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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Character Clues

Rob Parnell

Our lovely assistant Elyse suggested I write an article about characters in fiction this week. Which was just as well because I was planning an examination of quantum field dynamics - something I'm sure would have sent everyone to sleep!

Anyway, as you'll know if you've followed my teaching in the Art of Story and my Easy Writing System, fictional characters are different from us.

Whilst the best characters have elements of real people to make them believable, real people rarely make good fictional characters. They are often flat and full of minor contraditions that make them non-credible to a fiction reader.

No, fictional characters need to be more than real. They are often essentially an amalgam of credible traits that are easily recognizable as human 'archetypes'.

When constructing your stories, you should think not so much in terms of who your characters ARE but WHY they're in your story. You'll then be in a much better position to understand them and their purpose.

Indeed, taking this notion onboard will also help you describe them well and keep their actions and motivations in check.

Because, as I've said many times, there is no story without characters - and when constructing story plots, characters come first. You should know your characters like your best friends - actually better than your best friends - BEFORE you use them to construct your story plots.

That aside, here are some pointers about the type of characters that inhabit fiction - and why they exist.

1. The Neophyte

Also known as the fool, this type of character turns up surprisingly often in fiction. He/she is generally naive or unwise at first - but usually courageous later too, and, of course, heroic.

It is their purpose to tell the story through the eyes of the reader - so that the action and plot unfold for the character at the same time as the reader.

Characters like Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker and Bella Swann fulfil the role of the neophyte.

2. The Foil

The sidekick in fiction is almost a cliche. It can be done well - and it can be done badly.

The purpose of the foil is to balance the hero and provide the reader's perspective in a story. The sidekick is the reader's anchor in reality - someone who can help weigh the pros and cons of heroic action - and provide the voice of reason.

Shelock Holmes' Watson, or Hercule Poirot's Hastings, even Kaye Scarpetta's Detective Marino. Also, the foil is often used to help aggrandize the hero in the eyes of the reader.

3. The Father Figure

Sometimes cast as a trusted friend, the father figure is the voice of wisdom and experience, and often a kind of mentor.

The father figure represents the hero's higher ideals at the beginning of a story and usually the mirror to the hero's journey at the end of a story. The father figure is not required to change emotionally during a story, though his persepective is more fully appreciated by the end.

Think in terms of Obi Wan Kenobi, Gandalf and Dumbledore.

4. The Mother Figure

Sometimes cast as the best friend or charming relative, the mother figure is strongly related to the archetypal Earth Mother - someone in sync with love, nature and all things good.

The mother figure exists to counter the classic 'masculine' motivations like power, justice and revenge with more nurturing elements like understanding, compassion and forgiveness.

Dan Brown's female characters, Sophie from the Da Vinci Code, Vittoria from Angels and Demons and Catherine from The Lost Symbol fulfil the mother role in his books - which is probably why Robert Langdon doesn't end up sleeping with them!

5. The Lover

Usually a strong motivating force for the hero's actions, though often fairly dormant in the character development front.

To be found in life threatening jepoardy, she is almost always beauty personified and worthy of supreme sacrifice. She is literally 'to die for'.

Her purpose is aspirational as well as motivational - in terms of her representation as the reason for the contest, and its ultimate prize.

Think Princess Liea and pretty much every hero's girlfriend who usually gets captured and held hostage by the bad guy...

Which brings us to:

6. The Antagonist

Psychologist Carl Jung said that the reason why we never tire of bad guys is that they represent our personal inherent fear of evil, uncertainty, danger and villainy.

The bad guy and his henchmen are the more obvious examples but other things like corrupt governmental systems, deadly viruses and natural calamities can also be used as antagonistic elements in stories.

The important thing is that the antagonist is threatening to the stability, well being and even sanity of the heroes.

Think Darth Vader, Snape and Hannibal Lecter, to name just a few.

I hope the above examples of characters help you in your fiction.

When deciding on the stories you want to tell, it's often productive to question the roles of the characters - and fully understand their purpose in the context of archetypes - before you start plotting.

I think when you do, you'll find that your stories are stronger.

Keep Writing!


rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What's a Writer to Do, Rob?

Rob Parnell

There's really only one way to achieve success in writing and it's very simple to learn: to keep writing!

I know this is my call sign - but it exists for a reason. It's based on my experience of watching thousands of writers over the years. The truth of it is very basic. That is, the Universe favors those who do not give up.

It's obvious really. If you set out on a path and commit to it, many things in the world need to change for you to accomplish your goals.

People around you need to think of you as a writer. Publishers, agents and editors need to know that you are a writer. They need to see you working and taking your craft seriously.

You need to be building a catalogue of work - articles, short stories, novels, non-fiction work, ebooks, websites, blogs, anything that proves that you live your life through writing.

The Universe needs to see you improving - and wanting to improve - so that it can then do its bit: creating unseen connections for you, working behind the scenes on your behalf, setting up relationships between people you may not meet for years.

Every writer needs to believe that their time will come - whether sooner or later. It's an act of faith, to be sure, especially when it seems as though you're not getting anywhere, are ignored or unappreciated, or constantly rejected.

But hey, as my first coach used to say, no-one ever said that following your heart was going to be easy. Quite the opposite. We know from history that every great battle, every movement forward was preceded by persistence and tenacity and the self belief of those who would be taken seriously.

Why should our careers be any different?

Yes, some people seem to get there quickly - but mostly, if you study these things - this is an illusion. Even if you have famous parents, are rich enough to kick butt, or get a few lucky breaks, you still have to deliver the goods once you get there.

You still need talent and staying power to reach the top of your game.

Just because it may appear that some people hit the big time out of the blue, doesn't mean that's what has actually happened.

People with talent - especially writers - are noticed, then nurtured, then thrust upon the scene largely by their own volition - and then the public must decide whether they are worthy.

In the modern world nothing much happens by accident.

Instant fame is, more often than not, planned carefully by many people behind the scenes - and usually based on endless positive feedback - and, of course, sales.

It takes a lot of faith from artists to keep to their path and not give up. But I would argue it takes a lot more faith from a lot more people to support an artist.

If you want to be a successful writer, you need to be a rock of dependability - an inspiration in your own right. You need to show others that you are focussed on your writing, committed to your writing, and convinced of your own worth as a writer.

A tall order?

Perhaps - given that most artists are tough on themselves - and not always convinced of their own talent!

But that's the first hurdle - something I've dedicated my career to overcoming. The Easy Way to Write was set up to help writers get over their self-doubt - to fill them with confidence.

Writing, like nail biting or overeating, is habit based.

Writing needs time - your time, no-one else's!

As much as we might like things to be easy, there are dues to pay. There are hours to spend doing the actual work at the coal-face.

No-one and nothing can write for you.

All the software, the gizmos and the will in the world won't eradicate the blank page that needs your words to fill them.

As I've always said, it starts with your mind. Your mindset is the beginning - and you need to get that clear first, before anything else.

Your must be clear on what being a writer means to you, you must have good reasons why you want to be a writer, and you must have the confidence - even if you need to fake it at first - to continue, knowing that things may not always be easy along the way.

The most successful writers just stick with it.

They take rejection - sometimes years of it - in their stride. They just keep going, gently pushing, improving all the time, until finally the gates of opportunity open up and the Universe's gatekeeper is there saying, "Okay, now it's your turn."

I hope by then you will have learned your craft well - because you're going to need every ounce of talent and tenacity to hold on to that opportunity.

But there's hope - because writing really can be easy, once you get your mindset in the right place. And the best part about that is you can do it right now.

You've always had the power, inside, just waiting for you to tap into it. Trust me, it's there.

Keep Writing!


rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why is Writing like Dancing?

Rob Parnell

There are so many dos and don'ts nowadays for writers to absorb that it's a wonder we don't crack under the strain.

How are we suppose to get inspired - and write from the heart - when at least 90% of what we might want to put down on paper is considered bad practice or dull, ineffectual writing?

When starting a new story, for instance, and you find yourself describing the weather or including oodles of back story - or now apparently too much detail of any kind - what are we supposed to do?

Stop and start again?

Wait for a more inspired thought?

Keep beating ourselves up until we're better writers?

I would suggest none of the above.

Because if you let all the constraints and possible criticisms get to you, you'll most likely end up blocked - and writing nothing.

Show Don't Tell
I had an email from an esteemed subscriber this week who asked me a question that seems pertinent to this issue.

Here's the gist:

"I've been reading a lot lately about 'show don't tell', and I agree with it but when writing I invariably fall into telling because I guess I like it. Is that a bad thing?

"Also I'm a big Sci-fi and Fantasy reader where a lot of telling is done... But to me (and maybe I'm just crazy) telling is part of the fun. I mean when I read I like the telling, the information... I mean as long as there's some action, the telling is fine with me. Am I the only one who feels this way?"

First of all, my subscriber is not crazy - far from it!

Our love affair with 'telling' is innate - it's in our natures to be able to glean information in this way. We accept the sense of detachment, indeed even welcome it sometimes. It's pleasurable to us. And it's certainly not a crime for an author to indulge in it.

The advice regarding show don't tell is more to do with how some writers go about creating immediacy and empathy for their characters. It's great once you know how to do it. But even the best 'showing' authors know that for pacing at least, you sometimes need to step back and 'tell' the story for a while.

