"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: March 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Action Tree

Dear Fellow Writer, 

Get my NEW THRILLER - updated and re-edited this week - here:
KINDRED by Rob Parnell at AMAZON.com
"Matthew Reilly Meets Stephen King... grabs and won't let go." 

It's the holiday weekend. Almost didn't do a newsletter today.

Robyn said: "Do you really want your subscribers to know you have no life?"

But, but writing is my life...

Seriously, we will be taking some time off this arvo onwards - until Tuesday would be my guess!

Keep writing!


The Action Tree

Rob Parnell
A beautiful and talented person - like all of my cool subscribers, you included - suggested that I perhaps write a course about planning.

Specifically about The Big Plan you might make that would change your life, especially if you're considering a writing career that would sustain you (ie pay the bills).

Planning is very often an activity we indulge in as a way of putting off actually working towards a goal. 

It's fun usually - and pressure free - and has the advantage that we can feel like we're doing something important towards a goal without actually having to do anything taxing at all!

I'm usually the first one to point out that goal setting is crucial to any kind of artistic success. 

You have to know what you want so that it's easier to identify what you have to do to get it.

Here's a simple exercise that may help your focus.

Take a piece of paper and write a goal at the bottom of the sheet.

It could be: write a novel or go to Tibet or make that movie, whatever gets your mojo running.

Next extend two lines upward from your goal. At each tip, write an event or circumstance that would need to happen before the main goal is completed. 

In the case of the novel writing goal, they might be: write 2000 words a day for 3 months and create a solid novel template.

Above each of these points extend another two lines upwards and write down another couple of things (four in all) that would need to be completed before the points below could be accomplished.

You can easily see how graphically this is starting to look like a tree.

The great thing about this exercise is that you can keep moving upwards until you get to the smallest, most insignificant action you will need to take to get your goal-quest started.

Plus, you then just need to work systematically downwards, ticking off all the points on your branches until you inevitably reach your 'root' goal.

Try it.

As I often say, having a compelling plan of action will hold you in good stead if you're planning on any profound change of lifestyle or have a set of particularly challenging goals.

But rather than get into the habit of regular goal setting - or anything like 'planning hours' or 'vision days', I would suggest that The Big Plan is something you really only need to do once.

For instance, in 2002 I sat down to work out exactly what I wanted from a life as a writer.

I considered all the options: what was possible, what I could do, what was probable, what I wanted and how that might jive with what I knew about reality.

Then I structured a plan of action - and a weekly schedule that I thought would get me where I wanted to go.

(The actual mechanics of what I did is probably best left to an in-depth course.)

Suffice it to say, The Big Plan worked.

I've written around 50 books, including novels, made a heap of videos projects and tried all kinds of other fun things along the way.

I followed up on what worked, rejected stuff that wasn't working and kept going until I got to the point, today, where I just do whatever the hell I like whenever I feel like it - which was the ultimate goal of The Big Plan in the first place!

The interesting thing to me is that eleven years later I'm still working to the same plan. 

I haven't sat down and altered its basic tenets in over a decade!

This is probably because I still want the same things as I did back then - and because I built 'the future' into the plan.

The Big Plan included all of the things I would be doing now as well as what I needed to do to get started.

Plus I built in 'an intuition factor.'

I always knew that my brain - like everyone else's - has a way of 'knowing' what is right - and what is the 'correct' course of action for me.  

So I always knew that I would simply follow my heart - and things would turn out okay. 

Trust. Faith. Stubborn determination. 

Whatever you want to call it.

Plus I built in a 'moral code' of ethics. A line across which I would not step in order to achieve my goals. 

This was important too because too many people come unstuck when they're in a sticky situation and can't see any way out but breaking the law - or hurting someone. 

I decided right at the start I would never do that.

This ethical code is vitally important I think because most people don't have one - and that's why they stumble, make mistakes, lose it all and become bitter - and end up too embarrassed to try again.

One more thing you need:

To make the decision that there's no going back.

If you don't give it all - and I mean ALL, you won't make it.

You can't have any back up - nothing to fall back on.

The Big Plan must include a commitment to succeed at any cost - but the flexibility to incorporate different definitions of success.

For instance, one of my sub goals was to become a bestselling author. 

In my mind, at the time, that meant having novels in the NY Times Bestseller List!

Back in 2003, my first ebook made number one on the Clickbank digital product chart - and stayed in the top ten for about seven months.

It took me a while to realize that I'd got my bestseller - d'oh! - but that I would need to be more specific the next time I set a goal!

But I think specific goals can be limiting.

My general goal of "to be able to afford to do whatever I want whenever I want to do it" was - and still is - actually far more powerful. 

It's stood me in great stead.

I think the subconscious mind prefers more general goals because 'nebulous' is what the subconscious has to wrestle with all the time.

But the really marvelous thing about the brain is that once you know what you want - and have documented it all - the mind can then sort through all the incoming stimuli and give you a crucial single point of focus on a daily basis. 

The voice of intuition is not very loud.

But it's always there, whispering the way you need to travel.

Sometimes it doesn't seem a rational choice - and isn't always right - but if you listen to your intuition and believe it knows what's best for you, you can't go far wrong IMHO.

Yes, construct The Big Plan - one that incorporates a vision for the rest of your life, then let it go and trust your gut to point you to wherever you really needed to be.

Oh and...

Keep Writing!

 rob at home


""Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." Howard Aiken 

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Writing and Fame

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Double Edge of Writing - and Fame

Dear Fellow Writer,

Get my NEW THRILLER - updated and re-edited this week - here:
KINDRED by Rob Parnell at AMAZON.com
"Matthew Reilly Meets Stephen King... grabs and won't let go." 
Strange week - quiet mostly. Must be the time of year. The  perfect time for crawling into a cozy chair or bed and reading!

I hope your writing is going well - whatever you're tackling at the moment.

See below to understand while it's always worthwhile to continue!

Keep writing!


The Double Edge of Writing - and Fame

Rob Parnell
It's a funny thing that we writers want some degree of success - at the very least what we call 'validation' for the work we put into creating books, articles, movies or other media based projects.

But ironically just by producing anything you want 'seen' you run the risk of receiving criticism - something that us poor introverted creative types sometimes find hardest to stomach!

I mean, if you're afraid of criticism - which, let's face it, most egos are, why on earth would you do something - or aspire to do something - that was most likely going to put you directly in the firing line?

It's no wonder many writers never get past the starting gate - too afraid to finally finish something lest they be judged!

Let's face it, most writers just want to be told that they're great.

No other criticism is necessary!

But of course rejection, criticism and general bagging comes with the territory. 
Indeed, the more successful you become, the more scathing the attacks on you are likely to be.

When you reach the public eye, you stop being an ordinary person with a creative streak, you become a commodity - an object that is either worthy of praise or fair game for scorn and/or derision.

Anyone famous will tell you that.

Success brings naysayers to your door as well as hordes of fans.

This is all right and proper.

You wouldn't expect it to be any other way.

But it can be hard at first.

Many writers ask me about using pseudonyms - thinking that criticism based on a false name will not hurt as much - or feel so personal. But actually the reality is different. It still hurts.

Because the nom de plume is still a cherished invention - of yours, and therefore an attack on the name is still an attack on you, albeit anonymously.

I've always stuck with my own name. 

Mainly because keeping track of different personas seems too hard to me. 
It's hard enough just being yourself without inventing all kinds of other problems like having to remember which persona said and did what and when - and having to explain to bank managers and publishers why you want checks made out to different names etc. 

Why would you want the extra headaches?

Besides, you tend to lose your identity as you become successful anyway.

You begin to realize that people aren't criticizing you personally any more, they're criticizing what they believe you represent - which, as Jean Cocteau once said, is usually the thing you're least proud of!

Success is about this ability to get your name out there - and then let other people own it - and let them do what they like with it.

There's really not much you can do to stop that happening.

I read once that ex-Genesis drummer and all round superstar Phil Collins used to scour the newspapers looking for criticisms of himself and his work. He would then write the journalists long letters correcting their mistakes, their misapprehensions, even their opinions. To what end I'm not sure.

Perhaps he wanted a knighthood - and didn't want his name sullied at any point in his career.

The fact is you can't change what people say about you. They'll say it in private over dinner party tables if they don't say it to your face.

And often people say things in print just to get notoriety.

It's easy to criticize the famous - especially famous writers, actors and directors. 

We live in a critical culture - where your opinion seems more valid somehow if it's negative!

Plus, perhaps it makes us feel superior - or a little less pathetic - when we diminish the efforts of more successful people.

An allegedly anonymous source once said, "Those who can do, those who can't, criticize."

I prefer George Bernard Shaw's version: "Those who can do, those who can't, teach." - which is much funnier and probably more pertinent to my own situation!

Anyway, it's important to remember that criticism often reveals much more about the critic than it does about the writer.

Especially when the critic has an agenda and/or no real experience of coming close to what you, the writer, has achieved - whether your work is good, bad or middling.

But the really important point to bear in mind is that criticism can only make you and your work stronger.

These days there are whole industries set up to discourage writers, artists and actors - built on the premise that in order to break through and become successful you need to be criticized, chastised and generally destroyed for the impertinence of even trying!

It's a wonder anyone bothers!

But the cream will always rise to the top as they say - that's the theory anyway.

Often we feel compelled to create something for the sheer joy of it. Or we want to say something important. Or we want to create something of value that will last.

Whatever your reason, some degree of criticism is inevitable,

From your friends, your family, your partner, all the way up to the media.

But criticism is good. It makes you better, stronger, more effective.

Actually you'd be lost without it.

How could you grow and improve if everyone told you that you were absolutely marvelous at everything?

Orson Welles said it may help you at first, getting started, but it doesn't prepare you for the real world, where everyone but your mother is generally hostile toward creativity and the artist.

I guess what I'm trying to say this week - in amongst the rambling - is that you shouldn't fear criticism - nor use the fear of it as an excuse not to proceed with any creative project.

It's essential that you let your honesty and integrity shine throughout your work. People like that.

What they don't like is when you're overly self conscious or somehow embarrassed about your work, or overly keen to please everyone.

Don't be afraid to be yourself - even if that means opening up your heart to its most vulnerable side.

Fact is, finished creative projects toughen us up.

Big time.

Because the act of finishing a cherished project teaches us much more about ourselves - and life - and people - than any critic will ever know about themselves.

The cream may take a little while to rise, but the dregs will always fall to the bottom.

Keep Writing!
 rob at home


"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." Howard Aiken 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Writers Beware - Era Publications

Get my NEW THRILLER here:
KINDRED by Rob Parnell at AMAZON.com
"Matthew Reilly Meets Stephen King... grabs and won't let go."

Hello and a hearty welcome to this week's special newsletter.

I'd like to personally thank each and every subscriber - all 79,643 of you - for loyally tuning in to my weekly missive!

Click PLAY on the above to see my latest video song. It's the old Cat Stevens number rebooted for my new movie, First Cut.

Keep reading, watching and writing!

Rob Parnell
R&R Books Film Music


The Quality of Mercy:

The Bitter End of Era Publications

Rob Parnell

You may remember that some time last year I told you about my darling wife's battle with her former publisher, Era Publications.

I thought that fair warning to writers to stay away from this small time education publisher would be enough - because the outcome of Robyn's longstanding arbitration with Era wasn't known at the time. 

However, it is now.

And after all the fuss, Robyn was proved right.  

Era Publications, more specifically its MD, Rodney Martin, was found liable for non payment of royalties, underpayment of royalties and deliberate mis-attribution of copyright of Robyn Opie's work. 

In January this year, the appointed arbitrator ruled that Robyn should be paid back-royalties, damages, and to also pay almost 80% of the substantial legal costs - with interest.

A punitively large monetary sum was ordered that Era apparently can barely afford. (They still haven't paid it all yet.)

That should have been the end of it, right?

I mean, it's embarrassing enough for a publisher to be found liable for these things. It's every publisher's nightmare, surely. You'd want to keep it quiet if possible - and ideally for it never to have found its way onto a public platform in the first place.

In the corporate world, all kinds of out of court settlements go on to keep things like creative accounting, fraud and other wrongdoing out of the spotlight. Most CEOs would run a mile rather than have their dirty linen exposed.

Rodney Martin is apparently made of stronger stuff.

His response to being found liable for non payment and underpayment of author royalties and other breaches of copyright?

You'll never guess...

To make things even worse!

Not content to have committed the ultimate sin in a writer's eyes - to put someone else's name on ONE book - he's actually having ALL of Robyn's 68 'Era' books systematically rewritten by other authors!

Yes, you read that right. 

Specifically, he's taking the illustrations from Robyn's books, handing them to other writers and asking them to come up with their own stories to fit round the pictures. (We have proof of this, BTW.)

I jest not.

I guess Robyn should be flattered that her books were so wonderful that Rodney Martin can't face life without them - or at least almost exact facsimiles of them.

But it's like someone taking the pictures from a Superman comic, rewriting the dialog and captions and trying to pass it off as a completely different comic called Superb Man! And then never acknowledging inside the cover that the original even existed.

Not surprisingly, the books recently produced by Era in this way have ended up looking strikingly similar (the legal term is substantially) to Robyn's books - right down to style, formatting, word use, cover design and overall feel and presentation. 

And there's 34 of them in print already!

As a member of the Australian Publisher's Association myself, I can honestly say that if ever there was a publisher's model of what not to do - and to do it so obviously, this is it! 

For a long time now during the last three and half years I've had to call into question the integrity of a man like Rodney Martin.

Now, I'm forced to question his sanity.

Who in their right mind would deliberately set out to copy an author's books - which, by the way, he no longer has under contract, to simply remove the original author's name and replace it with someone else's?

(Even his own name on one book so far! Now that's funny.)

The Copyright Act was set up in 1968 to stop this kind of blatant tomfoolery. 

Normally, real publishers understand how the Copyright Act works - and appreciate the ethics and the legal and moral validity of its tenets.

Not so Mr Martin, who appears to regard the Copyright Act as merely a 'set of guidelines' that he clearly has no respect for. And this from a man who has a seat on Copyright Agency Limited's committees!

What is going on here?

Talk about hypocrisy.

Does Mr Rodney Martin of Era Publications really believe that simply repackaging an author's work with someone else's name on it actually makes it a different product?

Oh yes - he's already been found liable for doing just that.

Silly me.

But to add insult to injury, his latest cross claim in the District Court is for Robyn to pay damages to him for losing his rights to publish her works - presumably so that she ends up paying for his folly!

The mind boggles. 

I'm sure Rodney Martin's lawyers are already booting up their computers, scrabbling for their mice, desperate to get this article removed from the Net.

On what theory?

Defamation? It's only defamation is if it's not true. It's only libel if I'm making this up!

It's a free country, mate. I can say what I like. 

The other writers Era has under contract might be too scared to stand up to Mr Martin - and dare to question their suspiciously dwindling royalty payments like Robyn did - but we're not. 

The thing is that, if you're going to do the wrong thing, you eventually have to take responsibility for the messages you send out via your beliefs and actions, however misguided or perhaps, in your own mind, noble.

It's all about integrity - and the truth.

And writers deserve to know the truth about you, Rodney.

And that is:

You seem to have little or no respect for authors' rights.

Check. Got that.

You probably think that the whole world is wrong and you are right.

Check. Understood.

You've already wasted over half a million dollars - at least - fighting a case that you created through your own pigheadedness.

Check. Agreed.

Now you want to go public, spend much more than your company can probably afford and deliberately subject yourself to the shame, humiliation and scorn that losing this futile quest to overturn 45 years of copyright law will inevitably bring about.

Well, my friend, if that's what you want...

Actually, Robyn and I are looking forward to it.

Because the silly man just won't back down. Won't settle. Won't do the right thing. Won't even admit to some errors of judgment he might have made in the past as a businessman. 

He can't. We know that now. It's not in his nature. Maybe, like many old school Australian men, he's just too proud to ever admit he's been caught out - something he probably never expected to happen... 


But, together Robyn and I will weather the storm. Three and half years of this ongoing battle has galvanized us for more positive action.

And we're ready for it. In it till the bitter end.

Because seeing Rodney Martin - and his Era Publications - publicly brought to account for his insultingly cavalier attitude towards copyright, royalty payments and author's rights has actually given our lives real meaning.

Justice is a strong motivator.

And if people like Robyn and I don't fight for writer's rights - and perhaps just a little respect - then who else should?

Bring it on! 

For more information, go here:

You're welcome to leave your comments/reactions etc at the bottom of the blog.

Keep Writing!
 rob at home

"All change, all production and generation are effected through the word." Leopold Sedar Senghor 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Writing About Feelings

Dear Fellow Writer, 

Get my NEW THRILLER (and free stuff):
KINDRED by Rob Parnell at AMAZON.com
"Matthew Reilly Meets Stephen King... grabs and won't let go." 

First Cut
Just finished a movie trailer which you can see by clicking the above!

Keep reading, watching and writing!


Writing About Feelings

Rob Parnell

This week a new subscriber asked if I had any advice on writing about emotions. I thought hard about her question. 

Perhaps too hard, judging by this article!

I realized that whilst I mention this aspect of writing often in my courses and articles, specifically I lean towards the idea that the simple transference of 'feelings' on to the page is not always a very successful enterprise.

Mainly because emotions are so nebulous - and often mean different things to different people. A writer who intends to connect with a reader must do more than blandly state their feelings.

For instance, simply saying "She felt sad" or "I'm experiencing great sadness" has no real impact on readers. 

They might remember a time when they too felt sad but it was probably over something completely different in their lives - so the writer hasn't communicated anything substantial or meaningful by merely stating a generic emotional state.

The writer may feel better about recording their sadness in writing but without specifics the exercise is neither truly cathartic or especially useful to the writer - or the reader.

Much better is to show instead of tell.

"I cried all the time. I hit the wall in frustration. I shouted at the kids often. I wanted to scream but it seemed no-one would care." These are much more specific statements, especially within a particular setting, location or set of circumstances. 

The purpose of writing is to aid communication between us: to relate information and entertainment in a way that stimulates appropriate responses. 

I say appropriate because I don't believe that it is the purpose of art just to illicit any response - as some would argue.

No, I believe artists should aspire to create the exact response they were hoping for - "Wow, that's great" being fine with me!

But why should we want to communicate our feelings at all?

What's the purpose? 

The idea that simply sharing feelings makes us feel better has merit. But is this enough reason to write a book?

It depends.

Many of us use our strongest feelings as an inspiration for starting a writing project but it's unlikely those feelings will be intense for long enough to complete a whole book.

Because the brain is a fickle thing. It see-saws back and forth from one viewpoint to another, from one emotional state to another with sometimes unpredictable but persistent inevitability.

I think there's a case for having a clearer understanding of where emotions come from before we are taken in by their power.

How The Brain Works

The brain is an enormously complex machine. So complex in fact that there are separate scientific disciplines devoted to its study that rarely agree on terms of reference, let alone the brain's many functions.

Materialists tend to see the brain as a biological entity capable of giving us the illusion of consciousness through the 'somewhat mysterious' interaction of its cells, neurons and synapses.

Psychologists see the brain as a glorified behavior modifier that, it is hoped, will one day become predictable and, by implication, all mental 'illness' will become curable.

Parapsychologists lean towards the idea that perhaps consciousness and the brain are separate - and that the brain is a conduit for some  (as yet unidentified) energy that pervades the universe.

Quantum physicists are fascinated - and disturbed - by the idea that all matter, including the brain and any idea of consciousness, is really only a subjective reality that requires our participation to function.

Generally scientists are uncomfortable with more philosophical concepts like mind, will, intellect and even personality because they are hard to quantify within a meaningful scientific framework. 

But the fact is the brain is a thinking machine. 

And thought begets ideas and concepts. 

And albeit somewhat abstract concepts are really all we have to explain how our brains work - because the more we look at the brain, the more scientifically baffling it appears to be.

How can the above information help us?

Let's see.

For the purposes of creative expression, let's say the brain can be broken down into just five abstract concepts - or more likely five hierarchical functions - that control and monitor its daily use.

(This may seem a long way from writing - but bear with me!)

I believe that at the heart of everything is a survival imperative which, for the sake of clarity, we'll call Intention. We already know that, at the very smallest level of our existence, there are particles that want to live, to survive, to procreate and to multiply. 

We may argue over what it is that motivates these particles - God, a mathematical probability or an innate quality - but the fact that we're here at all and I'm writing an article and you're reading it is proof that such a thing as "an intention to exist" is inherent in matter - and is therefore in everything around us. 

This intention manifests itself in the brain as 'will' - for want of a better word. It was good enough for Nietzsche, so who am I to disagree.

It's unfashionable in modern scientific circles to adhere to the idea that 'will' is anything but an abstract concept with no real substance. 

I disagree with that position. 

I believe that it is 'will' and the DNA it probably in some way controls and manipulates that exists before the brain is fully formed. Not only that, I believe that it's this 'will' that dictates our brain's actions and reactions from beginning to end.  

The evidence for will and intention in all things is slim and perhaps circumstantial, I'll admit. However, so was Rene Descartes' flimsy proof of God which, it could be argued, has shaped Western thought for over 450 years!

It's just a change in mindset. A new paradigm - a leap of faith perhaps.

Anyway, I believe that will creates consciousness as part of its genetic function. There's much debate over why humans need consciousness at all. What is its purpose? Why does an animal need self awareness?

To me the answer is simple - to be able to communicate more effectively. Because effective communication helps us to better survive a hostile environment - an admittedly Darwinian view.

Once consciousness is in place - through whatever mechanism - I believe the brain then creates, through will, DNA and its everyday experience of growing up, three basic 'higher' functions: personality, intellect and again, another nebulous idea, conscience.

These three 'higher' functions are self evident - though enormously hard to quantify scientifically.

I won't even go there!

But the really quite remarkable thing about the human mind is that it is so incredibly similar in all of us. 

Yes, we're all different to a degree. 

But fundamentally we all have a sense of what's right and wrong (conscience); an inkling of what's fair and reasonable and what's cruel and unusual (intellect); and numerous ideas of what constitutes fun, love, joy, hurt, anger, lust and violence (personality).

To me it's not so amazing that we are slightly different as people, but that we're not bored and dismayed by our overall sameness.

The Point of All This

But this sameness is what makes good effective writing possible at all.

Because when we write about our feelings, we already have a frame of reference residing inside the head of our reader. It is therefore the writer's job to communicate in such a way as to create the same responses in the reader as the writer is trying to emulate on the page.

In these circumstances, showing is much better than merely telling because people's minds generally respond more viscerally to visual, aural and tactile phenomena. This is why people often respond more easily to music and movies than to books.

But the beauty of books is that they're much more intimate. 

A good writer can make you feel that you're actually inside his or her mind - 
which, as humans, we find comforting because, in a sense, our own mind is the loneliest place in the world to be.

It's also the most awe-inspiring.

This is probably one of the reasons why many of us cling to the idea of life after death, or of survival of our consciousness - because we simply cannot bear the idea that the vast reality we build inside our heads is merely temporary. 

But that's the wonder of the brain for you.

So. If you really want to write about your feelings, don't just accept them for what they appear to be: generic emotional reactions to stimuli.

In reality, feelings are a complex manifestation of the conflicting agendas dictated by will, personality, intellect, conscience and consciousness

And only by fully acknowledging these five elements in your descriptions of feelings can you come close to relating them effectively in your writing.

See emotions as a byproduct of how the mind works - and use your knowledge of brain psychology to really 'get under the skin' - literally inside the mind - of the reader.

Don't just tell people how you feel. Show it like it is. Be specific. Detail the conflict in your mind when emotions arise.
Have the courage to share what experiencing those feelings is really like - in concrete terms - with honesty and sincerity

In this way you're not just writing about emotion to make yourself feel better, you're really communicating with your fellow human beings.

Keep Writing!

 rob at home

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

The Writing Academy

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