In the month of November, my wife and I decided that we would spent thirty minutes writing every weekday evening of the month. We didn’t quite reach that goal, but we wrote a lot more than we would have if we had made no goal at all. Because I spend a lot of my workday writing anyway (crafting emails, preparing sermons), I decided I would write about things I would not normally write about. So, on one of our first evenings of writing, on a whim I decided to write on a topic that popped into my mind, “The Magic of Writing.”
Here’s what came to my mind.
There is really no such thing as a magician—if by a magician we mean someone who can really appear or disappear, or really read another’s mind. The man we call a magician—who conjures a pigeon from his hat, makes a coin disappear and then reappear behind your ear, and seems to know, without looking, which card you chose—is simply a person who has practiced over and over again to make the difficult appear easy. The genius of the magician comes in concealing the effort. No one enjoys watching a magic show in which the magician fumbles and sweats—unless, of course, the fumbling and sweating themselves are part of the magician’s design to amuse his audience.
The same could be said of writing. To read with ease and pleasure is to view a magic show in which the effort has been cleverly concealed. The reader is delighted only because the writer has done his or her best to come across fresh and relaxed.
But the difference is that while there is really no such thing as a magician—there is such a thing as a writer, and—ironically—there is more “magic” in the writer than in the magician. The magician, on the one hand, only appears to make the coin appear in your ear. But the writer does better. He really does make something appear, not in your ear, but in your mind. She tells a story, crafts an argument, presents a metaphor and conjures it in your consciousness so powerfully that you can’t unthink it. That, in fact, is the magic of writing—the concealed effort of producing a real effect across time and space.
But how does the writer do it? A magician, when asked that question, will feign seriousness and ask in a sober tone, “Can you keep a secret?” Then with an annoying glee he whispers, “So can I,” to the disappointed inquirer.
But can the writer do much better? Maybe it depends on the inquirer. If the inquirer is hoping for a quick way to impress people, with cheap props, smoke, and mirrors, no doubt he will be as disappointed as the person asking the magician to reveal his secrets.
But if he is unafraid of long hours of unnoticed labor, reams of manuscripts never read, the arduous task of punching and prepunching a sentence until it yields precisely the shape he intends—and is willing to conceal that labor for the benefit and delight of his readers—then maybe he will go to his task of writing determined and hopeful, and learn the magic of writing.