Monday, 31 December 2018

Writing Resolutions That Stick

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

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

Faced with this punishing reality, how do you find the strength to carry on writing?

Let me answer by telling you a story.

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

"Want to be rich."

I gave a dismissive grunt at this and asked, "Yeah, so what if that doesn't work?"

She smiled when she said, "Then you didn't want it enough."

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

Now, of course, I know better.

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

But, but, but...

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

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

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

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

Today's the Day

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

It's a state of mind.

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

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

Pretty cool, huh?

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

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

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

Achieve Your Writing Goals This Year

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

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

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

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

And believing made it so.

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

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

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

To Your Success.

Keep writing!

Creating Better Writers
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Thursday, 29 November 2018

How to Get Inspired to Write

A student contacted me the other day to say that she'd been reading some bestselling books to inspire her - but that unfortunately it was having the opposite effect!

She said she was feeling very intimidated by the way these bestselling authors spun words, described everything so beautifully and really got her involved in the story.

She came away from reading feeling depressed that she could never compete, that she would never be as good as these other writers.

She asked if I might read one of these authors, dissect their style and tell her how she might emulate these great writers.

I flinched inwardly. I couldn't help myself.

Because I make it a rule NOT to read great authors when I'm writing a novel - for exactly the same reasons as my student!

A long time ago I discovered that reading writers like Stephen King, Robert Harris, Michael Chrichton and James Patterson stopped my writing in its tracks.

These guys write with such flair - they make it seem so easy that yes, I found it hard to write my own material without either unconsciously emulating their styles or making me feel as though I couldn't write my way out of paper bag.

It was then I made the rule: "Don't get distracted by other writers when you're writing your own stuff."

It's partly for practical reasons too. Writing a long work is time-consuming - and so is reading a novel. There has to be a trade off somewhere - and surely the focus should be on your own writing.

I have a pile of comics I read for distraction when I'm writing - because I know I won't get too involved and looking at the pictures is something I can enjoy without compromising my own sense of artistic integrity.

Besides which, it's completely artificial to read a bestselling book and believe the text on page is the author's 'first go' at his novel. Writing that looks easy is the end result of furious editing, and ruthless self-discipline AFTER the first draft is completed.

To compare your own writing to a bestselling novelist's work is a bit like getting up in the morning and wondering why you don't look like Nicole Kidman or George Clooney on the Oscar runway.

The fact is, movie stars don't look like their image before they put on the fairy gloss! And so it is with modern fiction - the end result is slick and impressive - but the first drafts are probably very similar to your own work.

So my advice is that if you want to inspire yourself to write, deliberately read something bad. This age old practice has worked since the dawn of time, from Plato to Patterson, from Flaubert to Frey.

Writers everywhere have all read a truly shoddy piece of writing, felt good about themselves and pronounced those immortal words, "Tuh! I can do better than that!"

Haven't you ever done that? And then felt emboldened to get on with your own writing, secure in the knowledge there's always someone worse than yourself?

It works for me. I won't mention the name of the author's book I read before I began my own current novel but it was bad - shocking, appalling. Misplaced qualifiers, serious POV issues, stylistic inconsistencies, the lot - even though I did actually quite enjoy the story.

But when I put the book down, I felt a rush - a certainty my next book could be really special, my best yet. And I'm going to hold on to that feeling for as long as I can, for as long as it takes to finish the first draft!

And then, and only then, will I read a good book - for pleasure!

It's not a good idea to read for inspiration. Reading is about studying other writers but emulating them, or even feeling the need to, is bad for your creativity.

When it comes to your own writing, trust your instincts, trust your own sense of what is the best writing YOU can create - and stop comparing yourself with others - at least until you've completed the first draft.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Friday, 19 October 2018

How to Write Realistic Dialogue by Jean Saunders

 How to Write Realistic Dialogue by Jean Saunders

Without dialogue a novel is no more than an endless essay. Only through their speech can the characters come to life. This practical guide by an experienced author shows how it is done. Pointers include the layout of dialogue, punctuation and making characters believable through their speech.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Passion, Patience and Pride, A Writer's Guide

There's a lot about living a writer's life that is frustrating.

Endless rewrites, rejections, angst, self-loathing - but not least is the sheer amount of time people take getting back to us!

Publishers are the worst, agents second with editors being marginally faster. The worst response of all - and the reason why the wait can be so hard - is no response at all.

Email has made things worse. I don't know how they do it. I make a point of answering all of my emails.

But I don't understand professionals who simply choose not to respond at all. I regularly send out submissions to agents when I have a book idea. Strike rate? I'm lucky if 30% respond. The others clearly think the delete button or the waste basket are their most effective business tools.

