Thursday, May 25, 2017

How to Get Inspired




We all know what it feels like to be inspired.

You get a great idea and suddenly your heart feels lighter.

Your body feels more energized.

It seems like nothing is impossible.

Your new project suddenly seems urgent.

You want to get it done before anyone else has this marvelous insight.

It’s the brain’s equivalent of the “runner’s high” - where serotonin and endorphins rush through the body and make you feel invincible.

The great thing about feeling inspired is that it can make you work hard.

But generally only for a while.

That’s the problem.

Just like that runner’s high, the feeling of inspiration doesn’t last.

I once got that runner’s high and it lasted all day. 

Completely out of character for me, I went for a jog along Henley Beach in South Australia one morning, pushed through some resistance and then suddenly felt utterly fantastic, optimistic, full of life - a sensation that lasted for hours!

Of course I tried the same trick the following day but it didn’t work.

Gosh darn it!

But I’ve also felt inspired when writing or when I’ve had a great idea for a story, a screenplay or a book.

It’s a similar feeling but usually not as long lasting as the runner’s high.

Shame - because if you could sell the feeling of being inspired, you’d become a billionaire overnight I’m sure. 

So, one of the things we have to accept about inspiration is that it’s fleeting.

And though it’s wonderful and motivating for a while, ultimately you can’t rely on it.

Indeed, if you want to be a prolific writer, it’s best not to even think about it as a source of ideas.

Fact is, writing provides you with all the inspiration you need.

It works that way round.

Write first - keep writing for long enough and you’ll think of a great idea WHILE you’re writing.

Don’t wait for inspiration before you start.

That’s a waste of time.

Don’t get me wrong, waiting for inspiration CAN work, but you’ll have a VERY LONG WAIT between writing sessions if you rely on inspiration alone!

Lots of writers I’ve spoken to do wait for inspiration - and they can go YEARS between writing sessions!

If you want to be productive, then simply to get on with the task and get it done, EVEN IF inspiration never comes during your writing session.

It’s actually fairly common for professional writers like Stephen King, James Cameron and JK Rowling NOT to get inspired while they’re actually writing at their desks.

So don’t feel you’re not being a proper writer just because you’re not inspired.

Indeed, relative to writing time, REAL writers are probably LESS inspired than the rest of us.

The trick they have over us is simply that they’re writing MORE OF THE TIME!

Honestly, try it.

Even if you don’t feel like writing one day, do it anyway - and I guarantee that within minutes you WILL feel inspired. 

Keep writing!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Your Mother Should Know


Went to a Society of Authors drinks party the other day - met some lovely writers and their partners. It was in the back room of beautiful old colonial building, replete with wood beams, deep carpets and sweet staff to help the night along.

We met a writer who had the dream happen to her.

You know the one.

You spend a decade or so trying to write a book, in between work and life, finally getting it done.

You send it out and it's immediately picked up and published to great acclaim by the first major publisher you submit to...

I mentioned to her at this point, "You know that never happens?"

"Yes," she said. "And I feel awfully guilty."

"No need," I said. "Writers need proof it can happen. Just to keep us going!"

We met other writers at various stages in their careers. Some unpublished, some having books coming out of their ears. It takes all sorts - and curiously I realized it's next to impossible to tell how well a writer is doing just by looking at them...

Most have this de rigueur scruffiness about them. I guess because dressing up is alien to most writers and not something that needs to happen much. 

A couple of the successful writers mentioned that the whole concept of going out into the world and talking about their books felt bizarre. Clearly, if you're the kind of person who wants to spend long hours alone and writing, you're not going to be ideally suited to being a great public speaker. With exceptions of course.

Many of the conversations turned to how our parents felt about us being writers. And how most of our mothers disapproved or were openly hostile to the idea of writing for a living.

Odd that - because Robyn and I thought we were unique in that regard. Apparently not. Mothers - as a breed - obviously regard writing as some kind of shameful career, not to be encouraged.

I'm sure much of that has to do with our mothers wanting the best for us - knowing instinctively that the odds of success are against us.

There again, in my experience, pretty much all writers who commit to the life eventually make it in some way.

No, it seems to go further. As though the act of writing is somehow a betrayal. As if wanting to be a writer is a kind of slap in the face to our mothers. Like they've somehow failed in their parenting if they spawn so lowly a life form as a writer.

