Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Magic of Story

Without the magic of writing, the magic of reading could not exist.

If you have a story in you (and who doesn't?), now is the time to listen to its call and start freeing it onto the page.

You're not sure how? Start with one word, any word. Then, surrendering yourself unconditionally to your story, add another and another. And then another. Don't think about what the story is or where it's taking you. Don't struggle for the right word, right character or right plot. Just start, follow that free-flowing river of creativity I call your Muse Stream and trust in the journey...the journey beyond your imagination.

Need some help launching your story or keeping the momentum going? The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write can help -- with inspiration, tools, techniques and exercises to get you writing and keep you writing.

And whether you're writing or not, it's always a good time to pick up a book and dive into the storytelling world of its author.

Original photo at Bookshelf Porn

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Maya Angelou: The Call to Write

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."
Maya Angelou

What stories are you carrying inside you that are yearning to be freed onto the page?

What stories are you carrying inside that, once freed onto the page, will also free you?

Whatever they are, write one of them. Now.

Write your story, and feel the healing freedom that all creative acts inspire.

• For more writing inspiration, go to for excerpts from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write

Photo: Dwight Carter

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Have You Heard the Call? ... The Call to Write?

Have you heard the call? 
The call that thrills as it terrifies you?
The call to set something down on paper? 
The call to inspire ways you do not yet understand? 
The call to write? ...
~ author Mark David Gerson reads "Have you Heard the Call" from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

• To view the video on YouTube, click here.

• For more videos about writing and the creative process, visit my YouTube page.

• You'll find additional tips and inspiration on my web site, where you can read my "Rules for Writing," join 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, and be sure to ask for a signed copy of the book. Both are also available on Amazon

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Monday, March 12, 2012

The Story Knows Best II

Earlier today, I offered these thoughts in response to a writer's request for feedback on a memoir piece he had written. 

With his permission, I offer a slightly edited version here, as it is the foundation of everything I believe about writing and the creative process. 

It's a philosophy I express often on these pages and in the pages of The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write: "The story (whatever it is) is smarter than I am. It always knows best."

"Here's my general guidance that, I trust, will speak to your specific questions. From what I know of you through your writing and from what I sense and intuit of you through your spirit, I'm certain that it will resonate with you...

"Your story (be it a few pages or a few hundred) is its own sentient entity and its own presence. As a memoir, it may appear on the surface to be about you, which perhaps gives you the illusion that you know what it is about. However, you are simply the raw material for a story that knows far more about what it is about than you ever will.

"From that place, I urge you to listen to the story that moves through you onto the page as closely as you have come to listen to your heart, to surrender to it as completely as you are learning to surrender to your heart, and to trust it as fully as you know you must trust your heart.

"As you are able to do those things, you will honor the heart that is singing to you and the heart of the story that is singing through it to you. And when you are done your two pages or two hundred, you will be amazed and astounded at what has been crafted through you and how you have been crafted because of it.

"I have every confidence that you can open yourself to that and every confidence, as well, that what will emerge will transform you (and others) in ways that you cannot not imagine."

Photos by Mark David Gerson: #1 Story, AK; #2 Christmas butterfly

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mark David Gerson: A Writer's Life II

This is an updated version of an interview that appeared last month at Writers Unite, an international online writers' community out of the U.K. 

Writers Unite: Firstly, congratulations on your trilogy becoming a movie! Can you tell us about your Q'ntana Trilogy novels?

Mark David Gerson: Thanks. The Q’ntana Trilogy books consists of The MoonQuest, The StarQuest and The SunQuest. The MoonQuest takes place in Q’ntana, where stories have been banned and storytellers put to death and where the moon, saddened by the silence, has cried tears that have extinguished her light. The quest is to restore story to the land and light to the moon. Because The StarQuest and SunQuest are still in process, I’m not prepared to reveal their plots, other than to say that the evil force behind the tyranny in The MoonQuest spans all three books.

WU: Did you have any goals for this collection when you wrote it — to get published, or just to finish, etc.?

MDG: I have to give you some background before I answer the question. When I began The MoonQuest (or, rather, when The MoonQuest began me), I had no plans for a trilogy, nor did I even have a conscious desire to write a fantasy novel. In fact, I knew nothing about the story, including its title, when the first words found their way out of me onto the page. I tell a longer version of the story on my blog. In short, though, The MoonQuest birthed itself during a Toronto writing workshop I was facilitating when, in an unprecedented in-the-moment inspiration, I did the same exercise I had just presented to participants. What I wrote that evening became the opening scene of the first draft of a novel I knew nothing about. From there, I just kept writing, discovering the story as I went along, until I was done. The StarQuest and SunQuest stories emerged similarly.

