Ever since I was little, I’ve always been interested in magic. Not the kind that employs men and women pulling rabbits and doves out of hats (though, I do enjoy them).
I’m talking about fantasy. Curses. Bubbling cauldrons. Wolfsbane. Witches, wizards, warlocks—oh,my!
That kind of magic.
And now, after discussing it with a friend, do I realize that writers are magicians in their own right. And that the so-called “secret” to great writing does not really exist at all.
My friend and I have been discussing, back and forth, what fiction critic John Gardner calls “the fictional dream.” It’s what the reader comes back for whenever they open up a book—the mesmerizing, enchanting sensation that allows them to step away from reality and feel and breathe and experience the story world on a level higher than reality itself. Once done, many readers put their books down and think, “How in the world did the author do that?” much in the same way after one watches doves fly out of a magician’s hands in flames.
All it takes, however, is practice in writing and magic (of both kinds). While there is no secret formula for writing the greatest novel ever (and if you try to find it, it will never be found), you can practice at writing. The English language has rules and grammar to follow. Audiences tend to like characters with agency and plots that make us sit on the edge of our seats, wondering whether or not they’ll escape the clutches of the evil swamp monster.
It’s not mystical. It takes skill. Practice. The ability to craft words into worlds, words into feelings, words into dreams and desires. That is something very magical, indeed—the way our brains can feel something we’ve never touched, heard something we’d never hear in a city suburb, like the cry of an orc.
And while a magician aptly tells others that they never reveal their secrets, writers are, luckily, the very few that do tell their “secrets” and write books about writing.
Though, I will admit. It’s not easy. In my time trying to learn the craft, there has been struggle. Getting better at writing takes writing and reading. There is no magic wand that provides instant skill forever. For some, it takes days to pick things up (and by the gods, do we envy them). Others? Weeks, months, or even years. Most likely, the majority of aspiring writers take awhile to get better. They get discouraged quickly, because all of the knowledge they gain opens eyes to flaws in their work that they know they should fix, but shouldn’t, because if they do, it gets in the way of their rough draft.
But that’s okay. That’s completely normal. Don’t beat yourself up. The fact that you are putting down words is better than giving up and quitting for good. Every word you take—every sentence you make—is a step to becoming a better writer, and a better magician.
So, don’t be afraid, fellow witches and warlocks. You’re not alone. And you can cast that spell. Because, let’s face it.
Even Merlin had to start somewhere.