Essay Non-Fiction posted July 10, 2011

This work has reached the exceptional level
Really, it's a mystery.

Writing, a Mystery

by JBCaine

Writing is a mystery with an infinite number of solutions.  What solves the mystery for me might not begin to make sense to you, and each writer must make their own solution as the mystery unravels.

That little conundrum is part of what makes writing fun. It is also what drives many writers, great and unknown, straight into the bottle.

The old saying, “Practice makes perfect” does not apply to writing with any more relevance than it does to Baseball.

Continued practice, study, coaching, and unwavering passion can and will improve one’s writing, or one’s swing, even to the point of technical correctness. Spelling, grammar, and the tools of language may be studied and practiced enough to get one to the point that they are a walking dictionary with a flawless command of the rules of grammar. They can become amazing artisans of alliteration, masters of the meaty metaphor, or really redundant ranters.  The same kind of dedication can make a ballplayer a technical expert at swinging a bat.

However, in either case, there comes a point of impact; the pen meets the paper; the bat meets the ball.  Something happens in that moment.  Something  that makes the difference between hitting it out of the park, and dribbling it so weakly that even the pitcher can bare-hand it and trot to First Base without even exerting himself. Whatever that thing is (for you, for me, for the guy in the batter’s box), that thing is the mystery.

That thing is the difference between the author whose next novel people are anxiously awaiting, and the technically perfect writer whose user manual nobody will read until it’s way too late.

I don’t think this mysterious mystery, this illusive intuition, whatever it is, can be taught. It can be learned, I assume, because many writers seem to be able to do it.



I lean that way in my thinking because, of all the classes, seminars, writing groups, and even the style manuals with which I have been involved, none addressed the mystery of writing.

For some, it is meticulous plotting, index cards, storyboarding and outlining. The skeleton of the story is all laid out before the first word is put on the page. For others, an idea pops up on the blank page of the mind, and the story writes itself, spewing out onto the page in a gushing torrent of words. The real work comes after that, with multiple drafts and edits until each sentence, like an infant learning to walk, can stand by itself without the hovering hands of the doting parent ready to catch the dangling participle, should it stumble and fall.

Not that there is any dearth of material on the subject. Hundreds of books and How-to-Guides are out there promising the solution, most about as useful as the wings of Icarus. They work just fine until it gets too hot.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then is the mark of great writing in the eye/ear/mind of the reader? Ever read ALL of the reviews of something  in which you were completely invested, having sweated cases of bullets and buckets of blood to get it just right, only to have some self-proclaimed professor of language pick it apart because the subject matter was “too irrelevant to ever matter?”

One man’s “This was so long and drawn out, so overloaded with characters and sub-plots, that I simply gave up a third of the way through” is another man’s “The Stand,” or "War and Peace" for you literary types.

The one constant? Every writer’s mom tells them they are great. That may sound silly, but I know a very good writer, K, let’s call her, whose mother found her journals when she was fifteen or so, and made her burn them in the fireplace because they were “prurient” or some other big word. Years of poetry and stories, turned to ash in minutes. She didn’t write again for more than forty years, until after her mother was no longer walking the planet.  I realize this anecdote refutes my point; I choose to see it as the exception that proves the rule.  I like to envision her mother now, reading K’s latest story, and saying, “Damn me, I should have encouraged her. This is wonderful! Is it just me, or is it really, really hot in here?"

In my opinion, the mystery is all those things, and none of those things. What works for you, works. For you.


You were looking here for the answer, the solution to the mystery? Shame on you. I told you right up front that it is a mystery with myriad solutions. If you do the math, it actually works out to one solution per writer.

You want my secret? Now you’re really grasping at straws.

For me, it just happens. The words fall out of my head, and you read them.  That’s it. My Mom says I have a gift. I sure hope she’s right because I sure as shootin’ can’t hit a curveball.

So, here’s to the mystery of writing. May we each find our solution.

Writing writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
Write a story or essay with the topic of "writing". Can be instructional or a character in the story can be a writer. Creative approaches welcomed.


Don't argue with me on this, it's MY fantasy.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Save to Bookcase Promote This Share or Bookmark
Print It View Reviews

You need to login or register to write reviews. It's quick! We only ask four questions to new members.

© Copyright 2018. JBCaine All rights reserved.
JBCaine has granted, its affiliates and its syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.