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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What Should We Write About - and Why?

Dear Fellow Writer,

The secret to success is consistent action. Small steps taken every day toward your chosen goal will take you much further than short, random and generally unfocused spurts.

Talent is really just the empirical manifestation of a craft practiced often and to your own satisfaction. The more you practice, the more talented you appear to outside observers.

Take charge of your future by deciding on your desired outcome and work on it, in some way or other, every single day.

In case you missed it, here's a free PDF for you to download - 10 Writing Tips - to help you improve your craft - and your talent.

Keep Writing!


Rob Parnell's Easy Writing System


Once Upon a Time

Rob Parnell

Gustave Flaubert apparently took five years to write Madame Bovary - not a bad feat considering it's still regarded as one of the most 'perfect' novels ever written.

Flaubert was famous for wanting to find just the right word - le mot juste in French. Sometimes he would spend a whole week in solitude, agonizing over one single page until he considered it as faultless as he could manage.

In contrast, Sylvester Stallone took a mere two weeks over writing the first Rocky movie - and said of Flaubert's precise writing style, "What was that all about?"

What indeed, Sly.

Of course the times have changed - a little.

In 1856, Madame Bovary was at first considered immoral. Its protagonist has the kind of romantic liaisons that are now - to modern Sex and the City girls - considered the norm. Even so, the story still has the power to shock the middle class sensibilities it was designed to question over 150 years ago.

But what of Rocky?

Hardly shocking on any level - notwithstanding the comic book violence - but it does have the advantage of using the archetypal underdog makes good motif that appeals - and has always appealed - to audiences since David allegedly slayeth Goliath.

Plus, Rocky made Sly very rich. Much richer than Gustave could ever have hoped to become - and I think that's the point Stallone was trying (in his New York drawl) to make...

Which is: Why spend five years of your life working on something meaningful when two weeks will do the job?

Is that the kind of world we live in now?

Where Art is throw away? A world where the dumbest of ideas can generate billions of dollars and create industries and employment for tens of thousands? A place where quality is not judged by its execution but by the effect it has on the consumer - no matter how fleeting...

Talking of fleeting, I noticed the other day that James Frey - he of the infamous A Million Little Pieces and the great betrayal of Oprah - is the man behind the Sci Fi thriller, I Am Number Four.


At first I wondered how Frey made the giant leap from semi autobiographical fiction to Sci Fi film production - until I noted that his first film, made for just $20,000, was released at least five years before his NY book deal.

Now, I don't know about you, but if that doesn't suggest to you that it was perfectly clear to everyone - the media, including his publishers and Oprah - that his book, A Million Little Pieces was obviously fictional, I don't know what does.

All I can assume is that the media conspired to perpetuate a myth that Oprah was well aware of right from the start...

And talking of myths, there's one that says that when a writer gets an Oscar, he rarely works again - presumably because no director or producer wants to collaborate with a guy who has "proof" his writing is essentially flawless...

But interestingly, the producer behind True Blood - yet another vampire inspired schlock-fest, based on the books by Charlaine Harris - is none other than Alan Ball, the writer of American Beauty.

There again, Ball was a long time TV writer before his Oscar winning movie debut.

I guess the point of this article is the question, "What should we work on - and why?"

Do we write for ourselves, no matter what the cost in time, effort and the possibility of a complete lack of recognition?

Or do we write for the fickle marketplace?

The usual advice is to pursue the former.

However, my slant is slightly different...

Because I've noticed that many successful writing projects are in fact borne out of a writer's relationship with the marketplace - and the frustrations inherent in dealing with it.

Famously, Star Wars is a thinly veiled statement about the little guy (Luke S - Lucas - geddit?) taking on Hollywood (the Death Star).

Metaphorically, Rocky is probably how Stallone's career prospects might have been described once upon a time.

American Beauty began as a cynical indictment of empty headed TV sitcoms.

And of course, James Frey apparently only said his book was all true because he received outrageous pressure from the media to do so.

In the current world marketplace, writers needs to balance the possibility of success against the almost inevitable threat of obscurity, given the number of competitors involved.

