Book Highlights: Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine

photo (8)
Photo by me

Hi everyone and happy Thursday! So I said I’d have a poem review for you, but kind of lost steam on that one… it’s a long, difficult poem. I’m sure I’ll find the motivation to finish my explication and get it out to you at some point, but until then I thought I’d stick with book reviews.

A lot of people liked my review of Stephen King’s On Writing (and if you missed it, it’s my post Book review: On Writing by Stephen King), so I thought I’d do another review of a book that’s about writing. Well… This is not exactly a review, as you might have inferred from the title. Instead, I’m going to share a few of my favorite pieces of advice from Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magicwhich was for a long time to only book about writing that I owned. If I remember correctly, it was a birthday gift from a friend. And yes, this is a book about writing geared towards younger writers, but I still find myself flipping through it from time to time for some of the… er… timeless pieces of advice it contains.

I’ll preface these “highlights” by saying that I love Gail Carson Levine’s writing. Ella Enchanted, anyone? Having written a fairytale-inspired fantasy novel myself, her work is a huge inspiration, and I highly recommend it for children, young adults, and even adults. A lot of it is so well written that you might not mind that it’s shelved in the middle grade or YA section of the library, especially if you’ve retained your child’s mind like I have.

Anyway, let me stop rambling and get to business. Here’s how the book opens.

This is a book about writing fiction. But it should help you write anything: e-mails, essays, greeting cards, love letters, skywriting. — Gail Carson Levine, Writing Magic, p. 3

And it’s true! The advice that Levine dishes out in Writing Magic is so aboveboard and broad (in the best way) that it applies to any writing, not just fiction. I also love her seven rules for writing. The first three rules are actually a single rule, repeated three times: The best way to write better is to write more. Yes, yes, yes. This was one of the best pieces of advice I received as a young writer, and I still abide by it. Write, and you will get better at writing.

A funny piece of advice appears on page 21, where Levine says:

If beginnings terrify you, or if you just plain don’t like writing them, or if they bore you, skip ’em.

Ha! Who isn’t terrified of beginnings? Oh, I’m sure you’re out there somewhere, lovers of beginnings, but I’m not one of you. Here’s another gem:

Do not do not DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT bend your story to accommodate your brilliant words.

Which passes for, “Kill your darlings.” Yes, kill your darlings, even if it “breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings,” as Stephen King says. Gail Carson Levine, however, has a further suggestion: to park your “peerless but useless prose” in a document called “Extra.” And this, people, is a tip I’ve been using since I read it as a youngster. We may have to kill our darlings, but we don’t have to kill them. We can keep them around for… pats on the back… I mean, future reference…

You may think that those pieces of advice are good enough, but I’m just arriving at my favorite. It appears in the opening of Section Four, which is titled “Digging Deeper,” and is by far the most useful tip I’ve ever gotten from anyone, from any book, from anywhere, and I think that anyone, anyone, anyone can benefit from it. Here it is:

Writers are often advised to show, not tell.
You need to do both.

She sees reason! I mean, there are those on their high horses who will tell you to abide by the rules — and the rule is Show, don’t tell, after all. What they neglect to tell you is that that’s the rule you learn in elementary school when you’re writing narrative essays, NOT novels. I’m very, very glad that I learned that it was OK to tell early in my writing career, because it’s key to narrative flow and readability. Beautiful description is beautiful. It also drags endlessly in excess and doesn’t allow the story to move. Telling is also beautiful, in a different way. A real sweet, concise bit of summarized action? Yes, please and thank you. That, my friends, is the tip of the day, and the tip of this book.

Last but not least, I’ll close with some words in the final section of Writing Magic, titled “Writing Forever.”

Let writing be your solace, your companion, your secret joy.

This is something that I think all writers should strive for: a pure, natural love of writing. I know that it’s what I foster, day after day. I’m always grateful when writers like Gail Carson Levine take the time to pass down the lessons they’ve learned to the next generation, and it was this book that changed my view about books “on writing.” Hint: I used to think of them as glorified self-help manuals for wannabe novelists. But I’m glad to admit that I was wrong!

If you haven’t read Writing Magic, I highly recommend it to you. Even if you just pick up a copy at the library to leaf through, it’s a very speedy read and very short as well, and you’ll pick up some great advice. Regardless, I hope that I’ve picked some good pieces to highlight here. Here’s a link for Writing Magic if you’re looking for a copy.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
    you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is excellent, let alone the content!

Leave a Reply