My feeling is that you need to read - and write - what you most enjoy.

We are all influenced and affected by other writers - and hopefully we learn from the best techniques and the styles of others. But we should also listen to the way we feel inside - on a more visceral level. If our emotions are engaged and we are absorbed in the stories we read, then we should respect those feelings - rather than reject stylistic 'flaws' on principle.


There's nothing wrong with emulating writing styles that we feel work - even when we're told they're bad practice.

It's up to us to find our own method of self expression before getting bogged down by the apparent need for stylistic perfection.

Write First - Edit Later

Nobody writes perfectly the first time out. It's not possible, especially when writing a longer work.

How can you know whether your first paragraph is appropriate until you've finished the whole book?

Why waste time honing a chapter to perfection when you might want to drop it completely later on?

I see this a lot. Writers flagellating themselves over passages that are hard to write - when it's often the most easily written which become the most effective when the work is complete.

Take a lesson from this - and don't beat yourself up. Let it all out naturally, with ease, enjoying the process as you go.

The best writing style for you - for any writer - is the one that comes most naturally to you. If the writing is hard, you're not engaging the right pathways in your brain - and your work will often look forced.

When you're enjoying the writing process, you're more in tune with your unique self - that part of you that is more likely to be original and inspired. Quite apart from the simple fact that if you enjoy writing, you'll do it for longer and more consistently, both of which are prerequisites of a writing career.

Dance Into The Fire

(Gosh. Never thought I'd use a Duran Duran song as a header.)

Back to the dancing question in the title...

I received an email overnight from a lovely new subscriber who used to be a dancer - a champion at that. I hope she doesn't mind me using her as an example in this article - I haven't asked her permission yet. But she says:

"I do not know all the in's and outs of writing and how to make a living at it as I have done with dance. I have been on so many web sites, but you are the only one I have spent money on...

"I have a doctorate in the arts, and will now write about the arts, and so much more. Please accept my thanks for the programs, chat room, stories about Hollywood movies... all the thoughts outside the box. Good job, and thanks for the confidence shot."

And here's part of my response:

"You sound like you've led a fascinating life and my advice would be for you to apply yourself to writing in the same way as you have to dance.

"Learn all the moves - the techniques - but then let your instincts tell you what is right. I'm sure you'll do well then."

The Dance Analogy

Writing is initially an act of self expression. How can you express yourself properly when you have critics - inside and out - heckling your every word?

It's like being a dancer, rehearsing all the right moves. It's a necessary part of the eventual performance. You need to practice and work through the kinks to get fluidity of movement and give the illusion of ease. Dancers will tell you that illusion is the hardest part of their job.

So it is with writing.

Think of your final manuscripts as your 'performance' - a public exhibition of your talent for all to see. But don't be afraid to work hard behind the scenes: polishing and honing your style by making mistakes and writing badly, freely, in your own way.

Because it's by being true to yourself and constantly striving for improvement, step by step, that you will achieve success.

As someone famous once said: "Everybody makes mistakes. That's why they put an eraser on the end of a pencil."

Make all the mistakes you want - in private. Don't be afraid to be yourself. Push yourself. Try new things. Try old things. Try.

It's all good practice until that day you feel you're good enough to take your work out to an audience - and give it a public airing.

Your readers will love your apparently effortlessness and skill - and, while transported by your performance, will largely be unaware of the hard work and discipline that went into creating it.

That's why writing is like dancing.

Keep Writing!


rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, November 26, 2009

TV or Not TV, That Is The Question...

Rob Parnell

In a few of my articles recently I have suggested that the path of the modern writer may not always lead down the traditional walkways of novel writing, journalism or indeed any of the more familiar routes a writer might want to take.

There are new opportunities of all kinds. The Net, for one, with its need for constant content and marketing material.

Offline too there are a myriad of writing jobs - many of which I explore in Easy Cash Writing. For the committed writer there are always new and varied avenues to pursue.

In the spirit of which, we ventured into the world of TV yesterday, when we visited an executive from a certain funding body to pitch some ideas we'd had for TV shows.

I won't mention our contact's name, not because it's a secret or because we're being coy, but because these people don't like it when you bandy their names around (especially not in a public forum like a blog). The last thing a TV exec wants is to be seen to be endorsing an unfunded program idea - or favoring a particular writer for instance (Heaven forbid).

Reality Bites

The meeting took place in the South Australian Film studios and we were taken to meet (Blank) by an old friend there called Quentin.

He's a great guy, very supportive of us. He's paraplegic, diminutive and wheelchair bound, but no less of a creative force at SA Film for that. We only wish that his enthusiasm for our projects caught on to the other members of the Funding Boards he sits on.

We're at a disadvantage you see - because we're writers. said as much to us. Apparently we need to align ourselves with more working production companies - as though this was in any way easy.

The problem we have is that in order to interest TV production companies, we need to have TV shows made or in production. And of course, how can you do that, without working with a TV production company? The old Catch 22. (Thank you, Mr Heller.)

Undeterred, as is our wont, we plowed into our pitches.

We've Got This Idea...

We'd heard that the new ABC 3 channel wanted ideas for interactive 'reality' types shows for kids. We'd come up with three and proceeded to pitch each of them in turn.

(Blank) quickly let us know that either we'd (a) missed the boat, (b) would need external funding or (c) had come up with ideas that were already in development.

Okay. So we let the conversation move on to other, more practical issues. Like the movie we were making with Hollywood - and how we had plans for forming our own production company as a springboard for future projects...

Did I detect faint amusement in (Blank's) eyes?

Or - in retrospect - was it alarm?

In a way I hope it was a kind of shock at the audacity of our plans. Robyn and I have always been ambitious. That's how we get things done. Aim high - and don't take no for an answer.

It serves us well in the long run - and proves to us that there are always alternatives for writers.

Rejection comes with the territory - and you can't be phased or put off by it. You just have to keep on trying, pushing, improving, until the industry is forced to sit up and take notice of you.

Fiction Rules

We went on to pitch two ideas for drama shows next. Well, you have to be ready for the old 'what else have you got' line, don't you?

Robyn told (Blank) about an idea we'd originally visualized as a movie but we'd since touted as an concept for a kid's TV series.

(Blank) was dismissive of the idea, said it was impractical and unappealing to a world audience. Curiously, (Blank) was also dismissive of the producer we'd involved at one point - even though (Blank) had worked with this person on an award winning TV show...

I started to wish I'd left my camera rolling.

Next, our final idea, admittedly not fully developed yet.

Robyn explained the premise, saying that it was already a book manuscript that we thought might work as an animation series - a kind of medieval soap opera.

"What form would it take on the screen?' (Blank) asked.

"Anything you like," Robyn said, amused.

"No," (Blank) said. "You have to know."

Soon after, Quentin arrived at the door - which had never been closed - and our meeting was over.

The Verdict

Believe it or not, the meeting went about as well as we thought it would.

An outsider might conclude we'd achieved nothing - and embarrassed ourselves in the process. But, as you'll no doubt know about us by now, we don't see things that way.

So our ideas were shot down.

So we were basically told we weren't well connected enough for TV yet.

So, okay, we'd need to be better prepared next time.

But what else can we do? We keep pushing. We're just writers. We want to entertain and create successful projects. We get our ideas out there. Some of them raise of flicker of interest, others get people excited. Some, inevitably, fall flat.

At the meeting we'd achieved a few things in our own minds.

We'd touched base with (Blank), shown our faces. And admittedly she was nice - and had always been helpful to us on the phone in the past.

Plus, we'd been able to let her know that despite our naivety and lack of experience, we have stratospheric self belief.

We'd also learned that there seems to be a clique of working TV producers in Australia who jealously guard their alignments and their contacts, and more importantly, their 'slate'.

We'd at least come away knowing what we were up against.

And that one day soon, we knew we'd be back.

The Wrap Up

Writing is not everyone's idea of a great job.

It can be slow and frustrating, even when things are going well.

We know everything starts with writing - and that all the agents, publishers, producers, directors, actors and TV executives in the world would have nothing to do without writers writing.

Elia Kazan said that writers are the only people who feel like they're gatecrashing their own party when they turn up to events that celebrate what they create.

Sometimes it seems as though the media, the publishing industry, indeed the whole world regards writers as some kind of irritant - a freak show - and a slightly seedy part of the creative equation.

But, alas, dear reader, we know better, don't we?

Keep Writing!


rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Singapore Slings in Raffles Long Bar

Rob Parnell

The best part about getting away to foreign climes is the way it can help adjust our perspectives. When we see through different eyes, we grow - and this can only help our writing.

Once in a while we all need to get away from the everyday routines we fill our time with. We need to experience new things, taste new foods and walk in new locations.

The aspect of Singapore that struck me most was the sheer volume of people - and the fact that they all seem to be out shopping in the middle of the night!

Robyn will tell you that I spent the evening after the Art of Story workshop rhapsodizing over the crowds - and admittedly, the potential market for any new business, including my own.

There again, as a writer, I don't get out much. We spend our time locked away in our little house in Morphett Vale, flexing our mental muscles, rather than interacting with a lot of 'real' people. We work hard basically - but much of our lives happen in our imaginations!

