Monday, February 28, 2011

What's Your Vision?

Do you know who you are as a writer?
Do you have a vision for your writing?
Do you have a vision for the project you’re working on? For the project you have barely begun to conceive?

Connecting with and holding a vision for yourself as a writer and for your work can help you more easily move into writing and hold the energy of your creation through the entire process of conception, creation, revision and release.

One way to hold that vision is by creating a writing invocation or vision statement that propels you into the energy of your day’s writing. It can be as brief as a sentence or as long as a page. It can speak in general terms about your role as a writer or in specific terms about a particular book, poem, article, song or story — whether you already know what it is or just that you’re called to write it.

I used both an invocation and vision statement for The Voice of the Muse book. Together they formed part of the ritual that awakened me to my Muse, activated my inner writing space and ensured that all I wrote hewed as closely as possible to the book’s true essence.

Invocations and vision statements are not fixed in stone. As The Voice of the Muse progressed, as I matured through the writing of it, I continued to refine both my invocation and vision statement.

Here's my vision statement for The Voice of the Muse:
The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write is about freedom — freedom to grow, freedom to create, freedom to write. Through a dynamic blend of motivational essays, inspiring meditations and practical exercises, it nourishes, nurtures and reassures its readers, inspiring them to open their hearts, expand their minds and experience, with ease, a full, creative life.
To read my writing invocation, turn to page 172 of The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

To help you create your own vision statement and/or writing invocation, follow the Vision Quest meditation that starts on page 174 of the book, or listen to track 9 of The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers.

Regardless, awaken your passion, energize your vision...and write!!

• Feel free to share your writing vision here in the comments.

• You'll find additional tips and inspiration on my website, where you can read my "Rules for Writing," sign up for my mailing list and read/hear free excerpts from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

Photo: Bald Eagle State Park, Center County, Pennsylvania. (c) 2011 Mark David Gerson

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why Do You Write?

A Guest Post by Julie Isaac

Why do you write?
What do you love about writing?
Why did you start writing?
What do you get out of writing?
What do you want to give others through writing?

The answers to these questions are what motivate us to sit down and write, are what get us to put writing first and everything else second.

When was the last time you sat with these questions and answered them? Do it now, and make a list of your most compelling answers.

Keep a copy of that list with you; keep another where you write. When you're procrastinating, when you're writing tweets instead of your novel, when you're stuck, read your list. Read it slowly and really feel your answers.

Award winning author & content creation coach Julie Isaac is creator of #WriteChat on Twitter, from noon to 3pm PT Sundays & the #SHINEonline Blogging Challenge that starts on 1-11-11 for 111 days.

Read Julie's review of my book,
The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

• Note from Mark David

When Julie first asked that question on Twitter a few years ago, I knew I had to reply. This is the answer that (to my surprise) came out of me:
Why do I write? Because I can't not write, any more than I can't not breathe.

• Why do you write? Please share your thoughts, reasons and perspectives here as a comment.

• Related Post: What's Your Vision?

On the Air with Mark David

Please join me Monday, Feb 28 at 7pm PT on Insights for the Soul Radio -- a 90-minute online-radio conversation about life, spirituality, creativity and the miraculous journey that weaves them all together into a luminous tapestry, with hosts Mark William Skomal and Charmaine Lee.

Be inspired to live your life from a place of passion, faith and surrender, and call in with your questions during the show: 347/838-8063. And if you miss the live broadcast, listen or download any time after 8:30pm PT from the episode's web page.

Hope to "see" you there!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Vision Realized, a Passion Fulfilled

Every writer's dream is to have his or her words come alive.

For novelists, the goal is to know that their words are leaping from the page to come alive for the reader. For screenwriters, it's to experience those words both visually and viscerally, as actors both make them their own and render them universal.

In each cases, having one's inner vision be realized in a way that others can share is gratifying beyond words.

Having my first novel, The MoonQuest, published and acclaimed -- by readers and critics, and through multiple awards -- fulfilled the first dream.