And when you want to pay the rent and work on your passion, what real choice do you have?

The fact is there's nothing ignominious about keeping one eye on the media - and fashion - when you plan your next magnum opus.

After all, you want to remain relevant, don't you?

And what's more relevant than the struggling artist - a metaphor for the instinct to explore and prosper and change things - banging his or head against the brick wall of fortune - until a possible solution appears?

The irony is that the very things that make a writer come up with a story - the frustration, even the anger at the lack of success and recognition - are the very themes that make the writing project work for the eventual audience.

Worth bearing in mind, n'est-ce pas?

I'm sure even Gustave wouldn't argue with that.

Keep writing!

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


"Don't pay any attention to the critics - don't even ignore them." Samuel Goldwyn

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "The Undiscovered Country"
Writer's Quote by William James

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Undiscovered Country

Dear Fellow Writer,

Another week, another week of wonders...

Robyn and I are getting married tomorrow.


Of course a lot of people think we're already married - we've been together forever already - and now we're making it permanent.

We're also starting a new business venture too:

RnR Books Film Music.

More on that soon. Suffice to say both the marriage and the business are all part of the glittering prize - or 'the undiscovered country' as the incomparable William Shakespeare called the future.

Here's a free PDF to download - 10 Writing Tips - for you to help us celebrate.

Keep Writing!


Rob Parnell's Easy Writing System


The Undiscovered Country

Rob Parnell

I often wonder about how much of the future we can know.

And whether knowing our futures would actually help us anyway.

Probably not - after all, if you could see everything that was to come, then surely all the fun would be taken out of life...

...plus, if we knew certain outcomes, perhaps we wouldn't bother with all the steps that could take us to them, thereby resulting in a changed future anyway!

Often we get frustrated in our daily lives and imagine that a bad situation now will somehow continue forever, even though logic and simple observation belies this notion.

A simple exercise highlights the idea.

Think back to five years ago. What were you doing? What was your situation? Financially, personally, psychologically, where were you? More pertinently, who were you?

Then ask, back then, could you possibly have predicted who and where you are now?

What are the changes you've made in that time - what are your successes and failures?

Are you worse off or better off?

How different is life now compared to what you thought it was going to be like five years ago?

Once you get a grip on this type of lateral thinking - you'll begin to appreciate how little of the future you can predict with any certainty.

Life, if nothing else, is about coming to terms with the unexpected...

The only thing you can truly know about the future is that it won't be as you imagine!

It's like those predictions back in the 1950s about the technological age we're living in today. They were full of marvels like robots that did your housework and everyone having flying cars but completely missing any mention of an Internet or how mobile phones and MP3 players would achieve god-like status.

We can't predict what we can't foresee.

Back in the eighties I could never have predicted that the Internet would support me - and millions of others - and that all the technology to create art - music, books and film would be readily available - and cheap - for everyone to exploit.

Back then only pop stars, movie stars and bestselling authors had access to the best creative tools. Now, we all have them.

Back then we had dreams of traveling through space to visit distant worlds, but now we have alternatives...

Writers Resources Reviews

Listen up - and get your head around this:

Apparently we're close to creating quantum computers.

The day we can effectively harness and manipulate 'superstate' molecules - that is: single atoms that have two locations (I simplify of course) then the ability to 'beam' information from one place to another without wires or waves or particles over infinite distances will become a reality.

Thinking about this, it occurred to me that this is surely how we'll make 'first contact' with alien civilizations.

We already know that actually visiting other universes is going to be physically impractical because of the constraint of time and the speed of light.

However, with the prospect of quantum communication, we can look forward to 'speaking' to anyone with similar technology, anywhere else in the entire universe. We won't need to physically meet, we'll be able to share each other's worlds digitally, instantaneously, in real time.

And if we can beam 'aliens' our information - who knows what they'll be able to beam back and teach us?

How to live in peace?

How to cook a perfect lasagna?

How to build virtual worlds, perhaps, where we really can 'meet' in person?

There are mind boggling potentialities.

