long, long time ago!

Why would I want to restrict the number of readers I can reach by placing a barrier - the price tag - in their way?

Basically, whether you, as writer, want to follow this path is a personal issue.

Many writers don't feel validated without a price tag on their work.

But by sticking to the principle that your writing must have a monetary value, you run the risk of alienating the very people you want to reach.

How many of us won't try a new author unless we're given a second hand book - or perhaps by finding an unfamiliar writer at the library first - before we'll invest in paying full price for a novel?

It's human nature to be cautious with our money. Writers are not alone in this. The buying public is the same.

And if you believe in your book, wouldn't you want to get it out there?

I'm not saying this idea is for everyone. Just that you might consider it as a strategy - the old loss leader approach to self publicity.

It's worth a shot, surely.

If you're not convinced yet, I invite you to follow my journey as of next week. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

In the mean time, look out for your own FREE copy of PSI-KIDS: Willow - the first in a series of hopefully bestselling books - coming to an in-box near you!

Keep writing!

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


"One of the least impressive liberties is the liberty to starve. This particular liberty is freely accorded to authors." Lord Goodman

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Raise Your Expectations"
Writer's Quote by Harold Goddard

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Raise Your Expectations

People wonder why they don't achieve the success they crave.
I have a theory about that.
I think we all have an inbuilt level of expectation, something rooted deep inside of us. It's often subconscious - and not aligned to what we say to our conscious minds.
For instance, we may do all the things that self help books advise: make plans, set goals and visualize the future. But still, our circumstances never seem to change, we don't get any closer to what we think we really want.
No amount of conscious striving will get us any closer to our goals if our subconscious mind doesn't believe that change, growth and real progress and success are possible - and that we deserve it.
We have baseline expectations about the world that were planted in our brains a long time ago - usually by our parents or by the world we witnessed when growing up.
Seemingly inconsequential things like the way our parents and friends talk about life and how unfair it is - or how ordinary people are thwarted by authority - or how real success is only for the few - these things get suffused into our brains when we're maturing - often when we're at our most vulnerable.
I've lost count of the number of writers who tell me their parents - even their partners - never believed in their writing - that is was all just a waste of time and no good would come of it. And yes it's true that many artists experience years of self doubt about their own ability to achieve success in their chosen field. Largely because they weren't ever truly encouraged - and generally still aren't by society at large.
I believe all this will change as we move into the 21st century. More and more of us will become artists or have art based, creative careers - whether that's in the media, advertising, online, offline or whatever.
It's got to happen because that's where all the big money is exploding these days.
The times they are indeed a-changing.
Of course there will always be riches to be found in engineering, services, retailing, war, money, technology, and in the legal and medical worlds.
But surely this is the first time in history where entertainment of the masses is becoming a very, very big business - and there is sure to be an unprecedented need for writers, musicians and artists of all descriptions to satisfy the insatiable demand for leisure based 'distractions' for the modern consumer.
Could you be one of these artists?
What could possibly hold you back?
One word. Belief.
You need to let go of the 'ties that bind' - the limiting beliefs of your family, friends and partners and even sometimes your own peers.
As the saying goes, if you want to change the world, change first the man in the mirror. (One of the few things M Gandhi and M Jackson could agree on!)
You need to take a look at your subconscious beliefs and see if there's some kind of pre-existing plateau on which your expectations are based.
Where did those limiting beliefs come from? Are they real?
What could you do if you really believed, deep down, that anything was possible - for you?
One way to get a handle on this concept is to look at your life so far.
Have there been times when you felt some avenue of success could have gone further but didn't?
How did you react at the time? Did some personality trait of yours get in the way? Or did events just seem to close in on themselves and prevent real progress?
And importantly, can you trace that closing down of events back to you? Was it something you said or did?
If so - and, if you're honest with yourself, it's usually the case - were your reactions based on what you believed was possible - and what wasn't?
It's all about what you perceive to be real.
For instance, the people who tell us that the world is out to rip them off are very often, sure enough, those that are continually ripped off. You get what you focus on, my friend...
Changing your expectations about what is possible - and what you can achieve - can completely alter your outlook and your prospects.
You need the courage to let go of other people's ideas about how the world works. What's true for one person is rarely true for another.
I see the world as full of two types of people: problem solvers and problem creators.
The first type get ahead and are generally optimistic and fun people. Good company, inventive and a pleasure to be around. The second type try to drag everyone down to their level - where everything is difficult and where every path is thwart with peril. Where life is a depressing series of self fulfilling disappointments.
Our parents and friends and partners, through a misguided sense of overprotection, often fall into this second category. And we need to let go of that.
We need to understand that our world is not like theirs. Ours is a brave new world full of opportunity. A safer place, where there is room for specialization - a place where an artist can thrive.
As long as we expect that to be the case.
My advice?
Release the ties that bind - and release your true potential!
Keep writing!