Now, with The MoonQuest on its way to the big screen, the second dream is on a rocket-charged trajectory to realization.

A major milestone on that path was realized today with the announcement, by production company Anvil Springs Entertainment, of the cast for our "sneak preview" trailer, a 20-minute film that will include scenes not only from The MoonQuest, but also from each of its two sequels, The StarQuest and The SunQuest.

You can see our cast in the above image. You can find out which part each is playing by visiting our "cast album" on the Anvil Springs Facebook page. And you can hear them introduce themselves and tell you why they're so excited by their characters and this project on our IndieGoGo page (click on the "gallery" link).

No, this is neither the feature nor the final cast. But it's this short film that will inspire investors to finance the feature. And given the incredible talent and crew we've assembled, I have no doubt that we're well on the way to a full-length, big-screen MoonQuest movie. Soon.

Our 14 cast members for this trailer don't know this, but when I stood up on Saturday to introduce myself and The Q'ntana Trilogy stories to them at our first full-cast table read, it was all I could do to not burst into tears. To be surrounded be people as passionate about these characters as I have long been and to know that their commitment and craft would be bringing these stories to life in a way I have never been privileged to experience was profoundly humbling and deeply gratifying.

That these gifted actors (and the professional crew supporting them) are working for free is an additional blessing for which I can't even begin to express my gratitude.

Many miracles surrounded the publication of both The MoonQuest and The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, as well as the creation of The Voice of the Muse Companion CD. The miracles that continue to unfold with this project leave no doubt in my mind that not only is this trailer production charmed, but that the three features in The Q'ntana Trilogy of fantasy films will follow an equally charmed path.

I've sacrificed a lot for my passion: I now live two states away from my daughter, for example. And I no longer have either a home or car of my own...or much of an income. But technology and love keep me connected with my 11-year-old, and none of the rest really matters. In spite of my increasingly occasional lapses, I know that all that truly matters is that I'm listening to the voice of my muse and following the path of my heart. If I've learned anything over the years, it's that that's the only way visions are realized and passions fulfilled.

I mentioned earlier that our cast are volunteers. Our professional crew is also working for free, plus they're mentoring local film-production students, some of whom are interning on their first-ever professional production.

We've also already received donations from the catering services who will feed our actors on shooting days and by people like graphic artist Richard Crookes, who has donated his time to design our stunning trilogy posters. (Richard, by the way, live in Thailand. So the reach of this project is now global!)

Some of you have also contributed cash donations -- either to our just-ended IndieGoGo fund-raising campaign or directly to the production in our ongoing campaign. Those donations have been particularly welcome and just as miraculous. When you're shooting a medieval-style fantasy in New Mexico, there are some things that just have to be bought...not to mention film-location permit fees that are rarely waived.

If you haven't yet contributed to our fund-raising campaign, I encourage you to do so. Even donations of $1 help the cause! In doing so, you're not only helping my dreams come true, but you're also helping film students and professionals here in New Mexico to hone their craft. As well, you're giving them a shot at being part of a feature-film trilogy that could well employ many of them. That's because the producer's goal is, where possible, to bring many of these volunteers on board for paying gigs on the features.

You can find more information on this project on our Indie GoGo funding page. And you can make your donations directly to the project on the Anvil Springs website. Thanks for your support!

• Q'ntana Trilogy film posters by Richard Crookes; MoonQuest book cover by Angela Farley.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Is the Write Idea Your Right Idea?

There are lots of good ideas out there in the ethers -- ideas for books and screenplays, ideas for songs, articles and poems. Your friends will suggest them. Your partner will suggest them. Your logical mind will suggest them.

You'll see something or hear about something and you'll think, "Wouldn't that make a great story?"

Maybe it would. Maybe it's yours to write. Maybe it's not.

There's a difference between a good idea and the right idea, between an idea that is anyone's for the taking and one that is uniquely yours, one that's right for you, right now.

