Making Changes

Whether it is an agent who wants you to make changes to your manuscript before she will represent you, an editor who requires cuts before your book is published, or just one of your beta readers strongly suggesting you tweak a few things in your first chapter, making changes to your writing — most likely changes with which you will not agree — is almost inevitable. Sure, you might decide to self-publish and, as Frank Sinatra did before you, do it your way, but chances are even then you’ll run into someone who recommends making alterations that don’t make sense to you.

524782536_9920554fbb_bIn the beginning, when you’re just starting out, it’s easier. When you get feedback from a trusted friend or respected member of your critique group, you have the luxury of listening to the feedback, intuiting if it makes sense to you, and making changes or not. But when it’s an agent or editor demanding changes, and you need to make them in order to move forward, that can be more difficult.

You might be thinking, Yeah, but if an agent or editor is asking me to do it, I’d do it. I’m not going to let a few changes stand in my way of getting published! I thought so, too. For years I’d heard friends and colleagues whining about making changes to their manuscripts in response to agent and editor feedback and I couldn’t fathom what the big deal was. Not until it happened to me.

It was a few years ago and my young adult novel, Aftersight, had just made the first round through the big New York publishing houses. By then I’d already made a few significant changes to the manuscript that had made me nervous, specifically a chapter rearrangement that I feared would confuse readers. My agent is amazing, so I’d followed her advice, but no luck. Editors weren’t biting.

Then my agent made the request: Most young adult novels were written in first person, but mine was in third person. Would I consider rewriting it in first person?

“Sure,” I said lackadaisically. “Why not give it a shot?” But I spent the next few days in a fetal position underneath my desk. My book had multiple points of view, so I would have to rewrite it in several voices, something akin to The Time Travelers Wife. Even though I’d written it in third person, every chapter had the flavor of the character who was the center of the action. Still, rewriting it in first person would mean a great deal more than substituting “she” with “I” and “they” with “we.” I’d have to cede my voice to my characters’ voices and lose my own natural rhyme and rhythm. I’d essentially be creating an entirely new book.

The heartbreak of making changes prompted by an agent or editor, I realized now, is that by the time you get this far in the process, you are accustomed to your story the way it is. By that point, the way the story is feels like the right way. By that point the writing feels sacred. Everything else seems like misguided advice.

What ultimately made me feel better was watching some of the behind-the-scenes material from one of the Friends DVDs. The commentary is done by the writers and creators of the show. The more you learn about the television writing process, especially when the show is performed in front of an audience, the more you understand that they are constantly editing and revising, creating new stuff that works, canning what doesn’t. The words on the page are something organic, something alive, something that grows and evolves.

In the end I concluded that there was no harm in at least trying to rewrite it. I took it as a personal challenge. What was the worst that could happen? I’d lose some time. If I didn’t like it, I could simply cast the new version aside and call it a failed experiment. Who knows, maybe I’d learn something in the process.

It was the new version, the first-person version, that my agent ended up selling several months later.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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Going the Distance

Even back in college, when I started my first novel-length project, I was visualizing for success. Back then I liked to visualize to inspiring music. One of my favorites was a song called “Going the Distance” from the Rocky soundtrack. The sense of triumph at the song’s climax never failed to get my adrenaline going and I felt that the sense of visceral emotion would combine with the mental movie I was playing in my mind to make what I was imagining a reality.

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If you know the song, it starts off with a sense of struggle, like the dark moment in a story before the climactic success. So, being a writer, I tried to create my mental movie to match the music. In my mind’s eye, I saw me typing away at my computer day after day, superimposed with the image of pages and pages of written material rolling out of my dot matrix printer.

This happened a long time ago, if you haven’t already guessed.

These mental pictures were juxtaposed with me going to the mailbox day after day and getting rejection letters from agents. This went on until the music bursts into a sense of triumph, one minute and thirty-one seconds into the piece. This is where I imagined the moment I get the acceptance letter and I begin jumping up and down in my front hallway, adrenaline pumping through me at the emotion of my success.

It only occurred to me years later as those rejection letters came in, one after the next, that I had manifested just what I had visualized. Eventually, the triumph I had mentally mapped out did happen, several novels later, and the sense of triumph I felt was much the same as I imagined. (Although I didn’t actually jump up and down. I was in a shopping mall when the call came in.)

I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have received those rejection letters had I not visualized them, but maybe I wouldn’t have received as many as I did. There is no way to know. However, I’d advise you, when you are visualizing for you own success, maybe don’t put any struggle in there, even if it does “fit with the music.”