They might be right - for them. But the poor writers who are being ignored, shunned and demeaned by this response surely deserve better. Writers are made to feel sometimes that pride is optional.

The crazy thing is that the 'bigger' the person is - as in the higher up the chain or the more important in an organisation - the MORE likely you are to get a reply. It seems that it's the lowly, the lazy and the arrogantly small-minded that are the worst culprits.

This makes sense to me. It's those that have a greater sense of responsibility for their business that do the right thing. After all, that's probably how they got to be in that job in the first place. Avoiding work or avoiding a relationship with a potential writer is clearly the MO of the loser.

It's okay for most of them. They've got their nice 9 to 5 jobs where all they have to do is keep their heads down, smile at their boss and get on with endless, largely meaningless, paperwork at a speed that seems painfully slow to most writers.

Full time writers like Robyn and I - who in contrast seem to work at what we call 'bullet time' - have to write without artificial securities like regular pay, company pension plans and sick leave. We work for the love of it - with a passion and commitment to art and writing - and yet even we are often made to wait as though we're last in the line for the soup!

Why are writers treated so badly? And with such contempt?

I've always thought it odd that in society we revere successful artists, musicians, actors, writers but regard anyone doing the same who doesn't happen to be successful yet as a bum.

In France at least you're allowed to sign up for unemployment benefit as a poet. But in the UK you're not allowed to write 'musician' as your profession at the dole office. Now that's stupid.

We have this theory that the reason why writers - even in Hollywood- are considered the lowest form of grub life is that there's this resentment over the idea that anyone should be paid for doing what they love. The logic being that a writer would and should be writing anyway - so why do they deserve to get paid?

Last Wednesday night we went to a Writers' Guild seminar where they outlined the pay rates for professional writers right across the board. Their message was clear - it doesn't matter how hard you work, how good you are or who you're working for, the writer is generally regarded as an irritant - a necessary evil - and the first and last to get shafted.

The Guild's talker said the writer's motto should always be: "Trust no-one." This is grim news from a body specifically set up to protect writers' interests - and is based purely on their experience of the way non-writers feel about and treat even professional writers.

As writers we are passionate - and have pride - because writing is the hardest and most important part of the creative process. We know this - and so do non-writers, though they posture and parade as though it's not.

We may have a passion for what we do. Passion is good. Passion is productive and creates results. And we use that passion to create the writing that everyone else feeds off and gets rich by.

But, because of the sad lack of respect we encounter - it's up to all of us individually to work for the good of writers collectively - by having the courage to say NO occasionally.

So the next time you get a dodgy or insulting deal offered to you, don't think, "Well it's just me, what I do doesn't make a difference" - because it does matter. We need to stand together and send out a message to those who would exploit us.

It's about taking responsibility for ourselves as writers.

Because the real reason why writers are so badly exploited by non-writers is because, for all the right and wrong reasons, we often let them do it.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The Answer to Writing, the Universe and Everything

Scientists studying nature are getting increasingly good at working out how things work. From the Big Bang Theory to DNA. From the evolution of species to how chocolate can make us happy.

We now have a pretty good idea how life works from the smallest chemical action to the largest atomic reaction. It seems as though one day we will know how everything in our Universe works... but there is one crucial element missing.

The why.

We know that sunlight makes plants photosynthesize carbon dioxide into oxygen. We know that when an electrical spark is applied to gasoline it explodes. We know that when water boils it turns to steam. We know these things and a host of others because we can prove them - every time. But do we know why they happen?

Scientists say that these reactions are 'coded' into the makeup of the elements. That these reactions are inevitable, given the right circumstances. We know that during the Big Bang, for instance, certain elements came together, making it happen, but we still don't know why they came together in the first place.

It's too easy to say God does these things, smile, and act as though that's the end of the argument.

But I think there may be another factor - a fifth dimension - at work here - one that I have recently labelled 'Intentionality'.

What is Intentionality?

Basically, I think there may be a set of independent universal forces that direct matter and biological organisms, including humans - co-existing within our Universe.

There is already some evidence that in Nature growth and change develop in pre-assigned paths of 30 or 60 degrees, though the reasons for this are unclear. It's curious that the ancient Chinese divination system called the I Ching makes similar assumptions about the mechanics of change. Could it be that Nature, including ourselves, respond to an external force called Intention?

It might be like a kind of 'mist' that pervades all matter - and if so there may also be a set of mathematical principles that direct the Intentionality Dimension.

What Does This Fifth Dimension Look Like?

It's difficult to picture what another dimension might look like but I will make an attempt here:

Imagine a line drawn on a piece of paper going from north to south- that's one dimension, seen from above. Then another line drawn across it east to west - that's the second dimension. Now envisage a circle drawn around the two lines and imagine this in three dimensions - as a sphere dangling in space. Now think of the sphere as travelling in a straight line that represents time, the fourth dimension. The fifth dimension (intentionality) is the space through which the sphere is travelling through time.

This fifth dimension is a kind of 'ether' in which there are an infinity of impulses for and against, good and bad, order and chaos, right and wrong. At some point, I'm suggesting, we may be able to identify and record these 'impulses' into a coherent system, or at least a systematic group of 'influences' over the other four dimensions.

At that point we may realize that the real reason why the Universe exists at all is because the 'overriding impulse' of all of the five dimensions combined is towards order, right and goodness.

What Has This Got to Do With Writing?

Quite a lot actually - so bear with me!

There's an ancient Hermetic maxim that says "As above, so below." It was the ancients' way of positing that what happens in the heavens is reflected on Earth. It's a pretty cool idea that they probably didn't really understand when they said it - they might just have meant that the stars dictate our destiny.

(Okay this is a vast simplification of everything I've ever learnt about ancient lore, religion and magic - I guess I'm just trying to keep it simple!)

As Above, So Below

Curiously, as we enter the 21st century, we are discovering this maxim is largely true - in the sense that the smallest chemical and subatomic reactions actually mirror what happens in the largest of any and all of the actions and reactions in the Universe.

And, given this reality, I believe our minds may work in exactly the same way as the Universe. We are in effect, each of us, a microcosm of the Universe, capable of achieving anything we choose to set our minds to - because we, as human beings, have unlimited access to the dimension of Intentionality.

Our thoughts and our perceptions may make up the bulk of our version of the real world. But our intentions are what guide us. Man is the only living creature which can consciously change his mind. An animal will react and change its actions instinctively. But only we, as rational human beings, can do what is right or wrong or neither based on considered thought. We are the only living organisms that control our intentions. We can react and change and grow when we tap into our own Intentionality dimension. And, I believe, because we are intrinsically connected with the five dimensions of the Universe -we can influence the Universe with our thoughts.

Are You In Control?

Think of a river - as time. You drop in a stone and the effects -the ripples - extend outwards. Now imagine that where the stone hits the water is your sense of now. The stone is your intention.

You can either watch the results of your intention or you can analyse its effects. Your goals and dreams are not just idle whims. No, because of their interaction with the fifth dimension, they can actually change the Universe. They radiate outwards and alter the present and the future -and the perhaps the past for that matter.

One of the problems in us believing we're just normal human beings is that we're not aware of just how much we are influencing the Universe. And too many of us stop pursuing our dreams because we think we're not getting anywhere. But we stop because we haven't yet received any feedback from the Universe. Many of us might find that if we'd just hung in there a little longer, the feedback may appear.

I've tentatively called this the Acquired Response Marker or ARM. If we accept that this ARM is reaching out to us from the Universe to help us recognise that we are getting somewhere, we might not give up so soon!

Am I Crazy?

Now it could be I'm just being woolly headed or have lost the plot in some way. Maybe I've spent so long at home studying and thinking, I'm going gaga. But I don't think so. There's just something about the idea that there may be an Intentionality Dimension that appeals to me. It seems like a key - a concept that seems to fit.

It would explain so much.

What about psychic ability? Now I'm a sceptic but I do wonder how psychics are sometimes capable of knowing the future and being able to tap into events in the past or in a part of the world they have no obvious contact with.

What's to say they're not tapping into Intentionality - which would have completely different rules about what's accessible and what isn't. The dead - ghosts or the future - may be able to communicate with people receptive to another dimension filled with 'intention' rather than what we normally think of as physical reality.

I could go on (I've been thinking about this a lot) but I'll stop here before I start to sound Jacko.

As Far As Writing Goes

You already know I believe that writing success has a lot to do with setting goals and visualization - but imagine that there was a verifiable physical reality - a new dimension - that was real and measureable. And that when you work towards your dreams there was an actual physical response happening in the Universe - wouldn't that direct, concrete feedback make you more determined to change your life? I think it would.

And I'm tending towards the idea that if all of us thought that 'thinking could make it so', and that if we all believed it, then it might change us as a species, and help us create a far better world, perhaps overnight!

Just a thought.

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Should You Write for Free?

If you're just breaking into the writing business, you may be wondering if you should start by offering your work to nonpaying markets. Do new writers need to serve some sort of "apprenticeship" in such markets before moving on to those that pay? Are nonpaying markets the only way for a new writer to break in?

Sadly, some writers don't ask this question at all, assuming (for various reasons) that the answer must be "yes." Too many talented writers end up wasting considerable time writing for free, unable (or refusing) to believe that they could be paid for their material.

At the heart of this issue are two misperceptions. The first is the assumption that one must somehow pay one's dues, "crawl before one can walk," in the writing business -- and that this involves working for no money. The second is the phrasing of the question itself. Instead of asking "Should I write for nonpaying markets?" many writers should be asking "When should I write for nonpaying markets?"

The Apprenticeship Myth

Many writers believe that one's career must begin with nonpaying markets. Many articles extol the value of such markets for building clips, enabling one (theoretically) to move on to paying publications. Writers often assume that without a history of publication, no paying market will consider their work -- and thus, that they have no real choice.

It isn't true. My own experience offers a good example: In the beginning of my career, I wrote exactly three "unpaid" articles. The first (my first-ever publication) was for a monthly community paper. The second and third were for a weekly newspaper -- and these were based on the editor's promise that he would pay me once he had a freelance budget. By my fourth article, he did, and I was earning a whopping $15 per feature!

Did those unpaid articles help me break into better markets? No. My first magazine sale was to Omni -- and was due to a chance meeting between my boyfriend (now hubby) and the editor at a conference. My second was to Quilt, and was due to a query that described my enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, crazy quilts. (My career has been a bit of a patchwork ever since...)

Omni, alas, is dead, but specialty magazines like Quilt abound, and are more than ready to welcome new, unpublished writers. All you need are a good idea, the ability to turn that idea into a well-written article, and the confidence to send that article to an editor. If you can do all of the above, many editors truly do not care whether you've been published before or not.

In short, if you have a choice between offering your material to a paying or a nonpaying market, there is no logical reason to choose the latter. The nonpaying market will always be there if you fail to sell the piece -- but it need not be your first choice, or even your second or third. If your goal is to become a paid professional, it's far better to exhaust all possibilities of payment before turning to markets that don't pay (rather than the other way around). After all, you only have to "break in" once to be considered a paid author!

When Should You Write for Free?

Does this mean you should never write for free? Not at all! There are many excellent reasons to do so; it's just that "being new" isn't necessarily one of them. Here are some better reasons:

For fun. Sometimes you may want to write something for the sheer enjoyment of it -- whether it's likely to find a paying market or not. (After all, someone must be writing all those variations on "how to bathe your cat" that circulate on the Internet!) One of my earliest "sales" was an "outsider's" view of dog shows, which was published in a breed-club newsletter; later, I actually managed to sell it to a major dog magazine. (I doubt, however, that I'll ever find a paying home for "I Was a Teenage Were-Elkhound"...)

To support a cause. Instead of contributing money to organizations or issues you believe in, you may choose to donate your writing skills instead. Your "payment" is often simply the knowledge that you are increasing awareness of an important issue. If you already have a "name," lending it to your chosen cause can be an important contribution in itself.

To help a favorite organization. You may enjoy contributing an occasional piece to your company, community, or church newsletter. Be careful, however: Once such organizations realize that you can write, you may be flooded with requests for more freebies. Before you say "yes" the first time, be sure you will feel comfortable saying "no" later.

To enhance your career. Many unpaid markets can be career-builders -- including your own website. Writing FAQs for your own site (or others), contributing articles to professional newsletters, or writing for professional journals can be good ways to build your reputation. They may also help you develop contacts that can lead to more lucrative work later.

To help and inform others. At a certain point in their careers, many writers (and others) feel an urge to "give back" some of what they have learned over time. You may decide to write about "what you know" as a way to mentor others in your field, or perhaps as a way to repay the mentoring you yourself received at one time. Sharing information may not make you rich, but it can be exhilarating.

When You Shouldn't...

Just as there are good reasons to write for free, there are also bad ones. Here are some that commonly plague new writers:
"I'll do anything to see my name in print." Seeing your byline is a thrilling experience -- but don't assume that the only way to get it is to give your work away. If you have a well-written story or article, why not send it to a paying market first? If it's accepted, you'll experience a double thrill: That of seeing your name in print, and of seeing it on a paycheck.

"I want to find out if I'm good enough to be published." Nonpaying markets are not a good place to test your abilities. Many such markets are stuck with whatever they can get (i.e., whatever unpaid writers will give them), which means that they often don't have the luxury of "rejecting" mediocre writing. Getting published in such a market, therefore, is no true test of your marketability. A better test is to submit to paying markets; if your work is accepted, you have your answer, and if it is rejected, you can explore ways to improve your material. (Keep in mind that a single rejection is no indication of quality; some articles never sell, no matter how good they are. Test the market with more than one article, and test more than one market with the same article, if you're rejected by the first.)

