Friday, September 10, 2010

Is Writing Magic?

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?

Happy writing!

Lisa Dale


Joan Leacott said...

Lisa, I LOVE your books. Read every one of them. Can't wait for the next.

Magic? Oh, yeah. All the time. I still can't believe the words that flow out of my mind and through my fingers to the keys. But, the most intense magic is when the characters use you to tell their stories, when they take you to a place deep inside yourself that non-writers don't really believe exists. I believe, and it's magic.

Dawn Marie Hamilron said...

Magic? It doesn't feel like magic while I write the first draft. But after several rounds of edits, when I reread the story, I know it's magic. :)

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I think all writing is magic because I love to do it - well, at least most of the time. When my muse gives up on me every so often it is distressing, but for the most part the magic persists. I try to put everything I know into my stories and delight in seeing it improve with age. In the beginning you know something is wrong but don't know what it is or if you figure it out, how the heck do you fix it. Years of taking classes and listening to those with more experience seems to have brought me a long ways. Maybe that's the real magic for me - discovering the weak points and knowing how to fix them or at least knowing someone who can help out.

Jill James said...

Lisa, about 25% of the time I get that magic moment. When you look up from the page and don't know where the time went and WHO wrote these pages? Because they are too good, they couldn't be mine. That is the magic of writing. I think they are wonderous because they don't happen all the time.

Mona Risk said...

I don't know if it's magic or not. When I write I am so totally engrossed in my story, I live in a different world and I become the heroine who fights or kisses the hero. Maybe this is the magic of writing. Of course our writing improves with every new book. I call it experience.

Josie said...

Writing is hard work, but when the magic appears, it's well--magic! Love the myopia-inducing comment!