A Book of Word-ly Magick

One of the things I love about writing conferences is that moment in the hotel lounge or bar–roughly around 11:37 pm–when the mood shifts and you’re suddenly in a Cary Grant movie surrounded by a room full of witty, charming, and fabulous people.

Cary Grant at a Party

How I imagine we start to look and act around 11:37 pm at writing conferences

While some might call this “being drunk,” I prefer to think of it as a kind of magic. It’s the magic of a gang of half-flustered, slightly edgy introverts suddenly finding home–realizing we’re safe amongst our tribe. Most of the jet-lagged agents and editors have gone to bed and we realize we can stop being so damn “on” and just be. Guards are let down, quips are quothed, and lifelong (or at least, night-long) friendships are forged.

Let’s face it, we writers can be a somewhat awkward people. Many of us got picked on, ignored, left out, or otherwise socially estranged in our childhoods and were thus driven to take refuge in the iridescent words and imaginary worlds of our favorite stories. For me, a lot of those stories involved magic. Myths, fairy tales, and fantasy dominated my reading lists and I reveled in their sorceries.

At the same time, though, I felt I was missing something. It wasn’t so much that the real world was insufficiently magical, but rather that we were insufficiently aware of how to work the magic. The stories that thrilled me most were those that told of lands where magic had been lost and was just being rediscovered. I took those less as fiction than as prophecy.

How we probably actually look after 11:37 pm at writing conferences

How we probably actually look and act after 11:37 pm at writing conferences

And then I grew up a little.

Some years ago, perhaps inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s quote about sufficiently advanced technologies being indistinguishable from magic or by my good friend Todd Fahnestock’s own youthful hope to bring magic back into the world, I grew back down.

I got to thinking that magic wouldn’t seem particularly magical to the people living in the worlds of our storybooks. Or at least it would seem no more supernatural to them than iPads or airplanes or other technological marvels seem to us. If something is demonstrated in the world–if it has a presence in the natural–it is no longer supernatural, it is simply a quirk of reality.

Magic would just be a thing that certain gifted people could do. Neat, perhaps–dangerous, maybe–but mundane. Of the world–not apart from it.

That got me thinking about whether there were any other real world magics (beyond technology) available to be harnessed by those of us who aren’t scientists, engineers, or programmers.

I considered athleticism. Just as fictional mages and wizards had to practice for years to physically perfect their arts, modern athletes and dancers and acrobats in our world do the same, turning their bodies into fabulous specimens capable of seemingly superhuman feats.

Now–let’s face it–we writers can be a somewhat uncoordinated people. I play flag football, tennis, and racquetball. I swing dance, swim, bike, and work out regularly. I’ve even run a marathon (albeit very, very slowly), but compared to a true athlete, I feel like I’ve got the physical talent of a marginally robust pudding. What Peyton Manning does on a football field or Baryshnikov does on a stage drops my jaw just as quickly as the work of a Gandalf or a Potter would drop the jaws of the gawkers in their worlds.

So, yes, to me at least it seems there’s magic to be found in technology and in feats of physicality. But what about us writers? What magic can we wield?

The obvious answer–of course–is the writing itself. We have the power to create whole worlds after all. We can whisk the awkward and uncoordinated to havens of acceptance and glory and imagination. We can inspire change and progress and creativity. We can salve wounded souls and succor broken hearts.

Exceeding the powers of most storybook spells and incantations, our world’s words have birthed religions and movements and governments and empires. Indeed, few things have done as much to transform the world as certain well told tales or cleverly crafted speeches. Think MLK’s Dream speech, or the Gospels, or the Bhagavad Gita, or perhaps (from a darker angle) Hitler’s Mein Kampf or Machiavelli’s Prince.

A Book of Word-ly Magick

A Book of Word-ly Magick

So yeah…pretty big magic happening here.

That said, this answer’s a bit too pat for me. It puts the focus only on the climactic scene–the final magical flourish–while ignoring the magical means.

What most inspired me in my teen-age reading was never the big finale where the great powers clashed and good triumphed over evil.

No, it was something much smaller and more intimate than that.

It was when the hero first discovered a curious ability and learned to control something in the world that once seemed uncontrollable.

It was the moment of transformation when the protagonist became something more than a socially awkward physical approximation of a marginally robust pudding.

It was the way the hero’s careful efforts over time helped turn a gift into a talent and a talent into a true force.

Over the next several entries, I want to delve into some real world magic I’ve come across. You may not consider any of it all that magical, but I hope you’ll at least find the tools and tricks and little spells I describe useful to you in your writing careers. After all–we are a tribe, aren’t we? And tribes should share our learning. I’m excited to share this with you and learn what you have to share in return!

Next post: Magical Beginnings.

A List of Upcoming Topics (to be linked as soon as they’re available):

The Container

The Spring

The Loop

The Pivot

The Spark

The Scope

The Tribe

13 thoughts on “A Book of Word-ly Magick

  1. Outstanding article, much to think about. I am exactly that awkward kid in the back of the room, escaping my world in the imaginary world of books. Have never been all that attracted to magic, fantasy, science fiction, however, because I’ve always found it contrived, a cheap trick rather than something transcendent. To realize how ordinary magic would be in a magical world – a brilliant idea. I wouldn’t bother with wand or a potion, but I work hard at wordsmithing.
    I am so looking forward to your series of upcoming articles.

    • Thanks so much, Sharon! I think you and I would get along famously based on what I’ve seen in your comments and wonderful blog posts. Next part in the series launches tomorrow!

      • I’ve met many wonderful people since I started this blog and am delighted with all these new friendships.Yes, I think we are a good intellectual match, and have really enjoyed the posts here.

        Just so you know, I’ll likely be out of touch for a few days, so don’t give up if you don’t hear from me. As a famous person once said, “I’ll be right back.”

  2. Lately, I’ve been editing and editing and editing. For some reason, I feel lonelier when I edit than when I write, and just reading that you feel we, writers, are a tribe gave me a much needed jolt of belonging. Thank you.

    • Rachael, you absolutely should drop in on some Delve sessions when you can. Tribe and belonging are so essential, particularly in that lonely editing phase, and we’d love to help bolster you through this time. I’ll send you a note!

  3. Thanks for posting this article. Its refreshing to see something that is a little more thoughtful that a “how to” or “10 tips to get published” piece. Its great to hear others talk about this “magic” as being part of reality instead of outside of it. As a long time lover of fantasy, myth and mystery (I am a mythic psychotherapist after all) I find this incredibly relevant to life as well as writing. How much we take for granite…
    Will stay tuned 🙂

    • Thanks, Kayla! I hope you enjoy the series. I look forward to any comments you might have from your wonderful perspective and background as a mythic psychotherapist. I’m a huge fan of Jung and NLP and untangling the stories of our lives. So…yeah…love your blog!

  4. Looking forward to more on this topic. A day without at least some magic in it is a sad day indeed. I think the same can be said for writing, too. Or, looking around a bar at 11:37PM and realizing you’re in the wrong movie! ;- )

  5. Pingback: Magical Beginnings | Delve Writers

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