Voices of the Process

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When asked about how he writes songs, Tom Petty said he didn’t really know. He described it as a very real magic that he has to wait for if he’s lucky enough for it to happen. True to his humor and semantic dexterity, he explained it by comparison.
 
“It’s kind of like an orgasm,” he said. “You don’t know how you did that.”
 
Not knowing how or why something happened is the core of magic. It tickles the inexplicable, but it’s no less real. For me, writing is more than putting words, sentences and paragraphs on a page. It’s a magic place inside my head. While I’m there, writing process takes precedent over final product.
 
In the physical realm, no one is beside me while I’m on one of these junkets. But I’m never alone. I have visitors. In our culture, their identities vary by name: angels, spirit guides, intuition, visions, hunches and the like. I just call mine The Voices. They’re a well-intended, playful bunch, but with a deeply serious, nurturing side and crosshair accuracy. When we throw in together, they buffet me with mesmerizing scenarios and provocative phrasing. I glom for more. It’s like reading a spell-binding book or watching a beguiling movie for the first time. I don’t know what’s coming any more than the next person with a box of picture-show popcorn in their lap. I have to wait for the page turn or scene change. Then it pops into existence and finds physical form. But with writing, there’s the added appeal of somehow being a collaborator in its creation. I’m simultaneously audience and writer.
 
This process isn’t always quiet and peaceful. There are times when I’ve decided to wrap up a session, but The Voices run on like an old jalopy that won’t shut off. They steam and belch next paragraphs, concealed metaphors and character quirks. This can go on for hours, as if they’re saying, “C’mon, just one more… If it’s okay with you, that is… We were on a roll here.” I can’t get mad at them because we have a blast. And when we finally reach a stopping point and I re-read whatever splashed across the page or screen, I’m often baffled—I didn’t come up with that. Sometimes I wonder how much credit I should receive after writing something… or if I did any of it on my own.
 
You don’t have to be a writer or artist of any kind to discover this magic. It’s the fabric of any creative endeavor that’s available in every life circumstance. Scientists, teachers, chefs, automobile technicians, detectives and athletes are all in on it. However, recognizing it before it slips away can be a challenge. I ought to know by now to trust The Voices. But sometimes I go off in unproductive directions.
 
As best I can discern, imagination is the portkey between the realms. The act of writing doesn’t involve a lot of science, other than perhaps the nuts and bolts of grammar and mechanics. But elements like style, pace, sequence or just the germ to get me started, all reside in the magic realms. I think the trick is paying attention to life and turning the rest over to imagination where The Voices can get at me.
 
Scribble down those alluring observations, solutions, possibilities, and goofy or profound idioms that mysteriously channel their way from head to pen. Then, believe in the magic and see who or what shows up. Again, as Petty said, “Just put your antenna out and something might come in… at the strangest times… But to ignore the muse is just downright impolite.”
 
The lines are open. Your Voices await your call.

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