I don’t remember now when I knew this would be a trilogy, but I suspect it wasn’t until after I had written The MoonQuest’s second draft. At that point, I knew the titles of the two subsequent books. But I had not the remotest idea what they would be about. As it turns out, Q’ntana (named after the land in which the stories are set) is not a traditional trilogy given that, for the most part, each story focuses on different characters. It’s more a time-bending generational epic, with The StarQuest featuring the daughter of The MoonQuest’s protagonist and The SunQuest featuring her son, although, I said above, the evil Bo'RĂ  K'n character is present in all three books.

As for goals, I would be lying if I said I didn’t care whether or not the books would be published and movies produce. But the truth is that I had to write them, regardless of outcomes or consequences. I had no more choice on my journey than did Toshar, The MoonQuest’s protagonist, on his.

WU: How long did the novels take you to write?

MDG: Not only did I write each novel differently, each took a different length of time to complete.

It took me six months over the course of a year to write the first draft The MoonQuest: two three-month segments of writing broken up by six months when I didn’t work on the book at all. In one of those curious synchronicities that seems to follow me around, I finished the first draft a year to the day after that Toronto writing workshop mentioned above. Although early drafts were completed in the mid- to late 1990s, the book didn't come out until 2007.

In some ways, The StarQuest was the most challenging of the three. Believing (erroneously) that I was finished with The MoonQuest, I began The StarQuest in April 1998. After two aborted attempts to complete a first draft, spread out over a decade, I finally started a new first draft in late 2008 and finished it in July 2009. Last month  (February 2012), I completed what I believe to be a publisher-ready draft of the book and a production-ready draft of the screenplay.

Two things set the trilogy's third story, The SunQuest, apart. The first is that I wrote the screenplay before tackling the novel. With The MoonQuest, I sourced my screenplay adaptation from a largely complete book manuscript. For The StarQuest screenplay, I used that finally completed, ultra-chaotic first draft as my foundation. I decided to challenge myself with The SunQuest by beginning with the screenplay. Once that was done, I wrote a first draft of the novel in what for me was a record-breaking three weeks! 

WU: How long have you been writing?

MDG: Perhaps the better question would be, "How long did you resist writing?" I often joke that my Muse tricked me into writing, given that for most of my early life, I resisted anything remotely creative. My first jobs out of university were in public relations, where I had to write, even if what I initially wrote was largely formulaic. However, that experience gave me the confidence to try my hand at freelance work and, before I knew it, I was a full-time (self-taught) freelance writer and editor, doing mostly magazine, newspaper, corporate and government work. It wasn’t until my early 30s, when the double-whammy of a creative and spiritual awakening whacked me over the head, that I began to explore more creative avenues. And it wasn’t until I was 39 that The MoonQuest, my first foray into serious creative writing, began to have its way with me. I’ve been hooked ever since. 

WU: Did you outline, and if so, how does it help you? 

MDG: Apparently, I’m congenitally unable to outline. Even when I was in high school and was required to turn in an outline with my essay, I always wrote the essay first. I then crafted the outline.

When I begin a project, I rarely know the story in advance. So far, the closest thing I’ve come to an outline was having The SunQuest screenplay in front of me when I wrote the novel. But there was no outline for the screenplay!

When I began The MoonQuest, as I said earlier, I knew nothing about the story, except what emerged in each day’s writing. I didn’t have a title until about halfway through and I had no idea of the ending until about two-thirds of the way through. It was an experience in surrender: in surrendering unconditional control to my Muse and to the story. And it was tough! It was tough to keep writing with no plot, no outline and not even the remotest clue where the story was taking me. But it taught me how to get out of the way and let the story have its way with me. That’s still how I write -- regardless of the form, genre or project. Fortunately, I now do it with much less resistance than I did it on The MoonQuest. But it’s still, sometimes, the most challenging aspect of the work...even as it’s also the most exhilarating and is, for me, the key to the magic!

WU: What was your writing routine for the novels?

MDG: One of my so-called "rules” for writing, abridged on my website from my book on writing, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, is that there are no rules, that what works today may not work tomorrow. From that place, I have no strict routine that I have carried through from project to project.

With the first draft of The MoonQuest, I was so stressed by this notion of surrendering to the story (despite the fact that I had been teaching that philosophy for a few years in workshops!), that I nearly always wrote first thing in the morning, often before getting out of bed. If I wrote first thing, I didn’t spend the rest of the day stressing about writing!