"The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in." Harold Goddard


Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Do You Have to Say - And Why?

Hope you had a great week.

We took some time off last weekend and didn't really get back to work until yesterday (Thursday) afternoon.

Being a self employed writer is handy for that. If you're getting stressed you can call time out for a few days to recover - and you don't have a boss threatening to sack you if you don't come back into work immediately!

I remember those days - actually more than a decade ago now - and I really resented those bosses, in fact I still loathe the whole system that makes us work 9 to 5.

To be honest I really don't understand it - but sociologists tell us our society gets what it wants and that we actually want to work 40 hours or more a week for just enough (and sometimes less) money than we need to get by.

It fulfills us they say.

Oh yeah?

I get emails every day from people out there that say the exact opposite...

Maybe all these learned sociologists should leave their university campuses and try flipping burgers for a while.

Then maybe they'd come up with some working models for the new leisure and technology based society we were always promised and continue to dream of.

Keep Writing.



What Do You Want To Say - and Why?

Rob Parnell

I was talking to a mentor friend the other day.

She had a theory: that artists', musicians' and writers' creativity comes from two main sources.

From ego or from value.

This really resonated with me. I finally understood something I now consider profound.

When you write from ego your focus is on people's responses to your work, or the accolades you might receive or the fame and riches you might enjoy as a result of your work.

There's actually nothing wrong with this. After all, many famous people have used the technique of visualizing a glorious end result as a form of motivation since time began. It works - and explains why some of us get famous for seemingly no valid reason - except perhaps that was all they ever wanted.

Your ego can be a superb motivator. It's consistent too. It can pick you up and propel you forward on a daily basis. You can be productive and prolific using just the ego alone.

But then...

What are you actually saying in your work?

Are you creating anything of any value?

Does your work say anything profound about the human condition?

When you look back at the great artists and writers of history, what do you see?

Those that have stood the test of time were not just commercially successful, they also had within their work a depth of meaning, or observational skill, that allowed their work to transcend mere 'beauty' and become intrinsically 'valuable' to our species.

Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Melville, Conrad, Dickens, Austen weren't just writing to entertain the crowd. They also had an ability to teach us something important about ourselves to each successive generation after their deaths.

These were writers who wrote from a commitment to value.

Everybody wants to be famous these days.

You see it in film schools where students learn the art of film making and are ambitious but when you ask what their next project will be they have no idea.

You see it in writers' groups where everyone is dedicated to improving their craft and getting published but can't think of anything to write about...

They often can't think of anything to SAY.

My feeling tends towards the idea that if you have nothing particular to say, you probably shouldn't be expressing yourself artistically at all. Not much good can come from it - unless you just want to be a technician, an artisan or a crafts person...

But of course the urge to create isn't quite as simple as that. We all have the urge to some extent, some of us a lot more than others.

But true artists surely have a responsibility to look at life and their own intrinsic moral stance (even if it's not so ethical), to look deep inside themselves and ask the profound questions.

What is it to be human? What does it mean? What can I say about the human condition that will be enlightening? Meaningful?

I think when we're formulating ideas for creating our next artistic project, we should be asking ourselves these questions - along with all the usual technical stuff - because when we do, our work becomes more valuable.

The added benefit being that we can then transcend the ego within.

Because part of the problem with creating from ego is that it leaves you open - exposed - to savage criticism. When you create something essentially shallow and are criticized for it, it hurts because a part of you knows that what you've done is next to meaningless.

Criticism is hard to take for most every artist. But if you know, deep inside, that what you've done is create something meaningful - and works in a profound way for YOU, then criticism becomes practically irrelevant!

Knowing that you wrote something that mattered, that had to be said, gives you a higher purpose - one that is unmoved by what lesser folks, critics I mean, have to say about your work.

Criticism is easy. We all do it for that reason.

Creating is hard - and creating trivial pieces of entertainment is probably just as hard as creating something of lasting value - IF you have the right mindset from the start.

Don't let yourself get carried away by the idea that you must write like the latest bestselling author or come up with another superhero because that's what seems to make artists successful.

Write from your heart.

Write with integrity - and only when you have something important or profound or at least significant to say.

It's a tough call I know - and not exactly necessary these days. But if you take the time to go that extra mile, I think you'll feel better about yourself and what you do.

Who knows, you might even create something that is still around in a few hundred years' time.

Keep writing!

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


"Art, at its best, is a sweet affirmation of life and a bold defiance of death." Richard Corliss

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "It's Only the F'ing Internet"
Writer's Quote by Albert Einstein

Friday, June 10, 2011

It's Only the Internet


Do you ever feel you have so much to do and be responsible for that your head might just one day explode?

Not sure how much relaxing I'll get done this long weekend. My beautiful partner's going away to a seminar for the next few days and I have a self imposed list of stuff to get done here...

