My Magical Thinking

Getting my Master’s Degree took longer than it should have, but in spite of taking two years off to join the Peace Corps, getting married, and working full-time, I finished my thesis, passed the language exam, and got my degree. My thesis advisor and I still exchange Christmas cards.

How have I put this degree to use? Not at all. Well, it helped me get my teaching job, but not by much. And this is a teaching job with no benefits and no chance of advancement. The only other job I’ve had since getting that piece of paper was at Barnes and Noble. This is thanks to my lack of imagination. I was unable to figure out anything else.

I was also unable to figure out how to get a boyfriend. I didn’t have a boyfriend until after a graduated from college. Though I went on a few dates, I couldn’t seem to make those dates materialize into a relationship.

Habits die hard, don’t they? It seems that I’m waiting to trip over publication like a dream job or have an agent pick me out of the crowd like a prince chooses his bride. Then again, when I was 20 I didn’t really believe that Cosmo was going to make attractive to a guy anymore than I believe reading Poets and Writers is going to make me attractive to an agent.

For the next few months, I’m not going to pretend to try to get published. I’m going to look at all the stories already written and fix them. (I will, however, pretend fixing a story is possible.)

Do you ever suffer from magical thinking? Do you have a summer plan? Do you believe you can fix a story?

16 thoughts on “My Magical Thinking

  1. LOL, I think my whole life has been spent in magical thinking of one sort or another. I’ve been lucky taht a couple have come true. A lot don’t, but the ones that have, have made it so worth it. 🙂

    You’ll get those things fixed that you want to address. I have faith in you. 🙂

  2. I don’t think believing you will be published is magical thinking. Publishing is a business. It’s the other side of art. They don’t tell us that art is a business, writing is a business, we just think it’s about the creation of wonderful things, forgetting that we also have to be hard-assed, realistic, pugnacious, unemotional, bottom line oriented, and relentless.

    You aren’t that twenty year old girl waiting for the world to happen, anymore. You know the score. And you know that you aren’t going to run into a magical publisher at the drugstore who sees something in you before the first page is read, and makes you a SUPERSTAR!

    You know you have to keep trying. Revise. Send out. Resend out.Revise. Keep writing. Try different avenues. Write. Revise. Query. And whatever else you have to do.

    I don’t see you giving up.

  3. I think a story can be fixed. A new method (for me) is the re-write. Rather than editing the existing sentence/passage/story, just figure out what elements you like about the original and start over. It was scary at first, but it actually doesn’t take much longer than moving words around in the original.

    My summer plans (once I finish this book–soon) are to write nothing. I want to do some home projects, read a ton of books, and enjoy my family. That’s it. I need some time off.

  4. If not for magical thinking, I wouldn’t think at all, I guess. Heck, some say I don’t anyway. So I LIKE magical thinking, myself. And like the others before me, I don’t think what you’re doing is magical thinking. You’re a formidable talent. You do your due diligence in the craft, and you’re doing what you can to meet the hoop-jumping requirements the industry set out for you. Not too shabby, and not too magical frankly. Just good ol’ elbow grease. Believing it will happen for you because you did those things? Not magical thinking at all. Not at all.

    You go. You can do it. We all, who come here to read your thoughts, believe in you and your ability to make the grade. We root for you. And we expect great things for you.

  5. Sarah

    In certain circles (psychology, 12-step), the term “magical thinking” is used the way some people use “wishful thinking,” which seems to me how you are using it here. “Wishing doesn’t make it so” became a very important mantra for me at at time when I needed to let go of some illusions and take charge of my life. Yes, I do believe that doing the hard work can bring about good things, especially if you don’t try to predetermine the outcome- do the hard work, and let the outcome unfold from there. It’ll be worthwhile, that I know for sure. In what way? That I don’t always know, but it doesn’t really matter until I get there.
    That masters degree? I believe it was worth it. Learning is always worth it, even if all it taught you was how to persevere. And yes, stories can be fixed. Writing can improve. Goals can be reached. You are a writer Marta, every day becoming a better writer. Trust the process, do the work, and you won’t need magic to succeed- you’ll make it happen. My suggestion for the summer? Choose one story. One story that you are in love with, deeply attracted to. Then live with that story this summer. Move in with it. Renovate, uncover, spruce up, rearrange, uncover its natural beauty. Commit to it. Choose one story and go deep, really, really deep, and see what happens. I think it’ll be magic.

