Once upon a time, I said that writing is the closest thing there is to magic.
Here is why.
Magic is not, well, magic. It is a lot of work (or why would Hogwarts exist? Just saying).
Writing is a lot of work.
Work (a lot of it) makes the magic happen.
Here is a true story of magic moments at the end of this dystopian school year (know that I am suppressing the urge to compare virtual learning to disapparating, i.e., teleporting from place to place, or essentially vanishing). After end-of-grade testing—I said dystopian, right? What does the State expect this data to look like?—a fourth-grade teacher sent me a note:
One of my students has been writing a story in his free time. He wants to read it to the class. He knows it needs some work and I am wondering if you have any time to help him? He’s not usually motivated to write…
I made time. I would shift heaven and earth for this.
He came to my room wearing a giant grin, clutching his pencil and notebook. I recognized the cover—it’s a notebook our district distributes to teachers. His teacher must have given it to him especially for his story, for in grades 2-5, our district doesn’t use writing workshop any more (and that, Dear Readers, is a whole ‘nother tragedy for the telling on another day).
“Come in, come in!” I said. “Have a seat here beside me and read me your story.”
Without giving too much away (for the story is his): It’s a fantasy, a battle between humans and wizards, the protagonist a young wizard with power to make living things grow. The student read it all aloud and then we went back to make some changes for clarity and flow, with my asking:
“What exactly do you mean here, when…”
“What is it you are trying to tell the reader? What do you want readers to think or feel here?”
“Think of an action to add here, so readers or your audience can better see what’s happening in their minds, like we do when we watch a movie. What are you seeing here in your own mind? That’s what you need to get across.”
“What’s a better word choice here, to make the meaning clear?”
While the boy thought and elaborated aloud, I began typing the story. As I read the lines back to him, his face glowed: “Perfect! That’s amazing!”
“That is the power of revision,” I told him. “When you start writing, it’s all about getting your ideas down. When you go back to make the meaning clear, by adding these kinds of details and taking out what you don’t need, that’s where all the magic happens.”
“We’ve made a lot of changes,” the boy observed, “but it’s SO much better.”
And yet the story remained the story he wanted to write.
We’d changed city to town, people to townspeople. He made the stylistic choice to capitalize Humans. We’d added transitional phrases to keep the readers from falling out of the story. We added gestures for the young wizard when he makes vines grow (“I need to see how the wizard does this,” I explained). The student vetoed my suggestion to go ahead and incorporate “earthbending power” (a phrase borrowed from video games): “I am not ready to tell readers yet about earthbending power,” he stated. —Such a tone of authority!
“All right then! You’re the author. Save it for when the time is right in the story. Just make a note here to add earthbending power later.”
And then the word tome… “Is tome the word you want here, where you say the wizard found a tome in the laundry?”
“Yes. It’s a big book of spells.”
I blinked. “Indeed! That’s impressive. Just make sure your readers know what you mean here, that they can see and understand what you mean by tome.” It became an ancient tome of spells, hidden in a robe in the laundry, that the young wizard began to read “without realizing the power he now carried”—those are the student’s own words, not mine.
And thus I spent the last days of school this year watching the love of writing take root and flourish in the heart of a child…magical, indeed, in a year where so much felt anything but, even in some of my own writing of late.
As I write this morning, sunlight streaming in my window like all the glories of summer on the cusp, I recall my final words to this child as he carried his typed version away in a bright yellow folder: “Keep writing!”
In my mind’s narrative, I add: Young word-wizard, with earthbending power.
For that is the magic of writing.
May he cultivate it all of his life.
Imagine. Indy Sidhu. CC BY
–with my thanks always to Two Writing Teachers, a community dedicated to the craft, power, and love of writing, for all Humans.