Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Writing Magic

It's Wednesday morning, and I'm on my way to a friend's mother's funeral. With that in mind, there's no time to blog, so I'm posting something from a few years ago, a piece I wrote for a friend's writing blog. I was given the topic, "The Magic of Writing." Here's what I had to say:

The topic is interesting, and it’s got me thinking. Is there magic in writing? In mystery writing in particular? Well, the quick and dirty answer is that if there’s any magic, it has to be that I can kill people for a living and get away with it!

But something tells me that’s not what I’m supposed to be blogging about. As readers, we certainly know that books are magical. They can transport us in time and place. They can move our emotions, change our way of thinking, send our brains in all sorts of directions and make us dream and wonder and doubt.

The writing, though, is another thing.

Often, when I give talks to readers’ groups, someone will bring up writer’s block. "How do you keep going?" the person will ask. "How do you meet deadlines when you come up against writer’s block?"

And I’ll tell you what . . . I always give the same answer: I don’t believe in writer’s block. Because the fact is, I don’t believe there’s any magic in the process of writing.

Writing is, in a word, hard work. OK, so that’s two words, but you get what I’m aiming at here. There is no magical place you walk into when you sit down to write, no magical process that allows your fingers and your keyboard easy access to your brain so that all the words just spill out in perfect, readable order.

Every word is work. Every sentence has to be slapped and shaped, written and rewritten. And it happens with every paragraph and page and chapter, too.

That’s not to say I don’t believe in the power of inspiration. Sure, ideas pop into every writer’s head, and sometimes we take those ideas and run with them and realize that they are right on the money. But the writing part . . . there are days the words come easier, and I suppose there is a certain magic in that. Not to mention a whole bunch of gratitude on my part when I realize that I’ve completed more pages than usual. But most days . . . ah, most days are simply work days, days of coming up with the ideas, and chipping away at the words and thinking that there is something good and readable and interesting there--if only I can find the right words, and put everything in the right order.

I recently did a book signing and a woman came up to me and said she wanted to write a novel some day. "But," she said, "I’m not at the point yet of starting because every time I write something, I have to rewrite it."

The magic? The magic is knowing that’s what we all do. Everyday.

The magic is doing it, anyway.


Sharon S. said...


Anonymous said...

thanks for writing this---my first book, Zombielicious has just been published by MLRPress and it took me a year to write---62,000 words. Just like you said, I rewrote and rearranged sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph. Writing a book is really like shaping a piece of art. However, I do think some people, like Stephen King and Danielle Steele---i think the words stream from their fingers as if they could talk through them. But for the rest of us, we really do have to work at it. take care, Timothy McGivney