The Wrong Kind of Magic

Let me tell you a story. As I’ve mentioned in the previous posts, I’m an aspiring writer. Outside of work I spend a significant portion of my time working on fantasy novels. My vacations this year will almost entirely be to various writing seminars.  I’m not ready to pursue publication, but I’m hoping to sometime this year. I think I’m getting pretty decent at it.

I’d always wanted to write.  I read non-stop when I was a kid. Before school, during school, after school. My backpack sometimes would routinely have a dozen novels stuffed inside, with another dozen waiting in my locker. I’d even try to write a bit. I had a whole folder full of first pages of novels. I even wrote a short story in high school featuring a villain named Mr. S, who might best be described as Stephen King’s version of Willy Wonka.

I learned a few things from those brief attempts: writing was hard, it took a lot of patience, and the stuff I wrote was a lot worse than the stuff I read, which was depressing.

I concluded what any reasonable person concludes in such situations. Writing required magic that I did not have. I therefore gave up any hope of ever doing it and moved on with my life.

Wait, what?

Think about that for a moment. Think about what I’m actually saying here. I might as well be saying “well, I dipped a quarter picometer of my foot into the pool and then concluded that swimming was impossibly difficult.” It’s that absurd. It’s insane.

But I, who occasionally likes to imagine himself as an intelligent human being, lived happily with said conclusion for years. Most of those years I spent studying math, learning about logic and analytical thinking. I was learning to reason, and yet I still missed how flawed this stupid thought process was. And mind you I wasn’t ignoring it; I still read a lot, and I still fantasized occasionally about writing. People in my dorm did NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – the idea is to write 50,000 words of a new novel in November) . One guy even finished his. I remember seeing the manuscript. It was called Midnight Sun, I think. I remember thinking, wow, that’s so cool. That’s such an accomplishment.

Too bad I can’t do that.

(Allow me to take a breather to imagine screaming at my past-self. STOP BEING SUCH AN IDIOT! STOPSTOPSTOPSTOPSTOP! *Slap* Ahhh… there we go)

So what changed?

It has to do with this guy named Brandon Sanderson.

The Wheel of Time is one of the seminal works of modern epic fantasy. I grew up on them. I read the first 8 or so in a row, and then with each new release, I’d re-read the entire series preparing for it. There was nothing else like it. Each book was a thick thousand page tome, and I loved every word. (Context: Back then, if my fantasy book was less than 600 pages, I considered it disappointingly short.)

Then, in 2007, the author, Robert Jordan, passed away with the series unfinished. It was heart-breaking for me and millions of other fans.

One of those fans was an up-and-coming fantasy author named Brandon Sanderson. He wrote a beautiful eulogy to Robert Jordon ( Harriet, Jordon’s widow and editor, read it and was moved; she ended up reading Brandon’s first Mistborn novel, and liked it so much she asked him to finish the Wheel of Time.  Brandon said yes.

The announcement came, and like I’m sure thousands of others, I found my way to Brandon’s blog to learn more about him. I read a few articles, liked them, so I went back to the archives and started reading from the beginning. A lot of his earlier entries are about writing; his methods, his personal history, and so forth.

One of the things he wrote, was that at some point he realized he wasn’t as talented as the writers around him, so he decided he’d just work harder than them all.

Why, I thought, that will only work if writing skill is a function of time! That must mean…

(Please visualize a dramatic realization face and appropriate music)

….writing is a skill that you get better at by practicing.

A twelve your old could probably tell you that.  It frustrates me I didn’t realize it until I was twenty five.

I read the rest of Brandon’s blog. He had a ton of great advice, and I was very happy to be able to thank him in person last month at the Superstars writing seminar.

But I’ll talk about all that stuff later. Here’s the point I want to end with today.

How many things have you dreamed about doing, but never even tried because you didn’t think you’d be able to do it? Tons of people have told me they’ve always wanted to write a novel. What about musical instruments? Drawing? Writing Comic books? Designing Video games? I’m not even talking about doing these things professionally here. I’m talking about doing them at all.

Just know this. You can do them. Those are skills. They are built off of various basics. You can learn the basics, one at a time. Maybe by yourself. Maybe with a teacher, or a self-taught course. Maybe with a friend. They are skills that will only ever improve with time and practice.

Don’t let fear of failure stop you from even getting your toes wet, and don’t let your mind lie to you about this stuff taking magical powers you don’t have. You have the capability. You choose when to put in the time, and when you make that choice, and when you put in that time, you will learn. And even though you might suck for a long time, you will get better. I promise.

The only way you can be sure never to learn something new, is if you never try to learn it in the first place.

That’s all I’ve got for today, everyone. Hope you enjoyed the story, and have a good weekend 🙂


3 thoughts on “The Wrong Kind of Magic

  1. […] Jordan’s wife and longtime editor, Harriet McDougal, agreed, because a few months after Jordan’s death, she asked Brandon Sanderson, an up-and-coming fantasy author, to finish Jordan’s work. That was the start of my own writing journey. […]

  2. Lidia says:

    I’m like that. I want to do loads of things but I don’t feel I’m good enough at them to persist. I want to get into the game industry and used to fantasize about being a concept artist and I’m really annoyed at not knowing this when I was younger so I could have been at that stage now. I feel like I have wasted my life and education so far and it’s rather depressing.

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