Today, Write On! speaks with author Mark David Gerson, who has taught and coached writing as a creative and spiritual pursuit for more than 15 years. Gerson is the author of The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write and the two-CD set, The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers, as well as the five-time award-winning visionary fantasy, The MoonQuest (his screenplay adaptation is now in active development with Anvil Springs Entertainment). Gerson, who is working on the first of two projected sequels to The MoonQuest, speaks with Write On! about creativity, inspiration, and following your own writer’s path.
When and why did you become a writer?
The funny thing is that I hated writing and all forms of creativity as I was growing up. Something, some time, must have shut me down, though I don’t remember now what that might have been. All I know is that I avoided writing and focused all my attention on math, where there was only one right answer.
In a sense, my Muse tricked me into becoming a writer. Or, rather, she pulled me along—”safe”-step by safe-step—until I was hooked.
It began in high school when I was volunteered to coordinate publicity for a school play and had to learn how to write press releases. That PR-related writing continued through college and into my first jobs out of university. From there I ultimately moved into newspaper and magazine work as a freelance writer and editor. It was during that period that a colleague somehow talked me into attending a creative-writing workshop.
Until then, my stereotyped view of writing workshops had involved public humiliation: You’d read what you’d written and would then be viciously critiqued. This workshop was nothing like that. It was nurturing, supportive, and creatively awakening.
My earliest creative writing focused on poetry. But within a few years of that life-changing workshop, I had begun work on the fantasy novel that would become The MoonQuest.
What are the top three ways writers can hone/enhance their creativity?
1. Recognize that there are no rules in creativity. Your page is blank for a reason. Creativity is not about formulas and repeating what’s been done before. It’s about invention and individuality. Be yourself and free yourself to express that individuality on the page—without second-guessing, self-criticism, or judgment.
2. Read. Anything good. Often. For fun. Don’t feel you need to analyze what you read. The more you read, the more you will absorb other authors’ techniques, successes, and failures. The more you read, the more you will intuitively know what works and what doesn’t—in their work and in your own.
3. Write. That’s what a writer does. It doesn’t matter what you write as long as you’re writing. And as long as you’re writing, you’ll be stretching your creative muscle and honing your craft.
What inspires you?
I believe that inspiration is present for us everywhere. We just need to keep our eyes—and hearts—open to see and feel it. Having said that, nature is one of my most powerful inspirations. It’s not that I write about nature or that the natural world I experience finds a direct way into my writing (although it happens). It’s more about how certain natural settings touch me deeply and, thus, open me to the voice of my muse.
I’ve lived in some very inspiring places (and visited even more). Most of the first two drafts of my novel The MoonQuest, for example, were written in rural Nova Scotia, a profoundly mystical place. The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write was birthed when I lived in Hawaii. Sedona, Arizona, was the birthplace of The StarQuest, my in-progress MoonQuest sequel.
These days, I live in the high-desert foothills of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Although no Sandia topography has appeared in The StarQuest, I know that these mountains are part of the inspiration that is getting the book done. It’s the view I wake up to, and it’s the view I see from my desk.
Why did you choose to write in the fantasy genre?
I can’t say that I chose the fantasy genre. Like so much else in my life, it chose me … and I surrendered. The MoonQuest “happened” to me one evening when I was teaching a writing class and decided to do the exercise I had just presented. What emerged was the first draft of a novel I knew nothing about and had no conscious plan to write. (I told this story in more detail a while back on my New Earth Chronicles blog.
Are there certain elements that are “musts” for writing fantasy?
The only rule I believe in is that there are none. Whether in fantasy or any other genre, it’s important to write from your heart to the reader’s. If you do that, you’ll touch your reader deeply, regardless of your topic of genre.
How did The Voice of the Muse come about?
The Voice of the Muse was also not consciously planned. I wrote many of its inspirational vignettes originally for myself, longhand in my car, at a time when I was feeling stuck in my own writing. It was only a few years later, when The MoonQuest was with an agent, that it suddenly occurred to me that I might have enough material from those jottings to put into a book. I did, and an early version of The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write resulted.
Once The MoonQuest was out, I expanded that initial version of The Voice of the Muse by about one-third.
How was the writing process different from/similar to writing The MoonQuest?
Of course, there will always be differences between writing fiction and nonfiction. But in one major sense, both books were written identically: I didn’t plan either of them. Instead, by doing my best to stay in a place of creative openness, I was available when those initial writings sparked within me and I chose, as I said earlier, to surrender fully to them, relinquishing control to each book’s inherent (and superior) wisdom.
As for differences, I wrote The MoonQuest largely in sequence, while The Voice of the Muse came out in no particular order. The published version of The MoonQuest follows pretty much the same chronology as the first draft. With The Voice of the Muse, I had a stack of disconnected essays, vignettes, exercises, and writing tips. Through a process of intuition and discernment—what I sometimes call “listening to the completed book”—I was able to create order from the apparent chaos.
How did you go about getting your books published?
With a lot of patience! Ironically, one of the first agents I queried about The MoonQuest immediately wanted to see the complete manuscript—and loved it. Unfortunately, as much as she believed in it, she was never able to place it with a fantasy publisher. Nor was she able to find a home for that earlier, shorter version of The Voice of the Muse.
After several more rounds of mostly unanswered query letters to agents, I chose to create an independent publishing house of my own to produce The MoonQuest and, later, The Voice of the Muse book and its companion CD. Many people warned me against this path, but the praise and awards I’ve received for both books (and a movie deal in negotiation for The MoonQuest) has, I believe, proved me right and all those agents wrong!
Additional advice for writers?
Trust the story, even if you don’t yet know what it is. Trust your innate creativity. Take it word by word and allow your pen or the keyboard to spell out the story for you. Allow yourself to be the passenger on your creative journey, not the driver. … If you can begin to believe that your story always knows best, you’ll never go wrong.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
Everything! I still wish that. Seriously, writing for me is a constant journey of discovery and self-discovery. The only way to approach it is with that blank page I spoke of earlier. All these years later, I’m still a beginner, wishing I knew it all yet knowing that only from the emptiness of beginner’s mind can creation truly birth.
Tags: . The Voice of the Muse Author Q&A Creativity Inspiration Mark David Gerson The MoonQuest Write On! Debra Eckerling