"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: January 2014

Thursday, January 30, 2014

7 Strategies to Kick-Start Your Imagination


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Seven Strategies to Kick-Start
Your Imagination

New writers often ask me what they should write about.

How do you get ideas? they ask. I know I want to write but I can't think of anything interesting enough to fire my imagination.

To be honest, I think that coming up with ideas is a largely a learned skill that gets easier with practice. Writing regularly has a way of triggering the mind into coming up with ideas, almost as a byproduct of the writing process.

But if you're stuck, how do you re-ignite your little gray cells? Here are seven strategies that may help you.

1. Read Outside Your Comfort Zone

Don't read whole books, be a browser. Pick up books and magazines you would never normally touch and read things at random.

Go to Amazon and download lots of free samples on science, anthropology, astronomy, history, eclectic stuff you wouldn't normally expose yourself to. Let your mind read enough to be puzzled, intrigued or fascinated, then stop and move on.

This process will help fire different neurons in your brain - the first step in lateral imagining.

2. Stop Thinking

A great way to fall asleep is to force yourself to stay awake. A fabulous way to gain weight is to go on a diet. Put your brain on a diet.

For ten minutes try to think about absolutely nothing. Force every single thought out of your mind. Push them away. Try to get to a still point of silence in your brain.

When you stop the inane chatter in your mind and force it to understand that nothing is important, you open up more creative pathways for your left brain to explore.

3. Brainstorm like a Child

We're born with fertile imaginations because every new input is strange and needs understanding. Everything needs analysis when you're a kid.

Recapture that youthful playfulness by asking why? of everything, just like kids do. Don't accept the answer your mind automatically gives you. Think harder. Imagine different explanations.

Good writers do this all the time. They learn not to accept the fail-safe answer but to keep questioning. Just asking the questions will make your brain more active.

4. Rip It Up

Go to a yard sale and buy up an old dictionary, a yellow pages and another fat book, maybe a bible. Tear out all the pages, tear the pages into pieces and stuff all the scraps into a plastic bag.

Then make it habit to pull out three or four pieces of paper and try to see connections between the words and names and events in your grubby little hands.

Making connections between random words has a name: it's called inspiration!

5. What If - With Scapple

The wonderful people who made Scrivener have produced a mind mapping software called Scapple. With just a little work, you can create words and bubbles and links to your heart's content.

Type in a word and ask 'what if' questions to yourself. What if my mailman was a frog? What if the sky was green? That kind of thing. Put your answers in to Scapple and link them back and forth.

You can get a free copy of Scapple here:  


You can also get a free copy of Scrivener here:

The two programs are compatible - and if Scrivener doesn't get your imagination firing, you're probably not a writer!

6. Play Dice

Write down six names for imaginary characters. Number them one to six.

Throw a dice and pick the name that matches the number you just threw. Then write down six places, numbering them. Throw the dice, picking the numbered place you threw.

Now you have Patrick from Cincinnati for instance. Then write down six character attributes or plot ideas. Keep throwing the dice to choose between six options.

Let you mind do the rest. It's forcing your mind to make new connections that jump starts your imagination.

7. Make Lists

You may not believe it yet but your mind is teeming with ideas. We have around 80,000 thoughts a day but less than 2,600 actually impinge on our consciousness. Of those around 90% were the same thoughts you had yesterday.

The way to come up with ideas is to force your thoughts down new pathways.

Making lists is a great way of opening up your neural networks.

List ten names of characters. List ten ways to cook an egg. List ten ways to climb a hill. Push yourself. Don't settle for less than ten.

List ten obstacles to getting your perfect mate. List ten ways a criminal might rob a bank. List ten ways a warrior might kill a dragon.

You can immediately see that by a slight shift in your thinking process, you're already coming up with story ideas.

This is the secret to coming up with ideas- and now you know it!

Keep Writing!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Five Facts Writers Don't Want To Hear

Dear Fellow Writer,


A quick reminder that you can get my Kindle books free if you sign up to my Kindle Review Club. Go HERE for that.

Keep Writing!


Five Facts Writers Don't Want to Hear

There's been quite a few articles appearing in the media recently - off line and on - about the plight of the publishing industry and the state of play for writers in particular.

