How to Put ‘the Magic’ in Your Writing
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing a songwriter who has been behind some of the top pop hits in the last decade. Something he said in regards to the writing process hit close to home:
“If it (the content) is just okay, but it doesn’t feel like magic, then find something else, don’t waste your time, on writing.”
Feel like magic. That’s what it’s supposed to feel like, isn’t it?
What encouraged me was the fact that even after so many years writing songs for A-list artists, he still judges his writing by the magic. As creative professionals it can be hard to keep that magic front and center in the work we do for others. But the magic – and finding it – is the key to what makes our work stand head and shoulders above the rest.
So how do you know if something has the magic?
I know one thing: you can’t create magic. You can receive it and you can refine your work until the magic comes through – but it is not something you can order and have served up in your work. You can’t layer it on top. It has to emerge organically. And it comes by listening.
Getting quiet. Paying attention. Asking questions. Asking for guidance. And listening to what you hear, to what you feel, to what your intuition is telling you. From the Story, from the Characters, from the work, from your Spirit.
Magic evades us most when we are striving. When we disconnect from Spirit and push, pull, tug and coerce creative results.
This is one of the key risks in revision and one we need to be very careful about. Revision has the potential to delete the magic. And while you need to revise (revise, revise, revise) you also need to know your Story and Characters well enough to know which parts are magical and which parts aren’t. It’s the magical scenes and dialogue that give Story its soul.
How do you know which scenes those are?
By how they make you feel.
Chances are that if a scene you’ve written moves you emotionally, it’s carrying magic. Not everything in a script or novel is going to evoke emotion. When we’re writing a script, we see every page, every scene, every word in it’s long form.
We do not see it condensed down into film, with actors, sound and editing to carry the emotional tone through 90 minutes.
So we need to be aware of which scenes and dialogue carry the magic and protect those.
Magic flows most freely in the first draft, so mine it for gold. Magic also flows during revision when characters share scenes with you that you weren’t aware of before. In a script, the magic is in the characters. So you have to listen to them and let them express it.
And if you’re not feeling the magic?
Don’t waste your time. Don’t write something that just doesn’t speak to your own soul. If you’re on assignment, and you have to write the story given to you, then pay very close attention and listen to the character’s hearts. Let them give you the magic. Ask them for it. Give them room to find it amongst themselves.