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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Manifesting without Effort

 In past posts I’ve written about manifesting the things and experiences you want through affirmations and visualizations, by remaining positive and feeling good. But the simple truth is that it doesn’t take listening to positive affirmations to attract that dream job you’ve always wanted. It doesn’t take ritual morning visualizations to manifest that completed novel you’ve been promising yourself you’d finish. Manifesting can be as easy as setting an intention, putting it out there in The Universe, then getting out of the way and trusting that it’s going to come to you.

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I have the privilege of sitting on the board of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. Every year at the PNWA summer writers conference, I’ve met extraordinary new people and have mind-blowing experiences. What’s more, every year they get increasingly better. After the three-day conference is over, it often takes me several days to decompress from such a high-energy event.

As conference time rolled around this year, I wasn’t feeling the magic. Between traveling and major house renovations, I’d had no downtime for a solid two months. The thought of mustering enthusiasm for the three-day conference was starting to mess with my chi. All I wanted was an afternoon to sit around and read books, maybe have a solid satisfying writing session where I could spend a whole morning just creating. On the eve of the conference, I was starting to feel almost depressed and recognized that I would not, in this state of mind, manifest anything all that great.

As it happened, turning it around was simply a matter of deciding that something wonderful was going to happen and trusting that it was going to come. I don’t know how,  I thought, I don’t know when, but it’s coming. In truth, there wasn’t a lot of high-energy enthusiasm behind it. It was just a matter of deciding it was going to happen and trusting.

Thursday, the first day of the conference, began slowly. It was enjoyable, but nothing out of the ordinary occurred. As I turned in at the end of the day I only nodded pensively. I don’t know when, I thought, I don’t know how, but it’s coming.

Things began to get moving the next day. I had a blast moderating a panel with author Megan Chance on writing historical fiction. That night at dinner, through a series of unforeseen circumstances, I had the opportunity to sit by author Deb Caletti at dinner and have a profound conversation with her.

By Saturday, the last day of the conference, I was in The Zone. I moderated a panel that included my agent, Kathleen Rushall; moderated another on writing structure with Terry Persun; and moderated a third with Author Magazine’s Bill Kenower in which he interviewed authors Robert Dugoni and Deb Caletti. Perhaps the most amazing thing took place at the end of the day when, as a result of a last-minute illness, I filled in for a panel member as a speaker along with two literary agents and another author. The high-energy talk that followed was one of those sessions where everything goes right.

What is it you want to manifest? Don’t make it difficult.  Simply set your intention, put it out there in The Universe, and let it come to you.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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Why NaNoWriMo is So Damn Irritating

In case you don’t already know, NaNoWriMo is the moniker for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place every November and challenges writers to complete 50,000 words of a new novel during the month November.

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Every year, as November rolls around and I hear my writing friends gear up for it, I grow irritated. Why, I think, wait until November to write? If writing is a passion, if this is something you really want to do, why not just write!

There is a fallacy that in order to write a novel you need long, contiguous stretches of time devoted to the muse in order to complete a book-length project. People dream of renting a cabin in the woods or a farm house in Italy so they might sit behind a desk, uninterrupted for days at a time, writing. But that’s not the way to pile on the pages.

I discovered this the hard way early on in my writing career. At the time I was working as a consultant with a flexible schedule. Under the contract, instead of working eight hours a day, I had the option of working nine hours, thereby getting a day off every two weeks. Perfect, I thought. I’ll have an entire day every two weeks to write uninterrupted for an entire day!

Instead of rolling into work at eight o’clock each morning, I’d roll in at seven, work an extra hour each day, and have my glorious writing day off. However, what I discovered is that it is very difficult to be productive every moment for an entire day. There were meals to eat, bathroom and stretch breaks to have, and occasional errands to run. Oh, I’d manage to write ten to twelve decent quality pages, but it wasn’t much output after two weeks of waiting.

Then an idea occurred to me. What if I returned to my old work schedule, without the day off? But what if I still came in to work an hour early each morning, however instead of working that first hour I’d spend it writing. Usually, no one was at the office that early anyway, so I could write one hour every day uninterrupted.

What I discovered is, when you write every day, especially the same time every day, you can really build momentum. It’s like having a daily appointment with your muse. Not only was I writing two and often three pages every day, it was good quality stuff. Suddenly my writing took off. It was as if I wasn’t so much writing as I was transcribing an inner voice. Often I couldn’t type fast enough to capture everything that was coming in and the creative ideas and plot twists that I was coming up with were way better than what I’d originally outlined.

Now, at the end of two weeks, instead of having ten to twelve pages to show for it, I’d have twenty to thirty pages, and the writing was way better than it had been on those full days off!

NaNoWriMo is a crutch. Ignore it. Do you want to write? Then write! Usually, all NaNoWriMo will get you in the end are pages of writing hacked and slashed onto the page, low-quality writing that will require months and months of edits and rewrites before they are in a state to show another human being.

What’s stopping you from going to work one hour early, finding some quiet spot, and writing?

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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