"I want to polish my skills before submitting to 'real' markets." To be blunt, if you don't think your material is worth publishing, why submit it to anyone? Nonpaying markets don't appreciate being dumping grounds for mediocre material. If you want to polish your work, do so through a class or critique group. Otherwise, send out your work -- and use the feedback you receive to identify areas where you may need improvement. "Polishing" is a lifelong task; since it's never finished, you might as well start selling at the same time!

"So-and-so gave me a start, and I don't want to let him/her down." Loyalty is a wonderful thing, and it can be difficult to abandon an editor or publication who accepted your work when no one else would. It's also hard to say no to someone who has learned to count on you. However, recipients of such loyalty can sometimes misuse it: Editors of nonpaying publications would often prefer to hold on to a writer "in the hand" (you) than seek out new sources. Don't let such a relationship interfere with your ability to move on to new markets.

"I'll write for nonpaying markets until I'm good enough for 'real' markets." The trick word in this sentence is "I." The issue here is often not whether your writing is good enough, but whether you feel that you are good enough. I've known too many writers who produced excellent material -- but felt that they weren't "ready" to send that material to paying markets. This often involves issues of self-esteem, fear of rejection, fear of failure, or even fear of success. Most often, writers who make this excuse doubt themselves or even their "right" to call themselves "writers." But that's another column...

Writing for free is simply an option, never a necessity. The bottom line is that if your writing isn't good (and you know it), your energies are best spent seeking ways to improve it. If your writing is good, and you believe in it, don't sell yourself short by failing to sell yourself at all!

Find Out More...

Ways to Profit from Writing for Free - Audrey Faye Henderson

© 2001 Moira Allen

Moira Allen is the editor of, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to, Allen hosts, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at"

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Creating Short Fiction


Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight
Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight

Distilled from decades of teaching and practice, this book offers clear and direct advice on structure, pacing, dialogue, getting ideas, working with the unconscious, and more. Newly revised and expanded for this Third Edition, Creating Short Fiction is a popular and widely trusted guide to writing short stories of originality, durability, and quality. Celebrated short-story author and writing instructor Knight also includes many examples and exercises that have been effective in classrooms and workshops everywhere.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Ready, Get Set, Write

Writing short pieces - say up to around 5000 words - is fairly straightforward. You can, in most cases, just start writing and keep going until you've said everything you wanted and then go back and edit for sense.

If you've missed something out, you can slot it into the text. Or, if you've overdone a section - or the writing is bad or unnecesary - you have good friend in the delete button.

Writing longer pieces is different. Having a lot to say will take time and effort - the two things a writer cannot afford to waste.

So what's the best way to approach writing longer works?

It's all about preparation. It's about knowing where you're going and having some idea of your destination.

Some writers say they can't write using a plan - or even knowing what the ending is. They cite Stephen King - who says he doesn't know what the endings of his stories are going to be when he starts out. It's deliberate he says because he wants to write his characters into impossible corners - and then work out how they're going to survive.

Obviously this works for Mr King. He says the only book he wrote using a pre-written template was The Dead Zone - but he says he found the book depressing to write because he knew the ending!

Fair enough - but I'm not sure this approach works for every writer - especially new writers who really need to get that first novel written - all of it, down on paper, existing - to help them get that sense of 'yes, I can write a novel, I have proof.'

Most new writers never get to feel that because they stumble during the novel writing process - and the book goes unfinished.

There's really only one way to get a first draft down - and that is to write quickly. Write the first draft before you change you mind about it. Before you 'grow' a little and have a different viewpoint on the world and therefore your story.

It's easily done. You're all fired up with a story and can see its significance and importance - and then half way through - several months down the track - you wonder why you were so excited. Or you begin to change some character motivations slightly and, before you know it, the story doesn't work anymore and you have to bin it or start again.

Get your first draft down fast is always my advice - especially if it's your first novel. It doesn't matter how it reads. The first novel is a learning experience - an invaluable one. It will teach you more about the writing process than any other experience - and will stand you in great stead for the future.

But in order to write quickly you need a plan, a template you can refer to as you write - so you can push through blocks and keep on writing till the end.

The template can be a series of dot points, chapter headings or a detailed synopsis - it's up to you.

But that's my advice. If you sincerely want to write your first novel - make a plan. Know your characters, know your plot, know your story and its ending, before you start.

And then, keep writing - as fast as you can!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Writing and Marketing - the Dilemma

If you want people to buy your work, you need to let them know about it. And you have to balance that with how successful marketing can seem a bit vulgar sometimes.

Like the ads on TV - we don't like them but we know that deep down, TV wouldn't exist without ads. It couldn't. Nor could magazines or newspapers - or, more especially, 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 AOL for access per month? And how exactly do Yahoo, Google and Microsoft survive as the big three - it ain't charity, Bub, I can tell you that much.)

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. By luck or by other people's promotional skills. Alas those days are over - if they ever existed in the first place!

Publishers are just as concerned about marketing as they are with publishing nowadays - (often the marketing department is bigger than the acquisitions department) - and they need to know that writers have the capacity and the willingness to go out there and promote their own work. To understand that success is 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.

Something to bear in mind when promoting yourself, perhaps.

Besides which, I've never understood why it's 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. Unless you're Jack Canfield or Bryce Courtney of course - both writers that everyone loves now because they, like an increasing number of successful writers, refuse to compromise over the need for self publicity.

And anyway - 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 writing proposals together 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 writers get around this problem of having to seem self confident, worldy 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 Robyn and I show that this can work. You can be both.

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

It goes with the territory. Even as a writer.

To ignore the need to publicize yourself is to cut off your nose to spite your face I think. In order to make money, 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's a very modern dilemma.

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

Thanks for letting me speak to you.

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Thursday, 28 June 2018

How to Achieve Writing Success

Here's the cute lie that most people believe:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

But This is To Your Advantage

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

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

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

Be insane. Be illogical. Be unrealistic!


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

Reflection Strengthens Determination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, go for it!

© Rob Parnell

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Sol Stein's 10 Commandments for Writers

1. Thou Shalt not sprinkle characters into a preconceived plot lest thou produce hackwork. In the beginning was the character, then the word, and from the character’s words is brought forth action.

2. Thou shalt imbue thy heroes with faults and they villains with charm, for it is the faults of the hero that bring forth his life, just as the charm of the villain is the honey with which he lures the innocent.

3. Thy characters shall steal, kill, dishonor their parents, bear false witness, and covet their neighbor’s house, wife, manservant, maidservant, ox, and ass, for reader’s crave such actions and yawn when thy characters are meek, innocent, forgiving, and peaceable.

4. Thou shalt not saw the air with abstractions, for readers, like lovers, are attracted by particularity.

5. Thou Shalt not mutter, whisper, blurt, bellow, or scream. For it is the words and not the characterization of the words must carry their decibels.

6. Thou shalt infect thy reader with anxiety, stress, and tension, for those conditions that he deplores in life he relishes in fiction.

7. Thy language shall be precise, clear, and bear the wings of angels, for anything less is the province of businessmen and academics and not of writers.

8. Thou shalt have no rest on the Sabbath, for they characters shall live in thy mind and memory now and forever.

9. Thou shalt not forget that dialogue is as a foreign tongue, a semblance of speech and not a record of it, a language in which directness diminishes and obliqueness sings.

10. Above all, thou shalt not vent thy emotions onto the reader, for thy duty is to evoke the reader’s emotions, and in that most of all lies the art of the writer.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

New Hart's Rules


New Hart's Rules
New Hart's Rules

For over a hundred years, Hart's Rules has been the authority on style, helping writers and editors prepare copy for publication. The latest edition of this guide has been updated for the twenty-first century using the resources of Oxford Languages and with the advice of publishing experts.

Twenty-one chapters give information on all aspects of writing and of preparing copy for publication, whether in print or electronically. New Hart's Rules gives guidance on a broad range of topics including publishing terms, layout and headings, how to treat illustrations, hyphenation, punctuation, and bibliographies and notes. All chapters have been revised and updated to reflect current practice (taking into account changes in the world and in the publishing industry over the last eight years), with the help of a team of experts and consultants. Chapters that have been particularly heavily revised include those dealing with the use and presentation of illustrations, with the conventions of scientific publishing, and with the art of indexing. Additionally, an entirely new chapter has been written to explore and summarize the differences between UK and US English.

The text is designed and organized for maximum accessibility with clearly displayed examples throughout. Authoritative and comprehensive, and endorsed by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, New Hart's Rules is the essential desk guide for all writers and editors. Together with the New Oxford Spelling Dictionary and the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors it forms the complete editorial reference set.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Murder Your Darlings

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

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

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

You might think this is good. Wrong.

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

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

Look at it this way…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All this hurts – a lot.

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

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

This is a tough lesson to learn.

