Sunday, 22 December 2019

What's Hot and What's Not

I get asked this question all the time.

Writers everywhere want to know what's popular, what will sell now and in the future. They think there might be some great oracle out there that can answer this question - or that maybe publishers and agents on the inside might know this information and are somehow keeping it to themselves.

Would that this were true!

Think about it. Five years ago could you have predicted what you are doing now?

Most of us don't know where we're going to be living in five years time - and even if we think we do, events conspire to change our plans. Life is organic, some might say unreliable.

Even two years ago, is there any way you could have foreseen today's news? Could you have known which celebrities or politicians were going to be in the spotlight? Or which ones had faded from view?

Of course not. It doesn't work that way.

The bestselling books and movies that are with us today were conceived and written AT LEAST two years ago - many much more than that.

Sometimes an artist, writer or director may have been working on an idea for decades before it reaches the public.

What's hot now may have seemed a completely naff idea five years ago - but the idea was pursued until it was fully formed and ready for the public.

Writers have a responsibility to write what's important to them - without forever casting nervous eyes at the marketplace and wondering if they're misguided or somehow missing the boat.

Because it's the writer's vision, dedication and enthusiasm for her chosen subject that will eventually resonate with the public.

It's simple really. People like good ideas that are well expressed - no matter what genre or subject matter is currently trendy.

Think about the books, movies, writers and artists that you like. They have a timeless quality, right? Being a slave to the market doesn't make a creative person better or even more successful.

We see many people who try to jump on bandwagons - but do we respect them for that? Do they last?

Rarely. It's a person's work or personality, their uniqueness that we respect, relate to and cherish.

Your personal integrity is important. It's your love of a subject and your faith in your vision that will carry you forward. It's these things too that will inspire publishers and producers to believe in you.

There's no point in thinking, oh, JK Rowling and Dan Brown are successful, therefore I should do something like that - because that's precisely what publishers don't want writers to do.

You have to think in terms of yourself. Not, is there room for another ---------- (insert author's name here), but is there room for ---------? (Insert your name here!)

It's being passionate about your work that will - if you're serious, willing to work hard and okay, get lucky too - that will make YOU the next big thing, YOU that hot new trend that lesser writers aspire to.

Life's too short to be forever trying to predict trends. If it were at all possible to know the future, we'd all have won the lottery by now - or we wouldn't have wasted time with all those nasty people we wished we hadn't met!

The best we can do is write from the heart, and keep on writing to the best of our ability.

Accept rejection as positive criticism, rewriting and reworking ideas until they're strong and incontrovertible - until they shine with an inner light that can't be doused or ignored.

Most of all, believe in yourself and your work.

Do that, and the rest will follow.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Friday, 8 November 2019

What is Writing Style?

Let's get one thing straight. A lot of people search the term 'writing style' when they're actually looking for 'writing fonts'.

I know. I regularly get Google visitors who've typed in 'tattoo writing styles' or 'graffiti writing styles'. Clearly, they're not looking for 'writing style' at all but rather a collection of fonts they can refer to, copy, or learn from.

'Style' is different - more aligned to technique than anything else.

There are various official writing styles - but these are more specifically ways of constructing essays or theses rather than refering to what most writers regard as 'ways of writing'.

The APA style is set by the American Psychological Association and is basically a way of organizing information for reports and social science documents. Hardly of use to the average creative writer.

The MLA style dictated by the Modern Language Association is favored for college essays and english literature papers. Again, helpful when you're at school - but nothing a creative writer need worry too much about.

The Chicago style, or CMS, is most often cited as 'correct' for American English in that most editors and publishers aspire to using its recommended formats. First published in 1906, the Chicago Manual of Style is now in its 15th incarnation - and is the standard for writing non fiction in journals and magazines.

But what about fiction?

What's a writer supposed to refer to when it comes to developing an acceptable writing style?

Easy answer. Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.

It's an old book - first written in 1918 - but its rules (most of them anyway) are still relevant today. You can download a copy of the first edition from my Academy for free.

When it comes to fiction, writing style is often personal.

Your own mind - and your own sense of balance - will dictate how you put a piece of writing together.

Of course it's important to tighten what you do - to make your writing clearer, more succinct and therefore more powerful.

You need to look at your sentences and make sure you're actually saying what you mean - and meaning what you say.

The way to do this is to write first - and then be thorough with your editing afterwards.

It's much too hard to write perfect prose the first time around. For a start, you're not always sure what you have to say before you start writing!

So write first, then edit.

Edit out wordiness, cliches and qualifiers - the things we put in in speech naturally but clutter the writing when it's on paper.

Edit out the passive voice from your writing. Readers should be able to quickly identify the noun (the object in the sentence) and the verb (the doing word). Writing passively - where the verb often gets mistaken for the object - is not literary, it's lazy.

Edit out the big words, unnecessary adjectives, and reconstruct sentences into their simplest form.

Use the correct punctuation.

Be grammatical.

Your goal is to be understood, not to impress. Being understood - and using language effectively - impresses far more than hiding your meaning behind a fancy writing 'style'.

Because, perhaps ironically, the best writing style is invisible.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Sunday, 20 October 2019

How Many Words Do You Write?