Before you launch into a frenzy of research and writing, ask yourself: Is this what I’m called to write? Is this the call of my Muse, the story only I can tell? Or is this anyone's? Is this another good idea or is this the right idea for me?

Anyone can take a good idea and give it shape and substance. Some can do it better than you, some not as well.

Nobody can take the idea that sings to your soul and perform the kind of alchemy on it that you can. Only you can transform that idea into the one-of-a-kind gem it longs to be. That is why it, through your Muse, called to you...chose you.

Accept that you were chosen. Perform your magic. Let the right idea be the idea you write.

Right now.

~ adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.
(c) 2008 Mark David Gerson.

• You'll find additional tips and inspiration on my website, where you can read my "Rules for Writing," sign up for my mailing list and read/hear free excerpts from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

Buy The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write and The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers from my online bookstore or Amazon

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

You Can Be a Part of Motion Picture History!

If you're a fan of The MoonQuest book or of visionary fantasy of any sort, you can play an active and important part in getting this award-wining story onto the big screen.

You see, the film trailers we're shooting in March are designed to attract investors to a multimillion-dollar MoonQuest feature. And while our high-caliber professional cast and crew on the trailer have all volunteered their talents, and we've had other critical services donated, there are requirements we can't get for free, such location permits and prop/set/wardrobe odds 'n ends.

That's why we've launched a modest trailer fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo. And that's why I'm urging you to contribute (as little as $1!) to help get the trailer made. It's also why I'm encouraging you to spread the word about our project to friends and family and through any social networks you're part of. (If you've already donated, thank you!!)

Then, when this professionally produced trailer gets us the funding that makes the feature possible and The MoonQuest movie hits your neighborhood movie theater, you can say you were a part of getting it there!!

By the way, The MoonQuest is only Part I of the three-part Q'ntana Trilogy. The StarQuest and The SunQuest (movies and books) are already in the works!

Please check out our campaign page and video on Indie GoGo and be part of The MoonQuest Dream! And watch Facebook on February 15 for our official cast announcement.

• Poster design for The MoonQuest Movie (and its two sequels) donated by professional graphic artist Richard Crookes, who also designed the cover for The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Trust Unlimited

“You either trust or you do not,” M’nor [the moon] stated. “There is no halfway in between.”
~ The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy

That line, originally from The MoonQuest book and now also part of The MoonQuest screenplay, is both my most loved and hated one in the story. I love it and hate it for the same reason: It is one of the deepest truths I know and, after having lived many years of not trusting much of anything, profound and unconditional trust is the only way I now know to live my life...and, sometimes, the scariest.

Trust in what? In both The MoonQuest and my life, it's trust in that wiser, infinite power that's greater than what we know to be the human mind and body in its physical form. It's trust in an inner knowingness that, although innate, must still be awakened, fostered, nurtured and cultivated. Whether you call it God, Buddha, Allah, Infinite Source, Higher Self, Muse or the voice of your heart, we can all access it, because it lies within each of us -- a soul potential waiting to be sparked into passionate expression.

In The MoonQuest, that intuitive power is all that the main character has to guide him on his journey to bring storytelling back to a silenced land and light back to a darkened moon.

It's no different in life. Whatever rules, structures, systems, ruts and routines we're encouraged to adhere to -- by parents, education, culture, media or fear -- the right path is always the one that, in the end, can rely only on what we know in our hearts to be true.
"I am Tikkan Dreamwalker," Na'an said. "I speak only what you know in your heart to be true."
It's also no different in writing, or in any creative pursuit. There can be no hard-and-fast rules in art...or it's not art. It's a poor imitation of someone else's innovation.

“Ride north one league at a time," O'ric tells Toshar as the young man embarks on his MoonQuest. "The North Star will guide you at night. A path between the suns will guide you in the day. Your heart will guide you always.”

Our hearts do guide us always...when we're open enough to listen, still enough to hear and trusting enough to follow its path.

