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Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life

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In Sometimes the Magic Works, New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks shares his secrets for creating unusual, memorable fiction. Spanning topics from the importance of daydreaming to the necessity of writing an outline, from the fine art of showing instead of merely telling to creating believable characters who make readers care what happens to them, Brooks draws upon his own experiences, hard lessons learned, and delightful discoveries made in creating the beloved Shannara and Magic Kingdom of Landover series, The Word and The Void trilogy, and the bestselling Star Wars novel The Phantom Menace.

In addition to being a writing guide, Sometimes the Magic Works is Terry Brooks’s self-portrait of the artist. “If you don’t think there is magic in writing, you probably won’t write anything magical,” says Brooks. This book offers a rare opportunity to peer into the mind of (and learn a trick or two from) one of fantasy fiction’s preeminent magicians.

208 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2003

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About the author

Terry Brooks

353 books77.2k followers
Terry Brooks was born in Illinois in 1944, where he spent a great deal of his childhood and early adulthood dreaming up stories in and around Sinnissippi Park, the very same park that would eventually become the setting for his bestselling Word & Void trilogy. He went to college and received his undergraduate degree from Hamilton College, where he majored in English Literature, and he received his graduate degree from the School of Law at Washington & Lee University.
A writer since high school, he wrote many stories within the genres of science fiction, western, fiction, and non-fiction, until one semester early in his college years he was given The Lord of the Rings to read. That moment changed Terry's life forever, because in Tolkien's great work he found all the elements needed to fully explore his writing combined in one genre.
He then wrote The Sword of Shannara, the seven year grand result retaining sanity while studying at Washington & Lee University and practicing law. It became the first work of fiction ever to appear on the New York Times trade paperback bestseller list, where it remained for over five months.

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5 stars
666 (41%)
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584 (36%)
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301 (18%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 179 reviews
Profile Image for Steven.
Author 1 book5 followers
April 30, 2016
Brooks confirms about writing what I have long suspected is true about most careers: some people are born with a passion that will
guide them into their vocation, and others aren't. It's like knowing wizards exist but being fully aware that you are a Muggle.
I am a Muggle. I so wanted to be a wizard, and I believed I would be if my Dumbledore would just show up. I've written before about this and blamed it on reading fantasies like those of Terry Brooks, and I still do. So it was very validating for me to read him verifying what I believed. He pointed out in the final chapter that to be a writer you need determination, passion, and instinct. I believe I have the first and last, because it shows up in every job I've had, but I'm not passionate about anything, and I never have been.
I am not saying this to put myself down, just to make a declaration that is okay to be a Muggle, and it's nice to know that at least one wizard believes that, too.
Profile Image for James Joyce.
261 reviews33 followers
June 12, 2017
A few chapters on his approach to writing. Basically, a minimalist version of his how-to guide, but not the real focus of this book. This is primarily a memoir of various highs and lows in his life.

Light and fluffy, but of interest to any fans of Terry Brooks, in particular, or author's memoirs, in general.
Profile Image for Kevin.
1,500 reviews34 followers
August 30, 2021
Terry Brooks is one of my favorite fantasy writer, I've read books in all three of his main series and enjoyed them all. I have no hopes of becoming a writer but I love to read books by authors I already enjoy to find out about their writing process. Throughout the book Terry takes us through all 3 of his series and we also learn a little about Lester Del Rey his 1st editor.
Profile Image for James.
Author 11 books89 followers
March 7, 2008
A nice, friendly, inviting read. The author conveys a warm message of encouragement and camaraderie to aspiring writers; a bestselling author, with this book he shows that he is also an effective tutor and mentor. For any aspiring writer, this is a good book to read and re-read.
Profile Image for Ashley Newell.
Author 4 books50 followers
November 2, 2014
Firstly, I have never read anything by Terry Brooks. Yes, I know, I am not worthy. Now that that's been cleared up, I need to say how empowering, validating, and almost spiritual reading this book has been for me. I self-identify as a writer, and though I have yet to be traditionally published, I felt so much relief hearing (or I guess reading) someone put into words things that I have felt about being "not all there". I do not come from a family of writers. I did not have a model for what it is that I do. I had an imagination, one that could get me into trouble from time to time, and one that makes me sound like a crazy person if I try to explain how things work in my head even today.

And while I don't imagine that I'll be working with the greatest founding editors and publishers, or be hand-picked by a famous creative mind like George Lukas to stretch my creative wings, I see my future in these pages as all being the balance of the choices I make and the opportunities I may or may not shut the door to.