Star Trek's First Contact could mean a revolution in our understanding of the universe - and our relationship with it. And who's to say when this will happen?

Five years from now? It's possible.

And how can we possibly predict what that could mean - and, more importantly, who we will become when it happens?

So - to get back on topic - the future should be a magnet.

We can be drawn to it. We should use our imaginations to push us forward in the direction that resonates with our intention.

But we need to be flexible and prepared for any eventuality.

Because knowing the future is not important.

Wanting it to be good is all.

That's what will change us - and our situations - for the better.

You don't need a psychic to tell you what will or won't happen. Like many science fiction writers, they can usually only predict what might might happen given the current circumstances.

But we often can't appreciate what we don't understand - yet.

Unforeseen events and new technologies, undiscovered inventions and the like will no doubt change us in ways impossible to comprehend with our 2011 mindsets.

I've long believed we really do create our own futures by the simple process of knowing our intentions and then acting upon them.

But the future is also a place just over the horizon that should always be out of sight, just out of reach.

Because if we could see it clearly, we'd most likely stop moving toward it. Then, the present - and our circumstances - would most likely never change.

Voyage bravely toward the future, my friend.

Don't fear it.

Be positive - and be prepared for its wonderful, infinite possibilities.

Keep writing!

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


"Action may not bring happiness but there is no happiness without action." William James

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Staying the Course"
Writer's Quote by Victoria Holt

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Staying the Course

Dear Fellow Writer,

Good to speak to you again!

Been recording a lot of music this week. Putting together a demo for a young pop star called (name deleted on request) we have in our midst. For a 14 year old he's an amazingly competent singer... and he's giving me a chance to relive my music biz career - this time as a producer.

Difference is, the technology these days is amazing. Wish it had been around when I was a kid! Back then, I used two small SANYO tape recorders to simulate double tracking - and almost expired for joy when I was introduced to a monster TEAC reel to reel four track!

Of course the down side is that nowadays, you have no excuses. The ability to do 'anything' - and fix all your mistakes with a computer - requires to you to be absolutely brilliant just to compete!


The article this week is about staying on target with your writing - and a secret that is so simple, you'll just know it's true when you hear it!

Keep Writing!



Staying the Course

Rob Parnell
Sometimes the hardest part about starting a novel - or any long piece of writing - is knowing that you're going to have to finish it.

And not knowing when its end date may be can be a daunting prospect - especially when you're half way through the project.

When it comes to completing long written works, probably the single most issue I'm aware of is this problem: that writers often don't know how to get over the psychological 'hump' in the middle of a piece of writing.

You'd think logically that writers' block would come before a project - or indeed - as Hollywood likes to promote - after a success that apparently can't be matched.

But no, the dreaded block tends to come around about the half way point - sometimes earlier, sometimes later, up to the two third point. Getting over that 'hump' can be tricky.

If it happens to you, you need to identify why it's happening...

The most common cause is that the writing seems to have taken on a life of its own - and has managed to work you into a corner.

There are three main reasons for this.

1. You didn't plan your template sufficiently well or

2. You're relying too heavily on inspiration to continue or, most likely,

3. You're taking too long to write the thing!

What happens is that, as we live from one day to the next, our bodies and our brains are changing, growing, renewing and replacing their cells. Consequently a great and fabulous idea in March can seem cold and lifeless in May - simply because you have, literally, changed.

Not just physically but emotionally and psychologically too.

And not only does an idea lose its radiance but other things happen. Character motivations become more complex as you mature. Fine and good - but they can also, without discipline, become inconsistent.

Your characters do things they wouldn't have done when you first thought of the idea... and you end up having to do a whole lot of mental gymnastics to justify the character's apparent lack of focus.

Sound familiar?

How many times have you taken a break from your writing to think through a new idea - and spent hours (weeks, months perhaps) trying to work out how you can fit the new idea in with the old?

Writers Resources Reviews

And of course the longer you spend trying to work through a problem, the more ideas you get, creating a never ending spiral of complex creativity that, alas, can end up damaging your project irreparably.

There's an easy answer to this problem.