Plus, writing is about commenting on life, our upbringing, our beliefs, making sense of the world's insanity. So I guess if we spend our lives questioning and recording life's inadequacies and people's foibles, then perhaps we really are worrisome individuals who don't necessary feel content in our skins... perhaps that is the bad thing in their eyes.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it - and my mother wouldn't approve. She who got angry when I said - at fourteen - I wanted to be a journalist - and cried a few years later - at seventeen - when I said I wanted to be a rock star.

I'd failed her because I didn't want to be a doctor or a lawyer. But this is the woman who thought I should be an assistant in a hardware store or a factory worker or an office drone - ANYTHING but an artist.

Even when I was turning thirty and we met for drinks in London one fine day, she was still saying, "Oh, Robert, you should settle down. Leave all the music and the writing behind and get a proper job. Haven't you got all that out of your system yet?"

As if I ever would...

Funny things, mothers.

Maybe we just remind them of all the things they gave up to look after us - like being a writer perhaps.

They only want us to be happy, apparently.

And perhaps being a writer is like saying: "I'm not happy!"

But of course, if that's the case, then writing is what makes us happy. 

I shouldn't go on so. Ever since Freud mothers have had a bad rap, probably always have, even before. Nowadays they get the blame for psychopaths too. Hardly fair.

Robyn's mother once apologized for not having faith in her - admittedly after her eightieth book! Mine's yet to do that.

Dad's always was a secret admirer - even when he disapproved of my rock band days, he whispered to me confidentially that he thought it was cool I got paid for drinking in the day time (his personal fantasy) and sleeping till noon when I wanted.

Later he was just relieved I'd got a house, a wife and cars. The rest - having bestselling books - was just a bonus as far as he was concerned.

Mom's harder to read.

Maybe we can never live up to our mother's expectations, if we ever knew what they were.

In the mean time, I still have a few projects left to write, Mom, now that I have settled down - as a writer.

Keep Writing!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Give Them Some Attitude


The other day, a writer friend of mine told me her publisher recommended she read a certain book to get the flavor of what they liked to publish. Eager to know, my author friend rushed to find the book and devour it... only to feel disappointed - and confused.
She wondered what it was about this book the publisher liked. The story wasn't great. The writing was average. Some of the pacing seemed awkward. Then it hit her. It was the ATTITUDE of the protagonist that gave the book its appeal. The hero was feisty, quick to anger, even spiteful and yet somehow lovable.

It's no secret that I believe the key to good story telling is 'character'. It should come before everything else - before plotting, before story, even before putting pen to paper. If your characters aren't real to you, their stories will never work.


And while I've spent much time elsewhere talking about the importance of creating believable characters, I don't think I've given over as much time on their 'attitudes' as perhaps I could have done.


So let's do some exploring, shall we?

Think of some classic fictional characters. What's the first thing that comes to mind? Their physical appearance? Rarely. It's usually their demeanor, isn't it? Their unique way of interacting with the world - yes, their attitude towards what they do.

James Paterson's Alex Cross is a great character because he's all heart. He loves his family and truly values friendship - and takes his psychopath's activities very personally!

Patricia Cornwall's Kaye Scarpetta doesn't respond well to being patronized or underestimated. She's also way too protective of her niece. Notice too that she gets much more critical of her partner's habits as the series progresses.

The Da Vinci Code's Robert Langdon is intrigued by mystery and secret symbols. Interestingly, despite being a simple college professor he seems to possess almost superhuman powers of endurance. In Angels and Demons, for instance, he actually falls out of a plane without a parachute over Rome... and survives with barely a scratch!

I think Harry Potter's appeal has much to do his ordinariness. He never believes he's capable of what he has to face. Everybody and his dog knows he's supposedly destined for greatness but he doesn't ever seem quite ready for it.

The next time you're inventing (major and minor) characters, don't just imagine their physical attributes, try to give them depth by wondering what they would be passionate about or, conversely, have little interest in. What would annoy them - or thrill them?

Give them short term and lifelong agendas, things they are committed to achieving or seeing come to pass. These are the things that will help with your plotting. Once you know what one of your characters would definitely NOT do, your stories will begin to take on a life of their own.

Remember, never impose a story on a character. The best stories come out of the main character's conflicting agendas.