It was nice to be tourists for a while. And yes, we drank a Singapore Sling in Raffles Long Bar, because when you go to Singapore, you're supposed to. But at $27 each, we probably wisely only stayed for one!


The Art of Story Workshop



The workshop started at 9.30am with 40 of us ensconced in the 5th floor Imagination Room in the high-tech tower of the National Library building in Victoria Street.

We began with an examination of mindset and how having a healthy objective viewpoint can help when you're looking for ideas. Indeed the whole process of writing consistently - i.e. every day - can be greatly enhanced by improving our mental outlook.

We need to feel confident about our abilities - and suppress our more critical self - to write without fear and allow inspiration to come through.

One of the issues we explored was that inspiration can be in some ways 'forced' by cultivating the writing habit. The more you write, basically, the more inspired you become.



After the Break


Next we looked at what to do with ideas when you get them.

It's fairly well accepted that without good characters you probably don't have a story worth telling. And that to try and force a plot on to characters is to get things in the wrong order.

You need characters first. You need to know them well - in your own mind - and be able to examine their agendas. Because it's usually the clash of character's agendas that defines and determines your story's plot.

The beauty of working this way is that you don't necessarily have to have a story idea first. You can let your characters tell you their story - and it is then your job to merely transcribe the events your characters dictate through your writing.

I showed some slides at this point that graphically show how this method of story creation works - and explained how many bestselling novels had used the same principles to create apparent 'masterpieces' like Harry Potter, Twilight and The Da Vinci Code.

Answering some of the more literary minded in the audience, I also showed that the same principles applied to the 'classical' writers like Jane Austen, Charles Dickins and Tolstoy.

At which point, we broke for lunch.


Monsoon Season


The rain came down hot and heavy on our way back from lunch at a cosmopolitan Chinese cafe, where the food was delicious and the tea divine.

We got right back in to the meat of the Art of Story: structure.

I explained how story is structure - and that how a writer goes about building a plot is what defines his or her ability and eventual success in the marketplace.

Plotting is important, as is conflict and drama. Your writing style too has a part to play but it is story structure that shows agents, publishers and producers that you know what you're doing.

Through a series of ever more (seemingly) complex diagrams I showed how good story structure is achieved. I revealed that there really is such a thing as a literary 'template' on which to hang every great story.

This is in no way formulaic - far from it - but, once you understand the principles of good story structure, it is possible to take an average idea and transform it into something that is universally recognizable as effective and satisfying, often even profound.

By way of example, I took various novels suggested by the audience and broke them down to their structural basics and showed how the principles of good story structure were alive and well in all great writing and commercially successful literature.


Tea Time


The rest of the day was taken up with an examination of how the modern writer has a responsibility toward his or her reader - with the accent on the marketplace, which has certain mores and conventions that writers need to be aware of, and write within.

There's a difference between writing for the market and writing for oneself - and the focus of my teaching is generally on writing to achieve success. There seems little point in writing to offend or confront your audience if the end result is a failure to connect.

In our media driven culture, our effectiveness as writers is judged by our ability to sell books - this is the ultimate test of our talent - and really the only thing that is of interest to our publishers.

We might still hold to some romantic notion that we write for ourselves - huddled in a freezing garret, pumping out words that are wrenched from our souls. But the fact is, to achieve any measure of paid success, this is probably not something we should aspire to.

Modern successful writers live in nice big houses and cultivate a responsibility towards their art and craft - they have to - because without respect for their audience and a morally sound and objective mindset, their writing will most often fail to impress.

Quite apart from the obvious: if you don't sell books, your publisher is not going to be very happy!


Game Over

At the end of the workshop I was amazed by the positive feedback and the desire by everyone to stop and chat. The students were all very sweet and enthusiastic.

Then again, I found out later that the day of the workshop was actually "International Kindness Day" in Singapore. It occured to me that maybe people were just being nice!

Whatever, Robyn and I had a wonderfully stimulating time.

And we'd love to do workshops more often. (Heavy hint to anyone out there with a spare classroom!)

Keep Writing!

rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Whatever Happened to the Short Story?

Rob Parnell

Many people email me to ask about short story markets.

Where are they? And where have they all gone?

The market for magazine length (2000 to 5000 words) short stories has dwindled almost to vanishing point in the last fifty years.

Nowadays, unless you're already famous, you can't get short stories published at all it seems.

There's the New Yorker, a few SciFi monthlies - and the odd woman's magazine - where the competition is savagely fierce, and that's about it.

Basically, the short story market has crashed. The advent of our high speed, high tech world has left the short story on the platform, waving at the departing train of progress.

The short story has been replaced by newer markets like TV, movies, computer games and true life (ie reality) based magazine 'confessions.' All very sad. But is it?

Instead of bemoaning the death of the short story, writers need to adjust their worldview and move with the times.

Many writers are reluctant to attack the new markets. They regard TV, film and computer games as somehow beyond, or perhaps beneath them. Consequently, contrary to popular belief, these markets are remarkably, still crying out for writers.

Robyn and I are constantly amazed by TV, movie producers and computer game developers who are always complaining at seminars that they can't find enough writers!

It seems absurd when Robyn and I know literally thousands who are desperate for paid work - and yet won't move outside of their comfort zones of novels and their (unpublishable) short stories.

Yes, there is still much demand for novels, if only because a good one can make millions. But the competition is ruthless. Your manuscripts have to brilliant AND flawless before you can get a look in to the novel market. It's a demanding genre because many writers have little inkling of just how good their novels need to be before they even think of sending them out...

Yes, writing for the screen is hard work too. Work being the active word. Writing you can expect to get paid for, alas, is work - and should be approached with that ethic. Even fiction.

Especially fiction.

Many new writers have this romantic idea that you can write fiction in your own space and time, send it out and it will be picked up as is.

Uh-uh. Those days are over.

Fiction is a business. Collaboration is the order of the day.

Rewriting, reworking and brutal editing are the norm - not just in TV and film, but also in novel writing - where the average bestseller is RE-written up to twenty or thirty times before it is deemed worthy of release to the public.

Fiction is no longer the author's sole domain. It is now often a committee led process. It has to be - to appeal to the broadest audience. 'Little things' like logic, structure, character motivation and believability have become so much more important.

One of the main reasons I put together "The Art of Story" is because, working in this industry, I'd noticed this trend coming.

That there is a right way to construct a story. It is no longer just an art. It is a science too. And the principles of creating suitable story beats, achieving adequate emotional involvement and exploiting the reader's willing suspension of disbelief can not only be quantified but also repeated and most importantly, can be taught.

As you progress through your writing career, you'll find that people in the fiction business - whether concerned with novel writing, screenplays or even short stories - actually know instinctively what works and what doesn't. They have to - it's how they stay ahead of the game. It's also, unfortunately, why so many wannabe writers end up in the slush pile.

They simply don't understand that there are age old conventions and new, highly sophisticated techniques that can elevate a story from average to outstanding, simply by understanding and using the various elements of story.

You can literally design good fiction that almost writes itself, once you understand specifics like empathy, logical scene structure and the classic templates for story beats.

I could go on explaining the specifics for hours. Indeed I will be - for over eight hours, next Friday. If you can't make that event, why not consider getting the course at: http://easywaytowrite.com/The_Art_of_Story.html

"The Art of Story". It could be the best investment you ever make in your story writing career.

And don't forget that, in essence, the short story market has not really disappeared, it has merely changed its clothes.

Hiding, as they say, in plain sight.

Keep Writing!


rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Show Don't Tell - What it Means

Rob Parnell

This is probably the least understood phrase for new writers – probably because it seems to go against logic. Writers tell stories right? No. Good writers show stories.

To me there’s really only one thing you need to remember when it comes to showing your stories, and that is a quote from Graham Masterton. He said:

“Don’t tell your story. Be there.”

Basically, it doesn’t matter how good your writing is. If you’re telling the story you are distancing your reader from it. Here’s an example of telling:

Jason knew he had to go to the Dentist. His teeth hurt so much that he told his mother about it. She suggested he call Dr Evans, a man who had looked after the family’s teeth for years. He made the call and arranged to be at Dr Evans surgery at three o clock. That would give him plenty of time to do a few errands – and be back in time for tea.

This is completely passive because the information is being related from the omniscient, non-personal viewpoint. In order to ‘show’ the story you need to become the character of Jason – and get him to relate the story, unfolding it in real time. Like this.

Jason woke at seven thirty. His jaw felt as though someone had kicked it during the night. He poked his tongue around a sensitive area in his mouth. Ouch. It felt almost raw. He got up and trundled down the stairs to breakfast.

“My goodness, Jason, you look awful,” his mother said. “What on earth is the matter?”

“My tooth hurts something terrible, Mum.” Jason used a finger to prod around the interior of his mouth. He squinted.

“Call Dr Evans. He’ll know what to do. Go on, call him now.”

Jason picked up the phone and dialed a number on the refrigerator door.

“Hello? I’d like to make an appointment…"

And so on.

Showing is achieved by taking each story event and relating it as though it were a scene in a movie. Instead of merely telling the reader what action and drama took place, you need to put yourself in the scene and explain what the characters are experiencing – as the story unfolds.