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

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Writing is a Life Long Sentence

 1. Read Like it's Going Out of Fashion

You've heard it a million times before. You can't love writing without first loving to read. Read a lot. Read everything. Analyse writing and writers. Study what works, what doesn't, wonder why and learn from it.

Realize too that the published writing you see has probably been worked and reworked over and over to appear effortless. Don't assume professional writers get it down perfect every time. They don't. Their work has been analyzed, edited and beaten into shape by themselves and other editors.

2. Study Your Own Writing

Study every word, every sentence, every phrase. Are you maximizing the effect of your words? Could you say the same thing a different way?

Don't just blindly accept your words as perfect. Professionals know there is always another way of stating something, setting a scene, explaining an emotion. Too many novice writers fall in love with their words, refusing to accept there might be a better way to get to what is true.

3. Learn to Love Criticism

When we start out, criticism hurts - big time. We've bared our soul. We've agonized over our words and are proud of what we've said. Off-hand comments about our work can feel like a body slam, even an attack on our capabilities, our character, our integrity.

But that's not what is going on. People love to criticize - it's human nature. Even the best writers are criticized. The point is to learn from criticism and rise above it. Listen to what is being said, make changes if necessary but do it for yourself. You are the final arbiter - but don't be blind or sulky about it. Take it on board.

4. Read Aloud to Others

Reading out loud can highlight the strengths and weaknesses in your writing. Especially in the areas of rhythm, wordiness, and dialogue. It's a great test.

Read to friends and family, yes, but also read to other writers. Let them make comments. Enjoy the process.

Try this. Read a short piece to a group of friends/writers. Make note of how your writing sounds to them. Listen to suggestions. Make changes, read it aloud again. Keep doing this until everyone involved thinks the writing - every word, every phrase - is perfect.

5. Try Different Styles

It's too easy to get stuck in one area of expertise. If you're a fiction buff, try writing magazine articles or screenplays. If you're a journalist, try free-form fiction. If you're a literary type, try writing advertising copy. Don't limit yourself. All types of writing are good in their own way and experimenting with them can teach you little tricks that help you become a more mature, fully rounded writer.

Novice writers tend to think they shouldn't experiment, that somehow it might taint their art. Nothing could be further from the truth.

6. Take Courses, Read More Books on Writing

The process of being taught, of exposing yourself to the ideas of others, cannot be underestimated. Even if you disagree with what is being said, it all helps stretch you and give you a deeper understanding of what is good and right for your writing.

When you take lessons in writing, study hard, do the exercises, listen to the feedback, act on it and write some more. Your writing will improve the more you do it. Don't sit and fret over your writing. Just do it.

7. Seek Out Good Advice

I quite often hear novice writers complain that they're learning nothing new about writing from the various authorities they consult. They sound disillusioned, as if there's more pertinent information out there if only they could find it.

Odd. considering I've never met a seasoned writer didn't love to debate the absolute basics of word-play, grammar, sentence structure and all the other little things that novices seem to grow weary of hearing.

Remember. You can never hear good advice too many times.

8. Give Back

Share your knowledge. Teach what you have learned about writing to others. Too often novice writers can feel there's some sort of clique of professionals who don't want to talk to them or associate with them.

We writers, whatever our abilities, must learn to see ourselves as a community with similar aims - to actively enhance all our writing - to raise the bar and to act for the betterment of all writers.

9. Constantly Want More From Yourself

Stretch yourself continuously. Find new ways of expressing yourself.

Writing is sometimes a strange past-time. A writing project that begins like an adventure can quickly become an obsession that ends up feeling like some self-inflicted curse!

But all writing experience is good, whether it's fun or not. Not all of your writing is going to be fun and fulfilling. Some of it may be a hard slog or a nuisance. This is okay.

If you want to succeed in writing, it should become your life, your passion, even your reason to be. It's a fine and noble way of life. If you want it, embrace it, and your writing will benefit enormously. Go for it!

Best of luck and - whatever you do - keep writing.

© Rob Parnell

Monday, 2 April 2018

The Hydra Syndrome

Have you ever noticed how you, as a writer, see-saw? For one heady moment you know you're brilliant and then, later, with just as much clarity, you know what you do is awful. It's the writer's curse.
I've noticed this happens at certain times in the writing process.

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

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

Hold up! What's happening here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other day was a good example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I slumped. Reality check. Thanks, Robyn.

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

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

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

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

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

Keep writing!

© Rob Parnell
The Writing Academy

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Have You Completed A Character Questionnaire?

Complete a character questionnaire for each of your main characters or even secondary characters that play a vital role in your story. This way you will know your character(s) well before you start writing about them.

Fill in as much information about them as possible. Don’t only answer what you will need in your story. The objective here is to get to know your character till he becomes a ‘live’ person in your mind.

