Scattering Seeds

Okay, here’s the scenario: You’ve been writing a while, right? You have a story you’re passionate about and you’ve been devoting your spare time to writing, editing, and generally educating yourself on what it takes to create a great novel, one that might get published one day.

You think you might benefit from some outside advice, maybe network with other writers, so you join a writers group. Now you’re getting to know people. They’ve read your stuff and like your writing. Would you mind reading their stuff? They’d really like your opinion. This would mean taking time away from your writing, but it’s only fair. They read your stuff, right?

You learn that in order to get published, it helps to have a platform, get your name out there, so you start blogging. And your blog is growing a following. People like what you have to say. Sure, it’s taking time from working on your novel, but the way you see it, you’re planting seeds, hoping something will grow. You never know who might read your blog. Maybe it will lead to something.

And it does. A fellow blogger likes what you’re doing and invites you to guest blog on her site twice a month. It turns out, she has a huge following. This would be great exposure for you, so you agree. Add it to your list of writing tasks. You’re planting seeds, hoping to see something grow one day.

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Then one of your writing buddies informs you that he’s starting a site featuring book reviews. It’s a paid gig. Not much, but it’s a writing credit. Something to fill in the blanks in your query letter. You sign on.

Someone at work hears you’re a writer and asks you to submit an article with him. It’s not a done deal, but it’s a possibility. He’s providing an introduction to the publication’s editor. A great contact, so you go for it. More seeds hit the ground.

Okay, you with me? Now, here’s the thing with the seed-planting metaphor. Planting seeds, the way a gardener plants seeds, is a very prescribed process. The seeds go in the right soil at just the right depth, and at just the right temperature, and exposed to just the right amount of sunlight and water. If the conditions are right, as they are for a seasoned gardener, it’s not long before flowers blossom.

The writing scenario described above isn’t really planting seeds, is it? It’s more like scattering seeds; flinging seeds around and hoping that one hits the dirt and gets lodged just deep enough so that the right combination light and moisture and heat will cause the seed to germinate.

It’s rare, but that kind of thing does happen, like in my scenario. But is the growth leading in the direction you want to go? Is the kind of plant life that’s coming out of the ground what you want to reap?

There’s nothing wrong with networking with other writers, getting your name out there, or earning publishing credits. Yet for those with “day jobs,” time devoted to writing is limited. Look at the pie chart of your time. How big a slice of that pie represents your writing time? Now how much of that slice are you devoting to writing your manuscript?

At some point, you have to reassess. It’s okay to say no to the guy who wants you to read his stuff. If your blog is taking too much time, scale back. If someone asks you to write an article on a topic that doesn’t interest you, just say no.

What story inspires your passion? Are you writing it?

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

_________________________________________________________ Author Photo 2 Square - Copy copy 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 tumblr_inline_msw15rad8T1qz4rgp

What’s in Your Way?

I started writing fiction regularly in college. I remember that time well, especially the summers there in my bedroom, sitting behind the desk as a warm evening breeze wafted through the open windows. Even now I can put myself back there and recreate it exactly in my mind: the feel of the chair beneath me, the texture of the keyboard under my fingers, that tiny Macintosh SE screen lighting up the room, the scent of trees and river and freshly cut grass.

When I first started writing, conditions had to be perfect. My homework had to be done. I couldn’t have any crap piled on my desk. My room had to be picked up. Bed made. Clothes folded and put away.

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It occurred to me recently that maybe the reason why my writing sessions are so clear to me all these years later is because they happened so rarely. Conditions had to be just right before I wrote anything. Often, too many piles were stacked up between me and opening that word processing document.

Yes, those moments when I actually was writing, like those lovely, luxurious summer vacations described above, were romantic and pleasure-filled. But they were all too rare.

I think now about how my writing has evolved. When I’m in The Zone, I’m writing all the time: In the morning at my desktop, on the bus on my notebook computer, dictating on my phone as I walk to and from my bus stop, writing emails to myself when a compelling description or plot point or line of dialogue comes into my head. Now, I write on the go and fuck the piles and obligations and the perfect conditions that would ideally exist before I put fingers to keyboard. Now I just have to write.

What conditions have to exist before you allow yourself time to channel the muse? Does it have to be absolutely silent? Do you need long stretches of unbroken time? Do the kids need to be at school or at camp or daycare?

Is all that really true are or they just excuses? Do you really not have time to write or is there something more to it? Is there a fear keeping you from what you really want to do, one that you haven’t even consciously acknowledged?

Maybe it’s time to put all that aside, put your butt in the chair, and write.

