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

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Search for The Answer...

When I was young I thought the whole point of growing up was to become wise.
I guess I thought that's what school was about. 

After all, we spend anything from ten to twenty years at the beginning of our lives learning stuff - presumably to help us become better adults, better human beings.

One thing that struck me as odd, at the time, was that people didn't seem to get any wiser as they got older. 

Quite the opposite. 

The older people got, I noted, the more rigid, inflexible and closed they seemed to become.

To say this confused me is an understatement.

I remember promising myself I wouldn't get that way. 

I wouldn't be one of those people who was sure about everything - had a definitive opinion on all things and couldn't see that nothing could be that concrete.

You know people like this.

They have a lifetime of experiences that have led them to certain beliefs that may be true for them, yet aren't always part of others' philosophies.

Successful people are often the worst in this regard

Their experiences have apparently taught them that these facts or those events or their particular character traits are the only things that matter - and that we should listen to them, heed their advice, even honor them.

But I think one of the main reasons why young people have such difficulty relating to older folks is that while experience can be a great teacher, the lessons learned are often irrelevant to the next generation.

People have an inbuilt need to learn for themselves. 

And to prove the previous generation they were wrong or at best, living in a different time.

Without this inbuilt, perhaps genetically encoded, need to make the same mistakes over and over, we'd probably be lost as a species.

Yes, certain facts and lessons from five thousand years of civilization become self evident - but we still need a decade or more of schooling to help us all see them!

Consider this.

We don't know much about an 18th Dynasty Egyptian king called Akhenaten, except that he introduced his people to the idea of deifying only one god instead of many - perhaps the first important personage in history to publicly do so.

He said: "True wisdom is less presuming. The wise man doubts often, and changes his mind; the fool is obstinate and doubts not; he knows all things but his own ignorance."

This is a remarkably rational and I would suggest even contemporary piece of profundity echoing down through the millennia to speak to us.

Because it says it all.

That rigid thinking, that a belief that there is only one answer, or one important way of thinking, is a huge mistake, a sign of mediocrity at best

Indeed, if you think about it, obstinacy is the root cause of pretty much all our problems.

How many wars are fought over a difference of opinion? 

Uh - perhaps all of them?

Thing is, if there's no definitive answer, no ultimate truth, who's to say what's right and what's wrong?

What are we trying to do when we impose our opinion, our values on others? 

Who wins when the victor's opinion reigns until the next leader vies for domination?

It would be nice to think there was actually some ultimate truth to be had, some set of insights we could gain that would lead to wisdom, enlightenment and perfect peace.

But if such a thing were possible, where would it leave us?

In some kind of heavenly utopia?

Sounds dull.

Fact is, the answer is not in the knowing, it's in the seeking.

Motivation comes from the need to understand and learn. 

But it's not the answer that's important. 

No, it's just wanting to know it. 

The process by which we try to uncover the truth is the essential journey. 

It's not the resolution that's the most beneficial to us, it's the quest.

Which is my roundabout way of saying that you can never know all the answers - but that it's important to keep looking for them.

To remain flexible in all your work - and in your life.

Because once you decide that one thing is definitively true, you begin to undermine its veracity.

Truth, beauty, wisdom, after all, are all in the eye of the beholder.

And what is absolutely true for one can only be a guide for others.

That's the nature of being human.

Not a bad thing.

Merely a fact of life.

Artists know this instinctively. That's why they keep going - not to create perfection or truth but to aspire to it, to make a conscious effort to journey towards it.

In this sense, we are all artists of our own lives. 

We do stuff, we interact, we learn, we try to make sense of everything and create a better way.

But if this process makes us rigid, biased, judgmental and prejudiced, it's surely wrong.

The next time you find yourself expressing a damning opinion based on your 'experience', you know that you too have fallen victim to the lure of wanting to know something without doubt.

True wisdom is less presuming, as the great man said...

Curiously, Akhenaten was roundly loathed by his own people, especially the religious elders who saw his 'sun cult' as an attack on their power, which I'm sure it was intended (partly) to be.

After Akhenaten's death, the Egyptians tried to expunge his memory from their history, as though he were some kind of aberration best forgotten.

Time - the great leveler - has proved his message had merit.

The best we can do is hope that we too can leave something behind that makes a difference, that shines a light on the path.

Because the search for the answers must always, surely, continue...

Keep Writing!
Rob Parnell

The Writing Academy

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Meta-writing: the process and practice of writing about writing.

One of my esteemed students wrote me a letter - yes, an actual piece of paper with handwriting on it - recently.