  6. For what it may be worth, I suggest that for the next several years you do not pretend to try to find publishers for your work but instead, you take the pretense out of the equation; create each story, novel, or essay with the specific intent that it is for publication and will be published, sending each forth with the certainty that it is the best you can do at the time. You’ve well established one thing most writers do which is to produce a body of work. Continue being she who produces a body of the best work she can at the time. Thus your work will grow in depth and breadth and best-ness and although each published work will ultimately become tomorrow’s embarrassment, it will be constant in the sense of being the best embarrassment you are capable of producing. We all of us, yourself included, aim for perfection; we all of us settle gladly for the embarrassment, certain our next will be closer to perfection.

    So far as I can see, Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” came about as close as possible to that goal of perfection, which is to say pretty far from embarrassment, but that didn’t stop him from writing more work, much of which was pretty embarrassing. Much of your things I’ve read certainly allow you to engage the next project, the new project, the promised project with a good deal of stature. You’ve fought that battle and the battles of taking risk, largely staring them down in their tracks.

    1. Right now I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t know where to send things forth. All those literary journals and nothing seems right. But I’ll figure it out. What else is summer for?

      Thanks, Shelly.

  7. Tom

    Think about thinking for a minute. The setting is a three-pound, infinitely-twisty ovoid of gray and white meat. The mechanism is tiny currents of electricity, coupled from one cell to another by little puffs of chemicals. The engine? The thing that makes it all go, that makes it produce thoughts that actually mean something to the thinker and to others? Only theories exist here. You might as well say, “Here there be dragons.”

    You might as well say, “All thinking is magical.” And it is.

    Writing is just thinking, with geography.

    I know, this isn’t much help in context (I’ve never perfected the equation for magic-to-money conversion). But I just wanted to say, just because most everyone thinks, that doesn’t make it less magical. And when parchment-anchored thinking weaves a new level of spell, when it transports other thinkers to other places, other times, the magic becomes evident.

    You have that power, Marta. If it never produces a single dime, you have it. Don’t discount the joy in the writing, just because the cash register doesn’t ring. Write for you. If wider recognition comes, it’s all gravy.

    ::pushes soapbox back under the bed::

    1. I love the magic and hate the bills that need to be paid. I’ll keep writing no matter what, but there is that element of guilt for spending so much time doing something that doesn’t help pay those bills. Feels selfish, though I can’t imagine doing anything else.

      Thanks, Tom.

  8. So I’ve been thinking about this.

    First, the easy part: Oh yes, I think fixing a story is definitely possible! (What sometimes makes it really complicated for me is not, in the process, breaking something valuable. I hope you’ll handle yours with care!)

    Second, on magical thinking… I read an interesting blog post (most of the content in the accompanying video) last week at Colleen Lindsay’s Communicatrix site, on feng shui. She’d recently done some experimental rearranging of her “Prosperity corner,” shortly after which she received a couple of overdue payments for work she’d done. Like I said in my comment, it almost doesn’t make any difference if the feng shui exercise actually “worked” or not. The important thing to me was that she’d gone through the motions, done the exercise (which — I mean, straightening up — was a good thing to do in its own right), and as a result gave herself an extra kick when the checks arrived.

    Can dreams and fairy tales “come true”? I don’t think it matters, mostly, because as a rule people who think so often seem to me happier and more creative. Not because they think so — it’s not cause and effect exactly — but I think certain sorts of hopefulness can predispose one to seeing the positive features of a given situation, and of life in general. I’d rather be happy than successful, and I’d rather be surrounded by other people for whom happiness comes before conventional success.

    Where trouble comes is when you (the generic you, not you-Marta) decide you need a particular form of success in order to be truly happy. Then you start doing things like making deals with the gods, and the magical thinking turns into obsessive-compulsive superstition. Touching wood, not stepping on cracks in the sidewalk, wearing your “lucky” underwear or socks for weeks at a time, striking out all superfluous uses of the word “that” in your writing, and so on. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

    Must stop here. Not because I’ve run out of actual time, but because I just, well, I just have to step on the bottom step within a few minutes of the same time every morning or my day just doesn’t feel right. You know how it is.

    1. Yes, I know how it is.

      I know I don’t need publication to be happy. Happiness isn’t that. But, like I wrote to Tom above, those practical concerns get in the way. I’ll go read those links, JES. Thanks for everything.

      P.S. DId I tell you how I use that “Danger, WIll Robinson” expression?

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