Monday, September 19, 2005

Touch of Magic

This is one of the first articles I wrote, about four years ago. I've done only marginal editing on it to bring it up to date, and as I read through it I couldn't help wondering if I have been writing what I am meant to these past few years; if that isn't why I often struggle with the words people claim I have such mastery over. What I've concluded is that I am not a romance writer. I may include romantic elements in my writing, but it is not my forte, and if I try to force a romance where it doesn't belong, I do both myself and my writing a grave injustice. Do I know what kind of writer I am, or am meant to be? Maybe not, but in recognizing what I'm not, I'm closer to being what I am.

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Heather L. Lester

Many writers panic when they come up against a roadblock; they struggle with their craft, trying to beat it into submission, when the real problem may not be with their writing, but with what they are writing. In a workshop at the 2001 RWA National Conference in New Orleans, Maggie Shayne, Lorna Tedder and Evelyn Vaughn tackled this very problem -- how to put magic back in your writing.

The trio of paranormal writers are all practicing Wiccans, and touched on some of the principles of Wicca, basically the Wiccan Rede -- "an it harm none, do what thou wilt" -- meaning, do no harm -- to oneself, to others, to the universe around them -- and the Rule of Three -- whatever ill you wish on another, it will be returned to you threefold. To explain this as bluntly as possible, if you hope that someone won't sell their manuscript, you will not sell your next three. In other words, it is about positive energy, and if your life is ruled by negative energy, it will be evident in your writing.

But it was not the spiritual aspects about which they came to talk, but how you can use some of the principals of "magic" to improve your writing. Seems impossible and irrelevant? Not quite.

There are several techniques suggested by the group that you can use to put the magic back in your writing.

The first is "First things always." Go back to the very first stories you told or wrote and look for the elements that were present. What was it that captured your imagination in the telling of those first stories? Is there horror, suspense, romance? What kinds of heroes or heroines were eminent in your tales? These are the type of stories you should be telling today.

The second technique is called the "Shaman's Fire". This is, basically, a relaxation exercise. Close your eyes, and imagine yourself sitting beside a fire, slowly relaxing each muscle group as you empty yourself of all negative energy. Look into the fire, clearing your mind of everything trivial, open yourself to the positive energy, and your writing will flow.

Use positive energy and affirmation. The body believes what the mind tells it. If you wake each morning thinking, “I feel like crud,” your body is going to believe it and you will feel like crud. However, if you wake up in the morning and think, “I feel great, this is going to be a good day!” you will believe it. How does this relate to writing? Simple – instead of telling yourself you can’t write, you’re no good, etc., tell yourself that you will write and that you are the best writer there ever was. If you believe it, it will be true.

They also talked of using sight, sound and smell to facilitate your writing and help you get into a particular mindset. What objects come to mind when you think of your characters? Find objects to represent them (such as stone or a particular flower) and keep them by your computer as you write. Find music that depicts your mood or that is representative of your hero/heroine and listen to it only when working on that story or when writing scenes with those characters. Buy candles in the scents that you describe your hero/heroine as wearing.

Candles can also be used ritualistically. Going back to affirmation, one thing suggested was buying a candle in a clear glass holder. If you are already a published author, print out your book covers or quotes from other authors about your writing onto clear address labels and plaster them to the candle, only lighting it when you write. Whenever you look up, you will see these “affirmations” of your talent. If you are not yet published, they suggest designing your own book covers or writing your own quotes as something to aspire to. Examples used by Maggie Shayne are, “Best book I ever read, Nora Roberts” and “Better than mine, Maggie Shayne”.

Another candle ritual they discussed was one for the dreaded rejection letter. Make a copy and then burn it over a candle, releasing all of your disappointment and insecurities, and freeing your mind of the negative so that you can get back to work. Do not burn the original; file that away as a record of how far you’ve come.

Last but not least, find your "theme song". By theme song they mean, find what you are meant to write and stick with it. Writing against your theme song is writing against your purpose. If you try to write to someone else's theme song (what someone else thinks you should write), you might be able to craft a believable story, but it will be flat, lacking in passion, and your readers will be able to tell the difference.

There are enough "cookie cutter" writers out there, turning out the same thing, year after year. Learn to use these techniques to put a spark back in your writing and you are guaranteed not to be one of them. I won’t say there won’t be times you’ll struggle with your craft, but by applying these principles you will surely find your way.

Originally published in The Buzz, October 2001

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