If I believed in magic that’s what I would tell you writing is.
The firing of specific synapses, the chemical cascade that transmutes the scent of a particular perfume into a fifteen hundred word short story, the fall leaves into rhyming poetry, your brutal breakup into a seventy thousand word novel.
It’s an ancient magic, recalled from distant cold nights huddled around fires, trading tales of news from far off lands, keeping the shadows subdued and enchanted. It’s ritualistic: reliant on special pens, specific desks, a certain walking route, a routine we know by heart, that sweet annihilation of reason, a sip of wine at midnight, or the writing sweater we refuse to wash.
We seek out other’s magic rhythms too, the successful among us, we gather at their feet and beg for their secrets. Do you rise early, before the sun? Do work in the morning, or the afternoon? Have a light lunch? Take a stroll at 3pm exactly? Stay up late? Because we’ve heard that’s a sign of greater intelligence. And they kindly share their magic recipes with us; their steps to plot and puzzle, to know your characters deeply, meaningfully, to personify your settings, objects, animals, plants. They tell us of their habits, their secrets, and we absorb them, make them our own.
That moment of inspiration is magic as well; a conversation overheard out of context, a furtive look on the face of a passerby, a thing out of place in an ordinary setting. It would strike like lightning if that wasn’t so cliche. Instead it’s a burned finger on the stove, numb with shock but unforgettable.
And finally there’s a flurry of magic words, scrawled on paper or composed on the blank screen, a flashing cursor moving endlessly ahead of letters forming perfect incantations, designed to cast a spell, a trance. And when it’s over we awaken, unsure of what we’ve done, feeling a satisfying loss, an emptying out. A bruise on our knee we never noticed before. How did that get there?
Maybe it’s unhelpful to say it’s magic though.
Maybe it’s too easy.
It’s a craft, you say, a practice, a discipline.
But I think there’s something worthwhile in believing in magic, just for a second, even for an unbeliever like me. Because magic is the world of make-believe and that’s where we, as writers, want to be. Magic reminds us of the unknown, the yet to be invented, the mystical, the sacred, the beautiful. Magic reminds us we are all connected to our imaginations, to our memories of things that never were.
Also, maybe magic can allow us to believe in ourselves. To believe that moment of inspiration will come again, even if it’s been gone for years. To believe that we have a whole universe inside of us that’s waiting to be written, that we are connected to those ancient ancestors of ours who told stories because that’s what humans do. Maybe believing it’s magic could help us when we’ve hit the wall, because with magic we can walk through walls, or move them, or fly over them on our broomsticks, or turn them into cotton candy and eat our way through. Maybe if we believe it’s magic when things get hard we can remember why we opened that document to begin with, why we put our pen to paper.
Maybe magic can be our placebo, the pill we take to tell ourselves our the headache is all in our heads.
I think it might be magic, so go on, write me a spell.