How to Write Magical Words


I met David for the first time at ChattaCon in Tennessee in January 2007, but it wasn’t until RavenCon (Richmond, VA) in April that year that I really had a chance to sit down and get to know him. At once it was as if I had run into a best friend from a previous life, and we had a lot of catching up to do. A year later, he introduced me to Faith and Misty (and their husbands (and his wife)) over dinner, and it was as comfortable and easy a gathering as I had been a part of in a long time. Stuart I’ve known casually since 2006, and A.J. I met for the first time last year.

All of that, of course, is prologue. But as Stuart mentioned in his post earlier this week, the best fruits of networking develop over a very, very long time.

Fast forward to ConCarolinas, the weekend of June 4 – 6, 2010. The convention was, as always, wonderful. The magic, however, was out in the parking lot – specifically in an RV. I can’t tell you much about the RV, not what color it is, or even what state it’s from. Not because I don’t want to, but because I literally can’t; every time we went out to the RV it was late at night, and every time we left it was well after midnight. All I knew for sure was to aim for the big hulking thing in the back corner of the parking lot.

When we went out there the first time, all I was thinking all was, Wow, this is great, getting to hang out with these people. I like them, I respect them, they put up with my weird sense of humor and my even weirder sense of ‘fashion.’ This is great.

That was Friday night. We hung out for hours and laughed and drank and told stories. War stories, personal stories, you name it. We quoted extensively from movies like The Princess Bride and Young Frankenstein. A Dr. Horrible mini-sing-along broke out. We debated the merits of Monty Python vs. Bennie Hill. (For the record, it’s Monty Python, all the way.)

In other words, it was a perfect night.

Saturday night we got back together and we all went out to eat (a Chinese buffet – apparently belonging to Magical Words involves eating a LOT of Chinese food), and as the meal was wrapping up, one of the crew announced that after dinner there would be a Magical Words business meeting in the RV. Immediately the words popped out of my mouth – “Hey, would you mind if I tag along? Fly on the wall and all that?” I was having a great time and didn’t want the fun to end. I will also freely admit that it occurred to me that a business meeting involving so many people who I like and respect, and who had already accomplished so much, would be an invaluable educational experience. So when someone at our table said the word ‘Yes’ – I’m not even sure they were responding to my question – I immediately volunteered to drive some of the crew from the restaurant back to the RV. I figured it would be harder for them to get rid of me that way, in the event they came to their senses and realized their mistake.

If anything, the second night out in the RV was even more perfect than the first. I’m not going to be redundant and repeat what Faith said about chemistry. Suffice it say that she hit the nail on the head though. If you missed it, you really ought to go back and read her post from this past Tuesday. (If you haven’t read it yet, I’ll pause here while you go do that.)

At some point during Saturday’s business meeting, I went from being a fly on the wall to being an active participant in the conversation – sitting quietly on the sidelines has never been my strong suit – and I said these fateful words (or something close to it): “You know, you’ve already written all this great material about the process of writing, and you have all sorts of connections in the publishing industry. You ought to pull together a ‘Best-of’ collection of essays from the blog and have it published as a book. You could call it How To Write Magical Words.”

Almost instantly, David replied, “Yeah, we already talked about that possibility. About a month ago.”

I was in the process of feeling stupid for voicing such an obvious thought as if it were new and original, when Faith followed David by saying, “The problem is, we would need an editor.”

Cue the pregnant pause.

I‘m still not sure if that moment was the perfect storm of circumstances and people, or if I had been somehow set up to follow them down that path, but either way, I knew I would be thrilled to work on any project with this group. Thrilled beyond words. The pieces were fitted together in a flurry of motion and emotion, excitement growing by the minute. Essays from the blog. Responses and dialogue from the comments section. Include essays by Catie Murphy, since she was a regular for such a long time. (Letters are out to Catie even as I write this.) Regular updates posted on Magical Words by the editor (excuse me – by the ‘Ed-itor’) about the progress of the book as it was developing. Input form the blog’s readers as to what they would most like to see in the book.

