Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Magic of Writing

Elizabeth Zelvin

I want to write about the magic of writing because it’s something I always forget. When I don’t have a single idea in my head and I’d do anything but sit down and write, because I’m sure that I can’t do it again, no matter how many times I’ve done it before; when I’m crawling through a first draft that doesn’t want to come to life, and it’s pure torture to put even a few hundred new words on the page; when I reread what I’ve written and think it’s pure dreck, not a publishable sentence in it; when I’ve finished a project and think, no matter how good the manuscript is, “Thank goodness! It’s done! I don’t have to do that any more!”—those are the times when I need to remember what magic there is in writing and how absolutely wonderful it feels when it’s going well.

I am not alone in this. I’ve heard many writers admit to going through all of this, whether they’re trying to break in or have a long string of bestsellers behind them: the “I can’t,” the “this is torture,” the “this is dreck,” the “thank goodness it’s over”—almost every writer has been there at some time, if not perennially.

But I also know that other writers hear a character’s distinctive voice in their heads, saying things that are unexpected and far more clever or moving than the author had imagined. They know that feeling of waking up in the middle of the night—or lying in bed before or after sleeping—with an idea knocking on their brain so insistently that they must get up and write it down. I’ve had it happen while driving, swimming in the ocean, running, in the shower, and in this too, I’m not alone. And most of all, we writers experience the joy of those moments when it comes pouring out of us, so that our fingers race across the keyboard and we forget to get up and stretch or eat a meal, order our loved ones to go away, and marvel, when we read over the day’s work, at the miracle of what we have created, breathing such life into our imaginings that others will experience them as real.

All writers have some aspect of the creative process that we never stop struggling with. And we get to know our strengths as well. Here’s what I’m proud of. It seems like magic that I have somehow created characters who have taken on a life of their own. Each has his or her own distinctive voice. They have authentic feelings, connect profoundly with each other, and make readers laugh and cry. So far, I’ve brought half a dozen of them to life: Bruce, Barbara, and Jimmy in my Death Will series; Diego, the young marrano sailor with Columbus in my stories “The Green Cross” and “Navidad”; and two readers haven’t met yet. One of these is Diego’s sister Rachel, with whom I’ve fallen in love myself, she’s so full of enthusiasm, wit, and passion. The other is Amy Greenstein, aka Emerald Love, a nice Jewish girl who’s a rising country music star and a shapeshifter. Actually, I love all these characters, and when I contemplate how very real they are, I realize I’ve been given the gift of writer’s magic.


Sheila Connoilly said...

Okay, a nice Jewish girl+country music star+shapeshifter? You've already got us wanting more!

And you're right--when it all comes together, it's a real high, better than drugs, sex and rock and roll, and we live for those moments.

Vicki Lane said...

So well put, Liz! I need to bookmark this to read when I'm in one of those low spots in the writing process.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Great post! It really is hard to remember that when going is tough. Of course, everyone who gets into writing does it because--first and foremost--they want to, because they like it. Sometimes that gets lost in the fray.

Sandra Parshall said...

I also need to remind myself sometimes -- usually at the first draft stage -- that I *do* love writing and that it feels wonderful to get it right. I've listened to readers talk about my characters as if they were living, breathing people they knew well. That's my goal with every book, and I should never forget it.

Norma Huss said...

Liz, I needed this blog post! Last night I talked to my daughter who has an agent working on placing her first book and she's successfully writing 1,000 words a day. I'm struggling to put out 200, or 500 words on SOME days.

But, I will persevere. And I am living with my characters, and though I know what they want to say, I gotta make absolutely sure I translate it in exactly the WAY they want to say it. (Does that make sense?)

Kris Bock said...

I've been thinking about a different aspect of this the last few days. I realized I hadn't done any new novel writing in three months. Editing, publishing, publicity, teaching, critiquing, and travel -- but no work on a novel. So Tuesday I sat down and wrote an opening scene, 700 words. It felt wonderful! I don't understand people who find writing painful, but I do understand people who find it hard to write. If you don't put it first, it often doesn't happen.

Kris Bock
Rattled: romantic suspense in the dramatic and deadly southwestern desert

Coco said...

Liz, thank you for sharing your inspiring, and timely (for me) thoughts. I am in the stage of trying to get to the release date of my first book and feel totally overwhelmed with all that needs doing. You reminded me why I started this project in the first place, and have given me a sense of peace and encouragement. Now I am ready and eager to start on my next project.

Gayle Feyrer said...

Lovely post. I've known all those negative states, and long for the times when inspiration takes over.

Julia Buckley said...

It IS magic, and the Romantics believed that very literally--Mary Shelley was one good example. In fact, I found an old related post about it here:

So interesting!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I knew I wasn't alone in this, but it's soooo nice to have you all confirm it. :)

sadrine said...

Yeap ..Really nice to see people get ideas from this article

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