The author John Braine once said, "A writer is someone who counts words."

Do you?

You should - because it's a sure fire way of getting around writer's block -and a good way of keeping yourself on track.

Having specific word counts to aspire to, will keep you writing more - and for longer.

You'll have more to show for your efforts, more to submit, and consequently more work coming in.

Your writing success is directly correlated to your word count.

Last night I was talking to a writer - well, someone who wanted to be a full time writer - and she told me she'd taken a year to get to her manuscript to where it was now.

I asked, casually of course, how many words she'd written so far.

"Four thousand," she said.

Four thousand!

G'ah - that's less than eleven words a day - what's she doing, I thought, chiseling them in stone?

By stunning contrast, Robyn held the whip to me yesterday (metaphorically speaking) and I produced 2500 words for a treatment we have to get to a producer by 5pm today.

And I did that between 10am and 2pm - taking a break to make lunch - because I had to pick up the kids at 3.

Talk about pressure!

But that's the point.

If you don't pressure yourself, you ain't never gonna have enough words down to make you a contenda (to mis-quote Marlon Brando in 'On the Waterfront'!)

Writing something every day is important.

Pushing your limit is important too.

It doesn't matter if you start out writing just eleven words a day - as long as you consciously try and increase that amount as each day passes.

I try to write - actually try is not the word, have to write would be more truthful - at least 500 words a day or I feel bad, like I've failed in some unannounced contest.

2000 words and I feel good- complete somehow.

Which means that I could have written my friend's manuscript in two days - rather than take a year over it.

I know this is common among writers.

People call themselves writers because they have a writing project on the boil - whether they're actually working on it actively or not.

I used to do this too.

I felt like a writer because I had a novel that I would dip into every now and then.

I spent years like this, believing myself a writer because I wrote sometimes.

Now I know different.

Writing for a living means exactly what the phrase suggests: you write because you have to live, and you live to write.

Writing becomes the center of your life - and you make a living from it!

The whole idea of that seemed like a fantasy before I took the plunge - before I realized I just had to let go of the silly 9 to5.

Before I realized that holding on to a false sense of security was wasting my time - time that could be better spent being a writer.

This would be my advice to you:

Don't wait, plan, and dream about being a writer. Just do it.

Take the chance - we're only here once, our lives are on loan.

Do what makes you happy.

Reject compromise.

Reject criticism.

Reject everything and everyone who would want to see you live a lesser life.

Simply, write, and...

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Monday, 7 October 2019

The Bottomless Notebook

Reading through a writer’s notebook or journal is like discovering pearls, rubies and diamonds amidst a pile of rubble. That little notebook is a powerhouse of ideas for every writer: The more you write down bits and pieces of your thoughts and observations, the more you are adding into the well of ideas for future works.

Here are a few things you can record in your notebook or journal, so that in case you run out of ideas to write about, you can refer to it: Your Shoe boxed Life: Write what you know, feel and experience. Jot down snippets of events in your life. Write a sentence or a paragraph about a funny, embarrassing, happy or infuriating experience.

The Interesting People. Scribble descriptions of people you meet every day. How do they react in certain situations? How do their names fit their image? A Word a Day. Whenever an interesting word catches your attention, write it down. It may have a different meaning for you a month or a year from now. If you keep a list of words in your notebook, these words can serve as story starters for you.

Those Quotable Quotes. A meaningful quote can start you off to writing. Collect quotes you come across that interest you. Ordinary People with their One-Liners. Overheard lines in a conversation can sometimes spark your creative mind. Write down these one-liners in your notebook. They can be great story starters.

Something You Read. Read good books. Keep a file of memorable lines or quotes. Write down quirky billboard ads. Scan the papers for one-liners. These are good idea simulators. Emotions. Describe what you feel at any given moment. If you feel angry right now, write what your anger feels like. Describe it. Use vivid words.

Writers are similar to store owners. Store owners stock their supplies in their shelves, while you stock ideas between the pages of your little writer’s notebook. You can make your stock endless, bottomless. You can reach down again and again for inspiration without exhausting your notebook of reserve.

So start stocking your writer’s notebook today. A week from now, take a peek in it and you just might find something there that could connect your pen to paper. That’s about it for today. Make today a great writing day! Until the next article…Keep writing!


Shery Ma Belle Arrieta-Russ

WriteSparks!™ creator

Copyright © Shery Ma Belle Arrieta-Russ

About Shery: Shery is the creator of WriteSparks!™- a software that generates over 10 *million* Story Sparkers for Writers. Download WriteSparks!™ Lite for free at

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Writing the Big Scenes in Fiction

Let me ask you a question.

Do you avoid / dread / loathe writing the big scenes in your fiction?

Over the years I've noticed one of two things.

One, the writer is so nervous about writing the big important scenes that they will subconsciously avoid them by taking ages over getting to them.

Here's how it goes.

There's a crucial scene in the story where there's a confrontation or a climactic event - and the writer is creeping up towards it, filling the pages with exposition and preparatory dialogue - only to freeze just before 'the big scene' and put off writing anymore - sometimes for months or, in some cases, years.

