Writing Secrets: Discover Yourself and Recover the Magic

I’m going to do something a little different today. Instead of the snarky, biting sarcasm and humor I usually lace my posts with, I’m going to get all deep and shit. I know you’re scared, but I’ll be gentle and it’ll be over soon. It’ll be like…it’ll be weird. I’m not going to lie to you.

I want to share a secret I learned not so long ago that helped me write fiction that not only affects me, but also my readers. Writing so that the emotion leaps off the page and into the reader’s head and heart is not an easy task. In fact, there are few writers who are able to do this. We all struggle to take what we feel and see inside and put it on the page so that the reader experiences it the way we want them to. This struggle is often the number one cause of the mythical writer’s block. Eventually we wear ourselves down to a hopeless blob of patheticness. What the hell do I write about? Who cares what I have to say? Why would anyone read my writing? I’ll never be good at this. Why do I even bother?

There are so many options in terms of what to write about that folks embarking on a new tale are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities. Couple that with the uncertainty of whether or not you can pen something worth reading and we freeze, or we don’t write to our full potential. So, how do you know what you should write and how to go about it? It’s simple really.

Know yourself.

The first step to knowing yourself is to figure out what kind of books do you want to write. This is harder than it seems. It’s not as simple as wanting to write whatever will sell. You can’t write for the reader you don’t yet know. In order to find the motivation and the inspiration necessary to write well, you have to know what is important to you and what you want your writing to say to the world. It took me a long time to realize why I wasn’t happy with what I’d written. I just couldn’t get that emotion that bubbled inside me to translate onto the page. My problem was that I didn’t know myself as well as I thought I did. A single manuscript, a story that I wrote only for me, revealed a person I thought I’d left behind long ago, and introduced me to a stranger I didn’t realize lurked in there with her.

Think about your dreams and your desires. Go right back to those carefree days of your childhood and think about what used to make you happy and what used to make you hopeless. Then ask yourself a few questions about the present:

  • What do you feel passionately about? 
  • What do you love? 
  • What do you hate?
  • What affects you emotionally, both good and bad?
  • What are your “buttons”? How are they pushed and who pushes them most often?
  • What fascinates you?
  • What scares you?
  • What makes you batshit?
  • What doesn’t interest you at all?
You might be surprised at your answers (if you’re honest with yourself). Many of us don’t think about these things too deeply, so when we do sit down and focus on our “whole” selves, we find we’re much like an onion with the layers and such, and the answers are rarely black and white. This is why it’s so hard to pick out a single idea and start writing. We have wants and needs that change from day to day. We have likes and dislikes, biases and fears that are altered by the events and the people in our lives. But knowing yourself is vital to knowing what your dreams are. Dreams lead to desire, desire to motivation, motivation to inspiration, inspiration to passion, passion to magic, and that magic turns a mediocre storyteller into an extraordinary one.

As children we all dreamt about fantastical and impossible things. As we mature, we put aside childish things, and those dreams get stuffed way back into the darkest corners of our subconscious. A gifted storyteller never loses access to those dreams, but most of us don’t realize those dreams are still there, or that they hold a deep well of inspiration and magic. This is why many of us struggle to write with purpose. It’s why our prose lacks the emotion we feel inside.

To convey your passion for what you’ve written—the magic that is vital to every great book—you have to feel it. Writing whatever is most likely to sell is going to ensure your work has no magic. “But magic doesn’t exist,” you might say with a curled nose or a roll of your eyes. Ah, you are incorrect. When I speak of magic, I’m referring to that intangible element present in all of your favorite books. That bit that hides between the pages, in the white space, gripping at your chest as you read, and clinging to your brain long after you set the book aside. If your writing engages youremotion, then it leaps off the page and engages the reader’s emotions as well. That is magic.

While passion is vital to writing, I think it’s important to add that it’s not the only thing important to plotting a successful novel. Commitment, discipline and devotion to the craft also play a role, so listen to advice, take whatever useful information you can ferret out of the tons of writing tips that are thrown at you and use it, but at the end of the day, make sure you’re clear on where you want to go and what you want your work to say about you. Keep that idea in your mind, but also remember it should be dynamic. We are constantly changing. Every new experience and encounter alters our reality, and so it alters what we feel as well. Your writing will reflect these changes. If it doesn’t, then you’re not doing it right.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the possibilities or the should and should not’s. When you do that, you drift, and when a writer starts to drift, oh the disasters that follow. Panic sets in. Then comes regret. Finally you feel an all-consuming urgency to do something that matters now. This clouds your judgment and blocks creativity and it prevents you from writing with emotion.

You’re never going to be able to convey your ideas or your message to the reader if you don’t know yourself. When you’re in touch with who you really are and what drives you, then you know what it is you want to say and you can say it without fluff or hesitation. Basically, to be more than just a “good” storyteller, you have to treat the inner you and all that entails with the same respect you’d treat the inner self of those you care about. Yeah, we all need to be tough, ambitious and independent, but you need to allow yourself to be sensitive enough to encourage whatever that person inside you wants to be. Read, think, debate; discover what matters to you. Let yourself feel things, good and bad. Wallow in your emotions from time to time. The issues, feelings, beliefs, or people that fascinate you, that are important to you, are what you should write about. Cloak it in humor, horror, or romance. Whatever. That’s just the shiny wrapping you give something you want to share so others will want to open it. The important part is to explore your physical, emotional, and spiritual sides and figure out who you are and what you are passionate about. That is what makes fantastic fiction.

I hope you enjoyed today’s jaunt over to my sensitive side. Don’t get used to it. The next time we meet, it’ll be back to the mocking sarcasm you know and love.

4 thoughts on “Writing Secrets: Discover Yourself and Recover the Magic

  1. Oh, lord. You stayed sober through the whole post. I need my smelling salts.What you say is true, but I see some writers following the dogma so religiously that their work reads like a Mary-Sue novel. It's almost masturbatory, and they're completely blind to it.I'd love to read a post from you on Mary-Sueism and how to incorporate yourself in the novel without actually showing up as the main character.

  2. You're absolutely right. There is a very fine line between knowing yourself enough to write passionately, and being so in touch with yourself that what you write is nauseating. I will work on a post about MarySuism. It is definitely something I see a lot of.

  3. Even cynics and satirics need to understand themselves in order to write fiction that breaches the barrier of readers and goes under their skins, so you've hit the nail on the head. I've never heard of a work of fiction that dug deep into human emotion or the human soul, written by a superficial writer who toyed with concepts from a safe distance. All the great works of fiction have come from a deep dark place within the writer's heart, where he could not lie to himself and couldn't do else but share what he found.Humor is awesome, sarcasm is even greater, and pointing out the flaws of society in an entertaining way is sometimes divine. But if you add a layer of unhindered personal honesty to it, you turn it into a meaningful work of art.Besides, it's perfectly fitting for Halloween to see you so motivated. ;)I'm sure you're gonna have a great time doing NaNo this year.

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