Monday, December 31, 2007

Writing Resolutions That Stick

Probably the most consistent problem I'm asked to help with is sustaining the momentum required to finish writing projects.

Writing a book is apparently the secret wish of 90% of the population - as though writing a book somehow validates us as humans - and perhaps makes us a little more immortal. But only around 5% of people will ever rise to the challenge - and even they will falter more times than not. Of these would be writers, less than one percent will ever finish their books - and just to be depressing now, only a handful of that one percent will ever be published.

Faced with this punishing reality, how do you find the strength to carry on writing?
Let me answer by telling you a story.

Once, a very long time ago, I asked a practising motivational guru how I could become rich. I say it was a long time ago because in those days I was very cynical and I asked the question as more of a challenge than a query. The guru gave me a quick answer:

"Want to be rich."

I gave a dismissive grunt at this and asked, "Yeah, so what if that doesn't work?"
She smiled when she said, "Then you didn't want it enough."

At the time I took this to be a cop out. I congratulated myself, smugly, that I had exposed her phoniness.

Now, of course, I know better.

Because this is precisely how life works. In order to make anything happen, to get things done, achieve results, you have to want them enough.

But, but, but...

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Knowing this isn't getting you any closer to the 'how'.

How do you get yourself to want something that much? I mean writing success is one thing - but all that work! Isn't there an easier way?

Well, yeah there is actually - and all it requires is a little shift in your perspective - and a whole lotta dreamin'...

Now, I could list a bunch of 'things to do' to help you create a little writing success but - that can wait for another day. Today, because it's New Year's Day - I want to tell you about the single most important aspect of success.

Today's the Day

Success is not a place or a time or a circumstance.

It's a state of mind.

And it's happening right now - all you have to do is to reach out and grasp it.

Take a few moments - actually the rest of the day - and imagine that you are rich, fulfilled and able to do anything you want, whenever you like.

Pretty cool, huh?

Now ask yourself: How would you feel? What would you do?

This is the shift in perspective I was talking about. You're never going to help your subconscious deal with writing success unless it believes it's already happening. Because it's only when success is actually happening to you that you will begin to make the right decisions for your writing career and enable yourself to perpetuate the writing life you want.

Writing for a living requires commitment. Some things will work out, some things will not. That's the reality. You can't wait for the good times and then expect everything to be fine from then on. It doesn't work like that.

Achieve Your Writing Goals This Year

You need to decide, right now, New Year's Day, that you are a writer - and will continue to be a writer from this moment on. And while you're about it, tell yourself you're already a successful writer - dwell on it, dream on it, and make it real.

Because it's believing that you are already a good and talented writer that will get you to finish writing projects.

I know this is true because, no matter the actual talent of the writer, it's the one's that believe in themselves and dream about the writer's life that make it. Every time.

I also know because a long time before we had houses and cars and money, Robyn and I behaved in this way. Though we may have been naive and perhaps not that good to begin with, we never stopped believing we were meant to be successful writers.

And believing made it so.

Believing made us write more, made us read more, made us study writing, made us take courses and keep on learning as much as we could.

We still do it today because writing is a lifelong education. You don't just wake up one day and say "Ah, now I get it, now I know enough."

Writing is a way of life and it's when you immerse yourself in it totally that you gain the necessary resolve to finish things - and then get them out there and published!

To Your Success in 2008.

Keep writing!

Rob@easywaytowrite.com
Creating Better Writers
http://easywaytowrite.com/

Thursday, December 27, 2007

How to Achieve Writing Success in 2008

Here's the cute non-reality that most people generally believe:

Writing is more than a skill, a pastime or a way of making a living. It is a vocation - like being a nurse or missionary. In order to commit yourself, and impress those that would read your work, you have to want to do it for nothing.

Indeed this is how many of us become writers - it's something we feel compelled to do, whether asked to, required to or not!

Certainly I've noticed that when you first start dealing with publishers, your enthusiasm, commitment and talent are of primary concern. Any talk of money too early in the process will see you ostracized very quickly. You're supposed to want to write for yourself - for Art's sake - first.

I guess it's about trust. The people that would help us get our work seen - in other words, published - need to be sure that our motives are sincere. That we write for some purpose other than just to make money.

Tosh!

