The magic of writing

I’ve been doing a bunch of reading about magic – not the fantasy kind, the stage performance kind – and have concluded we can learn from magicians.

As writers, we pull our readers into a world of our shared invention. We can’t make a good story without someone to read it, to react to the words, and to experience the sensations, the thrills, and the laughter we’re trying to evoke.

Magicians are no different. Without an audience, they’re just practicing a routine without knowing whether anyone cares. But the delight of getting it just right? Having someone believe, for a brief moment, in your world? That’s magic on both sides of the stage. Or page.

Consider writers to be another species of magician and…abracadabra!

Go to the experts.

Get advice from the pros. Whether they’re long-forgotten performers who took the time to write down their techniques or you’re sitting in the audience or hanging out in the back room of some dusty magic shop in a run down shopping center between the tattoo parlor and the auto museum far off the strip in Las Vegas, they’ve got something to teach you. Read. Listen. Practice.

Classes, courses, books and more books. There are tons of resources out there for magicians. And writers. Devour them.

Practice 1000 times.

Don’t give up on a trick until you’ve practiced it a thousand times, committing the moves to muscle memory. You can do it without thinking, while talking, in your sleep. The magician does this: practice, practice, practice.

Writers do this: draft, redraft, commit the words and patterns to muscle memory.

We both edit, we give up, we start again.

Perform 100 times.

All that practice doesn’t matter until you put it together in a show, a coherent series of illusions and patter, joining together, scene after scene, until you have a performance. Then you give that performance one hundred times until the kid heckling you, saying he knows how you’re doing it, doesn’t bother you. Until you get the reaction you’re after. Until your angles are right and your delivery is polished. Until your audience loves your performance. Until you love your performance.

Your readers, your critique group, your friends and family are your audience. You are your audience. Each book is a performance. Each story a show. Sometimes they’re no good, but that’s okay. We keep on performing.

Research is not writing. Only writing is writing.

YouTube, social media, listservs, there are countless websites and rabbit holes into which you can disappear, all in the name of research. But reading about magic isn’t practicing a thousand times; it isn’t performing one hundred times.

Reading about writing, social-media-ing about writing, facebooking with writing friends, that’s all not-writing.

Writing is writing. And without writing, you don’t have a trick to practice; you don’t have a performance to share. You have to actually Write Down All The Words.

Then you have to make those words your own.

A magician said to me, “you can read the instructions. They say ‘put your index finger on the upper right hand corner of the deck of cards.’ You can do that like this, from the top. Or like this, from the bottom. Whatever you do, it has to be your gesture. That’s the art of making it your own trick.”



They’re both a performance; they’re both an art. Every artist puts their stamp on their performance, as unique and undeniably theirs as their fingerprints. That’s why we, the audience, go back.

We pick up a comedy, or a thriller with anticipation because we know we’re in the hands of a professional.

We go to a show to be amazed.

We relax and let the magic take over.

Originally published March 31, 2016

Posted on Saturday, 11 November 2017

Filed under writing craft

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