It may not all come together exactly the way I’ve just described it, but those were the kinds of ideas being bandied about. It started out as a flurry of brainstorming, and quickly reached hurricane-level gusts. It was amazing. If we could have bottle the energy in the room at the time, we could have lit the city of Charlotte, NC for a year.

Thus was born How To Write Magical Words: A Beginning Writers Companion.

That’s the working title anyway. As with the rest of the book, it is this groups’ greatest desire that the book be shaped with input from the readers. If you think you’ve got a better title, we want to hear about it. If you have thoughts on how the book should be organized, or favorite essays you just have to see in the book, or whatever, we want to hear about. And I’ll be back here every Saturday, walking you the process of putting this book together, and gathering your input. We’ll never be able to use it all, but we do want to hear it all. We want to put something together that will be of great value to beginning and emerging writers everywhere.

It’s also going to be a lot of fun.

But then, it appears that everything these people do always is. And I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it.

You want to hear the really good news? This is only the beginning, only the first book we have planned. There will be more books filled with Magical Words, books far out of the How-To genre and into the magic of fiction. Oh, yes.

But that’s a story for another day.

Edmund R. Schubert is the author of about 35 short stories, one novel (Dreaming Creek, Lachesis Books 2008), and an assortment of articles and interviews. He has served as editor of the online SF and fantasy magazine Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show since 2006, edited an anthology by the same name (IGMS, Tor 2008), and several business magazines. However, he considers his greatest accomplishment to be the time a college professor taught a class about him – in abnormal psychology.


33 comments to How to Write Magical Words

  • Mikaela

    Ooh. This is great! When will it be out? Will it be print or e-book? Will- Ok. I’ll shut up now 🙂

    Just one comment: I think it would be wise to change the title to :How To Write Magical Words: A Writers Companion. Why? Since all writers, no matter if they are newbies or not are helped by the gathered knowledge that will end up in the book 🙂

  • Delighted to have you aboard, Ed, for this exciting new stage in MW’s history. I’ll be on the road much of today so I won’t be able to participate in much of the (hopefully excited) chatter about this first new project (of for trash talk about the upcoming US v. England match).

  • I apologise to Edmund and to AJ for the mixup with the poster names, and pics. Misty (who usually sets up new posters) is out of town on vaction this week. I tried to set Edmund up in the system, and clearly I mixed and matched some things that should have been left alone.

    Edmund, Mikaela has a nice idea on the name. I like it.

    And as to setting you up… 🙂 If I were indeed that smart, prescient, and gifted at manipulation, my life would have been much easier to date! As it was, it just happened–magical chemistry, like an opportunity offered from Olympus to a lowly mortal or 10. Like all opportunity, we could have walked away from it. Ahd had we done so, we would never have had the chance to lead the members of MW through the publication of a book, from inception and concept to copy-in-hand.

  • Welcome to MW, Ed. It’s been fun this week to see that evening through other peoples’ eyes. I had no idea you thought you were “trying” to work your way into the RV. I had assumed all along you were coming. In fact, since we kept asking/volunteering you to be editor for these projects, I worried we had taken advantage of your presence. Glad to read that you wanted to be in that position as much as we wanted you there.

  • Edmund (and all)> This is so exciting! Such a book would be great! (And it would mean that I’d have an easier time finding the posts I want to find when I want to refer back to them… make sure your book has an index!) Given the fact that each of these posts functions as a discrete essay, mostly identified by theme, I’d love to see the book broken down that way. Stuff like “BIC” and “POV” and “BBU” (probably with the acronyms explained heh). Some are more philosophical that others–that is, stuff about the villains is more abstract than “here are 10 things you can do to get your BIC.” I also like the practical “Here is what a query letter should look like” and (what I lobbied Faith for at CC) “here’s how you write a not-god-awful synopsis. I also like the “here’s how you should behave at Cons.”

    May I also suggest that, from time to time (obviously not every entry), you perhaps also give the readers a snippet of the discussion that follows. I’ve often learned as much from the discussions afterwards as I do from the posts–especially the “what do you do to get x done” kind. I don’t know that such a thing is possible from a pragmatic editing point of view, but it might be interesting for readers to see how people have responded to the “posts.”

    I’m so excited for you guys! This is such a great idea!

