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.

Journaling

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.

_________________________________________________________ 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

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.

image

 

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.

_________________________________________________________ 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

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.

image

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.

_________________________________________________________ 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

Tipoteca Italiana

As I wrap up my journey through Italy, I had a chance to visit my friend, Sandro Berra, the Head Coordinator at Tipoteca Italiana, a museum that chronicles the history of typography and book making.

Here visitors are offered a sense of what it was like to publish written works in the early days of mechanized print. On display are archaic machines that required publishers to assemble little metal letters, one-by-one, in a reverse image of the page they wanted to print. The process was tedious, painstaking, and God help you if you discovered a typo.

image

In the next room are more evolved machines that allowed printers to use a rudimentary keyboard to funnel the same type of metal characters through a series of channels and into the same type of character grid. Each machine gets more sophisticated, until you arrive in a room of Twentieth Century printing presses that once rapidly spewed out pages in the days before computers and laser printers.

Then there is typography. In the digital age in which we live, we take fonts for granted. At Tipoteca, I got a sense of how they were designed. It gave me a new appreciation for their symmetry and geometry, how the loops and lines of different characters functioned within the harmony of a given typeface.

Perhaps most interesting was the evolution of the written word itself. It began with the earliest writing carved into wood or stone. The museum had an ancient piece of wood with tiny ruins that resembled something Tolkienesque.

As humans evolved, people began making marks in wet clay that, after it hardened, provided a portable means to deliver messages. In the display case, a clay piece the size of a billfold shows intricate triangular markings. The placard explains that this is a receipt for purchased goods.

Next came papyrus, a paper-like substance made from plant material. It was thin, so could only be written on one side and, while it worked fine in dry climates, in humid areas it was susceptible to rot.

Around 200 A.D. came parchment. I was surprised to learn that parchment was made from animal skins. It had the advantage that you could write on both sides of it, but it also had problems in climates with big changes in humidity.

Finally came paper and the various forms of quills and pens that went with it. It made me think of the old masters: William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Henry James. These writers didn’t even have typewriters! Imagine having to tip your writing implement in ink every few words. What a pain in the butt.

It made me truly appreciate how easy it is to write today, with spelling and grammar checkers and all the easy tools for editing and correcting one’s work. We are limited now only by our imaginations, time and effort. All things under our control.

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

Nonna: My First Story Teller

As I travel through Italy, I think back on my first impressions of the country that I formed when I was a child, long before I had ever set foot on Italian soil. This was back in the days before the Internet and cellular technology shrunk the world, when air travel was a big event, something for which people dressed nicely, when phone calls to Italy were done in the wee hours of the morning, my nonna and nonno yelling into the phone so they could be heard half-way across the globe.

My nonna was sent on her own to America when she was sixteen years old, by boat to New York, then by train to Santa Barbara, there to live with friends of the family until her father saved enough money to join her in the United States. Her father—my great grandfather—died before that could happen. Except for letters (and eventually the rare phone call) my nonna remained isolated from family and her homeland for almost thirty years, until she eventually visited with her husband and teenage daughter (my mom).

When my brother and I were very small, Nonna would tell us bedtime stories about her early life in Italy. She was born in 1912 in the northern region of Veneto, where some of the harshest fighting of World War I took place in Italy (Hemmingway’s A Farewell to Arms was set in her hometown).

10 Nonna O, Steven, and Brian

Nonna grew up on a small farm in a large family that rarely had enough to eat. She told my brother and me stories of her grandmother hiding food and giving it to my nonna and my nonna’s sister so they wouldn’t go hungry. She described windstorms with hail the size of golf balls. She explained what life was like without electricity and indoor plumbing, when stoves were heated with wood and horses and mules were the most common forms of transportation.

Nonna was the first person in my life who told me stories without an accompanying picture book. It forced me to form a picture in my head of what Italy was like, which over time took on mystical, almost Narnia-like proportions.

I first visited Italy with my brother and my cousin when I was in junior high school. It was dizzying to be in the place where all my nonna’s tales had been set. I had just started journaling, but it was there in Italy where I started writing fiction, inspired to write page after page without pause.

I owe incalculable debt to my nonna for giving me the gift of story. Who was the storyteller in your family? Please share with us in the comments below.

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

Writing and Staying Fit Simultaneously

“Develop good habits and make them your masters.”   —Brian Tracy

Whatever your most important goal is, work on it first thing each day.

It’s sage advice that I always tried to follow. In practice, it’s meant one of two things: Either waking up each morning and writing, or waking up each morning and working out. The result is that I’ve regularly accumulated pages on my manuscript or regularly reduced inches on my waistline, but never both.

This year I resolved to change all that. What follows documents my efforts to exercise and write every morning before my “day job,” what obstacles I faced, and how I overcame them.

image

First came choosing a workout program. It had to be short while simultaneously using the time effectively. I chose P90X3 from BeachBody.com, which crams a ton of activity into a sustainable thirty-minute workout. I’d done P90X and P90X2 before, so felt I could handle it.

Next, preparation. I knew mornings would be short on time, so I’d do everything I could to streamline the next morning’s activities in advance. The night before I load up my water bottle and set out the clothes I plan to wear for the next day. I also decided to sleep in as much of my workout clothes as practical. The rest I keep at my bedside. It’s important to keep superfluous wandering-around-in-the-morning time to an absolute minimum.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome was waking every workday morning at five-o’clock. This has meant going to bed early enough to ensure at least seven hours of sleep each I night. It’s also meant doing everything I can to make the process of physically getting out of bed as easy as possible. There’s nothing harder than getting out of bed on cold, dark Seattle mornings when you’re listening to the rain pattering on the roof.

I tackled the cold first by setting my thermostat to fire up auotmatically each morning twenty minutes before I plan to get up. This doesn’t make the air warm when I get out of bed, but it helps make the transition as easy as possible.

I conquered waking up on time by getting a FitBit Force, a watch/wrist band that comes with a vibrating alarm. This insures I don’t disturb my wife when it goes off or that I lie awake each morning trying to anticipate the alarm before it sounds. The FitBit also has the advantage of keeping track of activities such as steps walked, stair flights climbed, sleep, active minutes, etc. You can even use it to count water intake, calories consumed, & etc., through FitBit.com’s robust website and/or smartphone app.

I’ve made it a habit not to linger in bed after my wristband alerts me that it’s time to wake up. This is key to making it work. I had to use discipline and willpower. What it came down to for me is asking this question: How important is working out and writing? I imagined how much better I would feel about life if I went to work each morning having had a good workout and having written a few pages. I imagined how much satisfaction I get by feeling healthy and productive. For me, this is the cake of life. Everything else is frosting. The first morning I woke up early was surprisingly easy. The second morning was harder, but I shortly became habituated to it, like acclimating to a new time zone.

Each morning I get up, throw on sweat clothes, feed the cats, then head down to the basement for my workout. This practically takes forty-five minutes to accomplish. Afterward I shower, throw on the clothes that I laid out ahead of time, then head upstairs for my writing session. That leaves anywhere from seventy-five to ninety minutes to write.

The last hurdle was making sure the writing session itself is productive. Computers are great tools, but they’re full of distractions: email, Internet, and dozens of other activities that can suck time away from your daily dance with the muse.

I treat that first moment at the computer as a sprint. Okay, I say mentally, go! and then write as much, as fast and as focused as I can until my wrist alarm goes off at 7:45. I ignore email, ignore the urge to browse the web or take care of even tiny computer-related to dos. I use Scrivener as my word processor, which comes with a full-screen mode that shuts out all other distractions. From then on I make it my primary goal to stay as committed as I can for the entire writing session.

Having worked out, my blood is flowing. I’m sharp and alert and can get an amazing amount accomplished. Each morning it gets easier as mind and body learn what to expect.

This has been my routine so far this year and it’s been immensely rewarding and productive. I feel healthier and happier. Having written and worked out every morning, the rest of my waking hours are guilt free.

What is your most important goal? What are the hurdles getting in your way? How can you remove those obstacles? I’ve found a routine that works for me. You can find one, too.

_________________________________________________________

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

Mindset

Getting your writing published is largely a matter of practice, patience, and planting seeds. More often than not, high hopes are followed by broken dreams when reality fails to meet expectations. After a while is can seem like that classic Peanuts comic strip where Lucy holds the football so Charlie Brown can kick it, only for her to pull the ball away at the last second.

After reading the many, many versions of that comic strip, how can anyone fail to ask, Charlie Brown, why do you bother? She is never going to let you really kick that football, no matter how much it seems that she will.

Old books with apple

Yet when we’re in Charlie Brown’s shoes, we assume the same attitude as he does. Something promising happens and we think, This time, this time, it’s going to happen. I’m going to kick that ball out of the park! 

Last year, the week before Thanksgiving, my agent forwarded me an email from an editor who’d written two pages gushing over my supernatural YA novel, Aftersight. It was one of those emails that every writer dreams about getting, full of ardor and superlatives.

If you’ve read my previous blog entries, you’ll know that I originally wrote Aftersight in third person and rewrote it in first person on advice from my agent.  This editor’s email, while full of praise, had one admonition: “While I loved the story, I thought it would be better written from a third-person perspective. Would the author mind rewriting it in third person?”

After reading that, most would have collapsed in a chair and cried, “Are you kidding me?” (Luckily, I was sitting down.) Instead I thought, Well, I happened to have a third-person version available.

There were some tweaks I’d made to the first-person version that weren’t in the third-person one, but it only took a week to get them in place and then it was off to the editor, exactly two days before Thanksgiving.

Now, the waiting.

For years I’d been baffled by the best mindset to have when you’re in such a position. Do you keep expectations low, so you won’t be disappointed? Do you try to distract yourself with other projects? Do you stay confident and visualize success?

