Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine (2006)

May 30, 2008

I really enjoyed this book. It’s for young writers, but as an adult writer–or one who aspires to be a writer anyway–I found it really helpful. First, the book benefits by being aimed at children. There’s no pretentiousness here; everything is very straightforward. She explains the importance of plot and character and really breaks down every element. Most importantly, there are exercises at the end of each chapter to jump start writing. I also love that she ends every chapter with “Save what you wrote,” a callback to her rules for writers, #7 of which is:

Save everything you write, even if you don’t like it, even if you hate it. Save it for a minimum of fifteen years. I’m serious. At that time, if you want to, you can throw it out, but even then don’t discard your writing lightly.

My favorite passage from the book and the one that affected me most in that it completely encapsulated the problem I’ve been having with writing for the past couple of years is this:

Writing is deceptive. You know how to read. You know what you like in a book and in a story. You know how to write, how to make sentences and paragraphs. So why can’t you tell your story in the beautiful way it appears in your mind?

Yes, exactly. Why can’t I? That’s really what it boils down to, isn’t it? That wanting to write beautifully, that wanting the words to come out exactly the way you want to is not as easy as just sitting down and writing. No! It takes practice. I’ve been in school since forever and I’ve studied creative writing even, and I know that I have to write more if I want to write well, but that the block comes when I want, need, and expect the words to just magically appear on the paper before me. And in a few sentences, Levine manages to completely explain what I’m feeling.

There’s also a passage in the book where she says that part of the problem is that a lot of people don’t treat writing as a craft. If we wanted to play an instrument, our parents would tell us to practice. If we wanted to be dancers, our parents would tell us to practice. But when we write something, we get praised for it and it gets admired and that’s it. Our parents will say we’re wonderful writers, but it’s rare to have a parent say, “Great, now keep writing a lot for practice.” No! They’d just admire the next thing we write.

That spoke to me. I have written a lot of things that have been good and praised, but I never felt that writing was something I needed to do every day. And, now, even though it makes perfect sense that it takes more writing to write well, I still haven’t been able to make that transition. This book not only explains elements of crafts, but encourages writing and made me want to pick up a pen (or sit at a keyboard) and get to it.

I think this is an excellent book for young writers and older writers as well.

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