Write quickly - especially your first draft. Get your first draft down while you're still the same person! That is, never take more than two of three months over the first draft of a novel, screenplay or book.

When you commit to writing a long piece of fiction, get all of the plot and character motivations down pat before you have time to re-evaluate your original idea. Explore and confirm your expectations for the characters within the context of who you are at a particular point in time - and remember that 'fresh eyes' are not necessarily a good thing before you begin the writing.

Sure, after the first draft, new thinking, other people's criticisms, brainstorming etc are all good and productive. But during the initial burst of inspiration and output, you need focus. You need to stay the course and get it all down, without self criticism and definitely without sharing it with the rest of world.

The slightest hint of someone else's help or criticism can throw your idea into disarray, water it down, and even destroy it completely.

Write quickly. That's the trick.

And keep writing - even when the inspiration fails you, as it inevitably will. You need to get your original idea down while it's fresh and while it's entirely yours.

An article should be written in one go - start to finish - the first draft down without stopping.

A non fiction book should be planned and outlined from prologue to conclusion, ideally in a single day. And often the best story templates for novels and screenplays are hammered out in this way.

Then you need to commit to writing out the project - the first draft at least - in less than three months. Aim for thirty days - write 3000 to 5000 words a day if you can find the time - but don't beat yourself up if you can't manage that.

The important thing is focus. Keep that original idea in mind at all times during the writing of the first draft. Don't get distracted and start 'developing' other aspects of the story - yet.

You'll find this process - and the mental discipline it engenders - will aid your productivity no end, because you will get things finished.

Sure, when you get the first draft down, put the manuscript away for a while - get some distance.

You'll find that if you let your MS settle for a month or two, you'll be able to come back to it and see - in the writing - the person you were when you wrote it and the salient points you were trying to make - in a way that was impossible during the project.

You'll also find that you can spend as long as you like on the editing and rewriting because you'll know what you were trying to achieve - and can focus on bringing out that - and only that - in the polishing.

Basically, there's such a thing as too many ideas...

Too many cooks, as the saying goes.

And every three months you're bodily transforming into another cook - with a whole new set of recipes to spoil the broth!

So to create a gourmet meal (to stretch the metaphor), cook quickly, write quickly, before you boil away all the goodness!
Rob Parnell's Easy Writing System

My Easy Writing System is still the best and most effective way to launch - and sustain - your own fiction writing career. Learn how to easily write the kind of books that publishers want. Go here now for details.
Keep writing!


"If it's good, it's wonderful. If it's bad, it's experience."
Victoria Holt

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "On Criticism"
Writer's Quote by Anita DeFrantz

Friday, September 2, 2011

On Criticism

Dear Fellow Writer,

Greetings on this Labor Day weekend.

Finally got my computer back. Not with all the data intact of course - that would be way too much to ask. But at least my favorite computer and its big fat screen is back and it works. At least that's something - a wonderful thing, really.

I hope life - and your computer - is treating you well and that your urge to write is intact and filling those blanks pages with ideas!

In today's article, we ask: why don't critics automatically see the positive?

Rob Parnell's Easy Writing System

My Easy Writing System is still the best and most effective way to launch your own fiction writing career. Learn how to easily write the kind of fiction that publishers want. Go here now for details.

Keep Writing!



On Criticism

Rob Parnell

Cynicism is rife. The urge to criticize and find fault is endemic.

In many ways this can be a good thing. If everyone was positive about everything, writers, artists and technicians and even tradespeople wouldn't need to try so hard.

Acceptable would be good enough. Okay would be fine.

There'd be no need to go that extra mile if your every effort was greeted with enthusiasm and praise, even adulation. A bit like I imagine Heaven to be - a place where you can do no wrong, where every piece of creativity is faultless and everyone is appreciative and encouraging of your every whim and desire...

Alas, we live on Earth, where the standards are apparently higher...

... and where we're told criticism is good for us!

Maybe that's why we feel so validated by doing it.

I remember at school it was hip to be cynical. Being a cynic when we were fifteen was the equivalent of saying, "I'm a dude of the world. Seen it all, been around," etc - it was that cool...