  • How To Write Magical Words: A Beginning Writers Companion…. If you think you’ve got a better title, we want to hear about it.”

    Well, I would put an apostrophe in there, making it “writer’s”.

  • Mikaela – Print and e-book versions will be available. Each has its own advantage, so it makes sense to do both. Excellent point about the title. Thanks.

    Pea faerie – I’ll need to read all the raw material before making a final decison, but I’m think along the same lines organizationally. Glad you’re as excited as we are.

    Stuart – One of my philosophies of networking is to do everything I can to spend as much time as possible with people who are successful. I once drove eight hours each way to a small convention because I knew Rob Sawyer and Kevin Anderson were both going to be there, and because it was primarily a gaming con, I also knew there would be a lot of opportunities to spend time with Rob and Kevin. It worked out wonderfully, and now I have good relationships with both of them. As for the “parties” in the RV, although I was invited Friday night, that was a social event; it sruck me as entirely possible (and reasonable) that Saturday night’s business meeting was going to be ‘closed.’ When I make assumptions it frequently gets me into trouble, so I wasn’t going to assume I was invited.

    And Faith – yes, you are that smart and that prescient. That’s why I fear you. ’nuff said.

  • Wolf – looks like even editors need an editor sometimes… 😉

  • And AJ, I know you’re otherwise occupied, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m sorry to lose the opportunity to talk some World Cup ‘smack.’ There’s a great upset brewing this afternoon.

  • admin

    Todd here, back from vacation. Looking tanned and well rested.

    I will look into getting Ed’s registration straightened out and a few other tidbits taken care of on the back end of MW.

    I believe David mentioned from the infamous Saturday night RV Magical Words business meeting that comment time on posts should be extended beyond 14 days so I will get that done.

    We had a MW visitor attend the Saturday afternoon luncheon and I spoke briefly with him about our search function. It does exist over on the left hand side bar. It is a small block with a magnifying glass.

    Unfortunately it is limited in power and I will add a different search function powered by Google that will allow better searches of our site.

    Lurkers and registered members of MW are going to benefit tremendously during the year with some of the stuff we have boiling in the MW cauldron.

    Of course if nothing changed y’all would benefit anyway from the extraordinary (free) advice you receive on a daily basis and that isn’t going to change. Stay tuned for a lot more.

    Thanks for visiting and hanging in through our own growing pangs.

  • Edmund,
    Be afraid. Be very afraid….

  • Sarah

    Hooray! At the risk of just being an echo, I second Pea Faerie (curse that time zone lag). I will definitely buy the book if for no other reason than my email inbox is getting full and it’s hard to keep my notes sorted and organized when I want to look something up from a writing track session or online discussion.

  • Wonderful idea! I can’t wait to snap it up. Good luck, Edmund. It sounds as if you are in for one challenging, wild ride.

  • I already find MW to be an invaluable resource, and the time and effort you all have put into the site is extraordinary. But you are going to do even more? It’s incredible. I cannot thank you all enough for the advice and friendly chit-chat. Quite frankly, none of you have to do this to help aspiring writers, but you take the time and expend energy to help others. To go beyond what you are already providing amazes me, and I’m excited about all the changes. Thank you.

  • Tom Berrisford

    This is a wonderfully magical development! I’m already looking forward to the book. And I can’t think of a better guy to edit a Magical Words based Writer’s Guide!

    I haven’t kept up with the posts for several months, so I apologize in advance if I’m stating something obvious. On the craft side of things, I would love to see practical essays. The general, high-level concepts are necessary for anyone getting serious about writing professionally. But what I struggle with sometimes are how to apply these concepts in my own writing. Take for example something small like world-building. I’ve read and heard plenty on the subject so I know the general concepts of what I need to do. But how to organize it all is something that I’ve never heard anyone address. I would like to hear the “this is how I do it” kind of advice. I know everyone does it differently and should do whatever works for them. But sometimes, seeing the specifics of how a few different strong writers – like those here at Magical Words – can help generate the spark you need to figure out your own method.

    I think I’ve probably run a little long, so I’ll stop there for now. 🙂

  • Bill Hause

    Hey Todd, I found the magnifying glass, I don’t know how I missed it. I love the site and am looking forward to the book.

    An idea for the book…maybe the original blogs coulb be revisited by their authors to see if they have changed their views or have more kernels of goodness to add…

    Do any of the magical words authors do any writing exercises to generate ideas or to get through story problems…At the con, one of the writers told me that he had hit a road block because he knew something wasn’t right but he did not know what… He decided to imagine himself in the scene and typed out a conversation with his main character…The main character told him where the mistake was… Something like that would never have crossed my mind.

    Ed, I have no doubt tht you will only add to the greatness here…

    I look forward to more about the book…

  • Hepseba ALHH

    This definitely is a very wonderful development, and there are so many types of wonderful advice offered by this site that it’s difficult to point to specifics that I would definitely want to see in the book. I would, however, like to put in a good word for arguments. Like Tom pointed out above, it can be really useful to see how several different authors approach the same problem, but I think getting some dose of people’s arguments over taste can also be really useful for sparking ideas. Recent examples where this has been true for me are the recent posts by Diana Pharaoh Francis about cliff hangers, and by A.J. Hartley about book covers. The variety of opinion offered is definitely one of the wonderful strong suits of this site.

  • Oooh, looking forward to it!

  • Fantastic! Thanks to all for the input (and the votes of confidence). This is truly helpful in shaping the book into a useful tool. I knew I was hooking up with a great group of writers, but I didn’t know the community here was this strong, too. Double fantastic.

  • Meant to comment yesterday: Blame World Cup soccer and the Riverbend Music Festival in Chattanooga for my failure to do so. Well, okay: Just blame me.

    Having Ed on board with Magical Words takes something that was already fantastic and makes it truly transcendent. Working with people I respect, people of talent and imagination and passion, is a privilege. But when these are also some of my favorite people in the business . . . well, that’s where the magic comes in. Thanks to all of you for the wonderful ideas. We have been talking about thematic organization and including comments from the discussions sparked by our posts, so it’s nice to know that we’re all the same wavelength here. And I have to admit that I see merit in the idea of dropping “beginning” from the title.

    Ed, thanks for taking this on. Welcome to the family. What the hell took you so long…?

  • Mostly fear of Faith. 😉

    Thanks, David. The feeling is mutual, the privilege mine.

  • (snerk)
    Just so long as my fearsomness is properly appreciated. (Buffs sharpened pen, looking for BBUs to wound with my mighty words.)

  • Sweet idea all! 😀 I’ll have to read the post in more detail here in a few, but sounds cool.

  • Mikaela

    This is just something that popped into my mind, but wouldn’t it be intresting to have an essay about editing, from an editor’s POV? Combined with an author, or three?

  • Edmund, may I suggest that you do more than *just* an essay? If the idea appeals (And please feel free to refuse. We are, after all, sharing the creation of a new thing with the readers.) perhas you will chime in to the posts with the editorial perspective…

  • Mikaela

    Well originally, I wrote blogposts, but I changed it to essay since I didn’t want to add to that much to Edmund’s workload 🙂

  • Yeah, I told Faith a year or two back that she should get a how-to book together for writers. I’m glad you guys are tackling as an MW project! I’m in for a copy, for sure!!!

  • Essay? Blogpost? Wait, people are reading this stuff…?

  • Alan Kellogg


    Some of us actually pay attention to what we read. (Now there’s an idea for a post; what do you do when somebody misses your point?)

  • Interesting question, Alan. If it’s an editor or beta reader, you’ll at least have an opportunity to get some feedback and consider it. If it happens after publication, odds are you’ll never know, and even if you do, what can you do about it? Your question realy highlights the importance of running your work by a few trusted sets of eyes before it goes out into the world.

  • Very cool idea. Extend that to a short story collection, please! I would (heart) a book of short stories from MW authors. Annual magazine if a book is too much? Make that double or triple hearts.

    Stories both by MW authors and those few selected by same authors, but writen by new authors. Best of Magical Words, new author anthology?

    Super extra triple blinking hearts!

    I’d be delighted to copy edit, first-read, xerox, brew coffee, sharpen pencils, wait anxiously, for any MW compendium.

  • An MW anthology of short stories? Hmmmmm… It’s a possibility…