I could not put this book down. I walked through Brooks' journey with him, like Dante and Virgil, all the while comparing my process, my craft, my hopes, my fears, and knowing that I have no idea where any of this is going. I can dream, and as Brooks' says, that's the first step to getting anywhere.

So, not so much a review as a "Thank you." I didn't even know how badly I needed to see someone else's journey. I have a lot to think about now.
Profile Image for Harley Gesford.
38 reviews
August 13, 2022
Though a short book it packs the punches of a much larger yarn.
Everything you need to know to make the words you write sing is in this book.
I would say this is book for all of those who write, want to write or even want to make any kind of art. These are words I have been preaching for years about how art and writing and the creativity ways can come and go if you are not worthy of it, if you don’t respect its time and gifts it gives you.
I am not the biggest fan of Terry’s books but this book has given me a different perspective and respect for him. I am reconsidering his work and his outlook on the fantasy genre.
Bravo for this one Mr. Brooks.
As you said: “Writing is life. Breathe deeply of it.”
Profile Image for Bob Mayer.
Author 176 books47.9k followers
December 4, 2013
I taught with Terry at the Maui Writers Conference for seven straight years and we still keep in touch. This book is a great insight into his process as a writer and his career arc. I like it simply for the title, because he acknowledges that there is an element to successful fiction writing that is magical. But you have to work to get to the magic.
Profile Image for Thomas Edmund.
911 reviews56 followers
June 19, 2020
Part sage advice, part personal, part specific writing lessons, Sometimes the Magic Works is a tidy read from Terry Brooks.

Originally published in 2003 (yikes) the wisdom contained herein is still ultra relevant, and probably my only beef was not hearing more about Brook's writing journey.

Profile Image for Robynn.
Author 2 books3 followers
July 18, 2015
Recommended to me by a non-writer, and I bought a used copy off Amazon. Really enjoyed reading about a long-term writer's views on the journey, and get a little history on the publishing industry. No earth-shattering surprises on the advice front, but a very upbeat yet practical look at one man's love-affair with writing fiction. I closed the book feeling good about the world. Always appreciate when that happens.
Profile Image for Nicky Nicholson-Klingerman.
62 reviews31 followers
May 7, 2018
Definitely made me feel a lot better about my writing process and the fact that my head is always in the clouds and I'm always, always thinking about writing. But on the whole, this is a white man in publishing, not a queer black woman so his journey is way different than it will be for me so a lot of it wasn't helpful. His advice, as most white male authors' advice usually is, does not take into account gender, race and sexuality barriers for other people.
Profile Image for Rachel Marks.
Author 11 books525 followers
October 3, 2015
This book was huge encouragement to my work early on in my path toward publication. An honest and forthwith look into the creative process. It was an encouragement and a reminder that I'm not alone in this wicked journey of crafting worlds. Highly recumbent. I still find myself returning to it.
Profile Image for Sabine Reed.
Author 8 books22 followers
February 2, 2012
A must read for all writers of any genre. Fascinating. Fantastic. Great Advice by a veteran author.
Profile Image for Alexander Draganov.
Author 28 books132 followers
August 17, 2018
Майсторът на епичното фентъзи Тери Брукс споделя опита си като писател в тази чаровна книга, която може да помогне много на начинаещите или по-неопитни автори. Откровена, забавна и непринудена, тя дава наистина ценни уроци на всеки, който обмисля да се занимава с писане на художествена литература, като в същото време показва колко скромен и забавен човек е Брукс и как успехът му като бестселъров автор изобщо не го е променил към по-лошо.
Цялото ревю може да прочетете на линка:
Profile Image for Dannica.
699 reviews24 followers
May 9, 2020
Since I'm back to fantasy novelling for a while, I thought reading this might get me in the mood. Enjoyable reading, but didn't bring me any very new insights. The most interesting parts were about Brooks' life and career--I kind of want to try one of his novels now.
Profile Image for Ryan.
1,200 reviews18 followers
August 13, 2011
I wonder at what point a writer is asked to write a book about writing? Obviously after they are successful by some standard, and that is probably after they've been doing their thing for awhile. The title of this grabbed me - I'm a big believer in magic, and I seem to be reading about writing just now.

I liked the quotes that framed each chapter - "I am incomplete without my work. I am so closely bound to it , so much identified by it, that without it I think I would crumble into dust and drift away" (a bit close to home, that one); "I cannot imagine life without books anymore than I can imagine life without breathing" (reminded me of Scout's discovery that she did not love to read until it might be taken away)

And this sentence was especially worth noting: "Everything begins in the middle of something else" - very nice. And true. Fits in with Agatha Christie's idea in Toward Zero.

It was interesting to compare the writing approaches of Brooks and King. They are different, but really only in how they manifest themselves. Both believe in some type of organization - Brooks focuses on organizing the content; King, on organizing the space within which the writing of the content happens. Brooks believes one needs to be available when the muse decides to arrive; King believes he needs to be in the same place at the same time - the muse will arrive as it will, but will always know where to find him. Not so different really. Woolf tends to be of the King School (or perhaps he is of the Woolf school - place of one's own, where you can go and shut the door). I suspect I lean in the Woolf school direction - there is a sense of tidiness and control to that approach that appeals to me. On the other hand, my best thoughts occur when I'm driving or in the shower...most of those never make it to paper. My guess is both authors are used to being compared - perhaps Done being compared. Woolf probably doesn't care so much anymore.

There was a sense that the questions he answered were those he was asked most often. I don't know that I would have asked those - not sure I would know what to ask, actually...I'm more interested in the product than the producer, I guess. As with King, there was a personal touch - the stories of Hunter. I love that he needed to include stories of this child who is obviously so important to him.
Profile Image for Glen Stott.
Author 6 books9 followers
July 22, 2013
This is an autobiographical description of Brooks’s life as an author. He grew up in the same time period as I. His creativity was challenged and honed by the lifestyle he lived growing up in the 50s & 60s. He always wanted to be able to make a living through his writing. I always wanted to write, but in those early years, I never thought of writing as a career. Mixed in with his writing, he gives good advice about things a good novel should have. I have a mini library of books on writing that give deeper detail than what he presents, but this book is useful to me because it summarizes many of the points that are in my library. It makes a great reference that I will refer back to often. His experiences of what it is to be a writer and how that impacts life are very well put. It is a great book for writers, people who want to write, or people who are interested in writers.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,474 reviews372 followers
June 10, 2011
I'm not a fantasy reader. I've never read Terry Brooks. But I love reading artists and writers describe their art and their process, which is what drew me to Brooks' book on writing, Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life.

And it's wonderful. I found myself copying quotes like crazy. I found myself getting excited about outlining, for heavens' sakes! I loved his stories from a writer's life and I found some of his ideas so compelling I had to stop reading and go write.

Or go, as Brooks puts it, and "dream."
Profile Image for Eric.
184 reviews22 followers
September 5, 2013
Everybody likes to gang up on Terry Brooks. I don't know all the reasons except the biggest, that "he's a Tolkien copycat." (He addresses this in the book.) I don't really have an opinion on that because I haven't read Brooks since I was twelve or so, and I read his stuff before Tolkien's. But I'll always have a foot in Brooks' camp because I spent years staring at his book covers on our shelf before I was finally old enough to read them, and SWORD and ELFSTONES were some of the first adult books I read.

Anyway, I liked this book on writing. It's a relaxing, easy read. He had some interesting things to say, particularly about the publishing business.
Profile Image for Amberle.
144 reviews1 follower
July 21, 2010
This book taught me many lessons and was fun to read besides. I found out about writing, yes. But I feel that I learned more about myself and my thoughts on writing than anything else. This book is not made to tell you how to write, or what to write. It is meant to help you discover if you are a writer. Terry Brooks does a wonderful job of playing tour guide to the writers life. I would recommend this book to anyone who thinks they might just be a writer.
Profile Image for Jeff.
371 reviews4 followers
January 5, 2014
Terry Brooks offers an honest report of his writing life and things he has learned. He offers counsel to would-be and current writers, but I especially liked the distillation of what he has learned through his writing life. He reports the things he learned from failures and wrong turns. I especially liked the revelations he received from his Grandson Hunter. I will be referring to this book repeatedly.
Profile Image for Marta Zoltowski.
1 review1 follower
July 11, 2016
Where to begin, is the question to be asking. I have never in my life have read such a beautiful book on helping other future writers in the world of fantasy. Thank you Terry Brooks for widening my knowledge in the writing world, your advice has changed my story for the better! I hope you continue to inspire future writers and your readers with your storytelling abilities! I will be recommending this book to any individual in the process of writing. Again thank you so much! ^_^
January 1, 2016
Equal parts biopic and creative writing teaching, this easy-to-read book takes us from the calling of a writer, through his first novel release to being a major author in your chosen domain. I must admit to not have read a Terry Brooks novel yet, but the friendliness and candour he displays here (concerning the importance of luck and bad decisions) have made me a fan.
Profile Image for Francesca.
174 reviews
June 16, 2016
This book was so informational. I loved it. Every page had meaning and purpose. It is such a great tool for aspiring writers, or for people who want to learn more about Terry Brooks and his world. He talks about how he writes and what methods work for him. Thrown in the mix is also a bit of his life story. Truly a fascinating look into a writers mind.
665 reviews4 followers
July 15, 2009
An interesting look into how Brooks writes. As someone who came into fantasy through Shannara rather than though Tolkien and never really connected to well with the Rings. It was nice to see how someone who influenced my reading as much as Brooks did when I was a teenager.
Profile Image for Azalea Dabill.
15 reviews
March 7, 2018
This book is chock full of fantasy writing experiences. Experiences as varied as a fantasy adventure related in a rollicking style. Terry's honesty encouraged me to write the Falcon Chronicle. It may encourage you too. Never give up!
Profile Image for Chris.
331 reviews
April 28, 2008
Great book about writing from one of my favorite authors. It gave some cool insights into writing in general and writing in specific. A good read, especially if you like Brooks.
26 reviews3 followers
June 15, 2018
Inspirational! A must read for fiction writers.
Profile Image for Jan Priddy.
720 reviews136 followers
August 8, 2017
"If you don't think there is anything magic in writing, you probably won't write anything magical."

My husband is fond of quoting an Anthropology of Religion text read decades ago: "Religion, like magic, works whether the garden grows or dies." It's a question of faith. There is magic in writing at the moment when you write beyond what you knew you could, when the story flows out of the soul as if ready-made. The gift of the muse, some like to say. This book is mostly not about that.

What it offers is charming and cheerful and I think Terry Brooks is probably correct about everything he has to say concerning writers and the business of writing. His rules are on target and he comes across as a kindly, good-humored sort I would enjoy having over for dinner. One of his houses is just up the road from mine, though I have never met him.

So why not five stars? Most everything he has to say has been said elsewhere. The book is slim and loaded with cliché and the occasional grammatical slip. His talk of lawyering in order to avoid "starving to death" struck the wrong note in my petty class-warrior heart. You don't become and work as a lawyer for 20 years to avoid starvation, you do it to be affluent. And just like Grisham, I find it unlikely that he was writing only because he was still trying to avoid starvation. He'd undoubtedly earned enough to retire long before this book hit shelves. I have not read any other of his novels and nothing here convinces me that I am missing anything. On the other hand, he insists that he was lucky and that good fortune played a critical role in his personal success.

So sue me. I think I would I like the man in person, but his is a white male and decidedly entitled point of view, from what I can see here. He mentions only one female author, in order to disagree with her. His heroes and examples are all white and male and successful in the marketplace. Brooks knows his business and his advice in sound and anyone eager to become a "professional writer" as he repeatedly refers to himself, could do a lot worse than to follow his advice, including the need for such habits as outlining and paying attention to beginnings and endings. He knows his business.

He has had one terrible and one good experience writing novelizations of films, in each case taken up because he was flattered and hoped it would help his career. He acknowledges the impact of Luck on his success, which I appreciated.

He also argues that the character traits required to write fiction are "a gift of genetics and early life experience." Maybe, and: "If anything in your life is more important than writing—anything at all—you should walk away now while you still can." Peculiar last words from someone who also insists that writing should also always be a pleasure.

I am a writer and my writing will never make me famous or wealthy. I worked as a teacher for forty years to support my family. Probably I would be more successful if I loved writing more than my family and teaching and common decency. I know that at least, loving writing more than anything else at all, I would have far less self-respect. I am inclined to think even Brooks loves some things better than being a professional writer. I hope so, for his sake.
Profile Image for Jonathan Koan.
501 reviews166 followers
January 26, 2021
In this shorter than usual book, Terry Brooks is able to give examples from his stories career about how new authors should approach the writing process. This goes from discussing beginnings to endings, to outlines and daydreaming, and much more.

But Brooks doesn't just talk about the creative aspect of the writing craft. In today's climate, connecting with readers, or fans, is equally as important. As is making connections with publishers and booksellers. I found the chapter on his first booksigning to be the most engaging in the book.

Terry Brooks also tells stories about his working in Media Tie-In Fiction. He describes the hellish process of working on Hook and the wonderful process of working on Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. He shows, from an authors perspective, how companies and subdisiaries should treat authors and readers.

The book easily could have been longer, as it does not even cover his process of writing the Heritage of Shannara books or his experience working on the Voyage of Jerle Shannara(which came out around the same time). However, despite it's 200 pages, Brooks fills this book with sweet stories that will make the reader want to return to Brooks other works, and maybe even begin writing themselves.

Overall, this is a wonderful book. I had a blast reading it and will definitely be rereading it if I'm ever able to actually write more. 9.5 out of 10! Good job Brooks!
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