Plus play rehearsals of course - at least that's going well.

Which reminds me - I have to go and pick up the posters.

Tell you what, I'll go do that, get a couple of other things from the shop, have brunch with my beloved, take her to the airport, then come back and do the article below in the afternoon.

How does that sound?

Good. See ya then.

Keep Writing!



It's Only the Internet

Rob Parnell

We're getting lazy.

But that laziness comes from being misinformed - by the Internet.

I guess you might think it strange that a guy apparently so adept at using the Net to communicate would be saying this to you at all.

I get that.

But I have good reason. Because I've noticed a new phenomenon. That is, some of us have a complete inability to see beyond the four sides of a computer screen...

Yes, it's happening.

I see it every day - in my email, on blogs, on FB.

Some of us are becoming so convinced that the secret to success, even the meaning of life, really is hidden somewhere deep online.

So much so that we're getting stuck into this groove - investing all our time and energy into blogs and articles and web pages and social networking and thereby completely ignoring the REAL world out there!

The real world is where real opportunities lie. Even though the Net seems to offer more, much more...

It's all about the hype. That the Net is the future - and the future is here. And we're all part of it. And that the Net is the latest goldmine - and everything you need: fame, success, great and fulfilling relationships, riches, whatever, are here, online for the taking.

But this, my friend, is a false reality.

Why? Because the Internet, despite its pretensions, or its ideals, is only one thing - and one thing only - yes, it's merely, and I'm sorry to have to break this to you, a glorified advertising medium.

We didn't want it to happen but the 'Gods': Google, AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, they always wanted it that way - and made it so.

Miss this crucial aspect in your thinking and you too will fall victim to the illusion that your future fame and fortune, even your happiness, is somehow dependent on the web.

Writers, I think sometimes, are the worst in this regard.

We're getting so lazy...

...because we're the ones beginning to totally believe the hype!

(I guess because our peers create it!)

Pretty much every day a writer will ask me how to make money writing - as if I don't already have enough advice in my courses!

Anyway, I'm forever personally answering this query with a lots of different advice, depending on the writer.

But it's a constant source of surprise to me that so many of these same writers can't or won't look - or haven't even thought to look - for writing gigs off line - where the real money is!

It actually strikes me as bizarre that writers apparently desperate for money will create ten articles on the vague promise of $5 online - sometimes for nothing - whereas in the real world a writer wouldn't even consider getting out of bed to empty someone else's trash for the same amount!

Why is that?

Beats me.

And here's another anomaly I don't understand.

Writers can and do make thousands of dollars in a very short space of time from writing ebooks that take a week, maybe a month tops, to write.

This is a well attested reality.

And yet writers (who apparently desperately want to be published by a traditional publisher) will not pursue the time to take this short cut to becoming an essentially professional writer!

I don't know why. Perhaps because of some misguided notion that being an Internet writer is not as 'cool' - or as 'respectable' - as being a 'traditionally' published writer.

But if that's the case, why is it that the same writers are asking 'How do I make money at writing?' and then ONLY consider the Internet.

It doesn't make sense to me at all.

(BTW, it's a complete myth that traditional publishers don't respect you or your book for being an online success before they sign you!)

Listen. This is me talking.

Yes, there is such a thing as online riches.

Yes, but there is also a fabulous world of paying markets off line too.

Magazines and community newsletters and corporate companies pay lots of money every day to writers who have the courage to call them, submit to them, send them proposals - and generally do all the work they rarely have the in house talent to perform.

And yet - all this work goes ignored by we writers that obsess over Internet 'easy' riches...

Surely, the sensible writer considers a balanced approach to making money from writing.

You need to get both aspects - off line writing and online writing - working for you at the same time. This is how you succeed as a writer these days.

Not by sitting in your garret wondering...

And not by sitting at your computer surfing...

Sure, check out the 'too good to be true' deals on the Net. Some of them really will help you.

But at the same time, please don't ignore the real world.

It's a big place out there and the competition is minimal compared to the hundreds of thousands of online writers.

In the real world you can pitch for a writing job in your own town that there may be only one or two others vying for. And the pay will be HUGE compared to anything you can earn writing for a Net based article farm.

To me, it's a question of perspective.

People sometimes get all hot under the collar about an Internet site where they 'lost' $37 on a broken promise. (I'm sorry that all websites can't be as honest and ethical as me!)

Off line, a writer's guide will cost you around the same - and you wouldn't dream of being ungrateful for owning it.

What's the difference?


Much as I hate to say it, we need to remind ourselves daily:

It's only the Internet.

When we do that, we get perspective.

And perspective, objectivity and a sense of balance is what we writers should aspire to and regard as the first requirement of ourselves.

For information on how to make money off line as a writer, go here:

For information on how to make money online as a writer, go here:

Which one will you choose?

Keep writing!

