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

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That Little Voice

Have you been there? You’re writing your novel and everything is going splendidly. You’ve created engaging characters, built tension, added a sprig of humor in just the right places. Then you hit that spot that you’ve been building up all through the first act, that scene that the readers have been waiting for since the protagonist heard her call to adventure.

You’re writing the scene you thought would captivate, but it feels flat. Everything that’s propelled you to this moment is beginning to slip away and that little voice in your head starts to talk to you: This sucks. Where is this going? What am I doing? All these cool things I have planned for the rest of this book, if I can only get past this scene.

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Doubt creeps in. You think, If even I’m bored with this scene, how can my readers get through it? Is this where I lose them?

Suddenly, you’re finding excuses not to write. If you do, you find yourself working and reworking that scene, trying to discover what’s missing, trying to make it shine. It’s not writing anymore. Now it’s work when everything before it came so easily. You’re losing the magic and you don’t know why.

There are things you can do to overcome this. Some people will choose to write, “Chapter 9: Boy Meets Girl” and move on. Others will step back an analyze their story for plot flaws or try to rework their outline. Still other will mentally talk to their characters and let them inform them what’s not working. There’s nothing better than when your characters start to speak.

For me, I get this feeling in scenes when nothing surprising is happening. Characters are saying and doing exactly what you’d expect characters would say and do in this situation. The magic is gone because it feels like a path you’ve been on before, like that last mile or two before you arrive home, the stretch of road that’s so familiar it becomes backdrop.

I ask myself, “How can I surprise the reader? What aren’t they expecting? How can I introduce a roadblock in this route that they think they already know?”

If you’re an outliner, this is going to feel uncomfortable. This might screw up all your carefully wrought plans. But it could just introduce an entirely new element to your story that adds depth and tension to the scenes you already have mentally plotted out.

Think about the novels you’ve read and the scenes that caught you so off guard that you couldn’t believe that the author did that. George R.R Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series excels at this and drives the story forward masterfully because you saw exactly where the story was going…  But you were wrong.

You remember those times when you were reading and something in the story made you gasp? Those surprises, that masterful slight of hand, is what your reader is going to remember when they close the book and long for your next story.

Challenge yourself. What is the reader expecting? Now how can you screw up their assumptions?

Start with your troubled scene. Now think, What if…

 

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

When the Well Runs Dry – Part 2

Last week in Part 1 of “When the Well Runs Dry,” I explored the cause of why sometimes your writing might not feel inspired. I conclude that the reason you might not feel passionate about what you’re writing is that you’re too conscious of your audience and not focused enough on what will please you. To combat this, I recommend giving yourself permission to write what you want to write. When you care about what you’re writing, that feeling of inspiration will return, and that sense of emotion will carry through to your readers.

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For some of you, simply giving yourself permission to write what interests you will be enough to find that inner voice. Sometimes it takes more.

For me, writing has grown more difficult now that I have a published novel out there. Now that I have readers, I find myself growing more self-conscious about pleasing my audience and less about what is important to me.

An invaluable resource for me has been the book Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion, penned by Author Magazine’s own editor-in-chief, Bill Kenower. Far from a how-to manual, it’s a book of two-page essays that make you think not just about why you’re writing, but why you’re here, and how much of who we are is reflected in what we choose to write and how we approach it.

Having interviewed hundreds of authors, Kenower writes not only from his own perspective but from the perspective of the authors he’s met. In “Practically Done,” Kenower writes, “Life can appear to be divided in two: that which you must do, and that which you want to do. The musts are certain; the wants are optional.”

He goes on to say that there will always be something else you must do. When a friend points out that it would be more practical to write books like John Grisham, make a pile of money, and then write the books you want to write, Kenower points out the impracticality of doing things one doesn’t want to do, writing things one doesn’t want to write. “I usually can [do those things] for a time,” he says, “until the tension between where I want to go and where I am telling myself I must go becomes so great that something snaps and I must start again.”

I keep a copy of Write Within Yourself at my desk and start my writing day by turning to a random page and reading whatever essay falls under my eye.  The book is my daily reminder that in order to be true to my readers, I must be true to my own passions.

Write Within Yourself  is not a guide, but a companion. A guide will tell you where to go. As a writer, only you can know that. A good companion, however, can remind you that forgetting where you want to go is different from not knowing where you want to go. Author William Kenower believes that what it takes to write the book you most want to write is also what it takes to lead the life you most want to live. This collection of essays serves as a companion for those times when you need inspiration. Write Within Yourself will help you stay connected to the writer and the life within 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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When the Well Runs Dry – Part 1

All writers have been there. You sit down to write and words are flowing out on the page. You’re moving along, you seem to be getting somewhere, but when you end for the day something doesn’t feel quite right. Your wheels were spinning, sure, but they were spinning in mud. You didn’t really seem to travel anywhere. At least, not anywhere you wanted to go.

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It’s a disconcerting feeling, a feeling that you’ve just wasted your time. You know what it’s like when you’re really in the flow of the writing, when it’s inspired, when the voice within is translating The Universe. And that, what you just wrote, that wasn’t it.

Some people might be tempted to call it writers block, but that’s not quite right, is it? You were, in fact, writing.

So you search for a cause, but the cause is elusive. Maybe, I need to do more research on my setting, you think. Maybe I need to do a little more world building.

You know there’s a reason for the malaise, so you grasp through the fog, trying to catch that slippery shadow, but it dances out of reach. Eventually, you conclude that the reason the writing didn’t feel inspired is that there is no one simple cause, and lacking a concrete source of your anxiety, you’re forced to try again the next day, likely with the same results.

I’ve found when the writing doesn’t feel inspired, it’s for one reason: I’m not writing for me. I’m writing for someone else. I might be too conscious of what my test readers are going to think, or my agent, or my intended audience. “What would they like?” I’m asking myself. “What would they want to happen next?”

The simple fact is you’re not really writing for any of those people. Sure, you want them to love what you’ve created, but the person you most have to please, the person you are truly writing for, is you. If not, why do it?

You shouldn’t be asking, “What do they want to read?” The question you want is, “What do I want to read?

Of course you have to keep your audience in mind, but what you really have to ask yourself when you’re writing is what will keep and hold your interest. Once you consciously acknowledge that your most important reader is you, that in order to feel the passion the story must be yours, that’s when the fire returns.

Nothing is more freeing than to give yourself permission to write what you want.

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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