Magic-making 101 | Teen Ink

Magic-making 101

September 12, 2015
By MeriElena GOLD, Kernersville, North Carolina
MeriElena GOLD, Kernersville, North Carolina
16 articles 9 photos 2 comments

I’m here to tell you that magic is real.  It’s real, it’s alive, and it is an awful lot of work for those of us who have the doing of it.  A lot of us would love to have you call us “sorcerers,” but most people just call us “writers.”  But the term “writer” doesn’t really express the art form that crazy people like me pour our hearts and souls into.  Writing is making magic.  The world needs magic, especially the fictional kind.  The task might not require physical labor, but it isn’t easy.  Writing is difficult and weird and also incredibly rewarding.

I started trying to be a writer when I was a tiny, tiny child.  Of course, it was a piece of cake then.  In the words of my baby cousin, “All you need is paper, some crayons, and a stapler.”  I didn’t tackle the real deal for the first time until seventh or eighth grade.  Things have snowballed a bit since then.  I published my first short story the summer after ninth grade, which is when I started really considering my writing as a career instead of a hobby.  I kept writing short stories, but I knew where I had to go from there.  So I wrote a book.  Eighty-thousand words worth of my sweat, blood, and tears.  I self-published it senior year of high school, and this summer I signed on with a publishing company.  I’ve joined the North Carolina Writers’ Network and finished a draft of my second book.  And I kind of still can’t believe it.

So, in case it wasn’t obvious, I’m going to talk about my book.  I am not going to tell you what it’s about, because it would take too long.  What I am going to tell you is what it’s like to write a book.  I’m talking about the struggle of getting started and sticking with a story, and the reasons why creative writers put ourselves through this.

The thing that people always comment on when I tell them I’m a writer is the dedication that they assume I have.  They aren’t wrong.  Writing has taught me focus and persistence like I could never have imagined.  I just didn’t have that to start with.  Like every other writer I have ever met, I began my career a victim of the story-hopping disease.  I don’t even know how many stories I started and then abandoned a week or two later when another idea came along.  Every single time, I thought this was going to be the one.  This was the story I was going to stick with and make into my debut novel.  It wasn’t until I was sixteen that I finally got the message through my skull: if you try to write up every idea that comes along, you will never, ever, finish anything.

Even now that I get it, I still have to fight the same battles sometimes.  The story-hopping disease cannot be cured.  Story ideas are like kittens, or whatever your favorite small, fluffy animal happens to be.  You can only keep one, but you immediately fall in love with all of them.  And then, when you finally decide which one to take home and cherish forever, you never have enough time to spend with it.

I’m not talking about kittens anymore, but the same principle still applies.  I’ve discovered that there are these things, called responsibilities, and the worst bit is, you have to pay attention to them.  They won’t go away.  So I taught myself to spend every available second thinking about my book.  I’ve met other writers like that, too.  It’s probably not a normal way to use my brain, but it is pretty efficient.  By the time I get to devote a few hours to writing, I already know what I want to happen because I haven’t stopped thinking about it for weeks.  Not every thoughts is valuable, though.  I have to discard a lot of ideas because they don’t align with the rules.

I usually write Speculative Fiction.  Speculative Fiction—and I’m paraphrasing here—is the kind of fiction in which things happen that wouldn’t be able to happen in reality as we know it.  Typically that means fantasy and some sections of horror and science-fiction.  When you write Speculative, in theory there are no rules.  You’re building a world where you can do whatever you want.  Who needs rules?  So I was surprised to discover that there are actually quite a lot of them.

First and foremost, you must obey the laws and etiquette of copyright, on pain of death.  I originally thought that wouldn’t be too hard, but there are lots of funny little grey areas.  Quotes, brand names, and song lyrics, to name a few, are dangerous territory.  Some things are public domain, others are not, and it isn’t always obvious which is which.  The “Happy Birthday” song is still protected under copyright, even though the composer is long, long dead.  Can you use Google in your book?  It’s a household name, and sometimes even a verb, but is that legal?  And then there is the matter of protecting your own copyrighted material.  Copyright is everywhere, and it is out to get you.

Additionally, your universe still has to have restrictions of its own.  As a little kid, I assumed that if you wrote a magical world, then you could do anything.  To my dismay, I realized when I was about ten that it didn’t really work like that.  In children’s stories and fairy tales, sometimes you can get away with a lawless universe.  Normally, though, whatever speculative magic or science or force that you employ, you have to govern.  If you can solve every problem with a wave of a wand, the story quickly becomes boring and unbelievable.  This sets up two major hurdles for me as a writer.  I have to follow my own rules, and I have to remember them.

It’s usually remembering the rules that trips me up.  In the second chapter I decided that werewolves only transformed on the night of a full moon.  Then I forgot and a few chapters later it was more convenient for werewolves to change shape at will, so I decided that would be the rule.  If I don’t catch those mistakes as soon as I make them, the inconsistencies end up woven in the plotline and become extremely difficult to tease out and patch up later.

I’ve spent a couple minutes complaining at this point, but I already mentioned that I love what I do, so you have to know the twist is coming.  What makes this worth it for me, if I think it is so much trouble?  It definitely isn’t the money.  I may have made enough to offset the cost of self-publishing the book, but that’s about it.  The only people who have read it are people who already know me, so it isn’t the fame, either.

What motivates me…it’s hard to describe.  It’s the feeling that I get when I’m writing.  Everything falls away expect for what’s happening inside my head.  It’s an escape.  It’s an Oculus Rift kind of immersion in a place that is entirely mine.  Well, except it’s not mine anymore, because I’m sharing it.  And the joy it’s given my friends to explore that world with me is, cliché as it might sound, the most fulfilling part.

Writing a novel is the hardest thing I have ever done, and it’s also by far the most gratifying thing I have ever accomplished.  Trying to start the book, let alone trying to finish it, is a Herculean challenge.  Keeping up with the industry’s rules and your own plot details is a lot harder than you would think.  And yet every minute of staring helplessly at the keyboard, or scribbling character bios in the margins of my chemistry notebook, or sewing up plot holes was so much fun in a way that I don’t really understand.  If no one reads any of my books, I am never going to stop writing them because there is simply nothing that I would rather do.

The author's comments:

This is actually a speech I did for my Public Speaking class, polished up a bit.  It was our first speech for the semester, so we were asked to sort of introduce ourselves by way of talking about something we know a lot about personally.  I decided to take the opportunity to address some of the things people ask me about being a writer.

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