When Pamela asked me to blog this month about the “magic of being an author,” I initially assumed she meant the enchantment of being published, of seeing your name in print, of developing a series of books in which characters grow, change, and even give birth. I add that last winking possibility because my own heroine Whiskey Mattimoe discovers she’s pregnant in her latest mystery, Whiskey with a Twist. A development I didn’t see coming, which brings me to the real magic of being an author.
Yes, it’s thrilling to see your stories bound into books and translated into languages you can’t speak. But I wouldn’t call that magic. What mesmerizes me is the creative process, whether I’m working as a novelist or a playwright, whether I’m hoping my words will come to life on a published page or a lighted stage. Trusting a higher power—Divine or otherwise—to work through me ignites an engine of creativity that I can neither explain nor take credit for. However, I do know how to conjure it.
For the magic to happen, I have to be engaged in my craft, committed whole-heartedly to a project. That might be a symptom of my stern Midwest-Swedish upbringing, a life of dark Lutheranism leavened much later by Saint Garrison Keillor. This writer was raised to work hard and take life seriously. Although I now find that life makes sense only if we can laugh about it, I still work hard.
My muse is no fairy godmother waving a wand above my idle brain as I await a story’s arrival. She’s more like a magician for hire, willing and able to produce amazing feats if I pay my own way. Do I want to “channel” voices and scenes? Then I must pony up some dedicated desk-time, actively immersing myself in the world of my fiction. For me, thinking or talking about writing isn’t writing. Neither is Googling, as productive as it may seem. For me, the way to invite the magic in is to roll up my sleeves and write, write, write.
But what about those times when I can’t write because the insights aren’t coming? My story is stuck. My characters are flat. Nothing short of magic will do. Here’s how I get some:
· by writing without trying to write (drafting a scene just for fun, skipping to the end or the next “easy” part, interviewing characters, turning a story into a script or vice versa)
· by reading earlier scenes aloud
· by thumbing through my Idea Notebooks
· by taking my draft to my critique group
· by going for a long walk, swim, or bike ride
· by grabbing my man or my cat and dancing around the room
Those are my incantations. I may have to try more than one, but the magic will come.
Sometimes the magic appears before I know I’ll need it. I may dream a scene or a character so vivid that I add it at once to my notebook even though it has nothing to do with my current projects. My muse knows I’m working, so she rewards me. I like to think she pays it forward.
As I tune in to overheard pieces of conversation, posted signs, and bizarre situations, I write them down; if I mishear or misread, so much the better: Lapgevity, the sign in front of a business, looked to me like Largevity and spawned a brood of amusing notions. By recording my inspirations, I invite the magic and encourage my muse. The result is a stock of fiction fodder I can turn to whenever I’m stuck. As I thumb through fifteen years of notebooks, I’m amazed at how many notions I’ve morphed into fiction. If something stirs me enough to write it down, I’ve been touched by magic, illuminated by a spark of the creative process.
So here’s to magic, mystery, and an overdeveloped work ethic! I wish you happy conjuring in 2010.
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Nina Wright is a playwright and novelist. She has published five books in the humorous Whiskey Mattimoe mystery series and two paranormal novels for teens, Homefree and Sensitive. Booklist says of Whiskey with a Twist: “Fifth in a consistently appealing series, this installment continues to provide the perfect mix of cozy and dog.”