"Universe in my hand" by Flickr user Lauro Roger McAllister

I’m a Magical Writer (and You’re Not)

Disclaimer: Maybe I just don’t get it, and I’m willing to accept that.

“I’ve got the best job in the world. I craft universes. I create people and they tell me what they want. I’m a storyteller. I’m the bard in our global village.”

Sound familiar? You’ve probably heard it a dozen times, perhaps from some of your favorite storytellers/bards/creators/gods. I’m going to be straight with you folks here: I really dislike the spiritualization of writing.

Now, I don’t want to conflate this with the spiritual experience of writing. I’m not spiritual in any way, but I do get a euphoric buzz when I sense a job well done. If I write a nice line of dialog or clever metaphor, I get a little high. So, if someone tells me they have a spiritual experience when writing, I sort of get what they’re saying.

But I hate it when people talk about writing like they’re tuned into the energies of the universe; Like they hear the ethereal signal through all of the noise, and then, BOOM, they slap it down on the page and it’s magical. I think it’s wildly inaccurate to my experiences of writing, and it can be an irresponsible meme to perpetuate.

Here’s why

Let’s just accept the concept for a second and I’m going to frame the setting for you: you’re a novice writer, and you’re just getting to your first critique session. Maybe you’re the type of person that gets excited about what they’re doing, who believes in themselves.

And you get to your critique, and you find out how much your work totally sucks, because it does. No one nails it the first time.

But if we accept that writing is a channel into your perfect soul, and your writing sucks, what does that say about you? What does that say about your soul?

What about all the hard hours you’re going to work, where you can’t tell the difference between genius prose and rancid, juicy brainsquirts? If we accept that, to write, you need a connection to the Great Perfect Universe…

…then it follows that you are probably a broken radio–perhaps beyond repair. Maybe you’ll never hear the signal.

I don’t buy it.

When a successful author speaks, I think it should be in a language of empowerment. They should seek to render their inner workings transparent, so that others can come and marvel at the tireless efforts they put into their literary engines. Sometimes, those engines are beautiful, clockwork masterpieces, but never forget that every author started out banging rocks together to make a spark.

Because to me, the difference in the metaphor helps. My failed characters weren’t alive. I didn’t breathe quintessence into them, only to watch them arise, scream and gurgle their last within horrifying seconds of profane birth.  (Remember, I wrote FOUR terrible screenplays and TWO terrible novels before I started to figure it out.)

They were just… broken. The engine didn’t run. I needed to put more work into it. I needed to upgrade the design, test some new theories, buy some new parts. Most importantly, if I walked away to try my hand at another engine, I wasn’t leaving my characters to rot, while their desperate ghosts plied me with stories untold.

It’s okay to be that weird person, making something ugly and useless. Who gives a shit that it’s not a lotus flower grown from the seeds of the cosmos? You made it. It’s broken, but parts are free. Go to the store and pick up some new ones.

Most of all, just be okay with where you’re at as a writer. If you keep at it, you’ll get there.

Image: Universe in my hands, by Flickr user Lauro Roger McAllister, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

6 thoughts on “I’m a Magical Writer (and You’re Not)”

  1. This same thing applies to the visual arts. So much about creativity is just showing up to work everyday and getting started. Every. Single. Day.

    You wanna get better at the creative thing you love? You are gonna have to put in hours, and I do mean HOURS, practicing that craft. Thinking a muse is going to make you great is setting yourself up to be a failure and will tank your self-esteem.

    1. Failure, I don’t mind. It’s the self-esteem thing that kills me. And, for the life of me, I don’t understand these pros that perpetuate this image. Why would you do that?

      1. I’d wager they’re speaking from within that “I just did something right” high and trying to gloss over the sometimes unpleasant slog in between because it’s less glamorous.

  2. I really don’t see this as much in the romance world, and I’m sure it’s because the non-romance-readers out there are frequently happy to point out that romance isn’t worth the paper it’s (occasionally) written on. Anyone who has their spiritual enlightenment tied up in their writing gets over it, quick, or gives up. I mean, I’ll be honest: it absolutely boggles my mind that I can sit and type at my little computer, here, and someone else, there, on the other side of the world maybe, has an actual physiological reaction based on my work. Their body makes tears or giggles or whatnot solely because I chose to write something and they chose to read it. How absolutely astounding is that? I don’t ascribe any great spiritual enlightenment to what I write, but it boggles my mind sometimes anyway.

  3. This is it Alex. Wonderfully put. I don’t understand the ones that feel that writing is perfect the first time, and it’s not. Because when it’s not, they feel like they are failures. Truth is, they aren’t. It takes work and constant battling to get to that shining beauty hidden in there somewhere.

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