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

_________________________________________________________ Author Photo 2 Square - Copy copy 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 tumblr_inline_msw15rad8T1qz4rgp

The Writer’s Apprentice

Kyle is one of my oldest friends. I’ve known him since kindergarten. My earliest memory of Kyle is the day in third grade when he dressed up as George Washington on the last day of school. His earliest memory of me goes all the way back to kindergarten when, during story time as we were all sitting in a circle on the floor, I leaned to the side and nonchalantly vomited, then leaned back and continued listening, as if perhaps no one might notice.

Kyle and I truly became friends in the sixth grade. Like me, he wrote stories, but his stories took the form of little handmade comics. It wasn’t until junior high school that he started writing short stories and not until high school that he tried to get them published.

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All my early impressions of what it was like to be a writer came from Kyle. First was what I learned when Kyle passed his stories around to friends. In second period one friend would say, “I hated the part where the parrot started smoking cigarettes and telling jokes.” Kyle would say, “Got it. Note to self: Remove part with cigarette-smoking parrot.”

Then later at lunch someone else would say, “Great story, Kyle. Loved the part with the parrot telling jokes!” This kind of contradiction would drive Kyle crazy. The lesson: Some people are going to like your stuff and some people aren’t. In the end, you must choose to keep what you think is best.

Watching Kyle send letters to magazine editors who published short fiction was also an education. I learned about the Writers’ Market Guide, what a SASE was, the proper protocol for submitting one’s work. Kyle was the first person I’d heard of making a collage of his rejection letters and pasting it on the wall.

My observations of Kyle’s efforts led me to a singular conclusion: Getting published is hard.

I wonder now how my own journey as a writer would have been different if I didn’t have that early impression. I know writers, more than one, who didn’t seem to know this when they got into writing and who met with almost immediate success.

Wait a minute, I’d think when this happened. Don’t you know how hard it is to get published?

If our beliefs do create our reality, or as Author Magazine’s tag line puts it, if we truly are the author of our own lives, wouldn’t a belief in easy success serve us better?

I’ve had the chance to interview many successful authors for Author Magazine and when I do I invariably try to determine how their mindset helped them manifest their success. Though articulated in different ways, what I’ve discovered is the concept of being in alignment with one’s success.  In other words, if you are visualizing where you want to be but in your mind you’re saying, “I suck. My writing stinks. I’m not good enough.” Or in my case, “This is really, really hard,” then that is more than likely what you are going to manifest.

To create success, the idea goes, all parts of you must be in alignment: heart, head, body, soul. Let go of the beliefs that aren’t serving you.  If thoughts are indeed energy, what thoughts are we putting out into the universe?

Kyle eventually did sell one of his stories.  “Cuji,” which began as a spoof on Stephen King’s Cujo, was a tale about a demonically possessed Mickey Mouse balloon who was adopted by a boy during a family trip it Disneyland. Cuji, the balloon, eliminated the family members one by one in his effort to unite with Satan, who had incarnated into the physical form of a Beagle. Kyle was paid $7.35 for his efforts, though I don’t think he ever cashed the check. The check made a far better wall-hanging than that tapestry of rejections.

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

_________________________________________________________ Author Photo 2 Square - Copy copy 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 tumblr_inline_msw15rad8T1qz4rgp

Lucy Reborn

 

If you followed my blog early on, you’ll know that Lucy, my beloved cat of nearly seventeen years, died the summer before last.  A few days after she crossed over, I heard from her, the story of which I documented in my blog entry, “The Passing of an Old Friend.”

Perhaps the most hopeful message I received from Lucy that night she contacted me in New York was this: “I’ll be back.” It was a message that was echoed by an intuitive woman I met by chance a week later: Lucy was planning on being reborn as a kitten and returning to us as a pet.

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In the weeks and months after Lucy passed, I sensed her presence on a number of occasions. Usually, I’d noticed this at nighttime. As I’d drift off to sleep, I’d perceive her perched on the table near the bed, as if wanting to be near the nest where she’d spent so many nights. Sometimes, though, she’d come in during completely unexpected times. 

The most surprising occasion was last February, while I was at the dentist getting a temporary crown. It was almost as if Lucy wanted to provide a comforting presence in what could have been a trying situation.  Surprisingly, however, she didn’t seem to appear two weeks later, when my permanent crown was installed.  That dentist office visit was the last occasion she seemed to be there.

Three months later, my wife and I visited a local breeder to pick out a new kitten. This turned out to be a lot more stressful than we’d anticipated. Unbeknownst to us, two families had also shown up to look at the kittens and, because of snarled traffic, we’d arrived last.

If you’ve read books about animals and the afterlife that include animal communicators, you’ll read story after story of animals who reincarnate to be with their humans again. It’s not uncommon for animals to announce their intentions to come back beforehand through an animal communicator, similar to how Lucy did. The inevitable question asked by owners eager to reunite with their pets is, “How will I find you?”