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


“It’s become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.” Albert Einstein

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "On Character Creation"
Writer's Quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Character Creation Checklist

Dear Fellow Writer,

I hope your writing is going well.

Don't worry if you haven't the time to write consistently. We all know that life's 'duties' often get in the way of the more important things.

It's funny how many of the things we waste our time on: working 9 to 5, watching TV, meeting friends, looking after family, shopping, cleaning, sleeping, whatever, seem so important at the time...

It's only later we may look back and think, "Where did all the time go? And what have I actually achieved?"

As I say, don't worry - it happens to all of us. Even rich, famous and successful people feel dissatisfied sometimes. It's hard wired into our brains never to be truly content I think.

It's up to us individually how we deal with that.

I guess it's all part of being human.

BTW: Here's the poster to my latest play/musical:

Kool Kafe Poster

Keep Writing.



On Character Creation

Rob Parnell

Many new writers get themselves into a pickle with character creation. They seem to regard it as some mysterious black art that might be beyond them.

Either that or they fall in love with the process of creating three dimensional characters - to the detriment of their writing time.

There are three ways to approach character creation, all equally valid, as long as you don't obsess over them - or get so bogged down in the processes you forget the bigger picture.

Characters are a means to an end. The story is what matters. Yes, you want characters that your reader will love or at least identify with - but without a story, a character is just an idea, an empty vessel that can do nothing outside of context.

No amount of description of a character - whether they're 'deep' or 'rounded' or 'sympathetic' - means anything much until you can see them in action, as it were.

Approach One:

You start with a simple outline of an imaginary person, with certain characteristics:

1. Gender /Age

2. Profession / Calling

3. Location / Environment

4. Agenda (what they truly want)

5. Finally, a name.

That's it. This can be a good starting place for any story. You don't have to go into too much more detail, unless you really want to, which I know many writers do. Perhaps because they just get off on it!

But remember that the more you flesh out a character before you start writing, the fewer plot turns you will have access to. This is because stories are essentially character driven. Therefore, if you have a strong three dimensional character set in stone, there are only so many convincing plot options you can apply to your character's personality.

In effect, it's harder to make a overly developed character 'fit' into your plot if they always react in a specific pre-determined way - that is, determined by you - too early on in the writing process.

Approach Two:

Many writers start with a sketchy idea of a hero then brainstorm the possible plot permutations a story might take depending on the personality of the character. This is good.

You might find after the brainstorming process the character, her motivations, foibles and agenda can be enhanced to better reflect - that is, make more believable - the twists and turns of the story.

This is a common process in screenwriting. Once you have the entire story down, you go back and tweak the character to make them entirely consistent in their actions, reactions and general 'raison d'etre.'

It's an important process in movie making because an expensive actor will be the first one to say, "I'm sorry, I wouldn't do that." Not something the average Hollywood director wants to have to deal with when shooting a film costing $1000 a second!

But character consistency is just as important in your novels and short stories because you never want you reader to feel that your hero does something 'out of character' and is therefore unbelievable.

Approach Three:

You start with nothing much decided.

You start writing and let the character and his / her personality, agendas and even his/her name and appearance come to you over time.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with this approach - many writers do it, including the likes of Stephen King - so it can't be at all bad.

The main problem with this approach is that it can lead to a lot of editing and reworking of a story - especially a novel - after you've written it. And if you've ever had to 'fix' a hero in a novel, you'll know that rewriting this kind of character can take way longer than you spent on writing the novel in the first place!

So you need to be careful you don't make your writing life too hard!

Clearly, a sensible combination of the above approaches is what is required, depending on the project and the needs of a particular story.

I know that some writing instructors like to perpetuate the myth that character creation is complicated and laborious. They might suggest pages of notes or an 'interview' with your hero that takes days to complete.

I've seen writers show me ridiculously complex bubble graphs of inter-relating characteristics and infinite permutations of possibilities based on the (largely false) premise that the 'deeper' and more 'human' the fictional personality, the more credible he/she becomes.

The fact is, your fictional characters will never be 'real' in the sense of 'human'. That's not their purpose.

Real people are such a mess of conflicting emotions, agendas and often diametrically opposed points of view that they cannot possibly make good models for fictional characters.

Overdevelopment of fictional characters can often become a largely self indulgent exercise that serves little beneficial purpose. Better to focus on the needs of your readers - who prefer clearly definable heroes and supporting characters that propel the plot rather than bog it down with unnecessary - and often confusing - detail.

Start simple.

And keep it simple.

Develop where necessary - to uncover the 'truth' about a character for instance.

But don't overcomplicate things, my friend. Not just for the sake of it, anyway.

You need your precious writing time to be productive!

Keep writing!

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


"Every new writer is but a new crater of an old volcano." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Inspiration"
Writer's Quote by Viktor Frank

The Writing Academy

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