I wrote large chunks of The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write longhand, in the car...although, to be accurate, I didn’t know at the time that I was writing a book. I thought I was writing stream-of-consciousness, self-inspiration at a time when I was once again stuck on The StarQuest. A few years later, those scribblings would form the basis of The Voice of the Muse book and its companion CD, The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers.

When, in 2008, I began the third version of my first draft of The StarQuest, I was in a unpleasant, time-consuming job. On one hand, I had no time or energy for much other than work. On the other, I knew that writing was my only key to mental and spiritual health. I considered all the oft-written-about options for the time-challenged (writing late into the night, getting up at 4 a.m., etc.) and dismissed them all as, for me, unsustainable. In the end, I chose to set my alarm for a wake-up call 15 minutes earlier than needed and spent those 15 minutes, still in bed, working on  The StarQuest. Some days I wrote a sentence, some days I wrote a paragraph. But I wrote every day. Not only did it keep me sane but when, a few months later, the job ended, the momentum I had achieved with my 15-minutes-a-day routine carried me through to completion. I finished the draft five months later.

With The SunQuest, I felt so driven that I wrote all day every day, six or seven days a week, during the three weeks it took me to complete that first draft. It was November (2011), so I used NaNoWriMo to help motivate me.

A few days after that SunQuest draft was finished, I returned to a memoir manuscript (Acts of Surrender) and, apparently still in that passionate/obsessive flow, finished that first draft, too...also in three weeks.

WU: Has your life changed in anyway since writing the novels?

MDG: That’s a hard question to answer. Nothing about my life is constant. Everything is in unending transition and transformation. While writing is very much a part of that, I’m not sure I can attach particular changes to particular writing projects. I can say, though, that writing The MoonQuest in that day-to-day, in-the-moment fashion freed me to live my life more in that way. Without The MoonQuest, for example, I probably wouldn't now be living in the U.S. I certainly wouldn't be a father. 

WU: How much of the book is realistic?

MDG: The MoonQuest is subtitled "a true fantasy,” but not because it’s conventionally realistic. Set in a mythical time and place, and in a land with two suns and a hidden moon, it can hardly be said to be an accurate representation of any real place.

The architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said that "the truth is more important than facts” and I wholeheartedly agree with that. For me, the notion of "true fantasy” is about the concept of fiction speaking to deeper truths than fact ever can. Although The MoonQuest is not an objectively true story, it is a story about larger truths.

In one sense, there is no such thing as objective fact. Even history -- supposedly a delineation of facts -- is always colored by those who put it forth. You know the saying, "history is always written by the winners.” Even something as apparently factual as your birthday falls on different days depending on which calendar calculates it (ie, Gregorian, Jewish, Muslim, Chinese, Julian, etc.).

However, the human heart at its deepest levels always speaks truth. That’s where our most powerful stories come from. That’s where our truth resides.

WU: What is the message in your book?

MDG: I don’t believe in consciously writing "message books"...even though I have an ebook titled The Book of Messages! Not only did I not know the story as I was writing the three books in The Q’ntana Trilogy, I was also unconscious of their themes. Yet, the themes are there...for in surrendering to the superior wisdom of the books, I freed the stories to delineate and illuminate their own themes, without any interference from me. The obvious themes in The MoonQuest involve censorship, including self-censorship, freedom of expression, transcending creative blocks, and surrender...the same type of surrender I used in getting the book onto the page. Again, I knew none of that during the writing and, I believe, that that’s just as well. By letting the themes emerge as organically as the story did, they are (I hope) not at all heavy-handed and integrate well with the plot.

But there are other themes as well, ones readers discover and share that I knew nothing about. Those are the most exciting for me, as they reveal the book as a living organism that exists independent of me.

WU: What are your readers’ reactions to it?

MDG: Although winning awards and getting great reviews for both The MoonQuest and The Voice of the Muse have been tremendously gratifying and validating, and although having a producer primed to turn the trilogy into a series of feature films is fabulously exciting, what’s most rewarding is when individual readers tell me how one or both of my books has affected them and, in some cases, changed their lives. This moving video, for example, was sent to me by one of my readers. And I have equally wonderful testimonials for both books on my website and on Amazon.

WU: Where can readers find your books and learn more about you and your work?

MDG: Hard-copy editions of The MoonQuest, The Voice of the Muse and The Voice of the Muse Companion are available on my website and Both books are also sold as ebooks for Kindle, Nook, iBook and Kobo. A downloadable version of the The Voice of the Muse Companion CD is available at CD Baby and on Facebook.

For more about the full Q’ntana Trilogy, books and movies, click here.

You can also find me on my website and blog, as well as on YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+.

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