So let’s begin…

1. In a few sentences write down a summary of the plot

2. Character’s personal details

a) First name
b) Surname
c) Age

3. In a few sentences write down the character’s back story (a bit about his background)

4. The role of the character in your story

a) What are character’s goals?

b) What are character’s motivations?

c) What is the character’s conflict?

d) How will the conflict stop the character from reaching his goal?

e) What is he going to do to overcome the conflict?

f) What problems will crop up during the story?

g) How will those problems get worse?

h) What will the character do to overcome those problems?

i) How will he resolve the conflict?

j) How will your character’s background influence how he behaves in your story?

k) What is the relationship with other characters, if any, in your story?

5. Physical Descriptions

a) Height
b) Eye colour
c) Hair colour
d) Hairstyle
e) Hair length
f) Complexion
g) Shape of face
h) Body type
i) Weight

6. How does his expression change when…

a. He’s with a loved one
b. He’s with someone he dislikes
c. He’s with his boss
d. He’s with a colleague

7. Personality

a) Type? (shy, outgoing, insecure, dominant etc)

b) Distinguishable traits?

c) Mental scars? (Complexes etc)

d) Ambitions?

e) Sense of humour?

f) Fears?

g) Anxieties?

h) Phobias?

i) Overall personality?

j) How does his personality change when he’s experiencing different emotions?

k) How does he act when he feels confident?

l) How does he act when he feels inadequate?

m) What gestures does he use when he talks and thinks?

n) How does he walk? With confidence? Does he slouch or stride?

o) What mannerisms does he have? (Does he fold his arms? Does he flick his hair?)

p) How does he speak? (Clearly, mumble, confidently, drawl etc.)

q) His voice? (Rich, loud, soft, etc)
r) His vocabulary? (Casual, formal, illiterate etc)

s) What does he think when he’s alone?

t) Does he have any secrets he hasn’t disclosed to anyone?

u) His prejudices?

v) Dominant motives?

w) Values most?

x) Desires most?

y) How does he treat those around him? (children, superiors, etc)

z) Any vices or virtues?

8. Likes and dislikes

a) Favourite colour, food, etc

b) Favourite music?

c) Taste in clothing?

d) Does character like something in particular?

e) Does character dislike something in particular?

9. Lifestyle

a) Where does the character live (country, city)?

b) Does character live in a house, apartment etc

c) Does character like where he lives?

d) Does where he lives reflect what kind of person he is?

e) Does he have a favourite room? (Or a piece of furniture or other object etc)

f) Does he have a car? What type? Does the car reflect the person he is?

g) Any hobbies? Personal habits (neat, sloppy etc)

10. Background

a) Parents names

b) Parents occupations

c) Describe relationship with parents

d) Any siblings?

e) Describe relationship with siblings

f) What kind of childhood did the character have?

g) What kind of adolescence did the character have?

h) What kind of schooling did character undergo? (Private or public? Has this shaped who he is?)

i) What was the highest-level achieved in school?

j) Citizenship/Ethnic Origin?

k) In which country does he currently live?

l) If the country he lives in is not where he was born, why does he live there?

11. Character’s current position

a) Any friends?
b) Any enemies?
c) Acquaintances?
d) Has character been married before?
e) Has the character been engaged before?
f) Any children?
g) Most meaningful experience?
h) Any disappointments?
i) What is the character’s goal in life?
j) Attitude towards the opposite sex?
k) Attitude towards life?

12. Employment

a) What kind of job does character currently have?
b) What kind of jobs has the character had previously?
c) Is character content in current employment?
d) If not, what would be their dream job?

13. What do you feel for this character?

a) Admire
b) Love
c) Hate
d) Dislike
e) Like
f) Pity
g) Envy

Whatever you feel for this character, your emotions must be strong. If they are not, either build on this further or begin building another character altogether.

 © Nick Vernon

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Mark Twain's Set of Writing Rules

A tale shall accomplish something.

The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it.

The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

The personages of the tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit sufficient excuse for being there.

When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighbourhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

When a personage talks like an uneducated loser, he shall not act like an Oxford graduate.

Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.

The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people and hate the bad ones.

The characters in a tale should be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

A tale can be interesting, the characters believable - but the reader won't read enough of it to find out if the language of the story is awkward or unclear. To prevent this, Twain's Rules require that the author shall: SAY what he is proposing to say, not merely come near. USE the right word, not its second cousin. Eschew surplus matters. NOT omit necessary details. AVOID slovenliness of form. USE good grammar. EMPLOY a simple, straightforward style.