There is something that happens when pen hits the page, when pixels populate the screen. It is like the unknown becomes known. It doesn’t always happen that way. In fact it is the categorical opposite of predictable, of formulaic, but when it happens, it is magic.
Writing transcends consciousness.
I am not a genius writer. Far from it. I have a simple formula that guides the majority of the chapters of my long form writing (books). It goes like this (I can’t believe that I am admitting this):
You start with a story. The magic of a story is not its drama. It is not its otherworldliness. It is not that it is exceptional. The magic of a story is found in its meaningfulness. You may ask, “Meaningfulness for the reader?”
No. The magical element is the meaningfulness for the author. Magic and meaningfulness exist in a delicate marriage. When a writer writes out of their own visceral meaningfulness and into honest expression there is the real hope that magic will happen.
One more thing… When I write a book, I am essentially asking myself one formative question. When I wrote Neighbors and Wise Men, I was asking myself “What are my formative memories when non-Christians taught me how to follow Jesus?” In my current book, Aloof, I was asking myself “What are my formative memories about God’s presence and God’s troubling absence?”
Once a story is identified, I often don’t actually know exactly WHY it is formative, I simply know that it is. I begin the chapter by teasing my best guess as to what the stories formative lesson might be; that is my introduction.
Next I tell the story. I write very existentially. If you were to happen upon me writing a chapter in a corner booth at a local pub or coffee shop, odds are you would see my face contorting with the emotions of the story I am writing. You might see my eyes filled with moisture or a hotly furrowed brow. That is how I write.
When the story is fully told, including a well-imagined setting, sympathetic characters and a believable conflict and climax, I move to the chapter’s conclusion.
This is where the magic happens. It does not happen every time, but when it does, it is one of the great endorphin cocktails. Suddenly, as if I am an observer and the chapter itself is a seducing character sitting across the table, the true meaning of the story blossoms right before my eyes.
I rarely see it coming. How could I? And the surprising frequency that this newly realized meaning is harmonious with my spackled-together introduction (bringing new meaning I could not have predicted) is soothing, comforting and arousing.
If we were to flip together through the pages of my books, both of us would probably be surprised by how many chapters I would admit “I did not know where this chapter was going to end when I started it.”
Keep writing. Write viscerally… existentially… and dare the magic.
Let the epiphanies come. That’s how we move from the blank page to something beautiful.
Tony is the Writer in Residence at Warner Pacific College, the sponsoring host for the 2015 Conference; Tony is also on the Faith & Culture Writers Conference advisory board, and a speaker at this year’s event. He has been at every single Faith & Culture Writers Conference, either as an attender, speaker, keynote speaker, advisor, or leader. His new book Aloof: Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides is coming out in January, 2015. Tony writes at www.tonykriz.com.