The other scenario involves glossing over that part of the story. You'll often see writers fill pages with the run up to the big event - all good showing instead of telling and yet, when it comes to 'the big scene' it's told from a distance or from an uninvolved point of view or, most commonly, in retrospect, after the event.

This might seem strange, though it's fairly common.

It's kinda related to what I've talked about often - the idea that writers are sometimes afraid to confront their own deepest emotions. I think that in the same way most sane people avoid confrontation, writers will avoid opening themselves up to a challenge.

Climactic set pieces make very compelling reading. Writers are often judged by their ability to pull them off - and perhaps that's the problem. Writers don't want to be judged by writing that is focussed, action based and as graphic as an open wound.

We'd prefer to hide behind the relative comfort of internal dialogue, character exposition and literary description.


'Big scenes' normally involve heightened emotion - something not all writers are comfortable describing - because I assume they're worried that their particular experience of heightened emotion seems so personal - even private.

But that's the point. Readers want to know what other people's heightened emotions are like!

They want to experience the thrill of adventure, danger, risk, marriage, death, murder and the myriad of other BIG emotions any one of us may fall victim to.

It's important not to shy away from the challenging - in life and your writing.

Challenging yourself makes you grow - gain wisdom and lead a more fulfilling life.

You don't have to drive Speedway cars to describe the thrill of it. You can use your imagination - that's what it's for - and describe what you feel for the benefit of readers.

In a sense that's your job - to give a reader the experience of 'being there' without them having to leave their armchair.

You owe it to your readers to confront the big scenes.

As an exercise, try writing JUST big scenes - especially if you're a little afraid of them. I think you'll find that they're very satisfying to complete, even if they might take just a little longer to get right.

Get straight into the action. Keep the sentences relatively short and describe ONLY what is happening.

I'm sure you'll benefit - and so will your readers.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Baring Your Soul - A Writer's Guide

Many new writers are afraid of opening up and letting people know what they're like inside. They're nervous of allowing readers access to what they think and believe. They don't want people to see inside of them because they're afraid of criticism and ridicule.

How do you defeat this debilitating condition?

Because, really, that's what it is.

In reality, nobody important is going to attack you or your writing.

Even if they do, what does it matter? Critics display much more about their own failings when they attack others.

You need to get over any insecurities about the way you express yourself and find the strength to be honest, at least in your writing.

The fact is your writing will never truly soar unless you have the courage to let it all out and 'expose yourself' to the world.


Seriously, you will only ever be seen as 'original' if you learn to be open and honest in your writing. Your own slant on the world is what makes you interesting.

It's your individual sense of logic that makes your writing unique.

It's too easy to fall back on conventional wisdom and have viewpoints that you already know are accepted and lauded.

But if you're simply trotting out standard thinking on issues, you're not adding anything of value to the world.

You need to trust your own instincts - and write from the heart, whatever the consequences, most of which are imaginary anyway.

Here are a few tips on how to get used to being truly honest in your writing:

1. Write about the worst thing that's happened to you

Get it all out, every feeling, however low, every nuance of how it went down, who was to blame and how much you hate the people or events that caused it to happen.

2. Write about the most horrible thing you've ever done

It's easy for us to write about nice things and the good in ourselves but we hide from our other, darker side. No more - write down the most nasty vicious things you've ever thought or done. Don't be afraid, you don't have to show them to anyone - but you do need to purge those demons and get them out on paper.

3. List your crimes / sins in detail

All of us are a mess of good and bad. The fa├žade we present to the world is an amalgam of what we want others to see. We all have bad thoughts and evil moments - it's how we deal with them that makes us who we are. Get it all out in the open.

4. Name your enemies and describe them

Really try to get inside the people you don't like - describe their physical appearance but also try to imagine how their minds work -and what they think about - especially about you.

5. Write about your embarrassing habits

Leave no stone unturned. No matter how bad, write about the things you wouldn't mention to a soul. Write down exactly what it is you enjoy - or hate - about those private little things you do when nobody's looking.

6. Write about your secret prejudices

We all have them - thoughts and notions that we know are not quite politically correct or acceptable, even to ourselves sometimes. But get them down on paper, explore your logic behind them and how they shape your more conventional notions.

Why Do This?

This process of getting everything out on paper is cathartic.

You'll feel lighter inside after you've done some of the above exercises.

You'll realize that you've been carrying around a lot of your dark side as baggage.

And that simply letting go on paper can really help you center yourself and free your mind.

Plus, you'll have taught yourself that 'exposing' yourself on paper is not quite as hard as you'd imagined.

There may even be some great pieces of writing there, important pieces that you can later rework.

But most of all, you'll have gotten used to being objective about your thoughts and emotions.

This new perspective will enable you to approach your writing with renewed energy and conviction.

And a determination to be more honest and forthright.