She thanked me for one of my courses that she was working through at home. 

She said she liked my 'metaphysical' approach to writing because it helped her move out of a block she'd been having.

I've never really thought about my instruction being 'metaphysical' to be honest. 

It's not meant to be. 

A better term might be 'holistic', in that I see writing and the writer as equally in need of guidance and advice.

The writer is, to me, inseparable from the writing. 

You can't be a good, honest and effective writer if you don't aspire to be a good, honest and effective person. 

If that's metaphysical, then so be it!

But you don't have to be perfect.

In the same way as your writing doesn't have to be perfect. 

What's perfection anyway but an intellectual tool we use as a benchmark?

Perfection is relative.

The newbie may feel sheer joy at a piece of average writing - infused with that rush we all feel at times at our accomplishments.

But a writer with years of experience may still cringe at something she's written when others see nothing but genius.

It's all relative.

We each must aspire to our own concept of perfection - but learn to be satisfied when 'enough is enough'.

I've never known a decent writer who didn't think that something in their work couldn't be improved.

Famously, Fitzgerald once broke into his publisher's office at three in the morning and crawled inside the printing galleys, pulling out letters, rearranging the text of his novel - the day the book was going to press!

Okay, he was probably drunk. Fitzgerald often was. But most writers can relate to this kind of obsessive need to 'fix' their own writing until it shines.

Talking of obsession and the need for perfection, Steve Jobs' kind of focus is rare - more especially because it was justified. 

A lot of people - artists especially - may be precious and difficult to work with - but not all of them are so right!

But maybe they are - in their own way.

Maybe we don't give enough credit to those 'control freaks' who strive for perfection and, like Steve Jobs, made life hard for those around them.

I guess that's the great thing about being a writer. You are in control - most of the time. Your world is exactly as it should be, within the confines of your pages.

It's one of the reasons I've never really understood the need for criticism. 

It's too easy for others to find the flaws in other's work. 

It's destructive - not only creatively but personally too.

A critic can crush a writer's spirit irreparably but... to what end?

Also, I've never known a writer to improve dramatically as a result of criticism.

Quite the opposite. 

It's encouragement and even praise that helps improve a writer. 

Because when writers feels good about what they do, they seem to become more aware of the flaws themselves - and seek to better their work independently.

Criticism closes a writer down more often than not, forcing them to consider giving up the whole thing - as was probably the critic's intention.

We should always strive to 'lift up' an artist - to help them feel 'enlightened'. 

Inspiration comes from a feeling of transcendence. 

Criticism can only drag us down to earth and make us feel inferior, misguided and misunderstood.

How would God have felt - if there's any such thing as a deity - if some critic was looking over her shoulder, pointing out all her mistakes as she created the universe?

Maybe she would have scrapped the whole idea of creation - and taken up some other activity like playing atom solitaire or cosmic cloud busting.

Where would be then?

I'm not being as flippant as you might assume.

I really do think that artists, writers and musicians - even inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs - should be encouraged without question. 

Because true creators know the flaws in their designs better than anyone. They really don't need others to point them out!

But I guess it's the way of the world.

The ninety/ten rule. Ten percent of us want to change things, create new possibilities and understand the true meaning of our existence.

The other ninety percent just want to sit back and bag.

To be "realistic.

Well, if being realistic means that nothing should ever change or that none of us should aspire to perfection or dedicate ourselves to the attainment of truth or beauty or enlightenment, then I'd rather be called
anything but realistic!

So I don't really mind being thought of as metaphysical - even it marginalizes what I do.

I try to speak to everyone, not just to those who will listen.

But isn't that the point of art, of good writing, of transcendent music, film and whatever?

To create something that speaks to us all?

I hope so.

Seriously, have fun - and be good, at whatever you do.

Keep Writing!


"Blessed are the cracked, for they let the light through."
Spike Milligan

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Your Mother Should Know

Late start today - slept in!

Are you thinking about next year's resolutions yet? I find myself pondering the future at this time of year - a kind of habit.

Also a time when you naturally review the previous year - did we do all things we planned? Yes and no.

I've noticed that it's not always the big things that come to pass - but also some of the smaller goals, the ones I thought less important, also found a way into my activities.

I made only vague plans to write a play and be an actor last new year - and those activities ending up taking over a fifth of the year!

Just like good old Oscar Wilde said all those years ago, you gotta be real careful what you wish for...

In case you needed a reference point, the following is a list of the December Digital Disposal items that have appeared in the last fourteen days.

Feel free to click on the links you're interested in.