For example, it's not enough to have some anonymous killer trailed by any old ordinary detective. The killer must be fully realized - there must be very good reasons (if only in his own mind) why he does what he does. Similarly, for good fiction, the detective should be motivated by much more than just 'doing his job' to make a story like this compelling.

Once we know the killer hates women and perhaps himself, and that the detective is terrified of losing his wife to him, then we begin to care about the outcome.

I think one of the reasons Hollywood movies work so well is that the big stars come with a ready made attitude. We all know what to expect from actors like Robert Downey Jr, Brad Pitt and Scarlett Johansson. No matter what characters they play, we sense their attitudes, their strength and depth, even though we know they're only acting!

So, the message is that during character development, try to imagine being inside the head of your character. Don't just give them attributes, histories and agendas, go the extra mile and give 'em attitude!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

If In Doubt Leave It Out



You probably won't be surprised to learn I read a lot of unpublished manuscripts. I also read a lot of published work. Are there some glaring differences between the two? You betcha.

The fact is most beginning writers write too much. That's okay for the first draft but when it comes to editing, you need to give that delete key a thorough work out!

Good writing is about pacing. It's about taking the reader on a journey and keeping in step with them along the way.

If you get the pacing wrong, the reader will stumble and begin to lose interest because it will seem you are more interested in writing the words than telling the story or relaying the information.

Here are some tips on how to cut down on unnecessary verbiage!

The Art of Description

With the advent of global communication and visual media, we all know what most things and even most places look like. It's no longer necessary to spend more than a couple of sentences establishing what things are, where scenes are set and what the weather is like, if that's important for mood.

Many readers nowadays will actually skip descriptive passages because they find them dull and interrupt the flow of the text. So don't beat yourself up over getting all the details across - that's what the reader's imagination is for!

Qualify That

Sometimes we write scenes etc., we're not sure the reader will understand - so we add extra words to explain ourselves, resulting in more confusion than clarity. For instance, look at this:

"With the divorce weighing on his mind, and his fears about losing his job, John was having difficulty deciding what to do with himself. Could he face going out, knowing that Pete would probably spend the evening ribbing him over his his inability to get along with his boss and his problems with his estranged wife?"

Clearly this is clumsy and confusing to read. Much better to remove the qualifiers and simplify:

"The divorce was on his mind. Did he want to go out? John wasn't sure. Pete would probably just want to rib him."

In the above version, even though the propositions are only loosely defined - the reader still gets it. You don't always need to explain every little nuance to get a point across.

Quite the opposite in fact.

Room to Breathe?

When you write you make a contract with your reader - whom you must regard as your equal. Not someone who is slow to understand and needs to be carefully led, shown everything and generally talked down to.

It's perfectly okay to leave out obvious - and therefore redundant - details. You don't always have to explain exactly who said what, what happened where, why and for how long.

New writers clog up their stories with unnecessary backstory, linking scenes, plot justifications and long complicated explanations of things the reader already regards as clear.

If you write with honesty and intelligence, your reader knows what and who you mean - when you over explain, you insult the reader. Don't do it.

Direction

Quite often writing suffers because the reader doesn't know where you're going. They wonder why you're focussing on certain characters and details - especially when you haven't first hinted at the 'point' of your story.

When you open a piece, you need a big 'sign' that tells the reader you're going THIS WAY - so that the reader knows what to expect along the way. You need to define your objectives - your purpose - in some way on the first page.

For instance, if you're writing a murder mystery, don't spend the first chapter following the protagonist around doing her laundry. Get on with the story and as soon as you can, show us the body!

Play By The Rules

Especially in genre fiction, you have to adhere to certain rules, because that's what the reader wants. Horror stories need to be at least a little horrific - right from the start.

Romance requires that you have lovers at odds with each other by page two. Science fiction and Fantasy require the elements of their genres too.

Publishers often say that, though many writers are good, they often write themselves outside of any given genre in their desire to be different or original - thereby, alas, disqualifying themselves from publication!

Of course it's important to be original - but if you can do that within the confines your reader expects, your chances of success skyrocket.

Focus

What you're looking for is sharp writing that relays the facts. When you go back and edit for sense, go for simplicity rather than exposition. If you waffle on about the intricacies of conflicting thought processes or meander through long descriptions of the countryside, you lose all sense of tension.

Pick up any popular novel. The best ones have no words that are about writing. They're all about story.