To become a better writer.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Friday, 2 August 2019

The Very Short Story Starter


: 101 Flash Fiction Prompts for Creative Writing

The Very Short Story Starter: 101 Flash Fiction Prompts for Creative Writing

Think about your writing from a new perspective and learn to tell a story in the most effective way possible with this flash fiction workbook. Popular with creative writers around the world, flash fiction is an ultra-short story format (usually 1,000 words or less) that distills a narrative into its most economic and impactful form. In this lay-flat paperback workbook you’ll find 101 flash fiction writing prompts, each crafted to inspire an incredible variety of very short stories. Some prompts instruct you to focus on setting or developing a specific character. Other prompts ask you to play with story structure, to begin at the end or jump right into the middle of the action. You are also encouraged to bring the journal to different locations (a coffee shop or a museum) and take story cues from your surroundings. With helpful writing tips and just the right amount of space to write, this journal is the perfect tool to jump-start a flash fiction writing practice.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

5 Ways to Enhance Your Creativity

 We're born creative. However, this innate characteristic becomes buried as we get older. Our logical left brain usually takes the driver's seat. Here are 5 ways to help you unearth your creative self.

1. Surprise Your Mind. List laughable, ridiculous, outrageous and bizarre ideas. Don't limit yourself to ideas that other people consider "sane," "reasonable" or "logical." The best and most creative ideas stem from silly ones. When you're in a creative mode, you're suspending judgment on ideas you generate. You simply list them all down and never worry whether they make sense or not. Allow yourself the freedom to think outside the box.

2. Aim for Quantity. Generate loads of ideas for you to go through later. It's normal that your first few ideas won’t really be fresh. The gems will come out later so it’s important to keep going. With a large list of ideas, you'll have more to choose from, adapt or combine. Creativity is not coming up with something new from nothing; creativity is the ability to create something novel from ideas/things that already exist by combining, improving or refining them.

3. Be Playful. A relaxed and playful attitude fosters creativity. Those creative juices flow best when you're not restrained by your logical, left brain. Toy with ideas and forget about being too careful. Be a child again and play.

4. Believe that Everything has a Solution. An optimistic outlook always leads to solutions, no matter how impossible a problem or task may be. Often when a solution can't be found, all that's needed is for the problem to be redefined. Or when you think you're stumped, surprise your mind with silly solutions then work backwards, leading to the original problem. Cultivate an attitude of continuing search for solutions.

5. Let Go of Your Fear of Failure. Don't expect to do something perfectly for the first time. Thomas Edison tried about 1800 things for the perfect filament for the incandescent lamp. Fear of failure is one of the major factors that can hinder your creativity. Instead of looking at failed attempts negatively, look at your failures as learning opportunities. Failing isn't fun, but neither is doing nothing.

© 2004 Shery Ma Belle Arrieta-Russ

Shery is the creator of WriteSparks! - a software that generates over 10 *million* Story Sparkers for Writers. Download WriteSparks! Lite for free -

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Writing a Blockbuster - the Formula

A student asked me this week if I knew of any successful writers that 'showed' how they took their first drafts and made them into the highly polished versions you see in the bookstores.

I could only think of a couple.

Stephen King in On Writing includes a rough draft of a paragraph and gives the reader an indication of how he goes about editing it to make it tighter. Cutting out words, changing phrases etc, generally improving the work. All very illuminating.

(Incidentally, people were so intrigued by Stephen's spontaneous example that he felt forced to turn it into a full blown story which became 1408!)

Anyway, the only other person I could think of was Ken Follett.

I remembered that I'd read a book once by Al Zuckerman which included various drafts of Ken's work as he edited his manuscripts to a publishable standard. So - I took a look at Ken's website.

On that I found a gem: a masterclass on writing a bestseller. And this is from a man who's had a few, so if anyone knows how it's done, he does!

What I found most intriguing though was that Ken seemed to think there was indeed a formula for writing a blockbuster novel - and so does Al Zuckerman, one of his highly respected agents - a guy who actually guides authors through the process of writing best selling novels!

So - rather than have you wade through books and websites trying to find illusive information, I thought I'd present what these guys say about writing a blockbuster novel - by presenting the formula here! Woohoo!

The Formula

1. Come up with a scenario whereby two or three central characters are engaged in a life or death struggle to overcome a huge problem, the bigger the better.

2. Think through the scenario and its setting, the characters and their dilemma, and ask yourself, has this been done before? If so, discard the idea and go back to 1.

3. Write down 5 to 10 bullet points that will comprise the 'meat' of the story.

4. Expand on the bullet points until you have a 25 to 40 page outline of your story told in the present tense, introducing all of your characters and all of the story in the right sequence. Each paragraph should represent a significant plot point.

5. Show this outline to anyone and everyone who will read it and make comments. This might be friends, agents, publishers, the man who collects the trash, anyone. Make note of their comments and adjust the story accordingly. Ken Follett suggests this process of creating the ultimate novel outline might take anything up to a year to complete.

6. Write the first draft. Make sure you have a significant 'story turn' every four to six pages. (I told you it was a formula!) Adhere to this rule - too many story turns too often will confuse the reader, too few and they will get bored.

7. Repeat the process mentioned in 5. with the first draft. Make adjustments accordingly. This should take between 6 months and a year to get right. The first draft may take a month or two but the rest of the time is spent re-writing to make the novel perfect.

The Writing

Now, the most important aspect of this formula is that you don't approach it necessarily as a writer. No, you approach it as a storyteller. The writing must be crystal clear, only concerned with story. If there's ever a passage that smacks of 'good writing', you must ruthlessly delete it.

