"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Other People's Books

Well I suppose the holiday period is nearly over and it's time to think about getting back to work. 

I know you may be already there. 

It's a tricky time of year - what with the largely self imposed pressure to re-evaluate things and perhaps set new goals for a new year.

My feeling is that if we're sure we know what we want and work towards it a little every day, we shouldn't need to overly beat ourselves up. 

Just get on with life and our goals will take care of themselves. 

Assuming you know what you want of course, which can, for some of us, take a lifetime to work out!
Click on the link below to get today's New Year offer.

Ultimate Writing Package


Other People's Books

Rob Parnell

For a struggling writer, there's nothing worse than reading a great book.

Finding an author who is patently superior to yourself can be a most humbling and depressing experience.

What more confirmation do you need that you'll probably never reach the heights - or, it seems, even be able to put a decent sentence together without embarrassment.

One such superior author is Dennis Lehane.

I just spent the last week reading Mystic River - a work of fiction so profoundly brilliant I decided at one point I was never going to write another word.

Why should I bother when this guy has got the whole writing thing down pat...

I mean, not only is the characterization consistently awesome, the plot is multilayered, complex yet simple in all the right ways. It's also superbly written with an understanding of the English language that seems effortless and divinely inspired by equal measure.

I've read interviews with Lehane and he's no slouch when it comes to writing. He's studied it profusely, endlessly debated its merits with writer friends and made a determined effort to be the best he can be - something he is clearly achieving.

All well and good. Just as it should be. But where does that leave the rest of us?

What's clear to me is that brilliance at writing is not a fluke.

It takes a heap of work and a keen, vigilant intelligence to be able to write well. Something that the majority of wannabe writers are blissfully unaware of - or refuse to accept.

Just as well sometimes. Ignorance is strength. Naivete a boon.

I guess that's the thing. If we knew how hard something was going to be before we started, we'd never start anything.

Come to think of it I know lots of people who never do anything because they guess (rightly) it's going to be really hard!

We actually need to believe some things will be easy - or that we can rise to the challenge, otherwise nothing would ever get done.

Everything would end up in the infamous "too hard basket" as they say in Australia.

Having been suitably chastised by reading Lehane - who seems to be saying to me: Give it up, lad, I've got this covered, I went in search of more novels - from the bargain bin of course.

Glad I did.

I found a couple of authors I'd never heard of. Both of whom had written about eight novels apiece and, according to their blurb, wrote full time.

Though the writing was not on Lehane's par, it was at least encouraging. Because, reading them I immediately felt happy. 

I had that nice reassuring sense of: I can do better than this.

This is the way I want to feel when I read other people's novels. Because it gives me a reason to write myself!

I won't name these other authors - because I don't want to seem mean spirited. Besides, they're doing well as far as I can tell. They write full time. They have agents, pets and loving families.

They, I assume, live idyllic lives getting paid to write novels that people are actually buying and reading. And despite living this enviable lifestyle they have the added advantage of being completely anonymous in the eyes of the public.

They don't need to worry about being recognized or mobbed in the street - and they can live with the calm satisfaction of knowing they got the dream.

Plus, if they thought about it, they should know that they're inspiring new authors everywhere - to emulate their success and know that it's entirely possible to make a good living as a writer without necessarily being a household name.

And without necessarily being the greatest writer in the world.


I'm feeling a new novel coming on already.

Till next time. 

Keep writing!
 rob at home

"A professional is someone who respects his trade, tries as hard as he can to perfect his work, and realizes that one failure isn’t the end of the world. Or two…or three." Nathaniel Benchley

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Write From the Heart

Write from the heart - that's all you really need to do.

Never try to second guess the market or try to be clever with your audience - or those who would help you achieve your aims.

Be true to yourself and be honest with your readers - because that's the only way to create anything of value and to sustain an artistic career of any kind.

It's easy to get fooled by the system into thinking that you work to get paid, therefore you can write anything for money - but it doesn't really work like that.

Not with art anyway. Not with anything creative.

Creativity requires more than just turning up and punching the clock.

