When I Only Wrote for Myself

 

When I was in the second grade, if you’d asked me what I wanted more than anything in the world, I would have told you, “A desk!”

I’d been coveting one for as long as I could remember.  “For my whole life,” as little kids are fond of saying. I could imagine sitting behind the desk with a notebook and pencil and writing stories, either little comics or short narratives.

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My parents ordered the desk when I was in the third grade, after months of incessant pleading. It was supposed to be a Christmas present, but the desk that matched my bedroom furniture was backordered and didn’t arrive until six months later. On the very last day of school, I’d returned home and there it sat in my bedroom.

I wrote many stories behind that desk, either with pencil and paper, occasionally with the typewriters that we’d purchased in a garage sale down the street, then later with a computer.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about what it was like to write stories behind that desk, when I had no purpose other than the sheer pleasure of creating. Back then there was little if any expectation that anyone would read these tales but me, and yet that was enough. There was a story inside me that wanted to be captured, to be committed to paper and immortalized. Spelling and grammar didn’t matter. There were no rules back then. Only the story.

Then somewhere along the way, I wanted more: for others to read my stuff, to be published, to be “good enough” to be let in to the club of authors. Then there were rules, lots of them, and if you didn’t follow them, They wouldn’t let you into The Club. At some point, I wasn’t writing for me anymore. I wasn’t even writing for the audience. I was writing for the agent, the editor, the beta readers.

When did that happen exactly? Does this happen to all aspiring authors? Do we all go through that period of self-consciousness, following The Rules, telling stories the way we think someone else needs to hear them?

Can you remember a time when you wrote for the sheer joy of creating? How would your writing be different if you approached your writing sessions with that same unrestrained zeal? Please answer in the comments below! I would love to learn about your experiences!

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

No-More-Tears Revisions

They hammer it into you: The first chapter has to be perfect. The first page has to seize the reader’s attention. The first paragraph has to hook you. That first sentence has to compel you to read more.

Whole books on writing are devoted to beginnings. Entire workshops are dedicated to putting together a captivating first sentence.

How many times have you read your first chapter? How many times have you read your first page? We read our work again and again, until pathways are formed in our brains, until it is committed to memory and our eyes aren’t even reading the words anymore.

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Once we get to the point where we’re showing our work to another live soul, our writing–especially that first chapter–has become as familiar as the last mile of road before arriving home. Revising it, changing even a word, at some point just seems wrong. You’ve read it so many times, it is just the way it is supposed to be.

We give our work to friends, beta readers, book doctors, people in our critique group. Yes, we want feedback. Yes, we want advice on how to make the story better. But let’s face it, what we truly want to hear is, “This is wonderful! Exquisite! Don’t change a word!” Anything less is disappointing. (Admit it. It’s just the two of us. No one else has to know.)

So, what mental state must you get in to hear and react to feedback? Some would say, the more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s the whole develop-a-thick-skin thing. (Is it just me or does the image of someone with thick skin sound disgusting?)

I would say, sure, practice does help. More exactly, the more you write, the less any one page becomes sacred, because you know what, baby, there’s always more where that came from.

What helped me look at revisions differently was watching a documentary on one of the Friends DVDs. Season 4, I think. The documentary is a behind-the-scenes look at creating an episode of Friends, from writing to post-production.

One of the things that struck me about the process in particular is how mutable the script was. There would be a live reading with the actors around a table. Adjustments were made. In rehearsal, Matt Perry might ad lib a new line. The script was altered again. The cast perform in front of an audience and discovered what moments were getting laughs, what moments fell flat. Yet more revisions. The script was an organic thing. Something that grew and evolved.  In the end, it made for a better script.

In your writing career, you are going to hear criticism. Some of it will instantly make sense to you. Some you’ll resist.

Here are some suggestions: First, sit with the advice for a while. Let your brain absorb it. Unless you completely agree with the new ideas, it helps to sleep on it for a few days. Let your unconscious marinate in someone else’s way of thinking. Avoid trying out changes when you are in that mode of Resistance. If you don’t, whatever you produce, you’re going to hate.

You’ll know when you’re ready to take a stab at changes. You still might not agree with the advice, but the emotion behind it will have worn off a little. Then, give it a try. Challenge yourself to write something awesome, just to see if you can do it. What is the worst that can happen? You’ll lose a little time. The new material falls flat and you go back to the way it was.

More likely, you’ll end up with something new, something that works better. It might be roughly the way you had it before, but tweaked in such a way that addresses the issue in a way that you or your critiquer hadn’t anticipated.

And if the new stuff doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. It’ll be a valuable exercise. You’ll have gained experience as a writer.

Check out that Friends documentary. It may change your perspective the way it changed mine.

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

Getting Things Done

There is never enough time to write. It’s a common complaint.

Last spring I read an article about Joss Whedon, the writer/producer/director of The Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Much Ado About Nothing. Whedon knows how to pump out the material quickly, yet still manages to have a life. When asked how he does it, Whedon pointed to David Allen’s classic book and organizational system, Getting Things Done.

Getting Things Done is nothing new. I’d been hearing about it for years, but at the prospect that it might help make me a more prolific writer, I bought the book and began making the transition to being more productive.

Unlike many systems, such as Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which takes a top down approach, Allen’s system looks at things from the bottom up. You ask yourself what you want to get done, then begin writing it down.

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Of course, it’s impossible to distill the entirety of Getting Things Done into a few sentences, but at the heart of Allen’s system is the concept of consolidating everything you want to get done into a set of lists that you keep in one place and review regularly. And by everything, I mean everything: books you want to read, movies you want to see, music you want to buy, novels you want to write, household chores, work projects, etc. Everything.