Because, when you're writing a blockbuster, you're not in the business of impressing people with your writing skills. Your text should 'transparent', totally clear and focussed on telling a story.

There should be no barrier between the reader and the story. There should be no author intruding on the text - and the writing should never 'get in the way' of the characters, their actions and the ultimate resolution of their agendas.

Many writers make the mistake of thinking that merely 'being a good writer' is an end in itself. It's not. It's merely the beginning.

The ability to write well is one thing but the ability to re-write, edit, alter and change everything from the tiniest bit of punctuation to the overall theme of a novel without so much as a sigh is the sign of a true blockbuster novelist.

So, now you know how it's done, go for it!

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Friday, 21 June 2019

The Secret to Writing Good Stories

During some sleepless-night downtime, I was thinking about stories and what made them work, and what made them satisfying to read.

I mean, pretty much anyone can sit down and write - but it takes a little extra thought to write a story that other people will care about.

And I wondered what that was.

Was there a secret ingredient?

And if so, is there one word that could sum up what makes a good story?

I believe there is.

It's not form or content.

It's not characterisation or plotting.

It's not even talent.

I believe you can sum up what makes a story compelling in one word:


It's clear to anyone that studies short stories and novels, even autobiographies and other literary forms that good stories are made up of characters overcoming obstacles.

Without obstacles, there's no point in telling a character's story.

Without something to fight or yearn for, or dream about, the reader can't identify with and / or get involved in a hero's plight.

Think about it.

If you're introduced to a static character, you know that something is probably going to happen TO them.

But if you're introduced to a dynamic, thinking character with an agenda and something to overcome, you pretty much know that something is going to be done BY them.

And we like characters that take action or respond positively to adversity.

It's human nature.

Whether the characters are beset by natural disasters, personal tragedy or is simply being pursued by bad guys, we want the heroes to triumph, to survive...

Because I think survival, in whatever form, is at the heart of the human condition.

We are programmed, as a species, to carry on, to keep seeking wisdom, truth and enlightenment.

And unless you include these elements in your stories, you're not creating writing that readers will enjoy reading.

I remember having trouble writing when I was young.

I wrote, sometimes a lot, but I couldn't quite understand what was wrong with my writing.

It seemed disatisfying.

I wrote about real people, fictional people, antiheroes mainly who were perceptive and challenged - but my stories never seemed to go anywhere - and when they did, left my readers cold.

But I realised after a while that my early attempts at writing weren't really ABOUT anything.

There was little for readers to enjoy because I hadn't grasped that readers want purpose and resolution to stories.

They want characters that are more than ordinary, more than real.

Simply observing and recording reality, then tinkering with it to make fictional stories isn't quite enough.

That's only half of the writer's job.

The other half requires that you show, through your insight, that there is a POINT to your tales.

That not only do they explore themes, you try to make sense of them too.

Readers, writers, every human wants to feel as though there is meaning out there.

And that, whatever happens to us, we will continue to grow, learn and gain wisdom.

Because a life with no meaning, no hope, no purpose, is no real life at all.

And to survive is not just to carry on living, it is to overcome whatever life throws at us.

To partake in the game...

...and win.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Don't Think, Write

Ever have those days when you’re muzzy and unmotivated? 

You know how it is.

Sometimes you're aware you should write, but you don't feel like it.

And even if you did, you're plagued by not knowing what to write about.

Or maybe you have an important scene or an article to write and you can't find the necessary impetus to get you started.

Worse, you just can't be bothered to write at all - it's too hard to even contemplate.

What do you do when this happens to you?

If you write for a living, this can be especially troubling.

After all, if you're not writing, you're not working.

So, you feel bad because you know that not writing equals no money coming in, now or in the future...

What's the solution?

First of all you need to get your head around what I call 'The Big Secret.'

And the big secret is that career writers don't need a reason to write.

They don't need inspiration or a good idea.

They don't even need to be in the right mood.

Fact is that thinking - as in trying to come up with ideas - doesn't work as a way to make you write.

When you write all the time, as a habit, it's like breathing.

You just sit yourself in front of the computer and the words simply pour out.
This is because the brain doesn't use its logical side to write.

It uses the creative side, which is hard-wired to the subconscious.

And, as I often point out to new writers, it's your subconscious that writes for you.

Best thing is that this wellspring of ideas never runs out.

As long as you keep tapping out words, the ideas will keep coming.

Stopping and thinking for a moment disrupts this process because you're disengaging the subconscious to consider something with your logical brain.

So next time you're struggling, don't think, just write.

I met one of the writers of Shrek once and he said he would sit down and sometimes write: Can't think of anything to write today. But I need an idea. Come on brain, give me something to write about. I need you to... and so on, until something came.

Great idea, right?

My partner is a full time fiction author and she writes every day without fail - she gets up in the morning, makes tea then sits down to write for three or four hours. I ask her, "What do you do when you don't feel like writing?" 

"Fake it," she says. "Pretend you want to write and sure enough, the muse kicks in after about ten minutes and then everything's fine. I just keep going after that."

My problem is that I always have too much to do.

I end up writing even when I don't feel like it because, well, I have to.

Nothing would happen unless I wrote.