You do this with dialogue and being specific about emotions like pain, sorrow, love, whatever. Instead of saying ‘he felt pain’, you need to say where the pain is and of what type. Making bland generalizations about a character’s motivation is not enough.

Your reader wants specifics – they want to feel as though they’re actually inside the head of the characters – experiencing their world, their thoughts and their emotions.

Whenever you look at your writing, ask yourself. Is this telling, or showing?

Imagine that you have to explain to a film or TV director what you need to get a particular scene across. The easiest way to do that is to show him. You would first show him the location, the characters inhabiting that space and then write down the necessary dialogue.

If you copy this same technique to use in novel and short story writing, you won’t go far wrong.

Of course some exposition and telling is good for pacing – you can’t have your book reading exactly like a screenplay after all. However, you should be aiming for a balance of 5 to 1. Show four fifths of the time and tell just one fifth.

As an exercise – indeed as any editing process – you need to look at every sentence you write and try re-writing it – deliberately tightening it. Remember, nothing is sacred, no matter how well written.

If you can create more scenes that show rather than tell, your writing will always work better for a reader.

Gone are the days when authors can bore their readers with long passages of exposition and passive prose.

Shame really – it’s much easier to write like that!

Showing requires discipline – and going that extra mile.

The good part is that publishers and readers reward you for doing that work – by buying more of your books!

Keep Writing!

For more information on 'Show Don't Tell' go to www.easywaytowrite.com/showstudypack.html

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How to Begin Your Writing Career

by Rob Parnell


The trick with creating success in writing is to do what all bestselling writers have done. That is, try lots of things, find out what works - and then follow the money.

But where do you start? Here's my best advice:

Take a piece of paper. Real paper - and a pen.

Write down a list of writing activities that you believe would provide a nice balance of work for you on an ongoing basis. Then ascribe a percentage value to each. For instance:

Short Fiction - 35% of my writing time
Magazine Articles - 15% of my writing time
Fillers - 5% of my writing time
The Great American Novel - 10% of my writing time

And so on. Put as many categories as you like. Then, take the same list and ascribe the monetary income you visualize your writing efforts bringing in over the course of a year. Like this:

Short Fiction - 20% of my writing income
Magazine Articles - 35% of my writing income
Fillers - 25% of my writing income
The Great American Novel - 5% of my writing income

You get the idea...

This exercise helps crystallize your goals and how you're going to find time to work towards them. It could be you decide that ten minutes a day spent on writing fillers will represent just 10% of your writing time and that 90% - an hour and half - should be spent on writing your novel. That's fine. It will be up to you to decide on whether the income earned over the course of a year justifies the time spent on any one activity.

At some point every year - perhaps today - you should write down your writing goals with some prediction as to their worth to you - in monetary terms if that's what motivates you. Then, each year, decide whether you want to rethink or prioritize those goals.

It could be that a novel MS reaps you an advance of $1000 - and that magazine articles secured $10,000 over the course of a year. But it could be that the advance is worth much more to you than the cash.

This is what even the most professional of writers do.

Sitting at home and writing successful books is the dream of many aspiring authors. The reality is very different for 99% of professional authors. They, like us, have to juggle priorities. They know that income from book royalties, especially fiction, is
rarely sufficient. Extra money must come from writing outside of their niche, making personal appearances, article writing, short story sales, TV and radio interviews, doing teaching gigs, mentoring, manuscript assessment, whatever it takes to provide a sufficient range of paying activities.

This is something that empirical knowledge, over the years, has taught them. It's something they just know. As should you.

In a diverse world, diversity is the key to survival. Sticking to one avenue of writing is the luxury of the hobbyist - or a mere handful of bestselling authors. The would-be professional knows different - and is willing to experiment; to do as any professional
does, to learn from experience.


Using Spreadsheets to Track Your Success


A couple of years back I took a government sponsored course aimed at helping small businesses to write a business plan. Of course, given my allegiance to creativity and my natural suspicion of math and numbers, I was cynical about the benefits I might garner from this.

I went along anyway, partly to move out of my comfort zone and partly, well, I'll be honest now, because the local council, through my local small business network, actually paid me to go. Who said the government did nothing for the individual?

Anyhow. I was so glad I went because it taught me some valuable lessons.

I'd been well used to self-help gurus telling me that writing down my goals - and spending time visualizing the results - helped solidify them in my mind. Little did I expect that this was exactly what a business plan can do. It's exactly the same principle!

You literally write down your goals, including their consequences, breaking everything down into little, do-able (and believably do-able is the point) pieces, and then that becomes the template for how you spend your time over the coming months and years.

The course forced me to write down how I thought I was going to make money over the course of the next five years. It made me be specific, precise and, more importantly, realistic. Scary when you do it but enormously powerful when it's done, not least in convincing others that it's a practical plan and not a ridiculous course of actions.

Especially because, as part of the deal for the course, I had to mark off whether I'd actually done the activities I'd planned I would - and report that back to the government. Talk about motivation! At least it made me focus on my objectives - and actually, like I used to dread, take action!

So, I would advise you, as a matter of urgency, to consolidate your writing plans on to a spreadsheet. Break down your goals into a series of steps, with timelines that you can tick off as you go.

Some of the writers I know, to a certain extent, do this already. They have a list of their submissions and they track whether they've been accepted, rejected, need rewriting or re-submitting. It's a useful tool, worth keeping up to date and studying - if only to remind you that you're not doing enough!

I would suggest you take it one stage further and be more business-like about it. Write down your goals in all areas of writing - even those you're not sure you're up to attacking yet - and review them every week or so to see how far you're progressing. Every week? I guess that sounds obsessive. Perhaps.

I read a quote once that I related to and thought was probably true.

It said, "The difference between normal people and successful people is simply that the successful review their goals more often - usually up to five times a day." Gulp.
Keep Writing!

This is an excerpt from my career building 'Easy Cash Writing'.
http://easycashwriting.com

Rob Parnell
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What's the Secret, Rob?

There's really only one way to achieve success in writing and it's very simple to learn: to keep writing!

I know this is my call sign - but it exists for a reason. It's based on my experience of watching thousands of writers over the years. The truth of it is very basic. That is, the Universe favors those who do not give up.

It's obvious really. If you set out on a path and commit to it, many things in the world need to change for you to accomplish your goals.

People around you need to think of you as a writer. Publishers, agents and editors need to know that you are a writer. They need to see you working and taking your craft seriously.

You need to be building a catalogue of work - articles, short stories, novels, non-fiction work, ebooks, websites, blogs, anything that proves that you live your life through writing.

The Universe needs to see you improving - and wanting to improve - so that it can then do its bit: creating unseen connections for you, working behind the scenes on your behalf, setting up relationships between people you may not meet for years.

Every writer needs to believe that their time will come - whether sooner or later. It's an act of faith, to be sure, especially when it seems as though you're not getting anywhere, are ignored or unappreciated, or constantly rejected.

But hey, as my first coach used to say, no-one ever said that following your heart was going to be easy. Quite the opposite. We know from history that every great battle, every movement forward was preceded by persistence and tenacity and the self belief of those who would be taken seriously.

Why should our careers be any different?

Yes, some people seem to get there quickly - but mostly, if you study these things - this is an illusion. Even if you have famous parents, are rich enough to kick butt, or get a few lucky breaks, you still have to deliver the goods once you get there.

You still need talent and staying power to reach the top of your game.

Just because it may appear that some people hit the big time out of the blue, doesn't mean that's what has actually happened.

People with talent - especially writers - are noticed, then nurtured, then thrust upon the scene largely by their own volition - and then the public must decide whether they are worthy.

In the modern world nothing much happens by accident.

Instant fame is, more often than not, planned carefully by many people behind the scenes - and usually based on endless positive feedback - and, of course, sales.

It takes a lot of faith from artists to keep to their path and not give up. But I would argue it takes a lot more faith from a lot more people to support an artist.

If you want to be a successful writer, you need to be a rock of dependability - an inspiration in your own right. You need to show others that you are focussed on your writing, committed to your writing, and convinced of your own worth as a writer.

A tall order?

Perhaps - given that most artists are tough on themselves - and not always convinced of their own talent!

But that's the first hurdle - something I've dedicated my career to overcoming. The Easy Way to Write was set up to help writers get over their self-doubt - to fill them with confidence.

Writing, like nail biting or overeating, is habit based.

Writing needs time - your time, no-one else's!

As much as we might like things to be easy, there are dues to pay. There are hours to spend doing the actual work at the coal-face.

No-one and nothing can write for you.

All the software, the gizmos and the will in the world won't eradicate the blank page that needs your words to fill them.

As I've always said, it starts with your mind. Your mindset is the beginning - and you need to get that clear first, before anything else.

Your must be clear on what being a writer means to you, you must have good reasons why you want to be a writer, and you must have the confidence - even if you need to fake it at first - to continue, knowing that things may not always be easy along the way.

The most successful writers just stick with it.

They take rejection - sometimes years of it - in their stride. They just keep going, gently pushing, improving all the time, until finally the gates of opportunity open up and the Universe's gatekeeper is there saying, "Okay, now it's your turn."

I hope by then you will have learned your craft well - because you're going to need every ounce of talent and tenacity to hold on to that opportunity.

But there's hope - because writing really can be easy, once you get your mindset in the right place. And the best part about that is you can do it right now.

