I just finished writing a short story that I started last Thanksgiving. I’ve been picking at it the last few days over my spring break, trying to clinch it. I wrote a novel over my winter break and worked on some essays for scholarships, preventing it then, and thus far, my semester has been too packed to do anything but proofread.
So, finishing it leaves a perfect time to talk about “magic.”
Over winter break, I developed a schedule: wake up early, finish my routine, make a pot of tea, light a candle, open a window and write from 8 to 12 and break for lunch. Nonstop. If I had to use the bathroom, I made it quick. My parents didn’t really get it. They thought I was being asocial or avoiding them out of anger, or that my time up there was lonesome.
I loved it. I enjoy people, but that four-hour time alone facing the page was something far better. That’s the magic of writing: that healing, redemptive, almost mystic struggle to draw words into the world. To me, nothing else comes close.
I know new-age analogies and romantic metaphors don’t help much, but that’s the only way I can express it. Unlike craft, magic can’t be taught or accurately described. It’s, well, magic. I’m a fairly scientific atheist, but even I recognize that our private experiences have elements beyond science’s articulate explanations. This magic is one of those “ineffable” things we people find scattered in our lives.
When I write, I feel an almost mystical transcendence. Weird I know, but I promise I’m not crazy. Stephen King, in On Writing, talks about his stories as artifacts, not something he forms, but something he digs up. I agree. I trust the process to convert my scattered musings and experiences into a coherent narrative or collection of images. I have ideas, sometimes a single picture or sentence, that write their own journeys and biographies. I let my characters and situations “write themselves.” Sometimes I even delete the original image, but I still have its story.
Consequentially, I know that the story is mine only because I wrote it. It’s not “my story,” limited to my own subjectivity. Good art transcends that. I’m only “in” it in terms of the details and word choices–my voice–but the story itself is something deeper, more universal. Perhaps I have a unique angle, but I didn’t make up the universals that permeate art.
I think Nietzsche does a fine job describing it in his classic The Birth of Tragedy:
The image that now shows him [the artist] his identity with the heart of the world is a dream scene that embodies the primordial contradiction and primordial pain, together with the primordial pleasure, of mere appearance. The “I” of the lyricist therefore sounds from the depths of his being: its “subjectivity,” in the sense of modern aestheticians is a fiction (Section 5).
A beautiful but dense quote. This is my definition of magic: that strange journey writing takes you, through imagination and experience, that eventually leads beyond your imagination and experience and condenses into a coherent narrative. You could have never have written the story without that artistic process. It tugs you along, but only if you trust it.