Patricia Storms says writers are magicians.
When I read her quote a couple months ago on the Paperback Writer blog, I had to stop a moment and think about this. And, by God, I think she may be right.
When I was about ten years old, my father took me to a magic show in Hollywood called IT’S MAGIC. There were about twenty magicians on the bill, one after another showing us their biggest and best tricks, sawing women in half, floating balls in the air and, yes, pulling rabbits out of the hat.
I loved the show and, afterwards, my father immediately took me to Bert Wheeler’s Magic Shop, where I picked up a trick called multiplying billiard balls. Only the billiard ball size were too large for my small hands, so I got the pint-sized version.
I practiced that trick for months. And, if I do say so myself, I got pretty darn good at it. I still have a picture of me at twelve years old, decked out in the homemade tux my mother made for me, showing off my sleight of hand dexterity with those Bert Wheeler multiplying balls.
Thing is, the mechanics of the trick weren’t very tough. I’m not going to spoil it for you by telling you how it was done, but let’s say that just about anyone could do the trick with a few minutes practice.
But I have a feeling it wouldn’t look much like magic. It would probably look like some guy ham-handedly struggling to multiply those billiard balls, and the gimmick behind the trick would be obvious to any but the dimmest of spectators.
Real magicians, you see, practice day in and out to make their sleight of hand smooth and undetectable. So that it looks like REAL magic. So that people watch and say, “Wow! Do that again!”
And that’s what writers try to do as well. We work very hard behind the scenes, manipulating words and phrases and characters and plot lines and trying our best to make it all look seamless and — hopefully — get our readers (and our editors and publishers) to say, “Wow! Do that again!”
A lot of people think that all they need to know is how the trick is done and they, too, can be a magician. They’re unwilling to put in the real practice necessary, and the moment they learn the trick, they’re ready to perform. To get in front of an audience of their friends and family and show off.
First time writers often think that the moment they’ve put that first story down on paper, they’re ready to be published — “How do I get an agent?” is the most commonly asked question of professional writers next to “Where do you get your ideas?”
But are you ready for that agent any more than that first time magician is ready to perform?
Writing, like magic, takes years of practice. And a willingness to fail again and again until we get it right. Until what we do seems not like simple trickery, but REAL magic to those who read our work. When the words draw them in and transport them to another time and place, a time and place filled with characters who are alive and breathing and the suspension of disbelief is so deep that we, as writers, can get away with almost anything. Can make them believe that a woman can be cut in half, that rabbits can materialize from nowhere, that those billiard balls can multiply between our fingers…
The great writers, like the great magicians, elevate craft to an art. And as we read their work, we can’t help but think, “How did he do that?”
But knowing the “how” is only a small part of the trick. It’s knowing what to DO with that “how” that really counts.
Making them believe, like Patricia Storms, that what we do is magic.
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