You've always had the power, inside, just waiting for you to tap into it. Trust me, it's there.

But if you don't believe me, dear writer, go here:
http://easywaytowrite.com/writing.html

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What You Should Know About Being a Commercial Author

This week a writer asked me a great question - something I take so much for granted that I realised I don't talk about it much!

The question was simple:

"I love what you teach, Rob, but can you give me the names of any popular novels that exemplify and reflect your teaching?"

Where to start?

First, take a look at the top 100 bestselling novels out there at any one time! All of them contain the elements I teach. All of them.

You name a successful author, and I can tell you exactly what they do that makes them commercial and popular.

Anyone from Jeffrey Archer to Poppy Z Brite.

The Fact Is...

I have made it my business over the last twenty five years to study all kinds of popular fiction - in all kinds of commercial genres: thrillers, romance, mystery, fantasy, horror and science fiction - hence, my expertise and my ability to teach these genres.

I have made similar studies in popular film making - hence, I would have to say, our recent successes is screenplay writing.

And just for good measure, I was a pop star once, which gave me huge access to the art of composing and songwriting techniques.

I'm actually a bit of geek when it comes to popular culture. I know lots of trivia too about films, books and music of the 20th century - so much so that in days gone past I was always the guy chosen to answer those questions in local quiz nights!

More important - the thing that makes me different I would guess - is my ability to not just enjoy art and craftsmanship in fiction, movies and music - but to also be able to assimilate, dissect and understand exactly what goes into creating commercial 'art'.

More than that, I can teach exactly HOW YOU CAN DO IT TOO.

I know this because people tell me all the time - daily, and have done for more years than I care to ponder.

I don't know how I picked up this ability - or what it's really for - I just know that if it is a gift, then I should use it - not only to help further my own 'artistic' career - but to help other people achieve their dreams too.

I like to think that's what I do.

If I thought I wasn't teaching people to become successful, confident and motivated artists, I would stop doing this tomorrow!

There would be no point, would there?

Anyway...

Here's a FREE Breakdown of My BEST Advice

1. Choose the direction you want to go in

This may be the hardest part for many - to know with certainty the genre or the road on which you want to travel. Many artists and writers may spend decades discovering the kind of stories they want to write - and the kind of writer they want to be.

But unless you're some kind of polymath, then specialization is the key to success. Choose one area in which you wish to excel and focus on that alone.

If you're not sure, choose something related to what you love already. If you love romance, write romance, study it, learn the genre requirements and live the life of a romance writer.

Don't fight the genre requirements, God no, not yet, absorb them, understand them and write to show publishers you get it.

This advice is true for any artistic pursuit.

Being different is okay once you're there - but if you don't show people you know what you're doing first, then you're never going to get to the point where you can experiment.

This holds true for all great authors - from Stephen King to JK Rowling, from James Patterson to Patricia Cornwell: they proved they can handle their genre first, then put their own stamp on it.

2. Find Out Everything You Need to Know

Read anything and everything related or connected to that genre or direction you'd like to focus on.

Become an expert on your genre. Study its authors.

Learn how the greats have done it. Work out exactly how writers structure their sentences, their paragraphs, their chapters, their entire novels - it's not that hard to do.

Even if there are authors that you're not crazy about, and yet they are successful and popular, study them too. Work out why their writing is effective to their fans.

3. Constantly Improve Your Technique

Make it a lifelong goal to improve your writing - to get better.

Study the basics often. Study all you can about spelling, grammar, style, writing technique, planning and all of the myriad advice around regarding fiction and creative writing.

You can never hear good advice too many times.

And to think you are above the basics is to kid yourself - there is no such thing as a writer who does not find all of the nuances of writing - including the most trivial - absolutely fascinating.

If you don't, then take up gardening. It will probably be more rewarding for you!

And I've saved the best advice for last:

4. When it comes to telling stories, develop the concept fully.

The modern world of commercial writing is not primarily focussed on creating or even acknowledging good writers. You can be the most fabulous writer in your community BUT if you can't tell a half decent story, you will struggle to become a successful author.

Look at all of the bestselling authors of the 20th and 21st centuries - what do you see?

Not the writers. No, their characters, their worlds, their STORIES are what stand out.

Think about James Bond or Sherlock Holmes. Think about Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, The Da Vinci Code.

It's the concepts that sold these stories to millions of readers.

You don't even have to be a great literary writer.

Once they had a good idea that was well thought out, all of the most successful authors of the last 100 years had to do was immerse themselves so fully into their concepts that they were merely recording their worlds for others to share.

That, my friend, is all you need to 'get' if you really want to be a commercial bestselling author.

That's my best advice (for what it's worth!)

Thanks for letting me rant.

Keep Writing!


Rob Parnell
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, September 24, 2009

To Pay or Not to Pay

This week we've received lots of correspondence from our esteemed subscribers over the issue of whether writers should have to pay for writer's resources - including market listings.

I thought the topic worthy of discussion, not least because there are so many writer's sites out there that do charge fees - for almost everything from agent contacts, representation services and the old chestnut, vanity (now often called POD) publishing.

It's interesting to me because it seems to be an issue that is unique to the Internet. Writers feel no similar qualms over paying for writing services and market listings off-line. It's only on the Internet that writers seem to think everything should be free!

Why, I'm not really sure.

I guess it's because once, a long time ago, there was an idealistic notion that the web would one day become a resource for humanity, free to all, forever...

Whilst a fervent minority bought into this cute idea, vast money driven corporations like AOL, Yahoo, Google and our dear friend Mr Bill Gates had no such heady plans to work for the good of mankind. No, there's was a more basic driving force - the oldest of them all - the lure of profit.

And make no mistake - the Net is a commercial enterprise. Note: Is. Always was, always will be. It's up to us, the consumers, to adjust our thinking back to this harsh reality. Face it:

Without business, the Internet wouldn't exist.

Advertisments (read: sales) - just like on TV, radio and in magazines - are what keep the Internet going.

Without commerce (read: people like you and me spending money) there would be no incentive for anyone to exist or persist online.

In the Good Old Days...

Writers are often reminded of the old maxim that when it comes to getting published, money should flow one way only - and that is towards the writer.

Good advice for the unwitting writer desperate for publication.

However, this does not necessarily mean that everything that a writer needs - and needs to do - will be free.

Writers have expenses, just like any other professional.

Doctors do not expect their tuition to be free. Nor do journalists or bricklayers or swimming instructors. People accept nowadays that you pay for further education. You may get grants and other pecuniary help - as do writers - but most people know that any kind of serious training is never going to be free.

Professionals need to pay for their tools - and to access their customers. They pay for premises, for supplies, for employees...

Professionals pay for listings in the Yellow Pages - or to advertise their services in public places or in newspapers and magazines.

Books containing lists of publishers, agents and writer's markets cost money - for both the advertiser and the consumer. Professionals may pay hundreds for a listing. And consumers may pay anything from $50 to $300 and more to buy those listings - in book form.

As full time writers, Robyn and I have shelves full of market listings in publishing, screenwriting and paying writer's markets from all over the world. These Writer's Guides have cost us, over time, literally thousands of dollars.

Given our need for this information, we don't complain about buying these guides. So why would we complain about paying for leads, markets and paying prospects on the Net?

It's a double standard, surely.

Should Information Be Free?

In today's world, hundreds of thousands of people are involved, every minute of every day, in the compilation and dissemination of information, the majority of whom are paid employees.

In the old days volunteers and enthusiasts gave over their time to put lists on the Net - and quickly realized (within a year or two) that this was a one way street. Having a web presence costs money - and without money coming back to the list owner, where's the incentive?

Many people think of the Internet as free.

This is purely an illusion. An Internet connection, a phone line even, can cost hundreds of dollars a year.

The Internet is an expensive, muti-million dollar operation.

Machinery, hardware, software, all technology has a price. Even time, as the cliche goes, is money.

Expertise is expensive. Information, services and financial guarantees cost time and money to provide, update and promote.

Simply put: you can't survive on the Net nowadays unless you approach it like a business.

But Where Does That Leave Writers?

It's a question of perspective. Professional writers, in fact, pay for everything anyway.

Look. You pay to have an agent. Around 15% of what you earn goes into your agent's pocket.

You pay to get published - traditional publishers take around 90% of your earnings, and give you only what is left over.

That's because publishers pay to get your books on the shelves.

Typically, even after publication, you will spend money to promote yourself.

Everybody pays...

So why should being a writer make you different?

The fact is, if you take your writing seriously, you have approach is like a business because, at the end of the day, that's the only way to survive in the long term.

In our experience, writers who pay for assessment, editing, proofing, etc get ahead more quickly than those who do not - because having professional feedback can make a real difference.

Those who buy writing courses get ahead - because they're learning about what the market requires without having to learn it the hard way through experience and trial and error.

And especially those who pay for personal mentoring and help from experienced writers tend to become professional, full time writers too.

Even people who pay to self publish, tend to get publishing deals later on.

It's called making an investment in your future.

If you're serious about your writing, why wouldn't you want to position yourself - especially given that the writing industry is so fiercely competitive nowadays that the chances of you achieving your goals through luck and talent alone is next to slim.

Wouldn't you want to know everything there is to know - even the stuff you have to pay to find out?

