Writing Magic

I think writing and storytelling is a kind of magic.

Maybe literally, if you believe in that sort of thing. Like, okay, when I sit down to craft a story I’m suddenly stringing together letters based on utterances which form words which form sentences which form ideas and then I mash a lot of those ideas together and they begin to create a narrative — a narrative that didn’t exist before, a lightning struck the gassy heavens and lit the skies aflame and now it’s raining Frankensteins and unicorns moment.

It’s profound, powerful, weird-ass stuff.

But I used to also feel that this magic was inviolable. Or worse, fragile. Like, this sense that it’s a nervous horse quick to spook. Or that it’s a little bridge made of glass and if you put too much weight on it you’ll hear the crinkly crackle-snap and tumble into an abyss of dead magic.

It’s sometimes used as one of the reasons that people don’t outline — or worse, the reason they don’t like to edit their work. In fact, it’s used as a reason for a lot of things, this magic: the magic of the muse, the curse of writer’s block, the fickle fates of a day’s writing (sorry, just can’t make the words today, for the magic breath of the gods has not been breathed up my nethers and so my pallid flesh will not be animated to action).

I think when magic fuels you: that’s awesome.

But I think when magic hampers you: that’s really sad.

Because the magic isn’t supposed to hamstring you.

It’s supposed to fuel the work, not fuel your excuses.

If you don’t like to outline or do any kind of plotting or planning — more power to you*. But let that be because that’s how your process works, not because the magic spell is so frangible, so untenable, that to merely gaze upon it will cause it to shatter. If your story is so delicate, you’re probably in deep fucking trouble, friend. It’s not a baby rabbit. You can’t scare it to death.

But I think I have a solution for what feels to me like troublesome thinking, and it involves looking at your story as a different kind of magic altogether:

Look at it like a magic trick.

A magic trick isn’t an impromptu thing: you don’t merely get on stage and let the Muse barf inspiration for the trick into your brain-bucket. You conceive of it in a fit of inspiration, like with anything — but then you practice. You know the trick intimately before it’s ever performed on stage: you’re the magician, goddamnit. Of course you know how the trick is performed.

But that doesn’t remove the fun of the trick.

Because the fun of the trick is seeing the audience react.

The fun is in the awe they feel. Their “wow” is more important than your “wow.”

Just because you know the trick doesn’t mean the magic is dead.

(* More seriously, I again want to make it clear that none of this is a condemnation of your process. Some folks outline. Some don’t. Some scry stories in pigeon guts. Whatever makes your grapefruit squirt. The point is wesometimes  rely on this kind of supernatural thinking as an excuse rather than as an empowerment. Which is no good.)