Posted in Writing

Finish Your Novel by Remembering the Magic


In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

We are talking about tools and carpentry, about words and style… but as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.

It can be difficult to forget the magic part when you’re deep into a writing project, when you’re in the weeds of the ninth draft or struggling with the end of a scene halfway through the first draft or re-reading the closing scene for the forty-seventh time.

So much of writing is indeed about tools and carpentry, about words and style. You can’t write a book without them. And the more you understand how to utilize the tools as your disposal, the more you experiment with your words and style, the better your work will be in the long run. You have to master the basics. You have to fail, and fail often. You have to try new styles, new genres, kinds of characters and stories.

And you have to never, never, forget the magic.

I have tough days when I’m writing. Endless moments of self doubt. After years and years of writing multiple novels, you’d think I sit down at the computer now filled with confidence, knowing exactly how to do this. I have more experience now than I did in my twenties, I’ve written way more novels than I ever imagined I could.

Yet every time I sit down to write, whether it’s new prose or a current revision, there’s always a little bit of fear. That I’ll mess up the scene. That I won’t get the images in my head down on paper exactly as I’d like. That the scene actually worked better in the sixth draft and now in the tenth draft I’m making it worse.

Writing a novel is an extremely difficult and arduous process. It’s not enough to just write a first draft, maybe do a polish or two, and be done with it. If you’re serious about writing, you have to not only commit to completing a first draft but then spend many months or even years to revise it to the point where everything works — the story, the characters, the pacing, the surprises. Sometimes you nail it fast. Sometimes it takes awhile. And sometimes you step away from the computer feeling less than, feeling like if had just a little more talent you could make the manuscript work.

For the last 18 months I’ve been working primarily on two novels. One went through more than a dozen drafts before it went out on submission. The other is currently in its ninth draft, with probably another two or three more to go. Nothing has ever been as hard as the work I’ve done for the last year and a half. I’ve used everything I know, everything I’ve ever learned, in trying to make these two projects soar. I’ve learned so much, and I’ve smiled, and I’ve cried, and I’m put my blood, sweat, and tears into every page of these two projects. I love both stories so much, and I’ve used the tools at my disposal, the words that feel right, to craft books I know in my heart are the best they can be.

What’s kept me going? The possibility of being traditionally published, yes, of course. The possibility that readers all around the world might one day get to discover these characters I adore, these narratives that I’ve tried to make unique and compelling.

But what’s kept me going the most… is the magic. The pure magic of storytelling. The way, with just words, you can create an entire world and live there for the longest time. The magic I felt as a kid when I read my first books sometimes gets a little lost when I’m working hard on the latest draft of my new book. But when it comes back, when I remember that magic in all its forms, the work stops being work, and the joy of writing comes through in ways I never expect.

Writing is hard. Really, really, really hard.

But as long as you keep the magic alive, there’s no telling what you’ll be able to achieve. Embrace the magic, and you’ll find the joy. Every time.

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