Free stuff can only help you so much.

The rest is up to you.

Be a professional.

Accept that, as a writer, you will often need to spend money to make money - there's nothing wrong with this premise.

You can never hear good advice too often. And paying for it, let's face it, often makes it stick!

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Finding Your Genius Within

Rob Parnell


Below is an article I wrote way back in 2002. It's been reproduced hundreds of times on the Net and in books and courses. I guess that means it's kind of famous!

Take a look - it's still inspiring!

Understanding genius is a three-stage process.

First, you need to break down your preconceptions about what you think being a genius is.

When you call someone a genius, what do you mean?

That they display characteristics that seem to be above the common herd? That they think ahead of their time? That they seem to be able to create perfect art with little or no effort?

Einstein was a genius they say. So was Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Beethoven and Van Gogh. Why? Because they displayed a unique way of thinking that separated them from the mainstream.

Did genius just bestow itself upon these individuals?

No, every so-called genius is a craftsman first. They learn the basics. They study them, copy them until they are implicit. So that, when it's time to create for themselves, they know and understand their influences.

Good artists express themselves with honesty and skill. They also learn - and keep learning - from other artists. No influence is a bad influence. It all helps.

Genius is a not a thing in itself. It is merely a qualitative judgment made by individuals and critics - usually after the artist is dead!

What marks you out as a “genius” is your willingness to be true – to yourself and to your art. In other words, genius is really about having the courage of your convictions - the courage to be yourself....



Stage two: some practical advice now.

Clear your mind. To do this, meditate or go for a long walk in the country, undisturbed.

First, try to visualize nothing. No feelings, influences or distractions. Try to find that inner essence that is pure calm, joy and strength. It’s there, inside all of us. Get in touch with it.

Then, calmly tell yourself you’re a genius. Repeat the phrase to yourself until it becomes almost meaningless. I am a genius.

Do this about three to five times a day for five days. (You can do this with any phrase you want your subconscious to believe.)

For stage three, when you’re ready, take the plunge and write.

Write a paragraph or two about a character or a situation that you totally believe in – even if it’s fictional. Edit it afterwards until all the words represent that particular view of reality, as if it IS true, 100%.

Read it back. Is it convincing? If not, keep rewriting until the logic of each word and sentence is, in your mind, incontrovertible.

That’s the trick. Make your work totally convincing TO YOU on your own terms. Do not write for others. It doesn’t work. Be true to yourself and others will follow.

In the end, it's about how much you believe in your own vision of the world. If you don’t really believe in something then neither will your reader, no matter how clever you are with words.

In brief, to be a potential “genius” you must trust your instincts, believe in yourself and write from the heart. To do any less is to cheat yourself – and your readers.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Romance Course out on sale!

Hello everyone!

I have a special offer out today.

If you've ever taken an interest in writing,
and if you've ever taken an interest in love,
then this course is definitely for you!

You can easily write in the Romance Genre.
And best of all, it is a huge, lucrative business.

Check out this offer because it is truly a
one off great deal.
http://www.easywaytowrite.com/romance.html
Do it now because this can't last!!

Keep Writing!
Rob Parnell
Easy Way to Write
http://www.easywaytowrite.com

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Be a Writer First

Be a Writer First

Rob Parnell

Writers often talk about their quest to be published. They talk as though it's the end result to their work - as though, when they're published, everything will change and be wonderful.

This is not exactly how it works for most professional writers. Getting your stuff published is often only the beginning - the starting point for a career that may, after a while, feel very much like where you are now - as in, working for a living!

You may improve as a writer. You may start to find it easier - though I doubt it. You may have success - whatever that means to you. But at the end of the day, wherever you may be in your writing career - a newbie or a seasoned pro - you're still in a constant burgeoning relationship with words.

I use the word 'relationship' deliberately - because I think we should see writing as a kind of mistress, toy-boy or lover.

Listen. Your starting point and your end point is to improve the way you communicate your ideas through writing.

And maintaining progress in writing is like the old joke about, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" The punchline is the same: "Practice, practice, practice."

Let's look at some ways to improve our craft.

Write Every Day

I know I say this a lot. But there really is no better way to improve and progress than to write consistently. For many reasons.

1. Writing every day creates a catalogue of work over time.

2. Daily writing improves your ability to immerse yourself in your fictional worlds or in the non-fiction books you're trying to write.

3. Regular writing gets rid of writer's block.

4. Regular writing improves your self confidence. You feel better about your writing the more you do it.

5. The more you write, the more your writing style improves.

Almost all of the problems that would-be authors associate with writing - or not writing - or finding it hard to get started - can be solved by a commitment to write every day.

Of course this is easier said than done for most. Especially if you have a day job or a busy life that gets in the way.

But think of it like this:

If you were a bestselling author, or even just a professional writer, what do you think you would be spending most of your time doing?

Writing, of course.

You'd get up in the morning, stagger to the computer and pump out a few hundred, or a few thousand words. To sustain your career, that would be what you'd need to do.

Clearly then, if you want to sustain a writing career, you need to start doing that first - now, before your success.

In the best tradition of self help advice, you act the thing you want to become. In order to become a serious committed writer, you need to be a serious committed writer in the first place.

This may seem obvious to you. It may not.

Many would-be writers don't understand the importance of this. They imagine that one day they will have lots of time and they'll be able to write all day - many would be writers spend their lives waiting for that time, only to find it never came - and they're still waiting.

Don't you fall into the trap of thinking that, when the publishing deal comes through, you will suddenly be in the position to write all day - the money's not that good at the beginning!

No, most newly published authors still have to find the time - and the inclination to write more.

Much better is to develop the habit now. Commit to writing as much as you can and constantly investigate ways of finding writing time.

You owe it to your future to get stuck in now - and do the work, as though you're already a published author.

Then, I believe, your inevitable success is assured.

The fact is publishers and agents like career authors who understand that rejection and rewriting, reworking your ideas and being able to take criticism, act on it and bounce back is all part of a writer's job.

If you're the kind of writer that struggles constantly with self doubt and is easily knocked back by the slightest criticism, you need to get over it. You need to show publishers and agents that you don't care what they say: you're going to do this anyway.

You write because you're a writer first and foremost.

In an ongoing relationship with words, your first love is writing.

And just like a real-life lover, you must treat writing with respect. You watch it, nurture it and study it, you can learn to appreciate it in different ways every day, and, most importantly, you do everything you can to sustain that love and benefit from the relationship.

Go for it.

Write every day.

'Til next time,

Keep Writing!


rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chasing Our Tales

"Writing is a triumph of tenacity over common sense."

That's what my mother says anyway. Her view is that any kind of writing is a "...very strange way of spending your time, Robert. Why on earth would anyone want to waste their energy doing that?"

And this from a woman who reads like it's about to get banned. I've pointed this out of course. But though she loves reading, she thinks all writers must be a little weird to devote their lives to sitting alone and writing.

She's a more sociable animal you see. Her idea of bliss is to be surrounded by any kind of people, all chattering and yammering over nothing in particular, simply enjoying the closeness of others.

That, of course, is my idea of The Seventh Level of Hell.

Not that I intend to be unsociable - or mean for that matter. I just prefer books and writing and creating, working on artistic projects - and if I do need to go out and communicate, I want it to be for a good reason - like to teach, or learn, or brainstorm or dream and plan with others about a brighter, more positive, art focussed future.

I find stagnation - by which I mean merely existing in ordinary life - a very poor substitute for the joy of creating.

The Wind Beneath My Wings

Creativity is what inspires me.

Working on stories about people and plots I have 'invented' is what keeps me excited about life. Writing songs and recording music gets me too. As does oil painting...

If it's not fiction, I can become equally engrossed in putting together books and courses. I've always been this way. I wrote my first book - about chocolate and secret places to keep it - when I was four years old. I wrote it out by hand and bound it all with Sellotape - and hid it in the wall of my bedroom.

I kept diaries until I was eighteen - until I went travelling across Europe and returned home to find my mother - not that I want to sound like Norman Bates here - had thrown them all out. When I asked, in shock, why she had done that, she simply said, "What does it matter? They were only full of silly words. What were you ever going to do with them?"

What indeed.

I should have gotten the message earlier. Mom hated my short stories, even when I received awards from school - and teachers raved about them. She didn't even like my artwork, paintings etc. She said I had no talent, and no right to express it, repeatedly.

To warn me further, she gave me horror stories about how writers were all drunks, ne'er do wells and drug addicts, propogandized that journalists were Satan's spawn, and that writing - in fact any kind of creativity - was some form of certifiable insanity.

But as all good parents know, you should never demonize a child's preoccupations, because it only makes them more attractive. So it was with me.

By the time I left home - after Mommie Dearest sobbed at my decision to forgo University and form a rock band (she said I couldn't sing) - my course through life was set.

Goodbye to All That

I guess mothers the world over want what's best for their children. They want to protect them from failure and disappointment. But I always knew that if I did what Mommy wanted - to get that job in The Hardware Store (seriously) - then I would be forever bored and frustrated by a life of 'quiet desperation.'

Much better to me was a life of possibility - a life that involved 'making something of myself' - whatever that meant.