From little things like business strategies, to marketing blurbs, to lessons I'm writing for students.

All these things I give deadlines.

And the way I make myself write more fiction is to apply a deadline to that too.
Otherwise I probably wouldn't do it...

Actually that's not true.

I feel the urge to write pretty much all the time.

It's what I write - and for how long - that's my greatest issue.

Take this article for instance.

I started out thinking last night about how social sites have taken over the Net.

I thought maybe I could write an article about that.

As the night wore on I realized that I could probably write a book about social marketing - the arena is so complex and fascinating.

I decided I'd put off that article and write about something else.

But I couldn't think of anything.

So I sat down this morning, knowing I had to write something for the newsletter, and just started typing. 

An hour later and this is the result.

I look back and have no idea where all the above words came from - and I'm amazed at how much I had to say about nothing much at all.

Now surely if I can do that... can too!

Especially if you heed the advice in the title!

Keep Writing!

© Rob Parnell

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Always Write For Your Readers

When writing for publication it's important to keep your eventual reader at the forefront of your mind.

Writing primarily for yourself can be a lot of fun and, if that's what motivates you, then that's the best way forward, at least for the first draft.

Eventually, however, it's your readers who will decide whether you have written a book that they find satisfying, worthy, and purposeful.

It could be that, during the writing and editing process, some degree of self-discipline is required to fulfil the objective of writing a book that people actually want to read - and will enjoy reading.

My preferred approach is to write quickly and edit methodically later.

I find writing the first draft fast and furiously keeps the juices pumping and doesn't allow for too much time to reconsider word-choice, direction, momentum etc., until after the first draft.

Writing slowly, painstakingly, I find, tends to make me hesitant, overly self-conscious, and can sometimes lead to getting blocked if I can't decide little things, for instance, like where to put a comma.

Far better to get down as much as possible of the meat without questioning the creative process and stick with the decision to come back to the writing later when the first draft is fully written and complete. Even if the first draft strikes you as a mess.

I'm a great believer in having a plan and sticking to it.

So, having made the decision to write a thriller, for example, you should write with the intention of thrilling your reader. You need to know your purpose before you begin.

When writing your first draft quickly and without too much agonising, try not to get sidetracked into overdeveloping ideas that are not pertinent to your purpose. Stay as focused, in other words, as you can on the intention of your writing.

The key difference between writing literary work and genre fiction is, to me, about maintaining discipline.

Literary works may meander without purpose, hopping from one set of profound observations to another. This may lead your reader to feel rudderless.

Genre writing is often more focused on the needs of the reader and invariably requires more work in the writing and the editing from the writer.

To me, the important issues are clarity and direction. Your story or nonfiction piece should shine with a clear and obvious thrust that takes a reader on a focused journey.   

A good narrative contains logic that can easily be followed by most readers, whatever their upbringing or education level. The author's job is to present an alternate view of reality that is compelling. Only text that is easily understood can be fully absorbed and endorsed by a reader.

The need to emphasize logic and sense in your stories may mean that your final editing process is ruthless. You may need to remove paragraphs, sections, and even chapters that have little or nothing to do with the story intention.

When editing, you will need to become acutely aware of how the writing flows from the point of view of the reader.

This is one of the main reasons why you should take time out between edits to distance yourself from your own work: you need to be able to see your writing from a reader's perspective.

If you can't manage that trick, show your work to others before you publish or submit to legacy publishers.

At the end of the day, writing for publication is about writing for other people: to entertain, to inform, and to help them transcend the norm. Your friends and fellow writers are often the very people who will tell you whether you're succeeding in that objective.    

There's a whole new industry growing online that offers to edit your material for publication - for a price, of course.

But actually, to me, using a third party editor can cause long term problems for you. Not least because, unless you edit regularly, you'll never learn how to do it properly.

You really should be editing to the best of your own ability at all times.
This does not mean giving your work a cursory once over just after you've written it (as far too many new writers do.) No. It means studying every word, sentence, every piece of punctuation, grammar, every nuance and stylistic inflection - and to keep editing until you know for sure that what you've done is good enough for mass market consumption.

If you're not sure of the quality of your own work, join writers' critique groups. 

Offer to read and give feedback on other writers' work in return for feedback on your own. Sure, show your manuscripts to your friends and family. They can be the most brutal critics, when they're not trying to be nice.

Other writers are most often the best critics because they're coming from a different place than you and they may have higher standards than even most readers.

Before you proceed to publication or submission, my advice would be that your thoroughly edited manuscript should be read by at least two or three other writers.

Keep Writing!
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Monday, 4 March 2019

On Being a Modern Writer

Nobody will ever miss something you didn't write.

People don't wish they could find a genius they are unaware of, hanker after a writer to inspire them, or wish they could find the book that hasn't been written.

It's the harshest reality a writer must face.

Nobody cares whether you finish your magnum opus - or gives a toss whether you work on it at all.

A book is nothing until it's published - and even then, given the way things are, it's unlikely to sell more than a few copies.

Funny, I write for a living. Have done for the last 20 years. You can get a lot of eyes on things if you include the words: “money, fast and easy” in your marketing but write about anything else and your stuff pretty much disappears.

