Practical Magic

flyinghorse_200I’m always fascinated by the different ways in which people and animals make their way in the world: they learn differently, think differently, and if they’re human, write differently. And it’s all good.

For me, though I earn my living through words, some things just don’t work that way. Sometimes words interfere with the magic.

I guess you could say I’m a practical magician. Even my writing: sometimes it’s research-heavy, built on huge piles of books. But when I’ve read the books and made my notes and set up the line of the story and the characters who live in it, the analytical faculties go away and the intuitive takes over.  The words come by feel, and the structure has a shape that doesn’t need words to describe it. It’s just organically there.

For horses and riding, this is even more so. I know so many people who can read books about riding, watch videos and watch other people’s lessons, and learn how to ride. That doesn’t work for me. I used to try to line up the words and organize the concepts, but when I was in the saddle, I ended up being all brain and no Sitz.

Finally I had to learn to set the words aside and concentrate on the feelings. I might have the concepts in the back of my mind, but while I was actually doing it, it was very much a kinetic experience.

I’ve never been able to teach riding because I’m not comfortable translating the kinetic into the verbal. I leave that to other and better-integrated personalities.

As a young writer, I didn’t think I could teach that, either. But I found that I could reverse-engineer my process. Once I’d done it, I could look back and figure out what I’d done.

With time and experience I learned that every process is different, and that everyone has a different way of getting from raw concept to finished product. Then it became possible to encourage students to appreciate and understand their own particular process. That made the words flow, not necessarily more easily, but definitely with less anxiety about how they got onto the page.

That’s practical magic. Magic by the seat of its pants. Animal magic–animals aren’t about the words. And writing magic, which is ultimately about the words, but not every writer gets there by focusing on them first.

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Practical Magic — 2 Comments

  1. That is so true, especially about different processes. I think that is one of the most valuable things I’ve learned in the last twenty years.

    • It’s been extremely helpful in teaching writing. A person’s process has everything to do with how the words get onto the page–and how they go from draft to finished product. Understanding that there’s no wrong way to write a first draft is crucial.