Category Archives: The Writing Life

Three Months Later

Aftersight

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.

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.

Mastering Astral ProjectionBrian Mercer is the author of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body Experience (Llewellyn, 2004) and the Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, he is the webmaster of and occasional contributor to Author Magazine. When he’s not working as a programmer analyst or exploring alternate dimensions out of body, he can be found writing novels. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara.

Site: http://www.brianmercerbooks.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BriMercer

Twitter: @BriMercer

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Brian Mercer, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Writing & Editing

The Escape

Aftersight

This may sound strange, but when I get stressed out, I read books about the American Civil War: memoirs, journals, biographies, histories. For some reason, combat and camp life are equally interesting; reading about it always makes me feel better.

It’s an escape to some degree, yes, but what it comes down to is this: No matter how stressful or unhappy life can sometimes get, at least I know life is better for me than it was for those soldiers, who faced hardships far worse than I could possibly fathom: bad food, exhausting marches, seemingly endless tedium interrupted by sudden violence, the loss of dear friends with sometimes little or no warning, and the very real chance that a simple cough might turn into an illness from which they might not recover.  By comparison, even at the lowest ebb, my life looks pretty grand.

One of the more stressful times in my life occurred many years ago when my wife and I were searching for a house. At the time, the real estate market in Seattle was hot. Houses in our price range were going fast. That meant you had to be on call if a new house came on the market. Waiting even a day would likely mean it would be snatched up before you had a chance to see it. And if you toured a house you liked, it meant you had to make an offer immediately. There was no night’s sleep to mull over your decision. Frequently, with good houses that needed little or no work, there were multiple offers.

Reading novels kept me sane. I was at the time working my way through what would become my favorite book series of all time: Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. Before then, I could never read two books by the same author back to back. Even if I loved one book, I needed a little variety before I moved on to the next one.

Not so with the Aubrey/Maturin series. I remember fondly finishing one book, closing the cover and setting it down, then immediately picking up and starting the next one with scarcely a pause. Luckily for me, there were plenty of books in the series.

After three months and forty-nine house showings, my wife and I purchased a home. By the end I remember being utterly grateful to Mr. O’Brian. He had given me a profound gift, offering me the means not just to escape reality but just enough distraction that life became bearable in a very stressful time.

I remember thinking that this, more than anything else, is what I wanted to do as I writer: to give someone the gift that Mr. O’Brian gave me. A place to go when life wasn’t comfortable. Characters to laugh and cry with, surrogate friends who I loved as if they were the most cherished kindred spirits.

Has a book ever done that for you? Where do you escape? Please let me know in the comments below.

Mastering Astral ProjectionBrian Mercer is the author of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body Experience (Llewellyn, 2004) and the Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, he is the webmaster of and occasional contributor to Author Magazine. When he’s not working as a programmer analyst or exploring alternate dimensions out of body, he can be found writing novels. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara.

Site: http://www.brianmercerbooks.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BriMercer

Twitter: @BriMercer

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Brian Mercer, Reading, The Writing Life, Writing & Editing

What’s in Your Way?

Aftersight

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.

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.

Mastering Astral ProjectionBrian Mercer is the author of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body Experience (Llewellyn, 2004) and the Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, he is the webmaster of and occasional contributor to Author Magazine. When he’s not working as a programmer analyst or exploring alternate dimensions out of body, he can be found writing novels. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara.

Site: http://www.brianmercerbooks.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BriMercer

Twitter: @BriMercer

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Brian Mercer, The Writing Life, Writing & Editing

Scattering Seeds

Aftersight

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.

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?

Mastering Astral ProjectionBrian Mercer is the author of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body Experience (Llewellyn, 2004) and the Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, he is the webmaster of and occasional contributor to Author Magazine. When he’s not working as a programmer analyst or exploring alternate dimensions out of body, he can be found writing novels. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara.

Site: http://www.brianmercerbooks.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BriMercer

Twitter: @BriMercer

 

1 Comment

Filed under Brian Mercer, The Writing Life, Writing & Editing

Harold: a Living Thoreau

AftersightMy 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.

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.

Mastering Astral ProjectionBrian Mercer is the author of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body Experience (Llewellyn, 2004) and the Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, he is the webmaster of and occasional contributor to Author Magazine. When he’s not working as a programmer analyst or exploring alternate dimensions out of body, he can be found writing novels. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara.

Site: http://www.brianmercerbooks.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BriMercer

Twitter: @BriMercer

1 Comment

Filed under Brian Mercer, The Writing Life