The answer from the animal is always the same: “I will find you.”

This is fine in theory, but practically speaking, it was a little nerve-wracking to show up late to the cattery, with seven other people picking over the litter.

We needn’t have worried. Within a minute of our arrival, a kitten walked directly up to my wife and let us pick her up. We’d found our cat. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that she found us.

Nearly right away our new cat, Emily, began exhibiting behaviors and characteristics similar to Lucy. Anyone whose had a close relationship with a pet knows that all animals have a distinct personality and even if a breed shares general qualities, they all have different habits and a unique energy. Emily definitely shared Lucy’s spirit and the more time went by, the more examples we’d get of how similar the two cats were.

Yet there was one thing I was not prepared for. For some reason, when I’d thought of Lucy’s return, I’d expected the crusty old cat that I’d grown to know and love so well, the cat that was losing her hearing who would patter silently up behind me and meow loud enough for her to hear her own voice, scaring the crap out of me. But what I didn’t anticipate was Lucy-as-kitten. 

Little Emily was so much like the little kitten that my wife and I had picked out at the animal shelter eighteen years before. Emily was the same yet not the same, an old soul in a new body. And as much as she is like Lu, this little furry being is a new story, having new experiences, making new memories, creating new relationships with her housemates, cats and humans alike.

I learned later that Emily had been born shortly after my first trip to the dentist, when I’d had that temporary crown put in. This might explain why Lucy didn’t seem to appear when I’d had my permanent crown installed a few weeks later, even though I’d half-expected her to be there.

Those we know and love now, we’ll know and love again. Yet every moment is unique. Every moment is meant to be cherished, because nothing will quite be the same ever again. The lesson here is that though physical bodies fail, the story goes on.

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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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Harold: a Living Thoreau

My dad had talked about him for years: Harold was a man who for the past fifty years has lived in Asolo, a hill town in the northern Italian province of Veneto. He inhabited an old house that had no electricity. No heat. No indoor plumbing. “He’s a great guy,” Dad would say. “You’ve got to meet him.”

“He’s a hermit,” I’d say. I had images of an old man with long, twisting fingernails and a tattered Rip-Van-Winkle beard.

“He makes his own wine,” Dad would counter. I added this to my mental picture. Rip Van Winkle with a funnel and an old cask, dribbling wine into rows of bottles.

“He’s a writer,” Dad added.

Okay, I’ll admit it. That part intrigued me.

So it was that Dad and I guided our rental car through the small village at the base of Monte Grappa. A light rain fell beneath a textureless grey sky when the GPS pointed us off the main road, up and up a steep grade into the hills. Above a tree-line mostly denuded of leaves hung Asolo’s iconic grey castle. The paved road gave way to a dirt track. I had the curious feeling that for every foot we ascended, we were traveling back another decade in time.

The house that emerged out of the woods was far grander than I’d imagined. Dad’s description of Harold’s simple life suggested a simple structure, but the two hundred year old house looked more like two houses pushed together, with an upper story veranda. Partially covered in vines, the stone edifice had seen better days. Part of the red tiled roof seemed to be falling in on itself and the wood around the windows looked grey and weathered.  Yet it was utterly beautiful and charming, like something you’d find on a movie set.

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We parked next to a small, ancient-looking vineyard. The first thing that struck me as we got out of the car was the utter silence. No sound but the gently falling rain. We spotted a man, presumably Herald, pacing on the second story terrace, fiddling a cell phone.

He disappeared into the shadows and emerged a few seconds later from one of the house’s front doors. In his mid-80s, his white hair trimmed short, he wore jeans, a brown sweatshirt, and a black jacket. “Hello,” he called out to my dad. Dad had written that we were coming on this day, but no time had been mentioned and had been no way to verify that Harold had received the letter. But wait, a cell phone?

Harold had something of the look of actor Ian Wolfe, with the same soft gentleness. There wasn’t a trace of Italian accent in his voice when he invited us in. His living room also made me think of a scene from a motion picture. You see movie sets with faded walls like Harold’s faded walls, but they aren’t real. They are faded for effect. Everything about the room–bookcases, antique table and chairs, books piled as if choreographed to be random and casual–was charmingly, artistically shabby. A blazing fireplace filled the room with heat and light, added to by the lamps on either side of the hearth. Electric lamps.

Harold invited us to sit in front of the fire, opened a bottle of his wine, and as we chatted, the tale of his life unfolded. Born in Chicago, he grew up in Wyoming. After a stint as a naval officer, he returned home to become a successful attorney. He was in his thirties, three years into a successful practice, when he decided that being a lawyer wasn’t for him. He’d been to Italy before with friends and now he decided that was the life he wanted, living alone, living simply; making wine; bicycling to town for food and supplies; befriending the local literati. Occasionally he traveled, but mostly he read books and wrote.

