Monday, July 20, 2009

Guest Blogger - Susan McBride on Making Magic

Making Magic

by Susan McBride

Oh, oh, oh, it’s magic, you knoooow, never believe it’s not so.

Um, no, I don’t particularly like that old tune. I don’t even remember who sang it. But I like what it says; because I’m one of those odd people who believes that writing is magic.

It’s not that I sit around waiting for “the muse” to drop in and sprinkle fairy dust like a modern-day Tinkerbell. When I work on a book, I write everyday. Deadlines wait for no one, not even muses. Besides, I like writing. It feeds me in some deep, dark, mysterious way. Maybe it’s trite to say, but it’s like breathing. I don’t want to try living without it, no matter how much I bitch and moan during the process.

I avoid outlining at all costs (unless an editor demands it). I don’t take copious notes. I don’t even scribble out a synopsis before I sit down at the keyboard and let her rip. I always have a story in my head, if only the bare bones. I’m not always sure where it’s going or exactly how it ends. But I know enough to get started.

That’s when the magic kicks in. Something whirs in my brain, the gears start turning and clicking and won’t stop until I’m done. I think about the story and the characters when I’m waking and sleeping. I often rise in the morning with the solution to a sticking point in a chapter or scene. “Eureka, I’ve got it!” I’ll shout (well, mentally, at least), and I’ll dash to my desk to jot the idea down.

Yes, I keep a notebook, and I write down snatches of dialogue when characters start yapping in my head, or I’ll scribble a line about what needs to happen in the next chapter. But that’s about as far ahead of myself as I get. Somehow, the story unfolds as I sit down each day to work. (And it is work, magic or not.) I get deeper into the characters, into the situation, into motivations, and the tale spills out of my mind and onto the pages.

I don’t know where it comes from, but it never fails me. I hope it never will. (Knock on wood.) Writing is something very instinctual with me, very “from the gut,” and I don’t question it. I don’t dissect it and try to figure it out. If I did, I might ruin it. It’s just there, somewhere inside me.

I’ve heard authors who pooh-pooh those of us who believe in the magic, who say it’s a bunch of bunk; that writing is like plumbing and anyone can be proficient at it if they just proceed in a workmanlike fashion and plot and plan a story, chapter by chapter, detail by detail. That might be how it is for some, but it doesn’t fit us all.

Writing is a craft, yes, and a skill, for sure, and practice definitely makes one better at it. When you’re unpublished, tackling one manuscript and then another (and sometimes another after that) helps you to find your voice, see what you do best, cut out what’s extraneous, learn to tighten your prose and improve with every effort. You can hone your storytelling skills
over time, no question. But writing is also an art, a talent, a passion, a gift. For me, it’s magic.

For those of you laughing and shaking your head, let’s agree to disagree, shall we? Let’s just say we each approach the process differently. We have different strengths, different methods. There is no one blanket statement that defines how a writer should tell his or her story, is there?

The best writers are those who make their own paths and don’t pay attention to someone else’s rules. That’s when stories come out of the blue that are like nothing else, despite everyone grumbling that every plot’s been done a million times before.

The only “rule” that matters is formatting. You can’t use Wingdings and jelly bean paper and expect to be taken seriously. But when it comes to how you write—whether you outline or not—that’s a choice you make (although, forced upon some of us, at times, by terms of our contracts, ugh).

If you find yourself writing to the tune in your head without a single note on paper, rejoice! And know that you’re not alone. You’re not the only oddball out there who delights in the unknowing, who relishes seeing where the words will take them without a map to guide you.

Susan McBride is the author of the award-winning Debutante Dropout Mysteries, as well as The Debs young adult series including the just-released LOVES, LIES, AND TEXAS DIPS and the forthcoming GLOVES OFF. Her first stand-alone novel, THE COUGAR CLUB, will be out in January of 2010. Visit her web site at for more scoop!

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