Sunday, February 19, 2012

The magic of writing

To be honest, there is no magic to writing. Disappointed? Well, let me explain what I mean.

When I think of the magic of writing, I think of a couple of things. First, I think of the words the author used to tell his/her story. As an author myself, I sit and watch my characters interact in my head, kind of like watching a movie. I transcribe the action and dialogue to the page. I also try to throw in some description to convey to the reader what the place looks like, what smells might be in the air, and anything else that helps draw the reader into the story. I strive to create an experience for the reader.

For me, this is extraordinarily difficult. As I'm writing, the scene is playing out. I like to think of it as typing the closed-caption for a TV show or movie. You've got to be quick, get the words down while the action is happening. At least, this is how I write. I don't find myself sitting at the keyboard lolly-gagging with just the right adjective or verb to make a scene pop. That comes later, during the revision process. That's where the writer is supposed to smooth the edges and polish the story until it shines. When I am writing a first draft, I grab the first words that come to mind as I watch those scenes in my head. But, writing the first draft for a novel is a laborious task. I don't do it in a week, or even two. It usually takes me a month or two. Within that time, I am also reading novels for entertainment. I often find myself reading a book and wondering, Wow, this writer's awesome! The way he/she worded this is spot on!, which inevitably leads me to thoughts like this Damn, why can't I write like this?

This is the first bit of magic that comes to mind when I think of the magic of writing: how the author can create such a beautiful work of art from words when my own stuff feels so stilted and awkward. Let me dispel the myth of this kind of magic. Every writer experiences these feelings at some point during their writing, usually when writing first drafts or in the early stages of revising. That's the point of revising, to polish out those rough spots and find the right words to evoke an emotion. Beta readers are instrumental during this process. And, any author who pens a first draft and thinks he/she is Hemingway or Faulkner, well, you're delusional and your writing is probably shit anyway.

As I was editing The Old Royal today, I realized that, as I was making changes and strengthening the story, it was becoming more and more like I wanted it. I was cutting repetitive crap, fixing stupid typos, and filling in large plot holes. It's becoming sexy to me! Yeah, that might sound weird, but if you've ever written a book, or even a short story, and experienced that sense of jealousy as I mentioned, then you probably get what I'm talking about.

The second bit of magic to writing is how someone can sit down and produce something as long as a book. Before I ever wrote my first book (a novel called The Shadow People, which still hasn't been released...yet), I often thought it ridiculous that anyone could write so much for so long. Then, I did it. It took me three months to finish the first draft. I set out to write a thousand words every day, but didn't always succeed. There were days where I didn't make it to a thousand and others where I didn't even sit down to write. But, I made up for those days that I had slacked off by doubling or tripling the words I wrote subsequently. Since then, I've written numerous short stories, started novels, and completed about three or four.

What I'm getting at here is that there is no magic to writing a book. What it takes is determination. Now, I know that bit of advice gets old. People who say they want to write a book realize the dedication and perseverance it takes and either lose their motivation or put it off because they can't commit the time or they aren't disciplined enough to carry through. There is no magic there. Believe me. I know. I was once like those people who always wanted to write a book, but didn't think I was up to the task. Finally, my desire to do it outweighed my procrastination and lack of motivation. I made myself sit down and do it.

That's how I feel about the magic of writing. I've pulled back the curtain and seen the little man hiding there, trying to keep the process shrouded in a veil of mystery. Now, I'm not saying that there isn't any magic in books. The experience of being transported to another place and time through words is real magic that exists between the writer and reader. So, what are your thoughts and feelings on the subject? Feel free to weigh in with a comment. Thanks for stopping by!

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