As I listened, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was living a story, that Harold was the wise mentor character that the protagonist visits for advice. Something he would say would be the key to how the story ends, the answer to the riddle, the means to defeating the villain.

The lesson in the end was Harold himself. Here was someone with a dream of getting away from the noise of civilization and making it happen, of spending time in the quiet woods in the shadow of a castle like something out of Middle Earth. This was the result of a path seldom taken, living the simple life, walking the woods, reading, and writing for the simple joy of putting pen to paper and creating.

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 tumblr_inline_msw15rad8T1qz4rgp

Just Write It!

It was time to write the next novel. I sent my agent a half-dozen story ideas, she picked one (fortunately the story behind which I had the most energy), and asked me to write the first fifty pages.

The seed of the story originally came to me in high school. I had been tinkering with the idea for years. I’d even gone as far as writing the first few pages. When my agent asked for the first fifty pages, it didn’t take me long to get momentum behind it. Even after I turned in the first fifty pages, I kept going. Ideas were spouting in my head like mushrooms after a rainstorm and I couldn’t wait to commit them to paper. The creative process had begun.

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Then my agent sent me her feedback. She liked the story, but thought the very first chapter should be moved to later in the story.  Maybe I could start the novel at the current Chapter Three.

Hmmm. Okay, then. I understood what she wanted: Start the story closer to what Joseph Campbell called The Call to Adventure.

I revised chapter one. Again. And again. And again. I handed the results to my test readers, all of whom read the revisions and just shook their heads. What was wrong with the original opening? They loved that opening. That’s what made them fall in love with the characters. True, the new Chapter Ones started closer to the “action,” but these chapters were less impactful because my readers didn’t really care about the characters.

Weeks went by. I wrote outlines and character profiles. I researched my setting. I read books on story structure. I worked on the edits for my then soon-to-be-published novel, Aftersight.  I made more sorties revising Chapter One. My story just wouldn’t get off the ground. It was like those stuttery black-and-white films of early flying machines, where the wings fall off after takeoff, or the aircraft plunges straight off the cliff and into the rocks below. Months went by and I had very little actual material to show for my efforts.

Finally, I decided that I just had to write the thing. Maybe I really had started the story where it was supposed to start, I just hadn’t written it in a way that was impactful enough. Just do it! I thought, quoting the old Nike tag line from the 1980s. That line was always so full of punch: Stop thinking. Stop the excuses. Just do it. Just write it!

The moment I made that decision, the story took off again, better now than ever. I am still in the middle of it, still driving through the night, my headlights only showing the landscape just ahead of me,but I know my destination is out there, somewhere, in the dark.

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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Butt Time

We all know the magic of writing every day. Write a page a day — a mere two hundred and fifty words — and in a matter of months you’ll have a completed draft of your manuscript.

But if it’s so easy, why aren’t we all doing it? What is stopping us?

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Is it truly a matter of finding the time or is it something more? I notice that when Life consistently intervenes to prevent me from getting that all-important butt-in-the-chair-time — what I like to call Butt Time — it’s because there is something about the writing itself that I fear.

The fear may not be apparent. It may be that the subject I’m writing about is more sensitive to relive than I consciously realize. It might be that I’m trying to write to please a perceived audience more than I’m writing something that will please me. Or it might simply be that I don’t know exactly where the story is going. Sometimes not knowing where the story is headed can be as frightening to a writer as a darkened room is to a child.

To say, “I don’t have enough time to write because ______,” (fill in the blank) is just an excuse. I think the hardest part about writing every day isn’t finding decent stretches of time. The hardest part is simply starting. The hardest part is that first step: sliding your butt in the chair, turning on your computer, opening your word processing document, and typing. If we can simply master that part, writing every day, whether it be ten words or ten pages, will become as automatic and unconscious as covering your mouth when you cough. It will simply be something you do.

I’d like to challenge everyone who reads this to pledge that, for the next six weeks, you’ll commit to writing at least one sentence a day on whatever project you’re currently working. That’s it. Just a sentence.

Of course, write more if you feel inspired. Write more if the spirit moves you. What I’m trying to get you to practice isn’t writing every day. What I’m trying to get you to practice is the start of the writing process. Sliding your butt in the chair, turning on your computer and typing.

Why six weeks? Behavioral studies tell us that if we can do something consistently for six weeks, we form a habit. Motivational speaker Brian Tracy said, “Form good habits and make them your masters.” Six weeks.

What’s stopping you? What about your writing do you fear? Please comment below. I’d love to hear from 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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