(This post first appeared on Substack: Writing Magick with Maggie Sunseri. Click to subscribe.)
The story channel is open: It’s 1 a.m. and my characters won’t shut up!
When I need to focus on the boring and annoying parts of my career like prepping for release (The Coveted comes out in 1 week!), marketing, ads, and anything that isn’t writing, basically, I have to close the story channel. If I don’t, I’ll be hammered with a downpour of ideas and scenes that will distract me and keep me from focusing. And sleeping.
What the hell is the story channel?
Good question. The story channel is what puts the “magick” in Writing Magick with Maggie Sunseri. I don’t know how to explain the how of it all, but ask any creative and they’ll often tell you about the same phenomenon in different words with their own art process. Stephen King, in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, says that for him, writing a novel is about discovery more so than creation. The metaphor he uses has always stuck with me: He says that a story’s plot is like a dinosaur fossil, and the process of writing and plotting is that of an archeologist digging it up, piece by piece. He might not have meant this analogy exactly in the mystical sense that I, of course, took it to mean, but I like to think of this metaphor as an illustration of the creative channel. For me and many others, it feels as though there are fully formed stories and art pieces out there in the ether, the astrals, the akashic, the mental plane, the whatever-the-hell-it-is, that we can tap into and channel like a psychic medium would messages from the beyond.
In Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (the Eat, Pray, Love gal), she provides several examples of writing magick at work. She describes the process of the poet Ruth Stone, who at 90 years old told her about the magick of her own creative process:
She told me that when she was a child growing up on a farm in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields when she would sometimes hear a poem coming toward her — hear it rushing across the landscape at her, like a galloping horse. Whenever this happened, she knew exactly what she had to do next: She would “run like hell” toward the house, trying to stay ahead of the poem, hoping to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough to catch it. That way, when the poem reached her and passed through her, she would be able to grab it and take dictation, letting the words pour forth onto the page. Sometimes, however, she was too slow, and she couldn’t get to the paper and pencil in time. At those instances, she could feel the poem rushing right through her body and out the other side. It would be in her for a moment, seeking a response, and then it would be gone before she could grasp it—galloping away across the earth, as she said, “searching for another poet.” But sometimes (and this is the wildest part) she would nearly miss the poem, but not quite. She would just barely catch it, she explained, “by the tail.” Like grabbing a tiger. Then she would almost physically pull the poem back into her with one hand, even as she was taking dictation with the other. In these instances, the poem would appear on the page from the last word to the first—backward, but otherwise intact. That, my friends, is some freaky, old-timey, voodoo-style Big Magic, right there. I believe in it, though.
She also talks about the strange circumstance of a story idea getting fed up and leaving her for her fellow writer and friend, Ann Patchett. Apparently Gilbert had started plotting and planning a new novel set in the Amazon, but life had other plans, and she ended up abandoning the idea and going in a different direction. Years later, she ended up asking Ann Patchett about the new novel she was working on, only to discover it was almost exactly the same as the plot and characters she’d abandoned long ago. “Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will,” Gilbert concludes.
I love this idea. It certainly feels like my characters have taken on a life—or, rather, a disembodied consciousness—of their own. When the channel is open, I’m hearing from my cast of very headstrong and opinionated witches all night long on how they want their story to be written and voices to be heard. Lucius, in particular, is unsurprisingly the character least likely to shut up at any given moment. Though he has been a big help in deepening his complex villain role, I will admit. Daelon, also unsurprisingly, was the hardest to get to open up to me and the writing process. I actually didn’t fully understand him as a character until after I’d written Book 3, and I ended up having to go back during the editing process and expand his depth and motivation throughout each novel. Amos is probably the most insightful overall, but his wisdom is extremely esoteric and generally just as helpful to my spirituality as it is to the books. If anyone embodies The Hermit tarot card, it would be him. I have a theory that he knows exactly how everything in the series is going to end up, but he’s just hanging around to give everyone little nuggets of wisdom to gently guide them on their way. That dude is playing chess while the rest of us are playing checkers, truly.
And, finally, it is time for my all-time favorite quote about writing magick from the acclaimed comic book writer Alan Moore:
There is some confusion as to what magic actually is. I think this can be cleared up if you just look at the very earliest descriptions of magic. Magic in its earliest form is often referred to as “the art.” I believe this is completely literal. I believe that magic is art and that art, whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness. The very language about magic seems to be talking as much about writing or art as it is about supernatural events. A grimmoir for example, the book of spells is simply a fancy way of saying grammar. Indeed, to cast a spell, is simply to spell, to manipulate words, to change people’s consciousness. And I believe that this is why an artist or writer is the closest thing in the contemporary world that you are likely to see to a Shaman.
Magick, witchcraft, manifestation, prayer, art—it’s all just the confluence of belief, conscious will, and directed thoughts and action—threaded together in order to weave a change in our inner and outer environments. It’s the miracle of consciousness at work, linking us to the depths of ourselves, each other, the Universe, and whatever spiritual or religious entities we believe in. When I write a story, it’s therapy for me. It gives me agency to explore the inner workings of my mind, but also to explore the minds of others’ and the nature of reality itself. It is my highest hope that my stories take others on their own hero’s journeys—that at the very least they entertain and provide refuge from a chaotic world, and that at their best they have the therapeutic capacity to empower, give wisdom, faith, reassurance, hope, and community. That’s the kind of magick I’m cultivating.
My own mystical experiences with writing magick comes in many forms. Among the most eerie are the times that I will write something in Book 1, and then without intending to, will end up writing something in Book 3 that will call back to that thing, making it seem like I’d been dropping easter eggs and had been planning that plot thread all along. Some of the big reveals I’ve known about the whole time (like Book 1’s plot twist), and I know a big twist set to occur in Books 5-6 even though I haven’t yet written Book 4. But others tend to happen as if I’d known them all along, either somewhere deep in my subconscious or higher self or perhaps out there in the astral plane where my story lives and breathes as a conscious thought form.
I don’t know!
No one does.
What I do know is that my story channel is closed for business right now, but as soon as I’m ready to dive deep into Book 4, Lucius is going be back to never shutting the fuck up about himself and Aradia at all hours of the night. Because he’s annoying that way. I have a page of notes on my phone titled “1 a.m. thoughts on books and stuff” that is pages and pages long, and it’s gotten to the point that I kind of dread having to read back through it in preparation to write the next three books. But that’s the funny thing—sometimes when I channel through scenes and dialogue and hastily scribble it down, I end up never going back and reading it until much later, only to realize that I’d somehow remembered it perfectly and written it seamlessly into a book. If the idea is important enough, it’ll channel right back through.
Creepy. And amazing. And magickal. Sometimes when I explain all of this to people I get some very blank stares and raised brows, but I’m hoping that we’re at the point now that I’m attracting those of you who are as fascinated and in awe of this insanity as I am. We’re growing slowly but surely in this little Substack community, and I can’t wait to see what 2022 brings. I already have some ideas up my sleeve to move us into a more engaged community space, but in the meantime, I hope you all scrounge up the courage to start leaving me some comments! You can also feel free to start up a discussion on Facebook or Twitter when I share these posts to my pages.
Until next Friday, I leave you with the gentle-but-very-excited reminder that The Coveted is out next week, The Discovered is out right now, and The Illuminated is up for pre-order and releases March 4th. (Again, I ask, who the hell decided to release three books in three months??) That obviously won’t be the norm going forward, so take advantage of the binge reading while you can!
(This post first appeared on Substack: Writing Magick with Maggie Sunseri. Click to subscribe, like, or leave a comment. This newsletter is currently 100% free, but if you want a way to support me you could always share my posts with your friends or Buy Me a Coffee. Or you could buy my kinky witch books!)