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

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Writers and Our Society

It's always bothered me that if you're seen as a struggling artist, you have no credibility to the world around you. 

Friends, family and the state in particular regards you as some kind of pariah.

If you leave school and don't immediately get a job you're seen as a waster - what we call a bludger down here in the US of Oz.

Okay so there are lots of people who don't want to work these days. 

Plus we have a welfare system in most countries that allows us to live without working, at least for a while, just.

And while I don't condone sponging off the state, I do support those who want to create books, film and music for no initial reward in the hope of hitting the big time.

After all, not wanting to waste 40 to 60 hours a week to make a living is to me a sign of complete rationality. 

I'm just surprised there aren't more people out there who don't rage against a system that requires them to work in jobs they loathe and for bosses they despise...

But I'm not a Marxist. I know that the system would collapse without at least 80% of us wanting to do the right thing and work for a living.

It just amazes me that the vast majority are okay with that.

To me, creativity is the reason for existence. 

And all the time I worked in offices and factories - admittedly not for very long - I felt as though my very lifeblood - my creativity - was being horribly stifled, causing me no end of stress, self hate, heartache and consequent broken relationships with loved ones because I just couldn't do it!

Maybe I'm just weird.

But I can completely understand someone who would rather spend their time writing books or screenplays or composing symphonies, if that's what they want to do.

In France, you can register for unemployment as a poet. 

You can't do that in the US, England or Australia. Why is that?

Why is having an artistic temperament seen as an aberration - especially given that, as I argued last week, the whole economic structure of society would fall apart without artists to provide vision, new ideas and new worlds to aspire to?

I can only assume it's because artists are seen as freaks.

The irony being, of course, that when a particular waster does hit the big time, they're held aloft as inspirational - a veritable model of drive, focus, talent and vision! 

When their art is applauded, all their foibles are forgiven, their past accorded with new insight - and they are promptly absorbed into the system as demigods, more than worthy of our complete adulation.

I'm not the first person to notice this phenomenon. 

Colin Wilson wrote The Outsider in 1956 about this very issue. 

He lived in the woods and wrote in the British Museum (to keep warm) for a while after leaving school, shunning a society that to him seemed irrational - only to write a book about it and yes, by doing so, becoming a pillar of the establishment - as his own book predicted he might!

I guess we all have to find our way in the world.

If you want to work, if that's what makes you happy and keeps you fulfilled, do it.

But if there's something else you want, something that burns inside you to be expressed, do that instead.

Ignore the fear. 

The universe - and our society - seems to have a way, a need almost - to eventually incorporate your special talents into its fabric.

Capitalism works on the principle that there's a need for every type of person - and that everyone can and does specialize in their own uniquely individual way.

Those that would have you compromise and accept their reality are quite simply wrong to talk you out of following your heart.
If writing is more important to you than work, love and play, then do it. 

Do it now and tomorrow and for the rest of your life.

If writing to you is play, a luxury or an indulgence, then do it. 

Do it now and continue doing it.

If there's anything in your life you don't like, then stop doing it!

The world doesn't need another martyr, hiding away, struggling with inner demons.

The world needs you to be yourself: to dream - to ignore the 'state of the economy', and to wholeheartedly reject the pre-conditions of the previous generation.

You have a right to be happy and fulfilled. 

To do what you want.

That's how the universe works.

Everything and everyone has a place, a purpose and a set of intentions that need expression.

We now know that even on a quantum level, atomic particles have an innate Intention built invisibly into their structure. 

It's there for a reason. 

Because without the expression of intention, nothing comes into existence.

By extension, you can never truly be yourself unless you LISTEN to your intuition, your gut in other words, and just do what in your heart and mind you know is true and right for you.

There are no prizes available for self sacrifice - and only destruction can come from denial. 

Sooner or later you will come to this realization, as you're supposed to, and know that your dreams are there within you to inspire you into action.

Be what you want to be.

Do anything you want to do.


Keep Writing.


"I have always believed helping your fellow man is profitable in every sense, personally and bottom line." Mario Puzo

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Writers and Society

I've been reading a book on economic theory this week - and it's got me thinking.
Now, apparently the subject of economics is famous in the publishing industry as the kiss of death to success - the equivalent of a huge yawn of indifference in the mind of the public.
But with demonstrations on Wall Street, recessions and financial crashes in the air, it's clear that people are trying very hard to understand the impact of economic theory on our lives.
I'd like to spend this week's article looking at the artist and writer in relation to the world economy.
Economics is about seeing order amid the chaos of every day life - and from that order, being able to make predictions - albeit generalized ones that often don't seem to pan out...
The trouble with economic generalizations is that they're not every flattering to people. 
Current economic theory requires that the vast majority of the population are single minded drones who work for a living. 
Also, that there are some 'special' people called business owners and property owners and then, there are a whole bunch of interfering governments who don't really know what they're doing.
And if you think this oversimplification sounds like a recipe for disaster, you'd be wrong - because it's what has held modern society together for over three hundred years - basically since the start of the industrial revolution.
However, one of the major problems with this system is that it allows - indeed encourages - speculators to play with the fortunes the system creates - with dire consequences like global financial meltdowns when they get it wrong - hence the Wall Street demos.
Far be in from me to suggest that Wall Street and all the other stock exchanges around the world should be replaced by computers - or monkeys, whichever is your preference - both of which have been proved to work better and more reliably than the traders...
But social change and improvement is not high on the priority list of those who make money - unless, of course, there's more money in it!
It's interesting to me that the Green movement has only taken hold since it was re-shaped - by economists - as a profitable enterprise.
But anyway, I digress. 
I'm not going to write a book about this - only give you my views today on how the artist can and does assume a crucial role within our economic system.
For centuries artists have been relegated to the outside of the market system.
But in my view, they are at its heart - the very catalyst that creates and maintains society - and the only real agent of profound change we might have as a forward looking civilization.

Here's what I think is going on.
Yes, it's simplistic view - but then, so, apparently, are all the best economic models.
I see society split into three basic groups: The Active, The Inert and The Catalysts.
The Active are all those who work for a living, help to produce goods and services and generally pay their way through life as consumers and active participants in the betterment of themselves and mankind.
The Inert, whether by choice or not, are those that exist without any direct form of production - those on welfare, students, the retired, etc. 
Don't get the wrong end of the stick and assume I'm denigrating what I term as the Inert. 
I'm not.
Just like the atom, an active proton is bonded to the inert neutron to create a stable particle. 
If you like, the atom is the perfect analogy for how our society in structured. 
But as any scientist will tell you, in order to re-structure an atom you need a catalyst to induce change.
I define The Catalyst as any member or group in society that is motivated by change - or the need to create something out of nothing.
Writers, artists, business, charitable and political leaders, philosophers, engineers, inventors, even entrepreneurs are all important catalysts.
And without catalysts, I would suggest that society falls apart - for without constant change and improvement, there's nothing to keep the system from stagnating - and perhaps collapsing.
So you might be seemingly inert, in that you've worked all your life and now have enough to retire. 
In reality, if you're a writer or some kind of artist, for instance, you're still a catalyst - an agent of change at the heart of the system.
It happens this way all the time. 
Steve Jobs - a young rebel who went on to create a multi-billion dollar industry. JK Rowling, an unemployed single mother goes on to create the same.
Both examples are catalysts without whom the world would be a dry and unimaginative place.
Now, I'm not so naive as to suggest that catalysts are not motivated by money. Most of them are. 
Money, after all, is the grease that oils the great machine of society.
Money is not the problem - it's merely those that want to create it for its own sake that are the problem, usually by riding on the coat-tails of our more creative individuals.
True catalysts want to see the change first - whether that's a book or a movie, a more compassionate society or a new wi fi tablet - and then be rewarded for their labor and vision by proving that the world needed that change.
So, don't let anyone tell you that being any kind of artist or writer is a waste of your time.
It's not.
As a Catalyst, you are the very engine of progress, enlightenment and the positive enrichment of our species.
Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy


"A definition is the enclosing of a wilderness of idea within a wall of words." Samuel Butler

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Research & Writing

Research is good - even for fiction. 

These days it's often important to put your story in the real world, where real things happen in real locations.

Readers can be fussy. 

They'll go along with your story about a werewolf who falls in love with an advertising executive and whisks her off to a fairy castle in Patagonia - but if you screw up the bus timetable or mention plants that don't grow where you say they do, your dear readers will be all over you like a rash.

Or like white on rice, as an old producer friend used to say!

There's a fine line between veracity and invention.

The thing is that if you get your real world facts right, you make your fiction more believable - this is something that modern thriller writers like James Patterson, Kathy Reichs and Lee Child know all too well.

And not just facts about cities and roads - but also institutions and organizational structures like the CIA, FBI and police jurisdictions can become important and crucial to your plotting.

This is why you'll often need to research these things prior to building your novel template. 

The last thing you want is for a smart reader to question your logic or your version of reality.

Even when school breaks happen can be significant to teenage novels where much of the action may take place between study periods and during semesters.

Plus, things like the weather can help you. 

In the book version of Twilight, the fact that the town of Forks is almost permanently overcast is fundamental to the credibility of vampires being around in the daytime.

Conrad, Dickens and Austen used the weather often to set the mood of their set pieces - which is why they wrote about places they knew or had visited.

Research is important, yes, but it can also be a delaying tactic if you don't know when to stop doing it.

Long time ago I wrote a supernatural fantasy set in modern day London that had references to the Great Plague of 1665 and to the famous character of Thomas More.

You guessed it. 

I spent literally months of valuable writing time boning up on the plague and the life of Thomas More. 

I had stacks of notes and became really well informed about a subject that was probably only relevant to about one percent of my plot.

Though the information was useful, it stopped the writing of the book in its tracks. 

Not good. 

Especially when a year passed and I'd lost the thread of the novel and basically had to start again.

Also, interestingly, I discovered during my research that Thomas More used to torture people in the basement of his house - admittedly on rare occasions.

Apparently this was some kind of sport the rich and powerful indulged in during those dark (Tudor) times, even when they claimed to be pious and God-fearing.

Of course I included this fact in my novel - and have since been accused of making it up!

The moral being: too much research can be dangerous.

Research is about balancing facts with veracity.

Fiction must be believable first, accurate second.

No amount of accuracy will help a dull story. 

But veracity can propel a story into a something more, even if not all the facts are true - just ask Dan Brown, whose Da Vinci Code has been savagely attacked over the years for its bending of the truth!

Far be it from us mere writers to have to remind people it was always meant to be fiction...

Anyway, the trick is to allot time to research - give yourself a time limit, beyond which you will not continue.

If that doesn't work for you then do what I do these days.

Write first, then do the research after.

In order for this to work well you need to keep abreast of your general knowledge - and stay interested in the topics you write around.

Use your spare time to research - and don't let it encroach on your writing time.

That's way too precious to waste!

Keep Writing.


"It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much doing nothing." Gertrude Stein

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What to Do With Your Inspiration

I knew a girl once who had lots of dreams. Lots of things she wanted to do. Lots of ideas for businesses, projects and strategies for becoming successful...

But despite all the planning and sometimes the work, nothing happened.

Nothing ever worked for her.

She'd get to a certain point in a project and always, and I mean always, something would happen that stopped her.

Watching her go through this process a dozen or more times, I could easily see that it wasn't the projects that were at fault - though she would swear every time that's where the problems originated.

No, it was something inside her head that made her stop.

Fear? Anxiety? Lack of commitment? Insecurity?

Any and all of the above.

But it was more than that.

I believe that in some odd way, she needed to be stopped - because failure fulfilled her worldview of what's possible and what isn't.

Because - and it sounds obvious but is no less true - that you are only capable of what you think you're capable of doing.

In other words, success is a state of mind.

If you think your project will fail, it will - because your mind will look for signs of failure from the moment you doubt it.

In turn, the signs validate your suspicions and your project collapses from within.

During all the time I knew this girl I had only one project - to be a writer full time.

She would often belittle my aspirations and say that she was the doer, the champion, the "succeeder" - and I was just a hopeless dreamer.

Difference was, I knew I wasn't going to stop nor would I lack the commitment to seeing through my goal.

It didn't matter how many people - friends, family, loved ones - told me (lectured me!) that being a professional writer was a silly dream, a waste of time pursuing, etc., because in my heart, I simply didn't believe them.

There comes a time when you have to sacrifice everyone else's worldview for something you know in your heart to be true.

You have to believe that if you want something enough, you can get it.

Inspiration is wonderful. It captivates and possesses you.

But inspiration has no value unless you pursue its ramifications.

It could be you take the first tentative steps on a path and start to feel that perhaps you were mistaken. 

Perhaps you didn't want to work on the project as much as you thought you did.

That the kind of person you think you might need to become to finish the project is not who you really are.

This happens with long term goals too.

Many people have second thoughts when they realize that their success might require them to become a different person - one outside their comfort zone.

We all know that planning and strategizing is fun and safe and exciting until we get real world feedback - and realize that the consequences of inspiration often put you in the firing line - on the battlefield, as it were, to continue the metaphor.

We all want to be the commander, directing the troops from a safe distance.

Getting down and dirty in the trenches isn't really part of the plan!

But if you want to succeed, you need to make a commitment - and stay the course whatever happens.

It's the only way to know whether your inspiration was valid to begin with.

If you have a habit of stopping when you should be pushing on through, you'll find that your faith in yourself, over time, will diminish.

Success likes reinforcement.

And there's nothing like seeing one project, to the exclusion of all others, right through to the end, to help get your mind in the right head space to take on anything.

The more projects you finish, the more faith you'll have in your abilities.

But finishing that first one is where it all starts.

Don't let yourself get sidetracked by the myriad of possibilities.

Pick one project and go for it.

Even if you're not sure it's The One.

It won't always mean that the rest of your life will be taken up with it.

But it might take a year or two of total commitment.

And it's that total commitment that will change you - for the better.

Once you succeed in one thing, you'll know that nothing is impossible - if you believe in yourself.

And you can't really believe in yourself properly until you've seen something through, right to the end - and been the person capable of doing that.

The girl I mentioned earlier still believes she's capable of anything and everything - but has yet to prove it to herself.

Actually to anyone.

She's bitter and angry these days.

She blames the world for not complying with her wishes.

She rages against the unfairness of "the system" - whatever that is - and how everyone is out to get her and scupper her plans.

As a result, she's often nasty, defensive and cruel.

Her own insular, self-protective worldview has become the enemy within.

She's still poor - emotionally and financially.

She hates me, of course and, as she calls them, "people like me," because we don't fall into the category she's created for us.

She hates me for getting what I wanted.

She still believes that to be successful you have to be greedy, vindictive and manipulative - which in my experience is definitely not the case at all!

The successful, wealthy people I know are happy, generous and just, well, nice.

And they get things done.

They let inspiration guide them, intuition counsel them and they have the courage and self-fulfilling confidence to stand by their actions, attitudes and beliefs, to see their dreams, goals and plans through right to the very end.

Just like you should.

Keep Writing.
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy


“The waste basket is a writer's best friend." Isaac Singer

The Writing Academy

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