Speech tags

Okay. Speech tags - you know all the 'he said, she cried, they exclaimed blah de blah' - I'll keep this advice simple and precise. Unless you're writing children's fiction, lose them. As many as you can. It's the way of the modern writer.

Use other, more subtle ways of suggesting who is saying what. It's easily done, it just requires a little thought.

You can refer to character's actions just before or after dialogue, or use different styles to suggest different people.

Just as an experiment, try editing out all of the speech tags from your next MS. I think you'll be surprised and... master this technique and readers will love you for it!

Adverbs

Yep - we all know we're not supposed to use them, especially after a speech tag. They are redundant and add nothing to the story. Repeat to yourself three times before bedtime: I will edit out every word that ends in 'ly'! 

​​​​​​​The general rule, by the way, is that at least 20% of your MS is probably surplus to requirements! And that goes for all of us!
(PS. I love DC Legends!)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

11 Great Reasons to be a Writer



I thought I'd outline some of the perks associated with living the writer's life. Most are obvious but others less so.

1. You Get Your Name in Print
The career author knows that many people spend their entire lives trying to get to this, stage one, of the writer's life. 

When it happens, you may never take it for granted. 

Having your words in print is like an endorsement of who you are. Somehow you matter. 

And that feels good.

2. You Get Recognition

There are two aspects of this. 

One, you get people coming up to you at the mall who know your name - which is kind of weird the first time it happens - actually every time it happens because it's easy to forget you're 'known' through your writing, even if you're not very famous.

Two, you go places or call people and they say, "Yeah, I know you," and it takes you by surprise. 

It's like having a flag-bearing messenger running ahead of you, breathlessly telling people you're coming, so they'd better get ready to listen to you.

3. You Get Respect

You come up with an idea and you write it down, send it out, and then, amazingly, you are taken seriously. 

This in itself is wonderful, especially because for years before you were published. nobody took the blindest bit of notice of you.

Of course you still get rejections but when you've had a little success, people like producers, agents, and publishers listen for longer, they consider your ideas, they let you pitch and don't treat you with total contempt. 

4. You Get Royalties

Those checks come in and of course, it's never enough. Okay, so you don't have to go back to real work but, consider this:

Rich artists will attest that, the bigger the royalty check, the less it's about you.

A certain responsibility comes with success. You're not just doing what you do for yourself. 

There are all those companies, administrators, marketing people, and retailers who are relying on your creativity to pay their wages. 

Plus there's the duty of integrity you owe to your readers.

Scary thought, especially if you only went into the game for yourself.

5. You Get to Sleep In

Can't beat it with a stick.

We all get those times when we wake up and we don't feel like facing the world. 

When you're a successful writer - as in you get paid for what you do - it's okay to indulge in luxuries like complete indolence, once in a while. Bliss.

6. You've Got No Limits or Boundaries

You get to define your own priorities. You get to plan your day, your week, your year, your life.

If you want to spend a couple of months working on a novel, you can. If you want to develop a movie project idea, you can. If you want to do nothing for a couple of weeks, you can do that instead.

Of course, there are always commercial considerations. 

You have to be sure that some money will come from your ideas, eventually - 

in the short or long term - but when you work on them, well, that's your decision, your call.

Nice work if you can get it, as they say.

7. You Get to Speak

People want you to talk, to come to their venues and say something. This is very flattering, especially if they say they don't care what you talk about, as long as you're there.

You get to talk about yourself and answer questions nice people ask you. It's good to get these opportunities because it's like, what else was I going to do?

And you're going to pay me too? Wow, that's pretty cool.

8. You Get Presents

It's a phenomenon that goes back to the beginning of time: people give gifts to those they like or revere. 

It's a show of respect. It can be very disarming, especially when it's unexpected, which is pretty much all the time.

9. You Get Fans

It's weird when people quote your own lines back at you, especially when you hadn't thought those particular lines were important.

People tell you they've been following your career, that they have read everything you've written, that they are your number one fans. 

You smile, mumble nice things, and you hope you won't let them down.

10. You Get Holidays

At last, a perk that is serious fun.

People often assume that when you're a writer you're already living one long holiday, so why would you need to go away? 

But just because you're doing something toward your career every day doesn't mean you don't feel the need to get away sometimes.