December Digital Disposal

Day Nine: Fantasy Writing

Day Ten: Bestseller Writing

Day Eleven: Copywriting Course

Day Twelve: Screenplay Writing

Day Thirteen: Children's Book Writing

Day Fourteen: Easy Cash Writing

and from the previous week:

Day One: Autobiography Writing

Day Two: Nuts and Bolts of Writing

Day Three: Short Story Writing

Day Four: The Art of Story

Day Five: Thriller Writing

Day Six: Self Editing

Day Seven: Writing Success

Day Eight: Show Don't Tell

Remember that this is the very last time these uniquely helpful resources will be available. After the 31st of December, they will all be gone from the Net!


Your Mother Should Know

Rob Parnell

Went to the Australian Society of Authors Christmas drinks the other day - met some lovely writers and their partners. It was in the back room of beautiful old colonial building in North Adelaide, replete with wood beams, deep carpets and sweet staff to help the night along.

We met a writer called Lea Weston who had the dream happen to her.

You know the one.

You spend a decade or so trying to write a book, in between work and life, finally getting it done. You send it out and then it's picked up and published to great acclaim by the first major publisher you submit to...

I mentioned to her at this point, "You know that never happens?"

"Yes," she said. "And I feel awfully guilty."

"No need," I said. "Writers need proof it can happen. Just to keep us all going!"

We met other writers at various stages in their careers. Some unpublished, some having books coming out of their ears. It takes all sorts - and curiously I realized it's next to impossible to tell how well a writer is doing just by looking at them...

Most have this de rigueur scruffiness about them. I guess because dressing up is alien to most writers and not something that needs to happen much.

A couple of the successful writers mentioned that the whole concept of going out into the world and talking about their books felt bizarre. Clearly, if you're the kind of person who wants to spend long hours alone and writing, you're not going to be ideally suited to being a great public speaker. With exceptions of course.

Many of the conversations turned to how our parents felt about us being writers. And how most of our mothers disapproved or were openly hostile to the idea of writing for a living.

Odd that - because Robyn and I thought we were unique in that regard. Apparently not. Mothers - as a breed - obviously regard writing as some kind of shameful career, not to be encouraged!

I'm sure much of it has to do with our mothers wanting the best for us - knowing instinctively that the odds of success are against us.

There again, in my experience, pretty much all writers who commit to the life eventually make it in some way.

No, it seems to go further. As though the act of writing is somehow a betrayal. As if wanting to be a writer is a kind of slap in the face to our parents. Like they've somehow failed in their parenting if they spawn so lowly a life form as a writer!

Plus, writing is about commenting on life, making sense of the world's insanity. So I guess if we spend our lives questioning and recording life's inadequacies and people's foibles, then perhaps we really are worrisome individuals who don't necessary feel content in our skins... perhaps that is a bad thing in their eyes.


Maybe I'm reading too much into it - and my mother wouldn't approve. She who got angry when I said - at fourteen - I wanted to be a journalist - and cried a few years later - at seventeen - when I said I wanted to be a musician.

I'd failed her because I didn't want to be a doctor or a lawyer. But this is the woman who thought I should be an assistant in a hardware store or a factory worker or an office drone - ANYTHING but an artist.

Even when I was turning thirty and we met for drinks in London one fine day, she was still saying, "Oh, Robert, you should settle down. Leave all the music and the writing behind and get a proper job. Haven't you got all that out of your system yet?"

As if I ever would...

Funny things, mothers.

Maybe we just remind them of all the things they gave up to look after us - like being a writer perhaps.

They only want us to be happy, apparently.

And perhaps being a writer is like saying: "I'm not happy!"

But of course, if that's the case, then writing is what makes us happy.

I shouldn't go on so. Ever since Freud mothers have had a bad rap, probably always have, even before. Nowadays they get the blame for psychopaths too. Hardly fair.

Robyn's mother apologized for not having faith in her - admittedly after her eightieth book! Mine's yet to do that.

Dad's always been a secret admirer - even when he disapproved of my rock band days, he whispered to me confidentially that he thought it was cool I got paid for drinking in the day time and sleeping till noon.

Nowadays he's just relieved I've got a house, a wife and a car. The rest is just a bonus as far as he's concerned.

Mum's harder to read.

Maybe we can never live up to our mother's expectations, if we ever knew what they were.

In the mean time, I still have a few projects left to write, Mum, now that I have settled down - as a writer.

Keep Writing!

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


"If you have the right friends, you don’t need the Internet."
Ken Atchity

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "The Future of the Net"
Writer's Quote by Susan Fletcher

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Future

It's been a busy time for us this week. Lots of promotions in lieu of our imminent shutdown.

Thanks for all your emails of support and encouragement. News of what's happening to us in January will have to wait until then...

We have important stuff going on right now!

In case you needed a reference point, the following is a list of the Digital Disposal items that have appeared in the last eight or nine days. Feel free to click on the links you're interested in.

December Digital Disposal

Day One: Autobiography Writing

Day Two: Nuts and Bolts of Writing

Day Three: Short Story Writing

Day Four: The Art of Story

Day Five: Thriller Writing

Day Six: Self Editing

Day Seven: Writing Success

Day Eight: Show Don't Tell

Remember that this is the very last time these uniquely helpful resources will be available. After the 31st of December, they will all be gone from the Net!


The Future

Lots of you have said to me that you're saddened by the news about the Easy Way to Write but that as long as I keep up my weekly newsletter, in whatever form, then you'll be happy!

That's nice to know.

As I've said sometimes in the past - it's hard to know if anyone's reading your words these days. It's the modern writer's dilemma.

There's such a barrage of written material arriving on-line daily from all corners of the globe - all competing for readers in an ever more competitive environment.

At the same time as blogs and social media grows and new websites proliferate, the giant websites continue to exert their power and influence for entirely financial ends.

You know who I'm talking about.

Behind the scenes, Google, as far as I can tell, is bent on complete domination of the Net, which or may or may not be a good thing - we'll see...

Much as we love the idea the Net is a wonderful free information resource, I fear we're fast approaching the day when that reality is a fading pipe dream.

YouTube is now Google owned, I'm sure you knew. Their aim is to replace television as far as I can see. They're doing deals on a daily basis with film and TV production companies that will allow them to broadcast pay per view on line 24/7.

And also behind the scenes, Facebook is in close contact with the US government - for reasons that aren't entirely clear. What is clear is that the ready availability of FB on mobile devices has got something to do with global information gathering that goes way beyond the scope of just another website.

One doesn't like to seem paranoid but I do think there's renewed truth in the old maxim of "information is power."

And with power comes responsibility of course.

It's not that we don't trust the corporate monsters that Google, FB, Apple and Microsoft have become - but is it wise to hand over so much of our personal information - so much of our liberty - to organizations that are not accountable to anyone but themselves?

Plus, from a writer's perspective, there's the thorny issue of copyright. There's been only a few test cases so far but, without legislation, can we really be sure who 'owns' the writing we put on line?

In the fine print of almost all websites lies the as yet dormant understanding that anything you post to the Net - blogs, articles, books, screenplays, anything, actually belongs to that website.

There are cases already in Hollywood where producers believe they've bought the rights to a story only to discover later that third party websites are claiming ownership of it because the story was posted there first.

Imagine what will happen when the next Twilight comes along and a website says it owns the rights to it because the author uploaded the promotional video to the novel years before the rights were sold.

They might claim the book could never have become successful without their hosting - and, in fact, they'd have a good legal basis for that argument.


Just how careful do we need to be these days?

Well, we're kind of stuck, aren't we?

In order to promote ourselves and our writing, we need to put it up on line. If we don't, we remain in obscurity.

Or do we?

There's still a healthy majority of off-line punters who regard the Net as irrelevant to their lives - and quite a few of them are book buyers.

And even though some book chain stores are closing, the drop in books sales has only been in the order of a few percent. It's not the Internet that is closing down the independent bookstores, it's the supermarket chains that can sell our books at half price.

But there's still a healthy market for books off line. Many of my friends sell their self published books off-line and make one heck of a lot more money than they would make selling digital copies on the web.

Ebooks sell well of course - and will continue to, I'm sure, but the real profit from ebooks comes from numbers - the vast numbers that, say, Amazon deals in. Millions a day, not the one or two an author might sell per day at a profit of a few cents each.

You never see ads coaxing you to go on-line specifically. The Net has its own marketing momentum. People want it, whatever it looks like in the short term.

It could be that in the long term we grow more discerning and demand that the giant websites behave in a certain way - more accountable, less market greedy.

But that's not what's happening at the moment.

We're seeing a gold rush. The giant websites want global domination - that old aspiration we give all our James Bond type bad guys!

But, like me, you probably wondered what characters like Dr No and Goldfinger were actually going to do if they ever did get to take over the world.

Well, perhaps now is the time to wonder what will happen when someone - or some corporate entity - actually does...

Keep Writing!

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


"The tale is often wiser than the teller."
Susan Fletcher

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Writing and Society"
Writer's Quote by Samuel Butler

The Writing Academy

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