Confession: I kind of hate when people talk about muses, “the zone,” or anything else that makes writing sound like magic. As if what we do is so easy, so inexplicable, so wondrous.
Confession #2: I hate it because I almost never feel that way myself. I don’t have a muse; GPS doesn’t recognize “the zone” as a destination; and my words definitely do not materialize from thin air like fairy dust. Every day is a grind. I have to sit at my desk, place my fingers on the keys, and force myself to try and give shape to the thoughts and stories in my head. Usually they come out quite muddy on the first go-round, so I read the lines over and over and over, tweaking here, deleting there, until they get close, and closer, and finally close enough.
I’ve been writing this way for years, but only recently did I realize: Oh hey, that actually IS magic.
See, what most people forget — or maybe don’t even know — is that magic is really, really hard work. I mean, Houdini didn’t just wake up one day and say, “Quick, lock me in a box! Don’t worry, I’ll escape.” And David Copperfield can’t actually levitate.
As a kid, I took some magic classes, and I still remember learning my first trick. It was a cups-and-balls routine that required quick hands, confident presentation, and perfect timing. Not easy for an 8-year-old to master. First, the teacher showed us the trick. Then, he explained how it was done and helped us go through the motions. Lastly, he made us practice.
It took well over a week before I was ready to present the trick to anyone, but when I finally did, they clapped their hands in astonishment, impressed by my smooth performance and my skill. I was just like a little Houdini, they said!
Only me (and my teacher) knew about all the behind-the-scenes effort that went into those sixty seconds of “magic.” All the planning, preparation, and practice.
Sounds a lot like writing, don’t you think?
Realizing this has allowed me to come to terms with the previously loathsome comparison. Because magic isn’t easy, inexplicable, or wondrous for magicians. It’s something they do out of love, yes, but it’s also a craft that takes a lot of time and energy and effort.
Heck, even Harry Potter went to school for years.
Am I right? Or does writing come naturally, magically, blissfully to you?
No wait, don’t tell me. Okay, DO. But I might hate you a teensy-weensy bit, even as I sit back and enjoy your work with starry-eyed amazement.
Photo courtesy of Jin Thai.