It’s never stopped me though, because I’m a writer, and writers write, no matter what happens… can you say that?

Writers must find their own reasons to write - and be self-motivated enough to continue without anything but selfish reasons to finish what they start. As Dorothea Brande said in "Becoming a Writer", writers create their own emergencies. They have to, because nobody else really gives a damn.

Recently I was rereading Stephen King's "On Writing" and I noticed something I'd previously missed.

He said he used to believe that writing was a craft and that it could be taught; a skill that, with enough training and guidance, anyone could master. Note, he said he used to think that.

Later in his career, after he'd written around twenty novels, he changed his mind. He realized that the urge to write consistently must be something you're born with.

Think about it - writing for no good reason (except a personal compulsion) is an urge that is so specific - even a little bizarre - that, without it being somehow hard-wired into a writer's DNA, most people, no matter how keen to learn, simply wouldn't bother.

It's not like it's easy, after all.

Some people say that if you find writing easy, you're probably not doing it right. I know from experience that authors who tell me they found writing their novel a breeze, signals that there’s usually a need for some serious editing!

Don't get me wrong. I do think that writing the first draft of a story or a book should be quick, painless, or at the very least, an exhilarating experience. That's usually how your best work feels. When you're 'in the zone' and being productive and inspired, you're a writer, just like any other Dan Brown, Emily Bronte, or Tolstoy.

But that's not all there is to it.

There's endless editing and polishing too. And having something important to say. And having the ability to hold an entire book in your mind - and get it all down on paper. And, of course, the toughest call: being able to arrange your life to find the time and inclination to write every day.

Not everyone thinks writing is glamorous. Even many professional writers have no great regard for the process, only the conviction that, to create something of value and importance, you have no choice but to do it.

You and only you.

Of course, 'value' and 'importance' are relative terms. That's the point. Only Tolstoy thought it was vitally important to write War and Peace. It had no value to his wife, most likely, and none of us would have missed it - or him - if he'd become an alcoholic and never got around to writing more than a few hundred words and threw them away, like many would be authors do.

The next time you're tempted to write a book, think it through.

Is it important you get it all down?

And are you willing to spend 80% of the process on making it perfect?

Because, like Mr King, I used to think that writing half a page of scribbled lines gave you the right to call yourself a writer.

But now, after I've written a couple million or so words, I'm beginning to think that being a writer is more involved.

It's somehow innate in a writer's makeup.

Perhaps practice is all it takes - consistent action and dedication to the art.

But more likely you need to discover the writer within - that guy or gal inside who was never going to be satisfied until you gave them free rein to take over your life.

But if the muse isn’t there, except as a vague yearning, maybe the best thing is to quit while you're ahead!

Because being a full-time writer is still one of the hardest ways to live. Ask any author. Even when you're successful, the motivation to write, stay focused, inspired and clear for long periods can be tough.

Sure, it's rewarding - and often fun.

That’s if readers find you – and like what you do…

But be clear on this: commitment to writing books is not for the faint hearted. And it’s certainly not for those who might be looking to make money fast and easily.

You need patience, and to be a little bit crazy.

Take one step at a time – walk slowly and surefootedly - but be sure you have good sturdy shoes before you start.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell
The Writing Academy

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Easts Shoots & Leaves


Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

We all had the basic rules of punctuation drilled into us at school, but punctuation pedants have good reason to suspect they never sank in. ‘Its Summer!’ screams a sign that sets our teeth on edge. ‘Pansy’s ready’, we learn to our considerable interest (‘Is she?’) as we browse among the bedding plants.

It is not only the rules of punctuation that have come under attack but also a sense of why they matter. In this runaway bestseller, Lynne Truss takes the fight to emoticons and greengrocers’ apostrophes with a war cry of ‘Sticklers unite!’

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Barking at Shadows (And Other Things Writers Do)

Is writing an insane way of spending our time?

My mother seems to think it is - even now that she's finally accepted that's what I do. And my dad too was bemused by my choice of career, seeing as, to him, actually reading an entire book is akin to having his fingernails forcibly removed.

Robert Louis Stevenson once said he felt reading was 'mighty bloodless' and no substitute for real life - but there again he was famously adventurous, a fact he used to advantage in his novels.

But I think most authors wouldn't agree.

On the opposite side of the spectrum you have Logan Pearsall Smith who said, "People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading."

I can relate to that. I like my own blood to stay on the inside of my body - whereas I don't mind reading, and writing, about someone else's blood spilling all over the page in the fight for justice, truth or freedom.

It's not really about coming down definitively on one side or the other I think. A writer's life should ideally contain both - a good smattering of life's experience but also a commitment to sitting down and recording the insights gained through that experience.

I don't know about you but I don't need much to inspire me.

I rarely spend my time socializing with large groups of people. I know some people do this all the time - as though it's some kind of duty. But, to me, a good, ideal day is when nobody comes around and disturbs my 'zone' and I can get on with my own stuff.

But whenever I do spend time with others, especially out with large groups or at parties and functions, I find I'm storing up hundreds of ideas for scenes, stories and plots I want to later develop in my writing.

It can be exhausting because, instead of just enjoying myself and interacting with others, I find I'm taking mental notes about personality, relationships and how, seemingly inevitably, people coming together creates as much tension, distrust and conflict as it engenders happiness, joy and hope.

We're a funny species in that regard - and I find that writing helps me deal with all the absurdities as well as the profundities of life in a way that would drive me crazy if I couldn't do it!

I know that if I was ever at a loss as to what to write about, pretty much all I need to do is go out into the world and brace myself for interaction - and inspiration!

But yes, sometimes when I'm completely immersed in a fictional world, juggling my characters' lives and developing meaning I sometimes take a step back and think, "What am I doing? Why am I spending so much time on this? What's it all for?"

After all, they say that life on Earth will be gone in a few million years - and all the books we've written, all the music and movies we created along with it. Who's going to be there to say, What an amazing species, look at this great book by...

Sometimes I look at our dogs and I can see that their entire lives are made up of eating, sleeping, getting pats and for the most part, barking at shadows. And I think, what's to say that we humans aren't really just doing the same?

And then, when the insanity passes, I know that this is one of the main reasons we write - to rise above mere existence and create order, meaning and purpose.

Because, you see, the real reason why my mother doesn't think that writing is a healthy pasttime is that it can 'give you ideas', as she calls it, and not always good ones.

By which she means writing can encourage a person to question the very fundamentals of existence and perhaps realize, as many hundreds of serious philosophers before us have already posited, that there really is no meaning to life that we don't, as humans, merely attach to it.

All else, they say, is vanity.

But on the upside, writing, though to some a strange way of spending our time, is at least better than sitting around wasting our lives, doing drugs or having nothing better to do than hurt each other.

Writing forces us to make sense of things, to come to terms with who we are, how we act, react, and why.

To me, we need no real justification to write - no special reason - its purpose is implicit.

We simply write because we can.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Writing and New Year Beginnings

I don't know what happens in your part of the world but here, in Australia, January is to be dreaded and feared - it is a time of drought (intellectually and literally) and of waste (creatively and literally). But what brings about this most tragic and frustrating of times?

Gah! The school holidays.

For reasons unclear and lost, society has deemed that children cannot concentrate for long periods. They apparently have difficulty on a day to day basis, consequently their working days must be kept inconveniently short. But this inability to stay focused apparently also dictates that they get 12 to 16 weeks of holidays a year - much to the chagrin the parents that end up having to look after them.

Far be it from me to suggest that this situation is perpetuated and encouraged by teachers - who just coincidentally benefit from these arrangements - when the rest of us are lucky to get a measly two weeks in the sun. I wouldn't be so mean to suggest that teachers as a race would deliberately want to burden parents. No, that would be unkind. Teachers do a very good job - ahem, when they're doing it!

During periods not assigned to school holidays, we have this bizarre situation where working people have to either:

1) leave work early to pick up their kids (thereby losing pay or incurring the boss's wrath on a daily basis) or,

2) put them in after hours care where they invariably sit and watch TV for two hours, waiting for their parents to finish work.

Wouldn't it be better for everyone if the school day was 9 to 5?

I'm sure the requisite amount of 'lack of concentration time' could be built into this system - and make everybody's lives easier.

Teachers, too. who always complain they have extra work to do (welcome to the reality of everyone's modern workday) could perhaps use this extra time during the day to mark that homework and assist with childcare - thereby making everybody happy.

(Just a thought - I'm jesting of course. Teachers really do a very, very good job...)

But I guess all this is academic for Robyn and I, who don't have 9 to 5 jobs.

No, we work from home, which means, you guessed it, when the kids are on holiday, we get precisely nothing done.

The boys, bless them, go back to school eventually and Robyn and I finally get some time to catch up on work that has been on hold for the entire six weeks of the summer vacation (it's summer here over Xmas in Australia remember?)

So we've been making lists of stalled projects, things to do and wish lists - trying desperately to make up for this creative hole in the year.

We're not doing too bad. At least the break gave me time to realize I need to re-prioritize some of my work. That fiction writing and mentoring are probably more important activities than mindless web surfing, for instance.

That, even if one screenplay has been stalled by liars and thieves masquerading as film producers, then that's no reason to stop putting together other film projects (we currently have another five in development between us).

That allocating my time more efficiently is probably the best way for me to catch up on email, writing lessons and creating new courses. Oh, and being far more organized about my Writing Academy newsletters - which always seem to fall behind in the great scheme of things called "My Life and Other Dilemmas".

What about you?

Are you getting to grips with the things you want to do this year?

It's important to stay focused. It's too easy to get caught up in the day to day stuff and forget you have a duty to propel yourself forward - physically and creatively.

If you don't consciously force yourself to plan, make time and work on your goals and dreams, it's effortlessly simple to let them remain dormant and at the end of the decade, wonder where all the time went.

At least there's one good thing about an enforced break (which in reality is what the school holidays become.) When it's over, I find myself raring to get back to my normal life - one where I can take back control of my days and do something worthwhile.

We love them of course but children really are the greatest time wasters, don't you think?

I suppose we did get to go to the beach often, play lots of fun games and catch up on numerous episodes of Ben 10.

But, let's face it, we'd sooner be writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy