illusion versus spirit

illusionRecently, in the midst of a debate on the process of writing, a fellow writer suggested that writing a novel isn’t magic.

It is, I thought, my fingers curling into fists of passion. It is magic.

But perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps it isn’t. For one thing, magic is an illusion conveyed by a magician who understands the trick – who is aware of the process and who performs the magic consciously. I’m not convinced writing is accomplished with such clarity.

Of course, there are times of intention, like when I’m re-writing and see something is missing, or that a plot point needs to be resolved or further explained. Then I put in the extras like I’m pulling a rabbit out of my hat. Intentional, premeditated formation of paragraphs, phrases taken out and replaced, or simply deleted altogether.

But this isn’t always the case. In fact, most times my best stuff comes from when I’m not thinking about it but just release the words from who knows where; my best work, rhythms and cadences and craftsmanship surfacing when I let myself go.

I let go, and fortuitous and spontaneous results occur. Plot lines point to one another and become prismatic in nature, characters are motivated and act concurrently, and themes burst open like blossoms on a rose. I don’t have any control over this, truly. Or, do I? I can’t be sure. I can only be witness to it, almost helplessly, hoping that somehow it comes out all right.

So perhaps writing is more like spirit, like music. Often, I can’t explain where it comes from, and that’s when the beauty comes in. For although no one can deny that writing requires thoughtful and restrained editing and re-writing, with attention paid to whether or not the thing makes sense, I submit that there is a great amount of the unexplainable happening in the creation of it – that much of the process of writing is surrendering to something beyond yourself.

Which is why it’s difficult to debate this. Because everyone’s experience is different. Every process is personal, every story comes to fruition in its own way, each path as individual as a human being, or a snowflake. There are no clear answers, or shortcuts, or formulas. It isn’t math. It isn’t even magic. Creative writing is art – totally subjective and never, ever conceived of the same way twice. And I would never wish it to be anything else.

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