Allen contends that a large percentage of our mental energy is spent reminding ourselves of the things we want or need to do. In other words, we’re thinking about the same shit, day after day, hour after hour. The idea is, if you have it all written down in a trusted system that you review regularly, you free up both time and mental energy.

Following this system requires a certain amount of OCD, but since I have a little of that myself, I decided to try it. (Perhaps OCD is a characteristic of all successful writers; how else could we pound the keys day after day unless we’re a little obsessed?)

In the almost ten years since Getting Things Done has come into being, a boat load of software has been created to automate Allen’s system of managing lists. Perhaps the best of it is OmniFocus by the OmniGroup. What I love about this software is that I can create tasks on my computer or iPad or iPhone and it synchronizes your lists at all of the sources. Thus, wherever I am, I have the latest information at my fingertips. You can even configure it so that when you ask Siri to remind you about something, the task appears in OmniFocus.

Thus, I went about creating the lists of everything I wanted to do, ever. It took weeks and weeks. I constantly found myself tweaking how I organized everything, but at last it was all in one place.

At first, the amount of everything I wanted to do was overwhelming, but because everything was in one place, I suddenly found I had choices. Because I was aware of everything I wanted to do, I could choose to write. There was no nagging sense of guilt that I should be doing something else. I knew what other things were on the list and had made a conscious decision that this is what I wanted to do.

What I came to understand is writing is all about making a choice. It’s perusing the menu of things you want or have to do and making the decision that writing is the most important. The power to choose is yours.

You can read the article about Joss Whedon entitled: “How to Be Prolific: Guidelines for Getting Things Done from Joss Whedon” here.

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

Journaling: The Easy Way to Write Everyday

We’ve all heard the benefits of writing every day, but it’s not aways practical. In the process of writing a novel, committing that first draft to paper (or computer) is only a small part of the process. There’s preparing to write (research, character sketches, outlining) and polishing the writing (editing, researching agents, writing query letters). All of it limits the time we spend dancing with the muse.

Keeping a journal is an easy way to write every day and keep your skills nimble. There are other benefits, too. Journaling reduces stress, helps you know yourself better, and allows you to clarify feelings and heal wounds of the spirit. It’s also a great place to capture dialogue, snatches of description, and ideas for future projects. Word-for-word, the first paragraph of my novel, Aftersight, started as a journal entry while I was vacationing in London.

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The myth is that a journal has to be about what happened to you on a given day. No, my friends, a writer’s journal is all material for future stories. Think of yourself as an artist and your journal as a sketch book. Give yourself permission to draw anything you want. You’re limited only by your imagination.

I’ve been keeping journals since grammar school: in diaries, notebooks, Franklin Planners, and later computers. There is something to be said for having a good pen and solid, bound book in which to write. The physical exercise of committing thoughts to paper is a romantic process, something that’s been done for centuries. If you’re looking for writing supplies, I’d highly recommend Levenger.com for quality pens and journals.

Over the years I’ve come to value the power of digital journals, both for the ease and speed of capturing my thoughts, as well as the ability to search and retrieve later entries. My choice of journaling software these days is Day One, which allows me to add a journal entry from my computer, iPad, or iPhone and have the entries sync up at all locations. In addition, I can easily add photos, to enhance memories of a given day; or add subject tags, for easy searches later. It also automatically adds your physical location, the time, and weather, as well as offering ideas of writing subjects and reminders to write.

The word “journal” is rooted in journey. Let your journey begin.

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

Three Months Later

Thee months ago, in my blog entry “Writing and Staying Fit Simultaneously,” I chronicled what amounts to a new year’s resolution to get up early, work out and write every morning before work. 

It’s one thing to declare victory after a week’s success, it’s another to maintain a new habit long-term. Now, three months later, I wanted to provide an update on my progress.

First the plan: Get up every morning at five o’clock, do a half-hour of P90X3, shower, get dressed, and write for sixty to ninety minutes before leaving for work.

How have I done? Since I began, I’ve lost fifteen pounds (five percent of my body fat) and have an accumulated total of 27,000 words on my latest novel.

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That’s not to say that it’s all gone smoothly. During those three months, I spent some time in Italy, which naturally meant I wasn’t working out or writing (other than blogs) much while I was away. There was also coming home and getting used to the nine-hour time difference between Tuscany and Seattle. Then, just when I was getting back into the old routine, Daylight Saving Time struck.

I got up and worked out every day, though admittedly sometimes a lot later than I’d hoped. And every day, even if it was only for a few minutes, I worked on my novel after my shower. Even if I was only reading over and tweaking what I’d written the night before, I always added at least one new line. At least one.

There is something about that momentum, that sense that I’m touching my work every day, that continues to drive me forward. Even on those mornings when the manuscript has loomed large and intimidating, when I don’t know exactly how I’m going to get from point A to B, working and reworking my scenes has left my satisfied that I’m headed in the right direction.

I’m here to tell you that you can do it, too. Even if working out is not your thing, you can still carve out time to put fingers to keyboard. How hard would it be to go to bed a half-hour earlier and wake just a half-hour earlier for a quick writing session? Try it. It might not be as difficult as you think.

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

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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iOS 8 Preview

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Introducing iOS 8, the next evolution in Apple’s mobile operating system. 

“We found that the letters, numbers, lines and symbols of iOS 7 were getting in the way of the clean, sleek, white design,” said Jonathan Ive, Senior Vice President of Design at Apple, Inc. “The beauty of iOS 8 is in its simplicity. Just white. No colors. No shapes. Nothing to distract from its pristine beauty.” 

When asked how users might be able to view content if white was the only thing that iOS 8 displayed, Ive pointed out that he was a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, whose insights should not be questioned.

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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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