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What I mean when I say I'm "working on magic."

The next two posts are about my ongoing process of getting better at getting things done. Today's post is about the details of "finishing" a magic trick, and next week I zoom out to work/life balance. Let's dig in.

One of the biggest problems I've faced in my sixteen years of magic is the idea that I will sit down and "work on magic." This is because the term "work on magic" is too vague if I hope for anything resembling productivity. Therefore, I'm currently trying to demystify the process for myself so that "working on magic" becomes a set of easily identifiable steps.

But first: I think one of the biggest myths about art of any kind is that overly rigid processes worsen the art. The argument might go as follows: “I don’t want to follow a schedule when I paint because I’ll lose any sense of spontaneity in my work.” Or “breaking photography into component steps will make my work stale, I'd rather take a photo based on feel.”

I've found the opposite to be true, at least for magic. The more I break my magic down into its parts, the more focused my work becomes, and the more I accomplish. I’m just not talented enough to come up with a great idea and take it to the stage randomly and without intention. And I’m not disciplined enough to casually watch football and simultaneously come up with a great routine.

Great routines come from a process of distraction-free work. I work best when I’m alone, well-fed, alert, dressed in real clothes, with my phone on airplane mode, before 6 PM. And I need at least an hour of this time if I’m going to accomplish anything.

But even after putting myself in these conditions where I can concentrate, I’m still left with a blank page.

So, here's my process of creating a magic trick. Hopefully, even if you aren't a magician, you'll find similarities to your process.

Remember: This isn’t perfect. I am figuring out how to figure it out. Additionally, this is my process after I have an idea, when I'm ready to execute. I have other methods for idea generation that I’ll probably talk about in a later post. Anyway, here we go:

  1. Vision. If I don’t know what I’m working toward, it’s hard to even start. When I’m getting down to business to really work on a trick, I need a vision for what it’s going to be, which essentially means that I know the ending of the trick/show. Additionally, in the process of creating a trick, the intricacies of the trick may change, and that's ok.

  2. Method. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes it's hard. In other arts, the corollary might be: figuring out which camera you’ll use, experimenting with different paint brushes, deciding the pan you’ll need and the oven temperature. It’s granular, it’s not seen in the final project, but it’s essential.

  3. Prop creation: I actually learn a lot about a trick when I put the props together. Often, I realize I was wrong about blocking or method until I actually try the trick with the props I will use.

  4. Script: A pretty straightforward process. I generally break it up as follows:

    1. Type the script

    2. Speak the script, record it, then edit/transcribe as necessary (the script always changes when it's spoken)

    3. Perform for people and record the audio, because the script will change again when I factor in audience interaction

    4. Edit again

    5. Remember that the script is a living document that can always be changed

Eventually, this calcifies into a routine I can perform for people. Needless to say, knowing I need to go from vision→method→prop creation→script, generally in that order, is incredibly helpful and far more productive than “working on magic,” which means I’m trying, unsuccessfully, to focus on many or all of these components at once. Instead, I can choose a specific component to work on, which also helps me know when I’m done (more on this next week).

This is not to say that I always do it in this order, or that this is right. Vision and script are often interrelated and come before the method or the props. Sometimes the vision is a prop. Having this process outlined, though, helps for the same reason a script helps on stage–it’s a spine and an outline. Once I have the outline, I know when I can diverge from it.

If you’re an artist of any kind, I urge you to outline your own process. It shouldn’t be rigid, and you shouldn’t feel compelled to stick to it at all costs. In fact, it should change. But especially if you’re in college, and you have limited time to work on your art between class, social life, and a job, outlining your process into its component parts will give you a clearer idea about what to focus on in the time you do find.

Next week, I’m writing about my process of finding time to work on magic, and sticking to it. See you then.



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