Writing is hard, and I don’t mean do-I-put-a-comma-here hard; I mean the overwhelming majority of my working time consists of me sitting in front of the screen, just staring at it. Usually, eventually, something comes to me, but it’s very, very rough and has to be gone over again and again, the seams ripped out and resewn together in different ways until I can look at it and not shudder. Even then, it often ends up abandoned. I have a folder with hundreds of unfinished pieces in it; times when I thought I had the nugget of something extraordinary, only to discover dead ends or (worse still) that what I was writing was ordinary, clichéd, or just plain uninspired. Heinlein said you should always finish what you write, but for me that would just be murder. Sometimes I can come back to a piece later, and figure out how to fix it, but more often than not, dead just means dead. I move on.
Then there are the days when I sit down at the computer and the words come easily. Those are the magic days, when I’ll wake up with the first line of a story or poem sitting there in my fingertips, just waiting for me to write it down. On those rare occasions it almost feels as if someone else is in control, and I’m just the typist sent up for the day from the secretarial pool. I’m sure there are any number of books or blog posts dedicated to explaining how to “beat writer’s block” and bring on this state of creative frenzy, but for me it remains magical and a bit mysterious. Enough so that, rare as they may be, those days more than make up for all the others spent staring at a blank screen or an absurd amalgamation of clunky sentences.
The only invocation I know is a burning curiosity about everything in the world. I have books on ancient history, permaculture, genetics and Pre-Raphaelite art. I spend hours in bookstores, libraries, and museums, my head bent at odd angles as I peruse titles or study the tiny details of paintings. I spend even more time outdoors, studying the patterns in nature: weather, the seasons, how things grow and change. My invocation to magic isn’t about begging for inspiration; it’s about filling myself with a million bits of knowledge, things that can coalesce into ideas, poems, stories. I often joke that writers are jacks of all trades but masters of none, but in a sense this is not only true, but essential. Whoever said “write what you know” was only half right. There’s nothing wrong with writing about the familiar, of course, but the best writing comes when we fill ourselves with the world. Like any true magic, it can’t be tamed or trained to show up on command, and I’ve learned to live with that.
After all, that’s what makes it wonderful, isn’t it?