The best thing is that, within reason, you can just go, whenever and wherever you like. 

However, you'll usually find an excuse to make it work related too, because:

11. You Get To Claim It All Against Tax

If you're an artist, an actor, or a writer, then it's assumed you're being an artist, an actor, or a writer 24/7. 

Therefore, everything you think and feel and do is about your work. 

Therefore, everything you buy and spend money on is, at least in theory, tax deductible. Bills, clothes, computers, books, DVDs, yep, even research based holidays...

Conclusion

I hope the above reasons will inspire you to keep pursuing the writer's life.

If you're in any doubt as to your ability to compete, take a good look at the people you regard as rich and successful. 

What have they got that you haven't?

Talent? Good looks? Better luck?

Nah, success in any arena all about commitment, persistence - and the 
courage to believe in yourself.

I hope this helps.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Motivation and Writing


My first attempt at writing a nonfiction book is still, to this day, unfinished. 

Ironic because it was a book about motivation - and how to overcome obstacles to the creative process!

Of course many of the ideas the book was going to explore I have used in the 30 or so books I've written since - but I sometimes find it odd that my first book was basically on a back-burner for about a decade while I struggled to find time to write it.

I read the other day that procrastination is not really based on a fear of accomplishment, but on a fear of beginning. And not just beginning in the sense of starting out, making notes and thinking - but really starting, as in being involved in creating.

That resonated with me because I realized that's why I never got around to writing that first book. 

All the time I wasn't starting and being involved in the book, I had no reason to pursue its completion.

Of course, for years I believed the book should be written. I even conned myself into believing I was, in some sense, actually writing it because it occupied my mind so often. But clearly the more I thought about the book, the less I wrote.

As I've said often - since - thinking is not writing. Especially thinking about writing is definitely not writing! 

But thinking about writing is a trap that many would-be writers fall into - a pit of self doubt and delusion that requires endless self debate with no real constructive purpose.

After all, when you're in a pit, you need to construct a ladder, not just think about methods of freeing yourself!

I guess that's one of the reasons why I developed the Easy Way to Write philosophy. That is, when you write, don't think

Don't analyze what you're doing because it doesn't achieve anything useful. It just slows you down.

Each moment you stop to stare into space or formulate a new thought is time away from the task. 

And as comforting or inspiring as those thinking moments might be, they're largely self-indulgent and irrelevant to the task at hand.

Because no amount of thinking and planning helps to get the job done - unless you're actively involved in the doing.

Yes - if you get stuck, take time out to break down your project into chunks - minutely if necessary. 

Tiny pieces, if that's what you need to do - and in writing. But then get back to tackling those pieces - quickly and with purpose. Don't stop to think for too long.

Serial procrastination is also a product of perfectionism - the inability to create unless everything goes smoothly and is notably brilliant from start to finish.

Any professional artist will tell you that the illusion of perfection is just that - an illusion, created by years of trial and error and constant activity.

Leonardo kept the canvas of the Mona Lisa with him all his life. To him, it was never finished. He added to it, changed it over and over, forever infusing it with the perfection it's now famous for.

But with his other works, he was on the clock. He finished them - or let them be - because there was an end date - a time beyond which he wasn't going to get paid. The deadline necessitated the work's completion.

And so it is with you, my friend. You must work on a project to its completion but have the courage to say "it's done now." 

It may not be perfect but it's time to move on. This is a skill in itself that can take years to learn - but one that all artists must contend with and accept.

The fact is, the more importance you attach to a project, the harder it will be to begin it. And this is something you don't want to feed or escalate. Because the greater the challenge in your mind, the more excuses you can find not to start.

You'll never really be ready...

... and that's the best place to begin. You learn by doing, not by preparing but by being involved.

Nowadays, when I finish projects, I often look back and can't really fathom where all that effort and inspiration came from. It's like the finished product was created by someone else - someone with a skill base and motivational standpoint separate from my own.

To me, I'm still the guy who couldn't get his first book written!

I think this is the way it works.

You don't really go from a wannabe to a success, as if they're two different entities. You're still both. 

It's just that one - the doer - fills more of your time than previously.

All you have to know is that harnessing success is about doing, being active, taking steps - no matter how small - on a consistent basis.

Don't beat yourself up about your faults.

Be aware of your faults, see them as positives. Use your issues as motivation. Embrace your foibles. 

Accept your limitations. Gather strength from your insecurities - everyone has them, even the great and good.

But most of all, take action.

Write. Be involved in your writing.

We all make mistakes. They're part of the creative process.

As someone famous once said, the actor Robert Mitchum in case you were interested, it's why there's an eraser on the end of a pencil - and a backspace/delete on a keyboard for that matter.

Don't be afraid to begin. You can always delete what you've done and start again. I do that all the time these days - it's part of the process. 

See the ability to edit, clean up, delete and polish as your best friend. The part of your nature that helps you the most. But remember that without activity, there's nothing to perfect.

Things don't create themselves. We do.

Intention is only useful when there's matter to rearrange. And no amount of thought changes anything until activity kicks in.

As Nike says, just do it!

And as Rob says:

Keep Writing.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Reading Other Author's Books (and other depressing things)


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

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

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

One such superior author is Denis Lehane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything would end up in the infamous "too hard basket" as they say in Australia.
Having been suitably chastised by reading Lehane - who seems to be saying to me: Give it up, lad, I've got this covered, I went in search of more novels - from the bargain bin of course.

Glad I did.

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

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

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

This is the way I want to feel when I read other people's novels!

Because it gives me a reason to write myself!

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

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

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

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

And without necessarily being the greatest writer in the world.

Wonderful.

I feel another novel coming along already!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Tall Poppy Syndrome


Why is it that the more successful you become, the better you get at doing what you do, the more people want to criticise you?

It's a bizarre phenomenon that seems to be far more prevalent in Australia than in the US. In fact, in Australia, we have a name for it. It's called the Tall Poppy Syndrome.

It assumes that if you achieve success - or even want to be noticed for something you're doing, then everyone else has a right to cut you down. 

To the extent that 'it's your own fault' for raising your head above the other flora. 

It doesn't matter how proud or good and right you are - the fact you have the audacity to stand tall must mean you deserve every bit of criticism you get!

I've noted that Americans love success - in whatever arena, artistically, creatively, even in business. Doesn't matter - success is the pinnacle of the American Way. 

Not so in Australia. Success is treated with suspicion, even fear by the locals who seem to regard talent and vision as some some kind of illness of which you need to be cured. If not, then beaten down like some leprous interloper and driven back into obscure, safe normality.

Success goes against the Australian Way - where the culture is allegedly based on equality and fraternity. A fair go, as it's called down here.

But to me, it's telling that anyone who's ever made it artistically in Australia ends up leaving these blessed sun-burnt shores. And, really, who can blame them?

They all have the same complaint. 

That not only are artists unappreciated in the land of Oz, they can't get anything done! The entire culture flattens initiative, stifles talent, squashing new projects so fast you can barely hear the wheeze of dying artists.

I used to think it was a generational thing.

I remember my mother - and many of her ilk who grew up in the 1940s and 50s. They encouraged their children 'not to get ahead of themselves', to accept a life of 'security' and quiet desperation. 

I'm sure that anyone who lived in the decades after the second world war would have felt that way. It was a tough time. It was hard to survive on a daily basis, let alone fight your way out of the gray mire to do something worthy.

But times have changed. That war is over.

I grew up in the 80s - a time when you were encouraged to express yourself - in almost ridiculous ways - but still there were those who said, take it easy, artistic success happens to others, not you. Go back to your day job - be realistic!

But now there's no excuse.

Okay, so there's yet another (seemingly ever present) recession - we're always being encouraged to tighten our belts. 

But this is an artist's age, surely. 

Apart from the banks, as ever, who's making all the money?

The media. 

Movies, TV, computer games, books, online information - that's where the new fortunes are being made. 

And that's where we as artists should be heading. To take part in the burgeoning entertainment and informational markets.

But watch out - that way lies the trap of fame!

It's unfashionable to say so but I think being famous is quite hard nowadays. 

Imagine it was you, standing there, paraded in front of the public week after week - and all you get is people taking potshots at you: questioning your motives, denigrating your talent, setting out to undermine your confidence on a systematic basis - when all you want to be is creative.

Can you imagine how that would make you feel?

To be like Kanye or Taylor Swift?

Putting out your products, your music, your books and stories, laying your soul and your unique vision bare to the world - only to be consistently attacked and put down by critics and those with smaller minds.

Why is that? Why?

Because still, in 2017, most ordinary people fear success - other people's that is.

Why do you think the media follows around movie and pop stars, intent on discovering their secrets and exposing their faults?

Obvious. Because it's easy. And to level them - to cut them down. 

To reassure the public that money and power bring you nothing - and least of all: respect.

It takes a special kind of person to handle fame and success nowadays - but maybe that's what those who would criticise you hate the most.

That you're special - and they are not.

Keep writing!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

It's Okay to Break The Rules

Today I'm giving away a free course. The Instant Author Kit.

It's all part of the official launch of the Writing Academy. You may see some ads about it on Facebook.

Please share this article wirh anyone you feel might be interested in this new course!

Anyway, this week's article is about changing writing rules when you feel the need!

Keep Writing

Rob Parnell
Your Success is My Concern
It's Okay to Break the Rules (Sometimes)
Academy Website
Recently I've changed the way I write fiction.

You know me. For years I've been saying the best way to get past novel writing blocks is to write your first draft quickly. Get the words and the story down first and worry about the editing later.

This process certainly works if you're having doubts about your ability to actually get a whole book written. The principle of letting go of your inner critic is valuable - especially if you're prone to blocks.

My last novel was around 90000 words, which I wrote very quickly.

After the initial draft I sat down and then plotted the whole thing - a mistake to be sure but my feeling is that you have to do whatever works for whatever piece you're working on. Different MSS often need a different approach so that you don't go stale sticking to own self imposed routines.

That's fine. Embrace change.

Sometimes an idea is so strong you just want to get started - as I did with my last novel. I loved the premise so much I managed to pump out the entire manuscript without formally plotting it.

Then, problem was, after the first draft - and the rethink of the plot, I had to rewrite the entire thing again!

Mainly to sort out issues to do with timing - it was a minute by minute thriller after all. But also I changed the order of some of the deaths - and slightly altered the perspective of the lead character.

So far so good.

But then it came to the editing. I did one run through. Just tightening up the prose until I was fairly happy with it - I thought!

Then I gave the manuscript to one of my assistants to read. She's nearer the age of the lead character and I wanted her feedback. She had some criticisms. Fair enough.

One more edit.

Then I thought I was ready to send it out.

I did and got a couple of rejections. Okay. Can't win them all.

Then I thought, what if I wanted to publish the book myself?

Good in theory - so I began the process.

I decided I'd need a stronger opening so wrote a new prologue.

Trouble was, I was so impressed with the writing in the new prologue, I realized I'd have to make the rest of the book as good!

So another edit ensued. This one took ages. I basically had to re-look at every line, every word, every paragraph and chapter - to make the manuscript as strong as it should be.

Maybe in the two years that it had taken to get the book finished, I had grown and changed. I started to feel like I was editing someone else's book. That I was no longer the person that had written the first draft.

Good, really. But it meant I had to do a lot more work at the end of the novel writing process that I would ever have envisaged at the beginning.

The consequence of all this unexpected work was that I decided I wasn't going to do this for the next one.

So, as I said at the beginning, I changed the way I write fiction.

Just slightly. I mean I'm still the same story teller. I can still see my voice in the writing. But now I've changed just one aspect.

Speed.

Yes, I've slowed down.

Instead of writing my most recent book as fast and furiously as possible, I decided that a more considered pace was appropriate - at least for this story.

Basically I just don't want to spend so long editing this one - so I'm taking my time over which words I use to express myself during the first draft.

Why? Because I'm deliberately looking for all the things I usually want to edit out later.

Things like the overuse of adverbs, 'ing' words, the word 'it' and anything woolly sounding like 'just', 'felt', 'decided' and 'thought'.

The interesting thing is that if you try and avoid the woolly stuff the first time around, it seems to change your writing - almost fundamentally.

Passages of description suddenly become much more specific - and effective. And when you're forced to write without adverbs, you realize you have to change the way you say things in order to get the 'ly' word across without actually using it!

But the other thing that's really helped this new book is that I plotted the whole thing from beginning to end first - before I did any writing.

Just like all those bestseller writers I'm always telling you about, I wrote a very detailed outline of the story before I began.

Now that doesn't mean the novel slavishly follows the template. No, as you'd expect, new scenarios, even new characters seem to appear as I'm writing. But that's okay.

At least now I know that as I'm writing, the quality is fairly good. Not because it's literary or clever - far from it.

The purpose of clarity in writing, I believe, is to serve the reader.

And whatever technique you or I choose to employ is to that end.

I feel this time - in this latest novel - I have at last found the right balance between my own technique and its end purpose. That is, to entertain (and to sell a squillion copies of course!)

Plus, I'm enjoying the process.

Time will tell.

Fingers crossed.
The Easy Way to Write
Keep Writing!
rob@easywaytowrite.com

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Self Publicity - At What Cost?


Fame
It's one of the problems with writing: if you want people to buy your work, you need to let them know about it.

And you have to balance this issue with how marketing can seem a bit vulgar - even desperate - sometimes.

It's like the ads on TV.

We say we don't like them but we know that TV wouldn't exist without them.

Couldn't. Nor could magazines or newspapers - or, more especially these days, the Internet.

Sorry to burst your bubble on this but if you think the Net is in any way free, you're kidding yourself.

For a start, how much do you pay your service providers EVERY month?

And how exactly do you think Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon have survived for so long?

It sure ain't charity, Bub, I can tell you that much.

I know.

We'd like to think, as writers, we can be quiet, reserved, indeed anonymous - and people will somehow hear about us and buy our books - by word of mouth perhaps - or by luck or by using other people's promotional skills.

Alas those days are over - if they ever existed in the first place!

There are no talent scouts anymore. Nobody is going to take you away from all this and make you rich.

There are no literary agents or managers who have your best interests at heart.

They're all in it for the money. And 15% of your gross income is, after expenses, often more than 50% of your net income. So yes, your big shot New York agent may actually make more cash than you on your bestseller.

Fact is, being a published author doesn't pay anymore.

The latest reports show that, of the hundreds of authors signed to publishers in the last five years, only a handful have made over fifty thousand dollars. Most, 99%, made less than ten.

It's brighter for those self published on Amazon. 3640 authors made over one hundred thousand dollars last year.

For the first time in history, self published authors are making more money than their traditionally published peers.

On one proviso: the self published author MUST self publicize.

Indeed, even the Big Five publishers are as concerned about marketing as they are with publishing nowadays.

These days the marketing department is always bigger than the acquisitions department.

Writers need to have the capacity and the willingness to go out there and promote their own work.

Literary success, to put it bluntly, is now a competition of sorts - you just can't hide your light under a bushel any more if you want to be taken seriously by the public - or the writing industry.

There's no shame in being in people's faces.

Think about it. Why is it okay for Coca Cola and Nike to get in your face and come across as big corporate bullies - but somehow it's unseemly for writers to be anything less than demure?

When it comes to myself and my Academy for instance, the way I see it is that I'm not really promoting me - just my writing - which is not really me, the person, but me, the writer - two close but not entirely the same individuals. Does that make sense?

I'm shy as a person, afraid of criticism and easily hurt... but when I put together sales pages, project proposals, or movie treatments or anything I use to 'sell' my writing - I know I can seem super confident to the point of being almost 'brash'.

But that's not really me - it just helps my career. A lot.

I try to teach this aspect of writing to others - because I know it can help new writers get around this problem of having to seem self confident, worldly and wise in the ever more competitive marketplace that writing has become - when all you really want to do is sit at home and write.

I think I show that this can work. You can be both creative and open.

Like all those (apparently) insecure Hollywood actors who look good in the media but secretly crave solitude - they only do all the media stuff because it's what enables them to do what they love.

Celebrity, notoriety, call it what you will, goes with the territory.

Even as a writer, you need to connect with the marketplace.

Directly.

To ignore the need to publicize yourself is to cut off your nose to spite your face.

In order to gain success, you need to get yourself - or at least your writing - out there, or you simply won't be able to afford to keep doing it!

It'a very modern dilemma.

And one that will continue to plague authors as the Internet envelopes our lives - and makes us all accountable to ourselves.

If my writing career has taught me anything it's that you simply can't rely on anyone but yourself (and your loving partner) to get you to where you want to go.

Other people will always let you down - or rip you off. Probably both.

Anyway, again I apologize for my apparent brashness sometimes - I'm really only trying to set a good example for you, my friend.

Thanks for letting me speak to you.
The Easy Way to Write
Keep Writing!
rob@easywaytowrite.com

The Easy Way to Write

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