What do forest fires, wealth inequality, animal stampedes, successful authors, depression, and the creation of life have in common?
They all fundamentally rely on the same basic mechanism–and it is to me the source and substance of all magic in our seemingly mundane world.
When the new mage in a fantasy novel first taps into an elemental source of power, there is often a scene of overwhelm and danger when he realizes how incredibly destructive the raw force is.
And so I submit to you the entirely un-humble feedback loop.
A single errant spark from a campfire escapes into a patch of dry pine needles and begins to burn. The heat from those burning needles ignites some underbrush and the fire spreads. A few days later, the fire has consumed thousands if not hundreds of thousands of acres–perhaps taking homes and human lives in the process.
An animal on the edge of a herd is spooked by a small noise. The animals closest to him are spooked by him being spooked and they start to move. This movement cascades through the herd until the whole lot of them has trampled their way across a prairie–unleashing a TNT explosion’s worth of energy all because of a single small sound. (Speaking of explosions–nuclear weapons are further examples of feedback loops in action).
A final example to get us focused on the specific intent of this series: J.K. Rowling releases a book under a pseudonym and it gains almost no notice. When she attaches her name, it becomes a global phenomenon–not because of the work itself but because of all her prior successes. Each book she added (indeed, each book any talented author adds to her oeuvre) tends to have a significant multiplying effect on the entire body of work. The more space you take up on a bookshelf or Amazon list, the more you’ll sell of all your books. The rich get richer…
Meanwhile, the first time author has a nearly impossible task generating any buzz or breaking out from the pack. Without a feedback loop in place, the energy it takes to activate your career is infinitely higher than that which Rowling depended upon when she simply attached her name to a book by the unknown Robert Galbraith.
But can these loops be controlled? Can this raw power be mastered?
The thesis of this entire series is that the answer to that question is yes. If you can master the difficult yet attainable discipline of creating, nurturing, and occasionally dampening feedback loops in your life and in your career as a writer, you will be able to create works of genius (or at least plentiful quality), outmaneuver the fates that would keep you from being noticed by the world, and pick up a sense of confidence, clarity, and personal power (what I call mau) in the process.
Of course doing so–as with any magic–is neither simple nor guaranteed. It may take a life’s work. I hope you’ll read on and let me know if you think it’s worth it.
Next in the series: Magic Loops.
Previous Post: Magical Beginnings.