Magic or product, and why the choice matters

I want to hear from the child again, the one who was talking to the inquisitor. Are they out there? Are they here?

I can’t speak for the inquisitor, but of course the child isn’t here, in this room of books, because when last seen the child was running across a sunny field, laughing, running, laughing, and wondering at it all.

“Wondering is such a fine word!” the child cried. “You can be wondering how to solve a mystery or just wondering — a joy that such a world could exist and be here and there and everywhere. I wonder. I — wonder!”

But then the child vanished, because I became self-conscious — or did the child become self-conscious of the audience: me, and my small army of potential readers, the people for whom I hope to be writing? They can be inhibiting, that audience, downright crushing, because when you are writing to please anyone besides the Muse, when you are writing for any reason except the joy of writing — writing as a chore, writing for a someday sale, writing for a reason (well, a reason is rational and writing is an irrational act — not irrational in the sense of silly or insane or otherwise taking leave of one’s senses but irrational in the sense of not-rational, not rooted in reason but intuition — not grounded but ethereal, grabbing the words from the ether, coaxing words and phrases and poems out of the mist and delicately easing them onto a page) — I am too aware of the process to generate a flow, but I try to keep pumping at the well, because (you can see it, can’t you?) the magic flows for a moment and then falls into self-consciousness: A phrase, a sentence, glows for a bit and then you can see the place where I thought, “Oh, that’s good, let me see what I can do next,” and it all juttered into jalopy coughing and wheezing.

It’s not about reason or thinking, these creative jaunts, although we must start reasoning when it’s time to craft them into a finished product, because — Wait, what?! “Product”!? “Content”!? Bull hickey! (Ouch, I would not want a bull to give me a hickey.)

There are two mindsets.

  1. Pluck magic from the air and place it gently on the page for the sake of wonder.
  2. Create a product, make content, build something to sell.

Which one wins? The one you feed. (And class, this is a metaphor of a metaphor, the “two wolves” metaphor to be precise. Very nice, Warry. Very nice.)

It is in the not-trying to make a product that you create a product. It is in the not-trying to receive a reward that you receive. Giving for its own sake — simply for the joy of giving — because giving makes you happy — that is the giving that leads to receiving, inspiring others to give back — but you need to be not thinking that you will receive anything, you need to be in a state where giving is everything, because giving is the whole point.

And so it is with the writing mindset. “Writing for the market” is not plucking magic from the air — when the magic comes, it is in a form that may be universally recognized as magic and therefore marketable, but when in the grip of the Muse such considerations need to be cast aside, buried, ignored, lest the spell be broken.

So: I did not find the child again, but in persisting, in trying to get into the child-like mindset, I worked myself into an insight about the process — an adequate consolation prize.

(”Jutters” — The word I was looking for was “sudders,” but it’s a nice little word conjured by the image of a “jalopy coughing and wheezing.” A word worth coining, says I.)

The paradox of magic vs. product, receiving vs. giving, trying vs. not trying, is fascinating. I believe most creatives intuitively understand this: They speak of “being in the zone” when it all flows, and it’s important to be conscious of being in the zone but not so conscious that the bubble bursts and you tumble out of the zone.

(For what it’s worth, you can find the child at the end of How to Play a Blue Guitar, or at this blog link.)

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