Dispelling the Myth of the Magic Writer – Part I

The first of a two part series by Dan Szczesny for his new #WriteLife column

Magic Keyboard photo by JS GrausteinRecently, after a book presentation event at a local library, an attendee approached me with kind words about the talk. Then she asked, “So, where do you get your ideas?”

That’s a fairly common question, and understandable. In my latest collection of short fiction, Sing, and Other Short Stories (Hobblebush Books, 2015), readers are transported from the Alaska tundra to 1930s South Dakota to present-day New England. I gave her my fairly pat answer that details my character and outline process: I collect tidbits and scene ideas throughout the course of my everyday life, then assemble them into some sort of functioning narrative during my scheduled writing time.

She nodded, glassy eyed, then sighed. “It must be nice to have such an active muse.”

Yup, people say stuff like that. That’s the Myth of the Magic Writer and I’ve spent most of my career trying desperately to debunk it. The script is the same: Writers have their heads in the clouds, eyes cast dreamily out the office window, sipping coffee (or bourbon) waiting for the gentle touch of their muse to direct them toward a story.

It just doesn’t work like that, or at least not for me. In the months ahead in this column, we’ll look in more detail at some of those myths. We’ll deconstruct the everyday life of a writer and find ways to avoid some of the pitfalls we make for ourselves, like writer’s block or time management. And remember, though the myths associated with the writing life can seem attractive, believing them is often what stands between a writer and success. So if you want to make a living by writing, here are two of the top five “Magic Writer” myths. (We’ll cover myths 3 – 5 in two weeks.)

Myth #1: All writers must have a muse.

Not me. Writing is a brutal grind, a sort of deep psychic punishment that involves slow, meticulous effort and practice and dedication. It’s a job that has been crafted and molded in my brain over the course of two decades. My ideas arrive because I’ve been doing this all my life. I know what the terms plot structure and dialogue and red herrings and character development mean and I know how to employ them in my work. I don’t say that to brag, but rather as an illustration of the fact that writers draw on education and experience, just like any crafts-person would.

Myth #2: All writers must write every day.

The Myth of the Daily Writer has grown in relation to the popularity of National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the organization that promotes and runs a yearly contest to motivate writers to write 50,000 words in a month. I’ve done it and I love it. But the myth that the only path to success for a writer is to write every day is nonsense. No other industry demands and pushes the idea of working EVERY SINGLE DAY. Doctors don’t perform surgery every day. Garbage men don’t collect garbage every day. Create a working schedule for yourself, just like any other professional. Take days off, just like any other professional. Wringing words from your mind every day will likely result in making those words terrible.

Want to know what myths 3 – 5 are? Come back on 11 February 2016 to find out 🙂

Dan in Alaska
Dan in Alaska

Dan Szczesny has made a living from his pen and keyboard for two decades. He currently lives in New Hampshire, where he’s written three books. His fourth title, Mosquito Rain: Alaskan Travel Essays, will be published in June by Folded Word.

4 Comments on “Dispelling the Myth of the Magic Writer – Part I

  1. Pingback: Dispelling the Myth of the Magic Writer – Part II – Folded Word

  2. Appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experiences! I’m not an authority on anything but my own practice and experiences but I suppose I believe in “Myth #1: All Writers Must Have A Muse” and I’m not sure that being a person who hones his craft excludes having a muse, a divine connection, a line to God, or whatever you wish to call it. You say “My ideas arrive because I’ve been doing this all my life.” Well, there you have it, or rather: her, the muse. Or at least there’s a mystery at the heart of it all. The muse doesn’t do the writing for you of course, but the myth doesn’t claim that either. The muse, in one of the less crafty words of the immortal Henry James, is not “chuckable,” I think. I must admit that I also adhere to your second view, what you call “Myth #2”: I have found that I must write every day or else I dry up. Perhaps because I’m not a professional writer: I have a life next to writing which is over-full. Writing every day is the only way I have found to defend mind-space against the flood of trivia and duties that will, over time, drown my muse. Still – I’m looking forward to the next blog post!


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