Scott Mercer has combined his love of music with writing and feels very pleased with the outcome.
What’s your story?
I fell into writing quite by accident, first as a teenager. While working full-time in a corporate environment, I wrote as a freelancer for newspapers, magazines, and wrote radio scripts.
My wife encouraged me to stretch myself and write a book, a prospect which seemed daunting at first. However, I found a topic I knew well and had a passion for: 60’s music, having had on-air radio experience.
I interviewed 80 musicians of the era for my book, faithfully transcribed their words, and arranged them in logical chapters. The result was “The Stories They Could Tell,” jokingly my “120,000-word essay.”
What excites you most about your industry?
Writing, I tell people, is the job that never seems like work to me. It requires mental energy, yet never feels “taxing.” I’d apply the same thinking to the interviewing process: much effort preceeds the actual discussion, but it’s enjoyable.
For me, passion links these two. I love both writing and music, and to be able to combine both in a book-length project is a dream come true.
What many wouldn’t know (and neither did I, going in) is the time required to complete the process – remembering, of course, that life sometimes gets in the way!
What drives you in your career to push beyond what other people consider normal?
When I start a job, I finish it; when I say I’m going to do something, I do it.
There were moments when the book-writing task seemed tedious, especially in the transcription phase, but I had invested considerable time in the project by that point, and was determined to finish it.
Beyond simply the power of discipline, I realized how much I’d learned after speaking with so many interview subjects, and I was anxious to share that knowledge with an audience. I also realized that I was dealing with “history,” and had an obligation to document what I’d learned.
What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?
Patience and determination.
Waiting for replies from potential interview subjects was like waiting for the phone to ring or pot to boil. Maybe I’d reach out but receive no answers! …or negative ones!
But patience prevailed, and the success rate (the percentage of interviews to requests) turned out to be close to the 40% I’d forecast at the outset.
“Determination” was the diligence to task you need to complete a project of this magnitude. Following up when I’d received no replies earned me several interviews. And being determined to finish, as I said, was critical to a successful outcome.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Nothing is impossible.
Early on in the process, when I looked at the list of potential interviewees I’d assembled, it would have been easy to be negative: “He/she will never say yes.” But my firm belief that I had a good concept, and the professional chops to bring it off, meant that nothing was beyond possibility.
And that belief, it turned out, was well founded. Some of the 80 artists replied that the idea as “fascinating,” while others said they’d be “honoured” to be part of my book.
To quote Chuck Berry, it goes to show you never can tell!
Who inspires you?
My wife inspires me.
If that sounds corny, think again. She’s my most honest critic and my biggest fan. On the practical side, that’s a very handy combination to have in your corner. Her constructive advice keeps me on my toes.
On the emotional side, it’s critical to have someone like that on your side. I never got “down in the dumps” writing “The Stories They Could Tell,” but my energy flagged at times. She helped pick me up.
And she’s a hard worker and diligent about completing tasks herself, so she also inspires by example.
What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m going to talk about the book in this context, though there’s not enough room to share all that I’ve learned (and I want to preserve the mystery of its content as well!).
I didn’t realize the camraderie which existed among pop musicians in the 1960’s, but this theme was repeated over and over.
I’d read that some group’s managers were shady or incompetent, but I didn’t realize to what degree that was true.
I’d heard about the origins of specific songs, but the opportunity to hear about them first-hand and “from the horse’s mouth” was truly a gift.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Not much, to be honest.
But if I’d name anything, I’d say that I wish I’d been more faithful, putting in consistent hours, week over week. Instead, my progress happened more in “fits ‘n’ starts,” and that’s not really ideal for continuity.
It’s an easy excuse to say that life presents other priorities which take precedence. But how far would you get with that excuse working in a corporate environment where your responsibilities include showing up 40 hours a week! The book has to carry the same importance.
How do you unwind?
No surprise, given what I’ve said about my passion for it, that listening to music provides an opportunity to unwind. It can be only in the background, while my wife and I share a glass-of, or prepare dinner together. But for me, it’s almost always there whenever I think of “unwinding.”
What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your career?
Early on in the interviewing process, “maybe I can do this” became “I KNOW I can do it!”
This required a combination of a few factors. The quality of the material I took away from the interviews was one. I’ve learned, if that content excites and/or educates me, I can make it interesting to an audience. And I learned something from everyone I spoke to.
Beyond “quality” was “quantity.” For maybe a 3-month stretch, I did 3-4 interviews a week! Sounds easy, but that’s a heavy load. But if I needed confirmation I was on the right track, this was it.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Most everyone who knows the basic history of 60’s pop – a topic which has been done well and done often – will want to read this book. It provides a unique, first-hand perspective on a fascinating historical era. Because it IS history: today’s music wouldn’t be the same without the contributions of these trailblazers from a decade which featured exponential change and extraordinary creativity.
Whether you lived the decade or bring to it the perspective of a younger generation, “The Stories They Could Tell” will both inform and entertain.
Shameless plug for your business or career:
I love to write and can certainly tackle topics beyond music. I can write both short and long pieces, and tailor them to a given audience. I can do business writing and speeches. And if the assignment includes a single or multiple interviews, all the better. I don’t lack for confidence in any aspect of writing.
How can people connect with you?
They can find me, and samples of some of my work, on my website, www.absolutelywriteone.com.
Social Media Links?
Absolutely Write has a presence on Facebook, but I haven’t yet given it the same energy as the website, and of course, the book.
Now that “The Stories We Could Tell” has been final-drafted, I can move on to projects like the Facebook page, which up till now have been classified as “future development.”
In the meantime, the website is the most reliable method for contact.
This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.