Writing, painting, sculpting, playing an instrument, making movies, anything that requires personal expression, needs a soul at work.

Your soul - your time and passion and commitment.

That's what creativity of any kind demands:


It's intimidating, sure, when you see so much finished stuff around - you know, finished books, completed movies, and mastered songs that just glow with semi-perfection - all neatly packaged and oozing confidence and, well, some kind of stature.

And all available for sale...

It's hard when you want to be one of those people who has a book out there or a song or a film - and you know you haven't even started or worse actually, you're half way through something that feels like it's never going to be completed let alone recognized and available as a finished product.

It can be extra intimidating to see so many people with finished products who are social networking constantly - trying to get themselves and their own books, films and music seen and taken seriously.

Especially when on the same page some fabulously famous people are doing exactly the same - and they have the fame, the kudos and the riches to do it well!

How can you possibly compete in a world where just about everyone is shouting, "Look at me, look at me!"

Thing is, it's not about competing.

It's just about being there - and being yourself and being honest.

People might criticize you (but actually they rarely do).

Most likely people might appear to ignore you.

But that's okay too.

How many times have you seen people online and not said anything - just stored away their image or their 'thing' in your brain and moved on?

That's pretty much what everyone else is doing.

They may never contact you or involve themselves with you but they know you're there. 

And there is just where you need to be.

You gotta be in it to win it, as they saying goes.

That doesn't mean you spout bollocks all day though.

People respond best to sincerity.

Consistent sincerity - the kind you can't fake.

Do what you do, feel what you feel, and write what you write...

Love what you do and do what you love.

And get it out there.

And the world, my friend, will know.

Trust in yourself and your dreams.

And write from your heart.

Till next time.
Keep writing!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On Writing and Making Movies

Dear Fellow Writer,

Click on the link below to get this year's Santa Stampede specials!

Digital Disposal
Keep writing!


Current Thoughts On Writing

Rob Parnell

You've probably realized that recently I've been shooting my latest horror movie.

It's called First Cut - and is kinda like a cross between Amityville and The Shining - but without the supernatural elements. I think the horror is more scary because it's reality based.

The story is constructed on the idea that a failing relationship doesn't take much to push it over the edge.

We've all been there.

At the end of a relationship nothing we say to each other works. Everything rubs us up the wrong way. Our goals are misaligned and we have difficulty connecting.

In the movie, Jess and Doug are living separate lives and hate each other with a passion. Every comment is meant as a barb to bait the other - until eventually Doug snaps.

In fact there are only eight lines of dialog in the entire film - the rest is taken up with the lead characters 'terrorizing' each other.

I wanted to make a movie where it wasn't necessary to have lots of people talking all the time - like much of American TV drama.

Film is a visual medium and requires a different way of telling a story. Writers often forget this and fill their screenplays with lots of talking when an image - as the saying goes - is often worth a thousand words.

We all had a blast during the shoot, working quickly with the two actors, a tiny crew and a bucket-load of fake blood, we managed to create 700 shots in just four days, using my beautiful Canon XF300 and a whole bunch of new light and sound gear bought specially for the occasion.

The whole project's in HD and broadcast quality. I wanted to make it as professional looking as possible. You never know where it might end up being seen.

When it's ready, early next year, probably February, I'll be putting the movie in to film festivals around the world.

I want to use the movie to raise money for the next one, a 'kids confront a monster in the desert' feature called Resolution Falls, currently in development - as the saying goes!

I have this idea that kids these days, what with technology and the feeling we have when we're young - that perhaps we'll live forever - that there's an emptiness of sorts in young people's lives. I want to play with this idea in Resolution Falls.

The heroine is Gina, a 19 year old who is trying to find meaning in a world she's grown bored with. 

When she's on work experience with a bunch of young engineers in the desert, she's forced to confront a monster (half vampire, half zombie, all demon) which makes her question the nature of humanity - what it means to be alive, in other words.

As a long term writer, I have to say that, to me, making movies is the ultimate in creative expression.

You start with an idea, which you then have to develop into a script, which, even after all that work, becomes a mere template for the shot list.

Then all the hard work starts to get everything into the camera you need to tell your story.

Then, the really hard part comes when you have to put it all together into a coherent narrative with pictures, sound and music.

All things I love to do!

I must say it's great to be making horror movies in particular. 

It's a dream I've been working on for about five years now. 

After a lifetime of writing horror and loving the genre, I feel I'm finally giving back! 

All those apparently wasted hours watching horror movies and studying how it's done are now bearing fruit.

To me, horror is not about the scares. 

In fact I think one of the reasons why horror doesn't have the credibility it should is that much of the stuff we get in the cinema is all about the scares.

This is the reason I think why The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw are still voted the best horror movies ever made. Even though they were both produced over thirty years ago! 

They're not actually 'scary' movies in the modern sense, they're true 'horror' stories.

I'd like to think I'm not making mere 'scary' movies but in some way bringing back the 'horror' movie - as in telling stories about real people facing the extraordinary - and not necessarily the supernatural, CGI created silliness we see so often these days.

Anyway, I know that horror isn't everybody's thing, so I won't bore you any longer - even though many of the horror conventions fill our screens all the time nowadays.

They're just called different things like dark fantasy, superhero movies and action pictures!

If I sound a little obsessed I've done nothing this last three weeks but edit First Cut, day in day out.

As with writing, I believe you have to get obsessed with perfection to really create something of value.

Till next time. 

Keep writing!
 rob at home

"A professional is someone who respects his trade, tries as hard as he can to perfect his work, and realizes that one failure isn’t the end of the world. Or two…or three." Nathaniel Benchley

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Fostering Inspiration"

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Inspiration - How To Tap Into It

You can wait for days, weeks, months sometimes for it to strike.

It seems you can’t will it, force it or otherwise pluck it out of the air.

It’s actually hard to know exactly what it is!

But when inspiration strikes, it hits hard.

Excitement fills you. You’re convinced – there’s a surety inside you – you are on to something.

You’ve just had the most original and enlightening thought anyone in the world has ever had.

And then what?

Do you act? Do you rush for a pen to jot down the idea?

You should.

Sometimes even the best and most profound ideas are fleeting. But sometimes not.

I’ve noticed over the years that when you get a really good idea, it tends to stick. Not only that, it can literally change the direction of your life.

Think about this:

You’re an author.

One day, a character occurs to you – someone you like and think could be a good focus for a story or two. You write about him/her, your story becomes a novel, your book gets published and suddenly your character is out in the world.

Isn’t that just an amazing concept? That a single moment of inspiration can create so many consequences?

Now you can see why good ideas should be considered precious – you never know how valuable they could be to you – and you never know where a good idea might lead.

So where do you find these ‘good ideas’?

Well, if you’re not used to being regularly inspired, you may have to work at it.

But it’s not so hard. It’s just about practice.

Many of the seasoned authors I know complain they have too many ideas – and not enough time to act on them.

It’s because they’ve spent so many years expecting inspiration to come that it does – and all the time.

Try this:

Write down 5 ideas for magazine articles. Now.

How long did that take you?

Ten minutes – an hour?

Good but someone used to writing articles or regular columns could come up with ten in probably less than thirty seconds.

They’ve gotten used to thinking up ideas on the spot. They’ve trained their minds to do it.

You can do the same.

Before you go to bed at night, tell yourself you’re going to get some really good ideas tomorrow. In the morning wake up and tell yourself how much you’re looking forward to the good ideas you will have later in the day.

Whenever you’re inspired by something – or receive a flash of insight, write it down, promise yourself you will work on it – and move on.

Be consistently aware that good ideas are everywhere.

Most often it’s just seeing the norm from a slightly oblique angle – or making a connection in your mind between two apparently disparate objects, ideas or concepts.

From a writer’s point of view than can no better starting point for ideas than the ‘what if’ question.

What if chickens wore clothes?

What if an ocean liner overturned?

What if there were real witches, or vampires?

What if the sun didn’t come up tomorrow?