Probably because we really had no idea what it meant - only that it sounded cool to be unimpressed by everything - as I suppose it does to most adolescents, to whom being unmoved is seen as a more mature response, a less embarrassing reaction to childlike glee.

Maybe that's why we're tempted to hold on to cynicism as we move into adulthood. It's our fear of being uncool. Perhaps it's safer to hate everything. Then you never get caught out!

But is being so tough on creators right and fair?

I guess part of the problem is that we're so spoiled for choice nowadays, it's easy to flippant about another book or film or music track or computer game or TV show. All these things take a lot of time, planning and resources to create.

Even an ad campaign, new website or magazine edition involve copious amounts of effort which we tend to yawn over rather than lose any sleep.

Fact is, we really don't care about all the hard work, the inspiration, the angst and the sheer volume of combined toil that goes into creating something new these days.

Especially when that something is designed for mainstream consumption. Somehow that makes it worse to our over stimulated psyches.

Almost belligerently, we are unmoved by newness - simply because we're not supposed to be!

Writers especially are used to be being criticized, devalued and most often ignored, if not ridiculed for their creativity.

Makes you wonder why we bother, doesn't it?

Well, there are three main reasons to create:

1. Fame

You never know. You just might invent the next big thing. Harry Potter, all those superheroes, programs like Glee or CSI, silly things like the Rubik's Cube or strokes of brilliance like iPads were all once ideas in an inspired mind.

We are often compelled to create because we want to change the world in some way - and be recognized for our efforts.

There's nothing wrong with being motivated by fame. Tesla, Henry Ford, Shakespeare, Gauguin, Edison, they all created new things with that view in mind.

2. Success

Success is not always the same as fame - and the term itself is relative.

Many writers, artists and technicians are successful in that they maintain a very good and comfortable life for themselves - even if the average person is unaware of their existence.

We have this strange idea that if you've never heard of someone artistic then they're not really successful in our eyes - a patently ridiculous idea considering the billions of people on the planet - many of whom are wealthy and well respected in their own fields.

We can't know everyone. And not everyone successful wants to be famous!

3. Personal Satisfaction

A double edged sword - though the most important reason.

Doing it for yourself might make you feel better - in a cathartic way - to experience the sheer joy of invention.

But often, it's the reason why artists are not taken seriously. The argument goes that, well, you would have done the work anyway. Our appreciation is not required - we don't have to 'get' what you do.

Plus, given the lifestyles we now have and the technology at our disposal, it's much easier for anyone to be creative - or at least appear to be.

The yardstick we use to judge artistic merit is often couched within the first two of the above motivations - fame and success. As if we're not sure if an artist is any good unless they've achieved recognition and/or monetary gain.

In an ideal world, we should all be openly encouraged to express ourselves artistically. But we can't all be famous - and perhaps we don't need to be. Famous people often complain about the trappings of notoriety!

Jean Cocteau said one of the problems with fame is that you're most likely remembered for the stuff you're least proud of - and there's no guarantee your best work will move anyone in the way you envisaged. I'm sure the likes of Madonna would agree.

The simple fact of it is that you can't live purely by the need to be recognized. Your writing, your work, has to be self fulfilling. It has to make you happy - no matter what the critics say.

Because being a critic is easy - the effortless option. You just have to be innately cynical and pick holes - whether deliberately or because you want to appear smart to your peers.

But being a creator, a proud crafts-person, requires a whole different mindset: an open, inquiring nature, the ability to feel joy at the moment of inspiration, the brave willingness to experiment, the acceptance of failure as a learning process - and the need to push yourself - and public perception - beyond what is accepted as the norm.

There will always be critics - who often seem to want to keep the world a dull and predictable place where innovation and inspiration are to be shunned and discouraged.

It's up to writers and artists to push the boundaries, to create for the sheer joy of creating, no matter what the responses may be.

Keep writing!

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


"Your goal should be out of reach, not out of sight."
Anita DeFrantz

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "The 7 Story Plots"
Writer's Quote by Taigu Ryokan

The Writing Academy

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