Thoughts aren’t just what is happening inside your head, no mere signals flitting through your brain. Your thoughts are where you’re putting your energy. So, no, keeping expectations low isn’t the answer. That’s not what you want to put out there into The Universe.

Yes, you can try to distract yourself with other projects. If you have the discipline to work on new projects and completely forget an amazing two-page email from an editor like that, you are a Jedi. But likely, even if you try, you’re only burying it inside yourself. Your expectations linger, even if they’re not in your waking consciousness.

For me, I chose to visualize success. Okay, I felt success to the core of my being. This time, I thought, I’m going to kick that football into the end zone.

A week passed, two weeks, three.  Too much time had gone by. By the week before Christmas, whenever I thought of my third-person manuscript in the hands of that editor, I felt ill. Was I putting bad things out in The Universe or was I sensing what seemed to be increasingly apparent: My third person effort failed to meet the editor’s expectations.

In the end, I’ll never know. Two days before I left work for Christmas vacation, I got the news: the editor was passing. No explanation given, even at the persistent prodding of my agent.

Merry Christmas to me.

So what is the answer? What is the proper mindset to have when one is in a position like this, when one is waiting?

I discovered the remedy a few weeks later, once there’d been time for my own expectations and hopes to equalize with reality. The technique I’m about to describe doesn’t just apply to getting published but for anything that you desire to the depths of your soul. Start practicing the technique now, so when The Universe sets a football down in front of you, ready for you to kick, you’ll know what to do.

There are two components to this technique. First, right now, this very moment, decide that what you want is going to happen, whether that’s getting published or whatever it is your heart craves. Take the “if” out of the equation. It is going to happen. Expect it. Know it. Doubt is simply your consciousness’s defense mechanism for coping with disappointment that hasn’t happened yet.

Next, throw out the How and When. You likely already have a mental timeline for when you expect your success to unfold. That timeline might be longer than necessary, in which case you’re undervaluing your abilities. It might be shorter, in which case you’ll grow frustrated if it doesn’t manifest as soon as you expect.

When you visualize success, you’ll often want to insert the How. When something good happens, like my letter from that editor, you’ll think you have the answer: This is how! Forget the How, simply trust. Somewhere, somewhen, somehow, it’s happened,  your consciousness–with its limited three-dimensional perspective–just hasn’t caught up with that success yet. This might be the way it happens, or it might not. But it’s coming. It’s happened. Be patient. Trust. Let it come to you.

The Universe knows the best timing. The Universe knows the best way. In the meantime, it’s feeding you the tools and the talent, so that when it does happen, you’ll be prepared to take that achievement and carry it forward to something far better than you’d ever imagined.

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

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.

Antique typewriter

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.

_________________________________________________________

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

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?

cat1990008-sp13

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.

_________________________________________________________

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

Doing It Backwards

A few weeks ago, fellow blogger Terry Persun talked about writing every day in “Creating a Discipline.” Nothing feels better than when you are “in the zone,” writing every day in such a way that your characters are talking to you. They are doing things that you didn’t anticipate, saying things that are unexpected, and you are just writing it all down.

I realized recently that I am not terribly efficient when I approach writing the next novel. At first, finding the story I want to tell is like fishing. I sink my line into the pond, feeling the story nibbling at my bait. I watch shadows moving silently through the murky waters. I know the story is down there, I just have to set the hook.

Depositphotos_34652399_s

I start by “writing” every day, but it’s not really writing. I might be doing research on my setting one day, world-building the next, sketching character profiles or outlining the day after that. The process can take weeks, months even, and never in that time do I feel “in the zone.” That’s when writing every day is the hardest for me, because it doesn’t feel like I’m going anywhere.

Then at some point, I feel a tug at the end of my fishing pole and the line starts to play out. Suddenly, the story is there. I’m in the middle of it, eager to reel it in and get it safe in the boat.

When that happens, I don’t just write every day, I write every moment. I’m waking up early and writing before work. On the bus I’m pecking out sentences on my phone. On my lunch hours I’m dictating dialogue into a recorder. On weekends I wake, sit up in bed, slide my notebook computer across my lap, and start tapping keys. The need to produce is relentless.

Editing takes a little more time, but by then there have been starts and stops. Binge writing means I’ve neglected other things: house and yard work, books I wanted to read, movies I’d wanted to see, people I wanted to visit. It’s time to catch up on Life. Meanwhile the writing lurches and bumps along.  By the time I’m finished, I’m exhausted. Need a break, time to regroup, to rest the soul. To go fishing again.

Now I understand that I’ve been doing it all backwards. The hardest part, the part where I’m finding the story, that’s the time when I need to binge. Have you ever tried to push a car? That first part, the part where you are just getting it going. That’s the hardest part. But once you get it moving, the car moves easier on momentum.

Writing every day is about consistency. It’s about balance. But it’s a whole lot easier when you know the story you want to tell and your characters are simply taking you along for the ride.

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