Robyn and I have discussed this aspect of the writer's dilemma many times - and we have a counter argument.

Writing is time consuming, hard work sometimes and almost impossible to sustain a good living at for most writers - 80% make less than $10,000 a year according to the last survey I read.

It's clear that if writers don't get paid, they can't continue writing - at least not without considering poverty as a career choice.

Given the vast millions that publishers make, I've always thought that they should pay new writers to submit work - but of course that's never going to happen! There's simply too many would be writers who are willing to chance it based on nothing more than a vague possibility of success.

But This is To Your Advantage

Because for every one hundred writers that try and fail - either through discouragement, the apathy of publishers, or the sheer force of having to pay the rent - there's one, like you, that ain't givin' up!

But how do you sustain the momentum - the will and the courage to continue?

Easy. Get obsessed. Dream about your writing success. Fantasize about it every moment of every day. Create a compulsion within yourself that cannot be undermined.
Be insane. Be illogical. Be unrealistic!

Because...

Over the years I've noticed something very telling. The writers with the most talent don't always rise to the top. But the writers who don't stop and won't take no for an answer, and just keep going regardless of criticism and bad experiences, are the ones that make it - every time.

Reflection Strengthens Determination

Actively thinking about your writing is not just about trying to improve or responding positively to feedback, it's about organizing your thoughts and reactions to to what people say about your writing. You can take criticism well or badly. It can fire you up or destroy you. It's your choice.

I used to think I wasn't good enough to be a professional writer - and my lack of success reinforced that view.

But I had it all wrong. What I failed to understand at the time was that, if you just keep going, respond to feedback and keep plugging away at new projects, you become good enough over time.

Your technique may improve. You may begin to write more effectively or tell better stories. But none of that matters if you don't have the single minded drive to overcome the apparent obstacles to your success.

It's too easy to get discouraged. The system is designed for that to happen - to weed out those that are not determined.

Take heart, if you are fully commited, there are no obstacles that cannot be overcome, there are no barriers - real or imagined - that you cannot triumph over.

In the words of a very old cliche - and things become cliches, remember, usually because they're true:

"There is nothing you can't do once you set your mind to it."

So, in 2008 - go for it!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Murder Your Darlings

Hi peeps,

After 5 years online I've just registered my site with Google - about time I guess. But that's not it... I've just discovered that my all time favorite article (according to Google) is the one below.

To be honest I'd forgotten I'd written it - but it even gets a mention in Wikipedia, it's so famous! Well I never. Anyway, here it is, resurrected:

Murder Your Darlings

“Murder your darlings” is a phrase said to have been coined by F Scott Fitzgerald. He was referring to what you might call your “best bits.” He believed that these are the very “bits” you should always edit out of your work.

As Elmore Leonard once said, “If I come across anything in my work that smacks of ‘good writing,’ I immediately strike it out.”

The theory is that writing you’re particularly proud of is probably self-indulgent and will stand out.

You might think this is good. Wrong.

You will most likely break the “fictive dream.” (This is the state of consciousness reached by readers who are absorbed by a writer). And breaking your reader out of this fictive dream is a heinous sin!

Editing out “the best bits” is the hardest thing a novice writer has to do – after all, isn’t it counterproductive to write good things down only to cut them out?

Look at it this way…

When you start out, every word you write is precious. The words are torn from you. You wrestle with them, forcing them to express what you’re trying to say.

When you’re done, you may have only a paragraph or a few pages – but to you the writing shines with inner radiance and significance.

That’s why criticism cuts to the core. You can’t stand the idea of changing a single word in case the sense you’re trying to convey gets lost or distorted.

Worse still, you have moments of doubt when you think you’re a bad writer - criticism will do this every time. Sometimes you might go for months, blocked and worrying over your words and your ability.

There is only one cure for this – to write more; to get words out of your head and on to the page. When you do that, you’re ahead, no matter how bad you think you are.

After all, words are just the tools – a collection of words is not the end result, it is only the medium through which you work. In the same way that a builder uses bricks and wood to build a house – the end result is not about the materials, it’s about creating a place to live.

As you progress in your writing career, you become less touchy about your words. You have to. Editors hack them around without mercy. Agents get you to rewrite great swathes of text they don’t like. Publishers cut out whole sections as irrelevant.

All this hurts – a lot.

But after a while, you realize you’re being helped. That it’s not the words that matter so much as what you’re trying to communicate.

Once you accept that none of the words actually matter, and have the courage to “murder your darlings,” you have the makings of the correct professional attitude to ensure your writing career.

This is a tough lesson to learn.

But, as always, the trick is…to keep on writing!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Hydra Syndrome

Hi peeps,

The following article seemed to hit home with a lot of writers when I sent it to my current 21,724 subscribers. It was originally called The Medusa Syndrome but many learned scholars and professors (yes - they get my newsletters too!) pointed out I'd made a slight 'myth-take' when it came to picking a mythological creature for my syndrome. I hope you enjoy it - and please, feel free to leave a comment of your own!

"Writing 4 Life" - Part Five

The Up and Downs of Writing

Rob Parnell

Have you ever noticed how you, as a writer, see-saw? For one heady moment you know you're brilliant and then, later, with just as much clarity, you know what you do is awful. It's the writer's curse.

I've noticed this happens at certain times in the writing process.

When the ideas are fresh and you're starting out on a project, the adrenaline is flowing, the words are spewing on to the page - everything seems so clear, so clever, so you.

And then after, when you look back, the words seem dull, the structure contrived and the talent - well, non-existent. But then... later, it can seem smooth and inspired again... and then, even later... dire.

Hold up! What's happening here?

I call it The Hydra Syndrome or, for short, THS.

You may remember that the Hydra was a mythological creature with many heads - and each time one was cut off, another sprouted in its place.

And the trouble with being a writer is that we too have many heads. Some are kind and benevolent, some are harsh and critical. And it doesn't matter how often we try to quash one head's opinion of what we do, there's always another that will have the alternate point of view.

It depends on our moods I think. When we're happy and confident, our words seem to fire all the right neurons on the brain, the synaptic gaps are bridged with ease. There's more than just the words in our writing - there's a whole world of meaning implicit.

But then sometimes when we're tired and listless, our brains are foggy and the words seem empty, unable to quite convey the richness we wanted to invoke.

At other times, we feel nothing. We see the words for what they are - just words: pale shadows of reality with no depth, no power, no meaning.

Whenever I'm suffering from a bout of THS, I have to remind myself that, when reading through a different head, I thought my writing was fine. But then I think, am I deluding myself? Maybe the bad head that hates my writing is the true head? Maybe the happy head is a liar and is secretly chuckling behind my back... oh, the woes of writing!

The other day was a good example.

I'd just finished editing (for about the twentieth time) the first 9500 words of my new novel, intending it for submission. I was pretty darn proud of what I'd done. As well as the words being perfect (or so I thought) there seemed also a profound depth of hidden meaning, subtle interconnectivity and the odd clever nuance that would have my readers in awe, enrapt... and yet...

I gave it to Robyn, my partner, to read. As she did so, I waited, butterflies threatening to burst out of my stomach like the alien in, um, Alien.

At least she read the whole thing in one sitting. I was dreading that she'd put it down and say, "I'll read the rest tomorrow." That would have hurt. Big time.

Anyway. At the end she said, "Yeah, it's excellent." But, of course, because she didn't say it's brilliant, I was disappointed.

"What's wrong with it?" I cried.

"Nothing. It's really good." Really good? What's that supposed to mean? She must hate it!

Tentatively, I ask, "Anything that might need fixing?"

"Well, there's a couple of typos." Typos! Gah - after twenty passes! How could that be? "Nothing major," she added.

"And?"

"Well..." Here it comes, I thought. "You've got a couple of point of view issues. You tell the story from one guy's point of view in one chapter and I think you should do it from the hero's."

I slumped. Reality check. Thanks, Robyn.

She was right of course. I have to go back and fix it. But now I'm thinking my 9500 words are heavily flawed, and will remain so, until I've dealt with the problem. Now I wouldn't show my submission to another soul because it's dreadful, awful, until I've rewritten at least two large chunks of it. But then, maybe then, it will be perfect! Yay!

And to think, I used to wonder why my mother thought that writing was a silly way to make a living. Maybe she was right. I can find at least one of my Hydra heads that would rush to agree with her.

But I think the real point is that we need to be critical of our writing - at least some of the time. If we thought that what we did was always brilliant, we'd lose objectivity and we wouldn't want to improve, wouldn't know how to improve even.

Being hard on our writing sometimes is what makes us better writers.

But at those other, special times, loving what we do is what keeps us doing it!

Keep writing!

Rob@easywaytowrite.com
Creating Better Writers
http://easywaytowrite.com

Monday, February 12, 2007

Interview by Word Mage

Hi,

A quick note again.

The lovely and ultra-talented author Billie Williams interviewed me recently for her Word Mage writing group. A copy of the interview (which I throroughly enjoyed) is available here:
http://geocities.com/wordcrafter123/ROBPARNELL.html

It contains lots of succinct and valuable advice on the craft of writing - and you'll hear things there most writing experts would charge you a fortune to find out!

Best regards, Rob

Friday, January 19, 2007

Lair

Hi there,

Just a quick post. Fellow writers and subscribers often ask about my own writing. I thought it might be a good idea therefore to include a sample on this blog. Rather than put a story on a webpage, I put one in a PDF file you can download from here:
http://easywaytowrite.com/Lair.pdf

It has a 15 rating - it's a supernatural thriller not for minors and contains a sex scene and some coarse language. It's also has horror themes, so don't click above if you have a faint heart!

It's been published several times around the world and has been nominated for a 'Dark Heart' Award. If you like that one, here's another:
http://easywaytowrite.com/TheNaga.pdf

Also highly praised on publication - even translated into French for one anthology.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Interview

I was recently interviewed by Aneeta at howtotellagreatstory.com. You can see the result here: http://www.howtotellagreatstory.com/byot/byot60.html

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Becoming a Better Writer

The urge to write fiction seems God given for some, a learned skill for others.

One thing is certain – it requires practice and a particular mindset. But, if you’re a beginner, where do you start?

The following 10 tips will help kick-start your writing habit, whether you’re a complete novice, or perhaps a pro who has lost their way!

1. Step Away From the Car, Sir.

Slightly detach yourself from your surroundings. Stop participating and begin observing. In social situations, watch people, see how they act and – more importantly - interact.

Don’t pass judgment. Take it all in – and draw on it later when you write.

2. Look Harder, Homer

Stop and look around you. Consciously notice the buildings, what’s underfoot, overhead, and what’s right in front of you.

At home, look at something you take for granted. An iron, for instance. Find yours and study it.

3. Write Thinking Will Be Rewarded.

A simple technique. Your mother is making tea and you are chatting to her. Take a mental step back and describe the scene.

Similarly, when you’re outside, describe your environment as though you were writing it down.

4. What Reasons Do You Need?

Don’t wait for inspiration – just write!

Force yourself to write anything at all. A shopping list. An overheard conversation. Describe your bedroom.

It doesn’t matter how personal it is, or how trivial, just get it down!

5. Wakey Wakey!

Set your alarm clock for an hour earlier than normal.

When the alarm goes off, get up. Don’t dress, bathe or eat. Don’t even make coffee. Just stagger to your writing space and write the first thing that comes into your head for five minutes.

6. Oh God – Not That!

Think of the most awful and embarrassing thing you’ve ever done - the more cringe-worthy the better. Now write about it. All of it, in all its gory, horrible detail.

Then hide it away for a year or so before you read it again!

7. Like Your Style, Baby.

Don’t limit yourself. Write poems, songs, dialogue, fact, fiction, even practice writing advertising copy or horoscopes.

Your expertise improves in all areas – an improvement in one area can reap benefits in another.
8. The Sincerest Flattery

Take out a classic book from your bookcase. Copy out a paragraph. Think about the words as you write them. Don’t get intimidated!

9. Wanna See My Invention?

When you’re not writing, string together stories in your mind. Think of plots, characters, settings, dénouements.

Ask yourself what you should do next to improve your writing.

Develop this technique into a habit.

10. It’s A Goal!

When you start writing regularly, set yourself small goals. Anything from 200 words a day, or just a commitment to writing in your diary.

Later extend to finishing a short story, or an article or a poem. Perhaps one in a week.
The trick is to set goals you can achieve easily.

That way you’ll get the writing habit - and you won’t forget to enjoy it!

The Easy Way to Write

Welcome to the official blog of the Easy Way to Write from Rob Parnell, updated weekly - sometimes more often!