In the moment of choice, though, trust is rarely the most comfortable option. Often, it's downright terrifying because it seems to make no conventional sense. In the past, that terror paralyzed me, held me back from the hard choices...the trusting choices.
“You do not trust,” M’nor said. Disappointment shaded her voice. “You must either trust or abandon the quest. The choice is yours."
Had Toshar relied on a "common sense" that ignores the non-physical senses and on a "conventional" wisdom that is so rarely wise, he would never have completed the MoonQuest. Had I relied on those limited and limiting tools, there would have been no Toshar, nor would I now be engaged in one of the most exciting endeavors of my life so far: getting The MoonQuest onto the big screen.

Nothing about this film project makes any sense. Yet, here I am. Nothing about my life right now makes any sense. Yet, here I am. As difficult and frightening as the choice for non-sense can be, trusting enough to make that choice has always proven to be the most satisfying, gratifying and rewarding path for me. And so that is the path I continue to take.

You can't half trust any more than you can be half pregnant. You either trust or you do not. Truly, there is no halfway in between.

All quotes from The MoonQuest, book or screenplay (c) 2008, 2010 Mark David Gerson. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Only Connect

A Guest Post by Erik Bork

The single most devastating note I could ever hear on one of my scripts (if readers were brutally honest enough to say it), would be, “I didn’t care.” I would go as far as to say that my single biggest job as a writer is to make readers and audiences care: to get them emotionally invested enough in what’s happening in a story to want to keep reading or watching. What this really means is they must care about the character at the center of it – to deeply relate to what they’re going through on a human level, and want to see them solve whatever big problem the story is exploring.

The title of the book Save The Cat! comes from Blake Snyder’s admonition that the “hero” of a story must “save a cat,” – or do something similarly sympathetic – in the first ten pages of a screenplay, so that readers will think this person is worthy of their attention and time. While I agree with that, I would go further: I believe we need to get the reader inside the main character’s perspective on things – inside their skin, almost – so that it feels like what’s happening to that character is happening to them, throughout the story.

The first script I wrote professionally was an episode of the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. The one I chose focused on an individual astronaut with a problem, which seemed like it would keep him from ever flying in the Apollo program. I identified this situation as having good story potential, in comparison to some of the other episodes, which focused on missions which did not necessarily have such a likely potential main character who audiences might get invested in. So far, so good.

But when I wrote the first drafts of the script, I got so caught up in the research, and the responsibility of accurately documenting all the key events of the Apollo mission this episode was focused on, that when I gave the script to another professional screenwriter who was involved in the project, he clearly didn’t care about the story. He was nice enough not to put it that way. What he said was that he thought it needed more of a clear point-of-view.

What that meant was not just that this character needed to be at the center of events – he already was. But the audience needed to experience what he thought, felt and wanted from inside his perspective more. It had to become an emotional journey for them. It’s not enough for them to be somewhat interested in his situation, and the mission he ended up flying on. The real goal is for them to care – to relate to this human being and really want him to achieve the goal this story was focused on.

How does one achieve that? Well, the first point I would make might seem an obvious, but also stifling rule: they should be in virtually every scene. I remember how much I chafed against this idea when my college screenwriting professor first offered it, and how I sought out movie examples with main characters that weren’t in many of the scenes, in order to try to prove him wrong. (I don’t remember how far I got with that, but I don’t think I was a big success.) Of course, you don’t need to be slavish about this, but you might be surprised if you looked at successful movies you have loved, to discover just how many scenes the main character is present in. I would wager that they’re in the vast majority of scenes – and in the ones they’re not, there’s a very clear and important story reason (which probably has a lot to do with them, even though they’re not physically present).

But it’s not just that they’re present. Usually, they should be driving the action of the scene: what they want and are trying to do should be the main thing each scene is about. And it takes all the scenes of a movie for them to finally achieve their goal. That’s how hard and complicated the problem is.

Of course, there are stories which have more than one “main character,” but I think they’re rarer than you might think. A true “ensemble” movie is one in which multiple characters each have their own mini-stories that interweave, as in Crash, The Big Chill or He's Just Not That Into You. But you’ll notice that even in these movies, in any particular scene, we are squarely within the emotional perspective of the “main character” of that storyline. In other words, things aren’t told “objectively,” from above.

