The Abracadabra Effect
I STRONGLY BELIEVE that the creative process is the closest thing we have to true magic in our world. And I’m not talking about close-magic sleight-of-hand or modern digital manipulation … I mean the magic that actually creates something from nothing. An object directly out of thin air. Now you don’t see it … now you DO! That is pretty astonishing.
My biggest creative efforts center on writing, but I’m also lumping other pursuits in here. Painting. Sculpting. Music. Architecture. The pure effort, the energy, the act of taking something that has been crafted in your brain and turning it into something that is inherently shareable is pretty gosh darn amazing. And it doesn’t have to be limited to something tangible like a wood carving … but a song you can listen to, share with your friends.
“Here,” you say proudly. “This was playing in my head. And now it’s playing in yours.”
The transfer of creative power.
The funny thing, though, is that there is no definable process involved. Sure. You can pay a TON of money to take a class, to listen to a professor, to copy a master craftsman … but that’s not really it, is it? I can try my damnedest to write like Michael Crichton and at best it’ll still be Steve Metcalf as Michael Crichton. It’ll never truly be “By Steve Metcalf.” And that’s even more of the mystery. The process.
I’ll let you in on a little secret – there is no secret. If you want to write, then write. If you want to paint, then paint. If you want to learn how to play the guitar, then, goshdarnit, buy a guitar and get started. There’s absolutely something to be said for natural talent, but the true talent is in perseverance. Sticking with it. Not giving up in the face of failure. Not letting writer’s block win the day. Typing until your wrists hurt. Reading until you have a headache. Strumming until your fingers are chapped.
Where was I? Oh. The process. As many writers as there are, there are at least that many different processes. Each writer must find his or her muse. I think that was the point I was making about learning from a master. The master can only teach you how THEY do the magic trick. It’s up to you, then, to fill in the blanks. To come up with what works with your project.
There are writers who will sketch out every element, every interaction, every plot point, every twist of the upcoming work in great detail. There are writers who simply make a list of each chapter and the main things that happen in each. “This guy dies in Chapter Four.” There are writers who plot the heck out of the ending and then start at the beginning, working toward that goal. There are some writers who just write and explore the plot along with their characters. There’s no right answer. What works for me, doesn’t work for J.C. Skala, for example. There’s no golden rule. There’s no best practice. Finding the method that works best for you is part of the magic.
In its simplest form, the creative writing magic trick boils down into four parts:
1. Coming up with an idea
2. Sifting through numerous ideas to figure out which one will work
3. Writing the darn thing
4. Showing it to someone
Unfortunately, each of these presents their own unique challenges.
Coming up with an idea is probably the least troublesome of all the magic tricks. Take a walk in nature. Watch a television show. Read a book. Listen to a song. These activities can all spark various ideas. Personally, my ideas are usually sentences that start with the phrase “Wouldn’t it be interesting if . . . “
Sketch: Wouldn’t it be interesting if a young man, instead of talking in his sleep, drew pictures in his sleep?
Coldwater: Wouldn’t it be interesting if a team of reality show ghost hunters ran up against a truly malevolent entity that wanted to do them harm?
The Beast of Trash Island: Wouldn’t it be interesting if a team of researchers found that the Pacific Garbage Vortex was actually a barrier under which an ancient evil lived peacefully?
And so on.
The ideas are fun, limitless and intriguing. Unfortunately, that makes the next part that much more difficult.
Sifting through the numerous ideas to figure out which one will work and the dozens that simply will not. Not all ideas are made of gold. And not all ideas fit whatever project you’re working on. Whether it is a tale of short fiction in a compilation or a flash fiction story for an internet contest or your first honest-to-God novel, the idea absolutely needs to fit the project.
Further, some ideas just don’t hold up to scrutiny. As glorious as an idea might be, it might only literally be half a story. Maybe the setup for a story. Or a story within a story. It can be difficult to decide what to write about.
Writing the darn thing. Yep. The crux of the matter. There is no right answer. No winning formula. No goose that laid the golden egg. Just you, your brain and your chosen weapon. It’s important to find some sort of groove, though. Whether you devote an hour a day before work or an hour a day after dinner or everything up until noon on Sunday … whatever plan works for you.
Same with the act of writing. Are you comfortable sitting at a desk typing away? Would you rather sit in a comfy chair with a legal pad scribbling like mad?
Additionally, what’s going on in the background? Personally, I generally must have some level of white noise going. But it’s different for every project. Sometimes it is listening to sports radio. Sometimes it’s the television playing in the other room. Sometimes it’s a movie or Spotify playlist or replay of a football game. It doesn’t matter. Part of the fun is finding out what type of distraction the project wants and then running with it.
Showing it to someone is often the final hurdle that no one was really expecting. And it can be simply about showing it to your mom or your significant other. The magic, here, expands fully when you share this beautifully wrought piece of art with other people. You can tell yourself stories all day long, but the fun, truly, is in sharing the wonder with others. It doesn’t matter if it’s your kids, your favorite uncle or a group of likeminded friends. Passing this hurdle might be a big sticking point. Some people are simply more comfortable staying in their own lane.
And that’s fine.
But, speaking from experience, there is a tangible amount of love, wonder and emotional attachment you get from sharing your creation with someone else. Talking about how Chapter 4 ended. Answering questions about where the name Thomas Raiter came from and sharing the inside joke. Discussing chapter titles. Subplots. Red herrings. Honestly, it’s a joy.
But it can go either way. When you cross that final hurdle and put the work out there for the world to see, you have to be ready for criticism. The harsh reality that not everyone is going to like what you’ve written is enough to keep some writers at home, with the door closed, and the creative fiction resting in the desk drawer never to see the light of day. See, some writers automatically believe their work is the best that it could be. The perfect vision. The ultimate expression of their creativity. And, while that might be true in the purest sense of the creative magic trick, it is not true in the real world.
Peers, friends, loved ones … the truth is that an extra set of eyes, an extra brain, could help volumes. I remember a teacher in a writing class reading a short story of mine and then smiling, nodding, said to me “Okay. But wouldn’t it be cool if …” and then mentioned a twist that I had set up, but never paid off. It made the story ten times better. Had I fought him on it and said that “No, this is my vision, and it stays as-is” the story, truly, would have suffered.
Part of the creative process includes the willingness to take criticism and revise. When I’m asked to be a reader for another writer’s work, I always ask up front … what level of feedback do you want? Many times, the author is honest and replies with something akin to “The story is how I want to tell it … just look for errors, mistakes, continuity flubs.”
Other writers look at me and simply say, “Shred it.”
It’s these writers who hold a special place in my heart. I won’t go into the story looking to find fault … but their response means I can be completely honest with my feedback. I’m not in it to spare feelings. We’re now going to work together to make this the best product it can possibly be.
And, there we have the final thought for this round of The Event. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading this volume. After a truncated offering in Gold Rush and then taking an extended break with the project, I feel that Wreckage has a lot to offer. Enjoy, kind reader, and now you can go make some magic for yourself. Pick up that guitar. Grab a legal pad. Fire up the laptop on the back porch and go mental.