It's generally sobering news.

Here's a round up of the thrust of what these news reports are saying - and I believe you should read them, even if you don't want to be reminded of the reality of writing books for a living!

1. Traditional Publishers Finally Reveal the Facts

Just because you're signed to a traditional publisher, there's no guarantee whatsoever that you'll make enough money to live on.

Apparently less than one in a hundred authors with publishing deals make over $100K. 99% of published authors make less than $2000 a year.

Writers have believed the myth that 'getting published' was the answer to their dreams for far too long. The reality is different.

Even with the so-called advantages of distribution to retailers worldwide, third-party promotion and the kudos of being signed to a publishing house, most writers rarely make enough in royalties to quit their day jobs.

Plus, publishers still only publish a fraction of the books pitched to them by their in-house authors. So it's more than possible for you to get a publishing deal and then not be able to release your books.

2. The Net Has Come of Age

According to a recent survey of over 9000 writers, you're between five to ten times more likely to be making a living writing if you self-publish your work online.

The figures don't lie. Online authors who self-publish make, on average five to ten times the royalties per book than your average 'published' author.

Selling books online may be hard - but actually no harder that it is for a publisher to sell books in shops. But when you self-publish, you reap the rewards and don't have to give away up to 90% of your hard earned royalties.

3. It's All in the Definition

Many people call themselves writers - but are probably not.

By most government and welfare agency definitions, you can't be a writer unless you have a qualification of some sort. Absurd.

But for the purposes of statistical analysis, the following is the most common definition: "A person currently engaged in writing commercial fiction or nonfiction who is actively working on a manuscript intended for publication soon."

Is this you? Or is this just what you aspire to do? Chances are, if the above definition does not describe exactly what you're doing RIGHT NOW, you shouldn't class yourself as a writer.

4. Amazon Rocks

The average successful author on Amazon Kindle makes five to ten times more money than the average author with a publishing deal.

Now that's a real eye-opener that completely flies in the face of those writers who consider self-publishing to be a cop out - or not real success.

As the saying goes, Kindle authors are laughing all the way to the bank.

5. Keep Dreaming

What's clear from the above is that the dream of becoming a published author and then becoming successful is just that: a dream. It doesn't square with reality.

Having a book on the shelf of a bookstore doesn't carry any particular weight in your pursuit of success - or even help you get by as a writer.

The odds are completely stacked against you UNLESS you self-publish.

Now that's what most new authors don't want to hear!

But why?

You would think that authors would love to sell books - and the way to do that, clearly, is to sell them yourself online.

Think about it.

If you can't sell your own books when you self-publish, you're not going to appeal to a traditional publisher. And even if you do all the right things to impress a publisher and one signs you, you're still most likely going to end up with the 99% of published authors who make less than $2000 a year!

You'll have noticed a trend.

Publishers have been clamoring to sign bestselling Kindle authors recently. The reason is obvious. These authors are writing books that sell - which is the ONLY thing publishers want.

So clearly, the best way to get a publishing deal - if you still want one - is to write commercial books and PROVE they're commercial by selling them YOURSELF through Amazon Kindle (which you can do for free by the way.)

The fact is, if you don't think you're ready to self publish, then you're really not ready to send a book manuscript to an agent or publisher.

You need to be absolutely convinced that you've written a huge bestseller before you should even consider sending it to a publisher.

And if you think you have written a bestseller, what better way to prove it than by self-publishing.

Too many writers send their MSS to publishers because they're really not ready - or good enough - to self publish.

There, I've said it.

That's the new reality that most writers don't want to accept.

Anyone can send in manuscripts to publishers with the vague hope they may get signed and get famous.

But publishers only want authors who can sell lots of books!

The thing is, you're at your most attractive to a publisher when you don't need them. All the time you're desperate for a deal, publishers won't want you.

Listen up.

In this digital age, self-publishing is key to a writer's success.

And self-publishers can rest easy knowing that whatever their 'published' friends say, independent authors are far more likely to make enough money to kick their day jobs than their snobby friends with publishing contracts will ever be!

Now that's progress.

Keep Writing!
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write

Thursday, January 16, 2014

New e-book, new article, Six Secrets to Successful Authorship

Dear Fellow Writer,
Today sees the launch of my latest Amazon Kindle book!

For just a few hours it will be 99 cents - less than one dollar.

Go get it now!

The Art of Story: Writing Fiction That Sells
"Probably Rob Parnell's best book so far.
Get the edge that gets you published."
Now - BEFORE you email me to say you don't have a Kindle:

YOU DON'T NEED A KINDLE to download Kindle books.

Amazon have a great little program that allows you to read Kindle books - many of which are free - on iPads, iPhones, PC computers, laptops and even MACs. Go here to get that for free: HERE

Art of Story
Speak soon,

Keep Writing!

Six Secrets to Successful Authorship

It's one thing to be able to write - but it's quite another to gain the mindset of a professional author.

Here are six tips that will make the difference between wishing for success and actually achieving your dreams - and being able to hold on to them when they come true!

1. Plan Everything

Being a full time writer is not like having a normal job. You have no boss telling you what to do and you have no targets your department has to reach. You need to be entirely self-motivated.

When I meet people who are unemployed, I usually ask them what they do all day. When they say 'nothing much' I'm stunned. I'd rather they said 'get stoned a lot, party and play video games' - at least that's doing something!

But I understand that self-motivation is a hard discipline to master. It takes dedication and practice. Perhaps we should teach it in school. After all, gainful employment is no longer guaranteed in these days of economic uncertainty. 

When you have no-one to answer to except yourself, you need to make lists of things to do, set goals and targets and deliberately create projects that need developing and completing.

You must think like a small business: have plans, great and small, short and long term. It's the only way.

2. Commit to Finishing

The difference between being an amateur and a professional is not quitting.

Too many wannabe artists keep stopping in the middle of projects, never to return. Or they start lots of things and finish none.

You often don't have this luxury when you're a professional.

Whether you're inspired or not, driven or not, happy or not, you have to finish the work anyway. Or else you won't get paid.

The way around this is to plan everything, make lots of notes on upcoming projects, use templates for outlines and know what you're going to say (write) ahead of time. You also need to know your endings, whether in fiction, nonfiction or articles.

Don't rely on inspiration.

Set yourself tasks, start small, finish everything you start and, as far as is possible, only work on one major project at a time.

3. Believe In the Impossible

The odds are stacked against you. Ask anyone, the likelihood of an artist achieving financial independence are slim to zero. You need a good workable strategy to compensate.

The trick is to totally believe in the impossible.

In Alice in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts tells Alice: "Try to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

There's an element of the profound in this advice. Wannabe Hollywood actors, Olympian athletes in training, even many corporate CEOs and aspiring writers of course, all have to believe they can do the impossible on a regular basis.

It is not self-deluding nor impractical, it's simply using your value system to serve you. Why shouldn't you believe in impossible things if it helps you realize a goal that other people think is unrealistic?

Because, let's face it, without extraordinary belief your task will most likely be impossible anyway.

4. Keep Changing Tack

A yacht doesn't proceed in a straight line. You inevitably need to adjust the sails to catch the wind. So it is with an artistic career.

Don't limit yourself to just one direction, or just one project. Diversify, look for new ideas, develop them, promote different aspects of your chosen field.

It's all about becoming successful - and you might not know where your true success lies.

There's nothing wrong with trying your hand at all types of writing. You may stumble upon a niche or discipline that will make you rich!

Don't get stuck in a rut. Winners change tack often. Experiment, try new things, and keep looking for the Holy Grail: that thing that will set you free.

5. Strive To Improve

Study your craft. Stay informed. Be open to new thinking and new ideas.

Even after all these years writing, I study grammar, spelling and common word use on a DAILY basis. I love investigating the origins of words. I use dictionaries and thesauri all the time.

Fact is, you can never learn too much about writing. Indeed, the more I write, the more fascinated I become about words and using them.

Read up on other writers too, examine their style, subject matter, and their lives. When you're feeling down or blocked, there's nothing more inspiring that discovering an author who's been there before you - and made it through.

6. Act on Criticism

As painful as criticism gets sometimes, you should always act upon good advice and/or try to remove any reasons for criticism.

Never be afraid or loathe to edit, rework, rewrite or re-imagine any of your writing. Especially if you're asked to. More especially if you know that you need to do more work on your manuscripts.

You can't shirk on striving for perfection.

It's okay to change a book's direction based on someone else's input. It's good to be flexible and open to change based on criticism.

Your writing is a gift to others. It should be well-presented and as perfect as you can get it.

Finally, you should think of yourself as a servant to your fans. Your job is really to serve, to be inspiring and entertaining.

Remember the three Ps: Persist, Persevere, Promote.

Did I leave out patience? Yes, deliberately. Patience is not a virtue anymore. You don't need to wait for longer than you want. You don't need publishers or agents anymore. This is the best time in history to go it alone - and do it yourself.

Nobody is going to save you, or make you rich and famous.

If you want to be independent and successful, dream, then dream bigger. Then go out and take what you want.

Be the person you want to be.

Keep Writing!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Free e-book: Writing Your Life Story

Dear Fellow Writer,

Today - and all this weekend - I'm giving away free copies of my latest Kindle book: "The Easy to Write an Autobiography That Sells."

If you've ever thought about recording your life for posterity this book will help you. Plus, I'm told it's a great book about writing in its own right. Go HERE for that. It's FREE!

BTW: the promotion starts on Friday - if it's not yet free in your part of the world, it will be soon!


Just recently I've been collating all my old audio tapes from my music career and making them digital. It's a huge task - there's something like 500 tracks spread over fifteen years.

Weird thing is that each song brings back a flood of memories. How and where it was recorded, what I was thinking at the time, who I was with. It's actually exhausting emotionally!

But it's what made me think of the Autobiography Course - and how it's a good idea at some point for all of us to try and make sense of our lives - by writing everything down.

Speak soon,

Keep Writing!


The Writer's Dilemma

Writing books keeps you busy. You need to be in the right head space to compose a long work - and have the focus to stay there for long periods.

I've rewritten and published around eight or ten books in the last three months. It's a lot of work - not least keeping in the flow of each particular book for as long as it takes to write it.

What I've found it that when I'm steeped in writing a book, I find it hard to change gear and do something else - like posting articles, blogging and engaging in social media.

Do you have the same problem?

I know that it's important for modern authors to stay in touch with their readers. After all, that's why we're doing it. We want to be read by readers. But it does seem as though writing a book requires a different mental process than the one necessary for social media involvement.

Some long term professionals say they deliberately split up the year. 70% book writing, then 30% self promotion - when they will spend time focusing on posting blogs, getting interviews and generally be available for talks etc.

But it's hard to regiment when these things will happen.

And putting up blog posts and making Twitter and Google+ announcements is actually more time consuming than you realize. Not because it's hard but because your head needs to be in that space - which, as I say, is not the same space you need to be in to write a long work!

I guess it's about balance - but it's not as easy a juggling act as we often believe. It could be just me of course. And it could be just a recent thing.

I have another ten books I want to write and publish in the next few months - and I won't be satisfied until that's done! So it could be I'm just putting a lot of pressure on myself to focus on the job in hand and that everything else seems like a distraction from my current purpose.

But it's hard to stay fresh in people's mind when you cut yourself off from the world to complete a creative project. So that, when you're ready to come back, you have to fight hard to regain everyone's attention!

Corporates advertisers - even actors these days - employ staff to keep them in the public eye while they get on with running the business - or making the movie or whatever.

I guess it's about establishing routines. And strategies that cover all the bases.

We have a responsibility to our creativity as well as to our readers.

I remember reading recently that no amount of a writer's self promotion online will generate success more than writing another book.

It's a dilemma for many modern writers. Do we plug and promote one book over and over - or should we just knuckle down and write another one?

After all, we owe it to our readers to constantly improve and release better and better books. To enhance our craft - and to offer the best books we can - and we do that by writing more.

But each stage of the writing and promotion cycle requires the motivation and the strategies to see them through. It can be a very tough juggling act.

My apologies if I'm sounding a little angst-ridden today.

I guess I'm just trying to work this stuff through in my own mind.

At the end of the day, we just have to do the best we can!

Do your best.
Till next week.
Keep Writing!

The Writing Academy

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