In many scripts that I read, that’s exactly what it feels like: we’re looking down on events, and not experiencing them emotionally from inside the main character. We may not even be fully aware of what the main character is thinking, feeling, wanting, or trying to achieve. Or there might not be a clear main character – just a bunch of characters experiencing a story, none of whom we are really inside of.

I recently contributed a “beat sheet” for the Save the Cat website, analyzing The Kids Are All Right. In writing it I discovered that this movie had no one main character, but actually explored all five of the central characters’ points of view on the story they’re all involved in. This is another kind of “ensemble” approach that is rarely used, but can be effective if done right. But again, in every single scene, we’re really focused on a particular character’s emotions as they are experiencing what’s going on. We’re made to feel, intimately, what it’s like to be each of these characters.

I believe emotional connection and resonance is what storytelling is all about (along with entertaining – if we want to find an audience). The best way to achieve this is to give your main character a big, difficult, complicated, important problem with huge stakes for them – which challenges them to go on a “mission” that will take the whole movie to solve. And then, to dramatize that mission from their perspective – to be with them as they attempt to achieve their goals, as they fail, change plans, run up against unintended consequences, and get pressed to their limit, before things finally get resolved. In other words, to get us so invested in their point-of-view, that it becomes our own.

ERIK BORK is best known for his Emmy-winning work as a writer-producer on HBO’s miniseries Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon. He has sold pitches, written pilots and worked on staff of primetime drama series, and written screenplays on assignment for Universal Pictures, HBO and others. He also was recently rated “Cream of the Crop” in Creative Screenwriting’s “The Best Script Analysts and Consultants.” Contact him through his website at, where this article first appeared.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Feeling Rejected? Don't Be Dejected!

I didn't discover Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time until I was an adult in the early years of my spiritual awakening. It's a gem of a book, filled -- as is all her writing -- with spiritual truths for young adults and adults alike. Today, nearly two decades after that first reading, the profound wisdom of this prolific author and devout Episcopalian continues to inspire me.

One of my favorite L'Engle stories, apart from the one that follows, comes from one of her nonfiction books -- I don't now remember which. In it she describes legions of white-bearded Old Testament prophets, their faces raised to the sky, shouting up at God, incredulously: "You want me to do
what!?" There are days I know just how they felt!

I first posted a version of this piece about rejection in June 2008. But I get so many requests for it, that I've decided to make it new again by reposting it.

Feeling rejected? When you read L'Engle's story, I guarantee you
won't be dejected!

Author Madeleine L'Engle received two years' worth of rejections from 26 publishers for her novel A Wrinkle in Time, which, once it was finally published in 1962, went on to win major awards and be translated into more than a dozen languages.

Toward the end of that two-year period, L'Engle covered up her typewriter and decided to give up -- on A Wrinkle in Time and on writing. Then on her way downstairs, a revelation: an idea for a novel about failure. In a flash, she was back at the typewriter.

"That night," as she explained in April 1993 on the PBS documentary Madeleine L'Engle: Stargazer, "I wrote in my journal, 'I'm a writer. That's who I am. That's what I am. That's what I have to do -- even if I'm never, ever published again.' And I had to take seriously the fact that I might never, ever be published again. ... It's easy to say I'm a writer now, but I said it when it was hard to say. And I meant it."

Today, the bibliography on L'Engle's web site lists 62 works spanning the period from 1944 through 2005, plus a 63rd, published posthumously in 2008. Sadly, Madeleine L'Engle died in September 2007.

"I cannot possibly tell you how I came to write A Wrinkle in Time," her New York Times obituary quotes her as having said. "It was simply a book I had to write. I had no choice."

Whether you're published or not, if you're writing, you are a writer.

Need some help believing that? watch the video meditation, "You Are A Writer." The audio was drawn from The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers.