At Least a Little Magic

I've been thinking a lot about the writing/revising process lately, and I've come to the conclusion that there's at least a little bit of magic in the process.

Yes, yes, I know there's probably some fancy brain explanation for why writing works the way it does (I could hear my psychology-degree friend groaning as I typed that sentence), but when you're in the writing and revising trenches--it happens more for me when revising than drafting for what it's worth--things just happen. Things that feel just a little like magic.

I often see writing advice online that talks about spending time away from a project when you get stuck. The argument these articles make is that once you have all that data in your brain (all the previous work you've been doing) you need to let it marinade in the back of your brain, freed from the tyranny of your conscious thoughts. And you know what? It often works.

Many writers talk about having those little "a-ha!" moments while in the shower, driving their cars, walking dogs, getting groceries, etc. For me, I tend to have most of those moments of clarity in the shower or in the car. Recently, I received feedback on Act I of The Trial (from my brilliant and amazing CP, Dawn Kurtagich) and dove into Act II edits. I'd been away from this story for about three weeks (during which time I plotted a different novel), so it was exciting to re-immerse myself in that world and reconnect with those characters. But something a little magical happened the first morning I got back to work.

I was in the shower (I like to get all ready before I sit down to write so I can work until I need to leave) and all these epiphanies kept washing over me as I conditioned my hair. "I could do this in that scene! Oh, and if I do that, I can do this other thing in the later scene which will make that one reveal totally work!" My revision that morning was incredibly fun.

All these little ideas probably had a lot to do with my subconscious brain working through issues in my time off, but it felt a little magical.

The next day, I needed to write a brand new scene as part of the revision process. As I normally do when drafting, I jotted down bullet points of what needed to happen in the scene. By the time I was ready to write, the scene was clear in my mind, and I thought I knew exactly what would happen.

I was wrong.

But it was oh-so-glorious to be wrong.

There I was, writing away, fleshing out my bullet points, when during a back and forth between the MC and his best friend, the friend said something completely unexpected. I paused. I looked back at the words I'd just written. That wasn't in my plan. I never intended for the friend to admit the truth. It just slipped out of me the same way it slipped out of the friend while the MC interrogated him.

It fit perfectly.

It was almost like magic.

Writing never ceases to amaze me, the way the plots twist in unexpected ways even when we've plotted so clearly or the way characters reveal their inner selves. When I look back at those "magical" sentences or scenes, I can't imagine anything else working better. I can't understand how I didn't think of that in the first place. It's just such a perfect fit.

There's a writer (I forget who exactly--if you know, leave a comment so I can attribute properly) who says writers "don't need to have all our good ideas at once." I think this is beautiful advice. If I could be so bold as to offer an addition to that advice, it would be this:

Leave space for the magic.

Work hard on your stories, yes, but also leave room for the magic to happen. Welcome those unexpected lines of dialogue, those strange character revelations, the unusual plot fixes. Don't let all the work of writing hide the joy.

And never let anyway try to convince you there isn't at least a little magic in this process.

-Isabel (@isasterling)