Today, I've got what I want. A past full of music deals, playing guitar and singing in front of thousands of people, theatre, TV and movie experience and a heap of fun - and sometimes crazy - memories. And now, I've got screenplays in production, books and a myriad of courses published, speaking engagements coming up and a head full of wondrous ideas for the future. Not to mention the best girl in the world at my side - literally and metaphorically.

Okay, I experienced the failure and disappointment that all artists encounter along the way. But I wouldn't have traded any of that for the whole wide world. Artists need to be tested, to be rejected - it's all part of the process.

To 'protect' me from an authentic life would have been tantamount to switching off my life-support machine.

Zen and the Art of...

We create the life we want - or at least we should try to.

Douglas Adams - one of my heroes - once said, "We may not always end up where we wanted to go, but, if we follow our instincts, we often end up where we needed to be."

I love that. Very Zen, but no less profound.

Okay, I apologize if this article has been all about me. I know you're not supposed to do that in Net articles. I should have been focussing on you - my dear reader - and how I can help.

But I hope you'll forgive me just this once - and if I do it again in the future!

Maybe there's something in the above that you can relate to - and that in itself may help you in some way.

I guess if there's a point to this article it would be:

Never be afraid to follow your heart - and do what you think will make you happy.

Your instincts - and your natural talents - exist for a reason.

They're there to help you make the right decisions for the sake of your sanity - and the satisfaction you receive from following your dreams is well worth the discomfort of going against those who might want to 'protect' you from your true self.

Mother does not always know best.

Now Dad, bless him, is another story - and for another time...

Until then,

Keep Writing!

rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How to Get What You Want: Relax

Are you struggling to achieve your dreams?

Does it seem as if your perfect life is elusive?

Does you feel you're never going to get what you want?

If so, it could be you're missing something important.

Here are some tips on how to create your perfect life by adjusting your inner perspective.

You're Never Too Busy to Relax

When we're stressed and caught up in the complexities of living our daily lives, it can seem as though there's never enough time to do everything.

We're always chasing our tails, beating ourselves up over jobs not completed or done badly or tasks - like writing - that get squeezed out of our schedules.

If you're like this, you have to stop. Literally.

You must find time - half an hour to an hour every day, to unwind and get some perspective.

I call it 'strategizing time' or more simply, 'time to meditate'.

Meditation is not about assuming a lotus position and contemplating the universe in your navel. No, it's about deliberately relaxing your body and mind to help you better deal with life and everything it throws at you.

Feel stressed? Dissatisfied? Overwhelmed? Angry?

These feelings are illusions created by your unwillingness to relax and see things as they really are.

Taking half an hour out of each day to relax properly will help you see that there is always enough time to do what is important. The trouble is that if you don't meditate, you end up filling your time with the unimportant things that perpetuate a life you probably don't want.

You'll find that the more you purposefully relax, more time will actually appear - as if by magic - to help ease your situation.

NB: Watching TV is Not Relaxing


You might say to me: But I do take time out every day to watch TV or go to a movie or have dinner with friends. Sorry. This is not the same as spending a short time each day with your thoughts.

The object of relaxing is to clear your mind, remove the clutter and find some inner peace. This needs silence and alone time.

You need the space in your mind that relaxing creates - to assess your motivations and come up with a clear strategy for the future.

Believe me, you really do need to take time out every day to do this. Because this is how you get what you want - in the short and long term.

You need to get in touch with the 'inner you' every day.

It's too easy not to - and to completely lose sight of who you are, what you want, and where you're going to end up. And where's that going to be? To quote one of my favorite songs. "And then one day you'll find, ten years have gone behind you. No-one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun."

Wasting time is built into our DNA. It must be. We're so good at it.

Take back control - not by doing more, but by doing less, by deliberately relaxing.

How to Relax Properly

1. Find a space to call your own. If you don't have one, make one.

A small room would be ideal. If you can't manage that, then a corner of a bedroom would do. Maybe even the bathroom.

You need somewhere you won't be disturbed. Somewhere relaxing. Before I had a nice home, I sought out libraries, quiet bars and even secluded park benches. You MUST find somewhere you can return to - that you associate with letting go and finding inner peace.

2. Spend the first five minutes doing absolutely nothing.

Sit and stare into space. Try to quieten the thoughts in your mind. If something concerns you, put it aside, push it away. Make your mind go as blank as you can.

If you have difficulty with this, try gazing at the sky or a flower or a flame, anything that focuses your mind on peace. If there is noise, let it flood over you and tell yourself that you find the noise relaxing and that it does not trouble you.

3. Close your eyes and think about your breathing.

Focus your mind on the way the air you breathe comes in and out of your nose. Imagine that with each breath you are pulling in goodness and light and with each exhalation you are letting go of darkness, stress and worry.

Count down from ten to one and between each number, order yourself to relax, unwind, feel peace and become content.

4. Let your mind wander.

Often people misunderstand meditation. They think that if their thoughts are still chaotic, then they can't be doing it right. This is not the case.

The human mind is always thinking. You can't stop it. But, here's the thing, you can guide it when you're relaxing.

Remind yourself that, in the context of our vast universe, nothing is really that important. Nothing really matters as much as we might like to believe. We are mere tiny specks in the middle of an infinite cosmos.

Curiously, it is the revelation of this fact that ultimately gives us power.

5. Ask Yourself Honest Questions

As you contemplate the enormity of the Universe, and your part in it, let your mind seek answers to questions. Ask your subconscious mind for guidance over the issues that concern you.

Make it your intention to receive guidance from the Universe -or God, if you prefer - and commit to acting on that advice. Ask for solutions - and be thankful to receive them.

In your mind, discuss ideas with yourself, calmly, rationally and with patience. You have all the time in these moments that you need. Five minutes in this mental state is the equivalent of months of internal debate - and far more effective.

6. Make Affirmations

Remind yourself of your talents and abilities. Be positive. Be optimistic and know that wisdom comes from acceptance. And only when you accept your current reality can you begin to change it.

Imagine a bright future and yourself in it. See the world you can create and watch how you act in it, how you think in that place. Examine how a perfect you in a perfect future would make decisions based on success, joy and abundance.

Don't worry about how to achieve your goals. See them as attained and imagine how that feels. Even if just for a few fleeting moments, be the fabulous person you wish to become - and know what it feels like to be that person.

7. Come Back Down to Earth

Whenever you feel comfortable, at peace and most likely, happy, open your eyes and for another five minutes, do nothing.

Stare into space and take an untroubled look at the world around you. See the beauty and simplicity of the mundane. Breathe softly and believe in the power that is in natural harmony.

Know that being content is the secret to success.

Because being content opens your mind to possibility and gives you the strength to pursue your goals and dreams.

Hard work will often get you somewhere you don't want to go.

But being able to truly relax - and see things in perspective - will take you further towards your perfect future than any amount of hard work and stress.

Learn to unwind first.

Then take on the world anew.

Once a day, every day.

Till next time,

Keep Writing!

rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
http://easywaytowrite.com

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What to Write About

What happens when you can't think of anything to write?

It's funny because I've noticed this is quite a common problem - for the newbie and the professional alike, but usually for different reasons.

Often the newbie will be flushed with the conviction that she's a writer. She feels it, she knows it in her bones. And yet when it comes to sitting down in her writing space, she wonders what she should say - exactly what should she focus on? What should she communicate - or at least commit to paper?

The professional writer too can get stuck. He may have exhausted his current topics of interest and want to start on something fresh. Like the newbie, the professional may ask himself, what can I say that is of interest to my editor, my publishers or my fans?

Both the newbie and the professional may get stuck on what to write NEXT.

Create You Own Emergency

Deadlines and external pressure work for the professional. Often working writers have no choice but to slog along on their writing projects because at some point in the past they promised to do a piece for another person.

There's nothing like the imagined feel of a producer or publisher's breath on the back of your neck to get you, if not motivated, then at least pumping out words.

But what if there's no pressure?

In 'Becoming a Writer', the great Dorothea Brande pointed out that writers create their own emergencies. They alone decide that a piece of writing must be done.

They have to. In reality, there's no need for yet another piece of writing. The world won't care whether you don't write. Nobody misses the bestsellers that never were.

That's the irony of writing. Writers become successful for writing things nobody realized they were missing - until they read them.

Writers need to create first and foremost for themselves. They need to feel a compulsion to record something in words that is important only to their own conscience.

Here, I think we're getting to the heart of 'reasons to write'.

Because once you establish your reasons - or, for the professional, re-establish your reasons, then the issue of what to write about can fall into place.

Find Your Passion and Embrace it

I once read a column written by Stephen Fry. He's famous for being an actor mostly but is surprisingly adept at stringing a few words together. (Of course his one time comedy partner, Hugh Laurie, is now much more famous - as the gorgeous Doctor House.)

But in the article, Stephen examined the problems associated with having no ideas - and what it meant to the writer.

His conclusions were vague (as you'd probably expect) but I gleaned that the artist in him was satisfied that he had created something - after he had finished the article. From nothing, he had created something of - at least - curiosity.

And that's the way it is for writers sometimes.

Even when we sit down with no particular ideas, we can create something of value. Not because of the topic or the story necessarily, but because we have a particular way of writing - or creating, even thinking, that brings something unique into existence.

From watching would-be writers' careers for all this time, I've become convinced that it's those writers who maintain a conviction that what they write is important - at least to themselves - that eventually succeed.