These are the sort of questions that will train your brain to think in this way – to reprogram mind and re-invent it as an ‘inspiration creator’!

If you like this article, you'll love this.

Keep writing!
Rob Parnell
The Writing Academy

"True power is an individual's ability to move from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." — Winston Churchill

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Early Xmas Specials - Free Newsletter

Dear Fellow Writer,

Here's a complete list of all the Easy Way to Write resources now on special offer, all re-packaged to make them super easy to download.

If you'd like to purchase all of my writing resources in one extra special deal,
go here.

Click on any of the links below to access the special deals!

Keep writing!


How An Author Disappears From View

Rob Parnell

There's a difference between a preacher and a commentator, a politician and a journalist, a spin doctor and a critic. And what is that?

One word. Agenda.

The main reason why we don't always trust preachers, politicians and spin doctors is not that they lie - though clearly they often do - it's just that they generally only give us one side of the truth. 

The truth as they see it. 

In effect, their agenda dictates the message.

A preacher will tell you only he has the facts - and you'd better listen to him or watch out...

A politician may want you to believe his version of the state of the economy - so he will deliberately withhold contrary facts, distort any opposing argument and/or belittle his detractors...

The modern spin doctor will point out benefits to seemingly bad events, or minimize the impact of bad news by diverting attention to something else. 

All very clever - but is it right?

If we're paying attention, we should be able to see these people's agendas at work - and choose to either ignore what they say, take them with a pinch of salt - or perhaps agree, because they reflect our own agendas.

But what about opposing views? 

Don't they need a fair hearing too?

If we are to make wise decisions based on the facts, we surely need to be able to see a situation from all angles, to appreciate all factors in order to view things with objectivity. 

Because only from wise decisions can our lives be enriched.

As a writer, and therefore as a purveyor of truth, you need to be fair and objective. 

You mustn't hide from the truth, or try to negate certain facts or play any cheap tricks with words. 

Even in fiction.

The way to do this is to, as far as possible, 'remove' yourself from the writing. A reader should not be aware that there is an author trying to tell him something. 

You do this by effectively 'hiding' your opinions and your agendas from the reader.

If you have a character with a particular agenda, it's important you have the opposing view outlined somewhere else in your text. It's not your job to force one view of the world on to readers. You must gain their trust and you can only do that by being seen to be objective. 

Start to preach and you'll lose the reader, I guarantee it!

A good piece of writing will be a measured argument. It will contain both sides of a debate. When you choose a theme for your story, make sure you're going to show both sides of the issue. Your eventual story resolution may imply a certain truth but you should not overtly suggest that it is the only truth - or that you have some kind of monopoly on it!

As a serious writer, it is your job to speak with authority - to imply that you have a kind of omniscient wisdom - that you see all, present all but without judgment - and that you are leaving the ultimate decisions about what's right and wrong to your reader.

For example, in an article for a magazine, the best way to speak with authority is to leave your more extreme opinions - and your agendas - out of the piece. For example if you are presenting an article recommending store items or different products, you can't be seen to favor just one - you will then be accused of having a vested interest - or receiving some kick back.

The same applies to fiction. You cannot be seen to favor one character's viewpoint to the exclusion of all others.

I'm talking about balance. 

On a simplistic level, where you have bad guys, you need heroes. 

Where there is evil behavior, you need salvation. 

Where there is overt faith, you need godlessness.

Where there is war and despair, you need hope.

On a practical level, where you have characters that espouse extreme views, you need other characters that endorse contrary views, so that you don't get accused of using your writing as platform for sermonizing.

As far as you can, strive for balance in your writing. 

Whenever you feel tempted to make an issue of one of your own personal agendas, think it through - try to imagine and incorporate the opposing view.

Your writing will be stronger for it.
Keep writing!
 rob at home

"A professional is someone who respects his trade, tries as hard as he can to perfect his work, and realizes that one failure isn’t the end of the world. Or two…or three." Nathaniel Benchley

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Joss Whedon on Writing

Writing Advice from a Living Legend 

Joss Whedon is most famous for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and the short-lived but much-loved Firefly series. But the writer and director of The Avengers has also worked unseen as a script doctor on movies ranging from Speed to Toy Story. Here, he shares his tips on the art of screenwriting.


Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.


Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, colored pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.


This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, What does it feel like to be those guys?’


Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue: you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny; not everybody has to be cute; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.


Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favorite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.


When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.


You have one goal: to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theater, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.


Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet?’


Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up: they’d started talking about a different show.


The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie: if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are: that’s called whoring.
Keep writing!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Responsibility in Writing

Dear Fellow Writer,

Just spent the week filming my new short movie: First Cut.

It was fascinating to see the script become real. The actors - Cherie and Adrian - actually became the characters in the story: they spoke the parts and moved - and bled profusely! - around the house (which doubled as our set!) and we all had a blast as we cobbled my horror story together in over 300 individual scenes into what will hopefully become a fabulous piece of (albeit short!) gritty cinema.

Now it's all down to editing the thing together - which might take a while - as these things do.

If you want to see what happens when a piece of writing actually gets filmed, then I can't recommend making movies highly enough.

Keep writing!


NB: Apologies to everyone who sent me emails with questions that I haven't been able to answer recently. It's been a busy week!


Responsibility in Writing 

Rob Parnell

Curiously, a few published writers tell me that I'm far too honest about being a scribe - sharing the realities of maintaining a living as a working writer and revealing some of the tips and tactics you can use to make make writing anything - fiction, non fiction, ebooks etc - a whole lot easier.
Almost as if there was something wrong with honesty, like I'm betraying some sort of unwritten 'code' amongst published authors!
Once upon a time I used to marvel at the way some published authors behaved as though they were privy to some 'secret' that the newbie wasn't allowed to know.

At local writers groups I noticed too that published authors tended to band together and would actively avoid talking to those not in their clique - the unpublished in other words.
A long time ago I vowed never to be like that. 
I've always thought that writers, whatever their status or fortunes, should stick together and more especially, help each other toward success - whatever that means to you.
I apologize now if I offend anyone by trying to do that!
It's often said that writers write to find out what they think about things. 
To create some sort of order out of chaos. 
To clarify their views on life, morals, emotional pain, whatever.
What's curious is that this process seems not only to have a healing effect, it can help us realize that we don't feel quite as strongly about something as we thought we did. 
Writing has a way of objectifying the issues.
For example, we may feel anger and resentment towards a person who has hurt us. Writing about that person - or fictionalizing them - can often help us see the other person's point of view, thereby making is easier to deal with our pain.
Quite often I find I didn't know I had a particular opinion about something until I wrote about it. 
Writing helps me organize my thoughts, helps me clarify where I stand on issues, people, beliefs and other's agendas - often to the point of finding common ground between seemingly disparate standpoints.
I think this is a good thing because it means that writers, whatever their personal prejudices, have an opportunity to present points of view that are reasonable and morally sound. 
In fact, I would argue that writers have a duty to do this.
When you look at the history of mankind, with its constant wars and political disasters, you can often trace terrible events back to a misguided piece of writing - produced either by fanatics, zealots or simply irresponsible people who should have know better.
"Malleus Maleficarum", The Witch's Hammer, was first published in 1486 and, it could be argued, led to the death of around nine million people, persecuted by the Catholic Church during the Inquisition.
It's also been argued that "Mein Kampf" and some of Nietzsche's writings led indirectly to the two great wars of the last century.
And God only knows how many people have perished in defense of so called 'holy' books.
I believe writers have a responsibility to be rational, clear and circumspect in their writing, to uphold certain moral and decent values and societal mores. 
In our writing, we should strive to be calm and objective at all times. 
And never feel the need to incite hate or anger or bitterness.
The last thing we want is for our words to be taken out of context and misinterpreted and worse, used to justify any kind of violence against another person.
Writers should be the good guys.
The calm in the eye of the storm.
The glue that holds the world together.
Keep writing!
 rob at home

"The literary-type writers, I admire them. I wish I was smart enough to write a book that's hard to read, you know?" Jerry Jenkins

The Writing Academy

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