So, even though I’ve got a couple books published and a couple more coming out, I’m constantly improving my technique. If each book I write isn’t more intense than the last, then I’m not doing my job.
As part of my self-imposed endless schooling, I like to reading “how to write” books. Yes, the material gets old. Yes, I know “show don’t tell.” But still, I head over to the store, buy a new one, and get out my pen, sticky notes, and highlighter.
I find that reading “how to’s” while I’m working is a great self-check for me. As I write I jot down specific notes about my own manuscript. Are my secondary characters truly strong enough, or am I letting myself get lazy and settling for “okay”? Are all my scenes like fire on the page? Or am I becoming complacent and accepting writing that’s merely lukewarm.
At the moment, I’m reading The Fire In Fiction, by Donald Maass—who also wrote what might be my all-time favorite how-to, Writing The Breakout Novel. In the introduction, Maass talks about writers who talk about their work in an “I don’t know what happened; It just came to me this way” type of narrative. He writes:
It disappoints me when authors perpetuate the myth that writing is magic. Some allow it to be so. It’s a shame that those writers fail to understand their own process.
Obviously, I’m a person who love the mechanics of books—I probably would have gone to school for narrative theory if I wasn’t going to give it a go as a novelist. And I like what he says here. We should understand our own processes. Writing is not magic. It’s grunt work.
Once, after a huge snowstorm, I heard my neighbor shoveling snow at two o’clock in the morning, and the sound of the shovel on the pavement was the loneliest, most exhausted sound I’ve ever heard—the sound of having given up, and then gone on. I think writing can be like that.
But I have to confess. My new manuscript? It’s going really smoothly. I feel almost as if I’m coasting downhill. The characters are leading me with a force that I’ve never quite felt before. I’m not reaching for action—it’s simply there. The settings are fascinating without my muscling them to be so. And the plot arc—always such a tenuous thing, and myopia-inducing—seems to be laying out well.
In short, it does feel a little like magic. I’m in a giant soap bubble—and I feel that if I sneeze it will pop around me. I pray it lasts!
But if it doesn’t—that’s okay. I’ve never really believed in magic. As Maass says, magic doesn’t write books. “Butt-in-chair” time writes books. That, and a good hard look at technique at the advice of a trusted writer.
What do you think? Have you ever had that “magic” feeling? Do you have it all the time? Eight percent of the time? Sixty? Never? Is it necessary?