And finding what's important to you is the key to inspiration.

Examine Your Reactions

What makes you mad? What gets you going? What do you want to change?

At conferences, you will often see successful writers talk about what they didn't like about other writers, other books, other TV shows and movies.

Their dissatisfaction compelled them to write.

They felt that an issue was not being given sufficient space - or that a common view was being given too much credence.

They write to redress the balance - and give their own take on issues.

Often too, you will hear writers say, "I write to find out what I think about things."

Writing has a way of clarifying thoughts, concepts and arguments. That's the very least of its functions but no less powerful for that.

More importantly, writing is a way of revealing truth. In stories, screenplays and in non fiction, writing gives answers, it examines and illuminates, often the mundane, but also the profound.

If you're having trouble wondering what to write about, look inside of you.

Think about the things you care about - the things you have seen and experienced that have moved you - the issues you feel need further examination - especially if they bug you!

Then start writing, even without a plan or an agenda...

And see what happens.

You may be surprised by the result.

Till next time,

Keep Writing!

rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
http://easywaytowrite.com

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What You Didn't Understand About No!

Many writers tell me the scariest thing they have to do is submit their work to publishers, magazine editors and agents.

This is understandable.

You may have poured your heart and soul into a piece of writing. You may have spent a very long time working on it - so much so that it feels like a part of you is somehow exposed.

You fear criticism at best, ridicule at worst.

Placing your work in an envelope can bring on palpitations and an overwhelming sense of panic.

Writers ask me if this ever goes away.

The short answer is no.

It doesn't matter how long you've been writing, or how many times you submit material or show your work to others, there's always a nagging trepidation associated with the experience.

It's akin to first night nerves. Actors, not matter how accomplished, still feel it just before the curtain rises.

Musicians and singers still feel it, just before the song begins.

Even great speakers - gurus - feel it, as they walk out to face the audience.

It's natural, to be expected, indeed, welcomed.

Nervousness is good because it means you're concerned about your art. If you had no fear, no thought that you could ever do any wrong, you wouldn't care so much about your work.

If you had little self consciousness, you'd most likely stop writing and think, Ah well, that'll do. Who cares if they don't like it?

And I think that would come across in your writing.

Don't Fear Rejection
Rejection is not to be feared. Criticism is not to be feared - quite the contrary. If you've stimulated a reaction, even if it's bad, that's good. Because that's what you want.

The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

The last thing you want is for your writing to be ignored.

But we can't all be fabulous, especially when we're starting out, and the people we send our MSS to know that. And sometimes it's impossible to know how our writing will work for others until we show it to them.

You need to develop an inner confidence - not so much in your writing style or your use of the right words - but in the ideas you're presenting which, after all, is usually what publishers are interested in and looking for.

Writing can almost always be improved by editing, re-shaping and reworking. And you should always strive to improve the way you express yourself.

But there comes a time when you need to let go - and receive feedback. There comes a time when the actor must play the role for the audience or the singer must sing her song. Just like any performer, writers must reveal their skill to the world.

And, gasp, be judged.

And this is where the source of fear is located - in the judgment of others. I suspect sometimes we'd rather not know if we're on the wrong track - or whether our belief in our own talent is misguided.

Rest Easy, Be Kind to Yourself

Let's take a look at the reality of showing your work to others.

1. There are millions of writers out there, you're just one.

2. Rejection is only very rarely personal.

3. If you don't get out there, someone else will.

4. The world needs writers, that's a fact.

5. You've got to be in it to win it.

Confidence in yourself, even if it's misplaced, is essential to success. Because without self confidence, you'll always hide your light - and your work - under a bushel, to coin a phrase from the Bible. (What is a bushel anyway? Do they sell them at K-Mart?)

Even though the jitters may persist - even for JK Rowling, who still receives her fair share of criticism - you have to overcome the fear - and submit your work anyway. It's the only way to get ahead.

It's also the only way to get over the initial nervousness - and discover for yourself the reality of being a 'real' writer.

There will always be hurdles and setbacks. Writers have more than their fair share of those. But it's the ones who keep coming back that take away the prizes.

Be Humble and Accept Criticism

As I said, sometimes the only way to experience the reality of being a writer is to deliberately put yourself out there - and step into the firing line.

You may be criticized - but actually not nearly as much as you'd expect. But even if you are, it's all good.

Criticism is feedback. And acting on criticism is helping you grow and learn as a writer. It's making you better and stronger. It's giving you the tools to keep coming back and proving, with each word, that you know what you're doing, have a right to do it, and will keep doing it until your vision of the world is recognized as valid and well expressed.

Don't fear the fear. Embrace it.

Don't fear rejection, it's to be expected, even welcomed.

Because each rejection means you're one step closer.

And with each step your confidence will grow.

Till next time,

Keep Writing!

Rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
http://easywaytowrite.com

Thursday, June 25, 2009

You Wrote a Book - What Now?

Let me make a prediction.

By 2015, based on current trends, 50% of the books available online and even offline, will be self published.

How will this happen? Simple. Print on Demand technology has already progressed to the stage that even the big traditional publishers are using it - which means, yes, now we're all equal.

Plus, distribution networks are now seeing that there is money to be made stocking and distributing self published books - as long as the writers are diligently involved in their promotion.

Book marketing is now no longer the sole responsibility of a publisher's sales staff. More and more trade publishers are requiring, even demanding, that authors self promote their books.

So, whichever way you go, you will have to get out there and sell your books yourself. But what does self promotion actually involve?

Are there any special skills you need?

Yes, but don't fret - you're a writer. Much of what you need to do is already within your skill base.

Here are nine pointers for the serious newly published author:

1. Create a Web Presence

Having an author website is a must - but there's more to be done than that. Having a presence on the web to promote you book(s) needs a more strategic approach.

You need to hunt down any and all Net platforms - including social networking sites - from which to promote you and your book.

2. Make your Website Interactive

You need to run a newsletter, a blog and have useful resources for readers and writers to make your website 'sticky' - which means giving people reasons to find your website and keep coming back.

Do whatever you can to build a mailing list, online and off.

3. Use Ads to Generate a Following

This may require some investment of money and time. Book sales don't just happen. They never have. Authors throughout history - from Geoffrey Chaucer to Jeffrey Archer have spent money publicizing themselves in the short term to gain book sales in the long term. If you believe in yourself and your writing, follow their example.

Online this may mean using Google Ads. Offline you may need to consider printing up posters, business cards and bookmarks, putting ads in the paper and sending out promotional material to bookshops, libraries and schools.

4. Create a Stream of Press Releases

One is never enough. You need to catch the eye of the media. And the way to do that is to make your book relevant. Follow the media daily and reshape your press releases to reflect and include current news headlines. Make yourself relevant. Send out press releases consistently - and have a ready made 'press pack' available for any journalist who may call.

5. Contact Radio and TV Stations

Deliberately target news media outlets in your press releases and then follow up. Find out when and where the media airs shows about authors and books - and let them know you're available for interview.

Okay, this is scary - but it works. And don't be nervous. Once you've done it the first time, it gets easier. Trust me.

6. Do a Launch Tour

It used to be that a book launch was a fun one-off activity. Not anymore. You should plan a tour of book launches. In your own town there may be half a dozen places you could hold them.

Plan on touring interstate, even internationally, and doing as many launches as you can.

Not just in bookstores and libraries but nightclubs and community centers, gyms and pet stores. I'm not joking. You can make these things work. And try this: invite celebrities to your launches. You just never know who will come!

7. Do a Lecture/Personal Appearance Tour

You might think that only the extroverted are best suited for giving talks and workshops on their books. You'd be wrong. And I'm willing to bet you can do it too.

Don't think in terms of making a profit on your speaking engagements - but do take lots of your books with you. The money is made at the back of the room, after your speech.

8. Keep Looking for Opportunities

Whenever you're out and about, deliberately build networks of useful contacts. Visit other writers and talk with them, share your self promotion tactics. (Here's a tip: buy them lunch - it's tax deductible.)

Online, join discussion groups that focus on self promotion. It's all useful for developing a mindset, even if you don't use all of the strategies made available to you.

9. Keep Writing

Most of all, don't lose sight of your art - the reason you're doing all this promotion. You want to be a professional writer, so you'll need to keep coming up with the goods.

A famous bestselling author once told me he spent 60% of his year writing, 20% promoting himself and 20% resting, usually in a far off country. That sounds about the right balance to me!

All this may sound rather daunting to the newbie and to the newly published. But the good news is that doing at least some of these activities will generate book sales.

Now all you need to do is consider this:

If you're going to be doing all this self promotion, would it be more profitable for you to be self published - or share all your hard earned royalties with a trade publisher?

This is the real reason why self publishing will become so important in the future. It's way more profitable to self publish.

Think of it this way:

The average book sells less than 500 copies - shocking but true.

With 10% earnings, your standard royalties from a trade publisher, and you'll make around $1000 (if you're lucky, after the usual contractual deductions - don't get me started on this one.)

Sell 500 copies of your own self published book at the same retail price and you'd make around $5000 - if not more!

You don't have to be a genius to work out which option most enlightened authors will be taking in the future.

Thanks for reading!

The Easy Way to Write

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