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The only magic is the curtain.

If I watched “The Wizard of Oz” once, I watched it a thousand times.

Though I can’t reach into the hazy depths of childhood memory to describe exactly how I felt when the curtain got pulled on the wizard and we all learned that the jig was up, I found myself thinking of that image last night as I was falling asleep.

The phrase came to mind: “The only magic is the curtain.”


In one way or another, I’ve been exploring this theme for a while now, this notion–which we buy into so often and which simultaneously keeps us in perpetual anxiety and an elevated desire to be/do more than we are–that successful people possess some kind of magic. That there’s a special formula or some mysterious trick they have that you don’t. It would change your life if you, too, could just figure out what it was and own a piece of it for yourself.

But what so few people realize is that the only magic is the curtain and the curtain, of course, is the story about ourselves that we embellish to make everything seem more glamorous and less effortful than it is.

I’m all about sharing my professional “secrets”… because there really isn’t any magic. It’s hard work and common sense.

But if you still think I’ve got something magic behind the curtain, here’s an article I wrote about a year and a half ago: Top 5 Secrets Travel Writers Won’t Tell You

And here’s an interview I gave to John Beede of the helpful website Money for Traveling, in which I talk about my travel and writing “secrets”:



What’s your magic? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


4 responses »

  1. Really nice interview Julie.

    “It’s hard work and common sense.” Spot on.

    Definitely no magic here. For me, it boils down to this post I wrote awhile back –

    The key is knowing one’s strengths and investing in/leveraging them.

  2. I think you’ve already said it best: the best secret is that there’s no secret. Realizing that is extremely liberating.

  3. Writing is often depicted as an introspective process in which a person must “look within” to come up with story ideas etc.

    But I find my best material by looking outside myself. One of my secrets is to be mindful of how even seemingly unrelated things or people can trigger a new idea about the topic I’m writing about.

    It can be NPR’s “This American Life,” the lyrics to a country music song, or a movie I just watched with my kids.

    Sometimes the inspiration comes from the format, rather than the content. For example, I love the way “This American Life” starts each program with an interesting conversation that sets the stage for the main program. It pulls me in. It’s a device I try to use in my writing.

    One of the best secrets of all time is that life really is stranger than fiction. When I can’t find anything interesting, it’s because I’m not looking hard enough.

    Susan Orlean–one of my favorite writers– is so thorough in researching and describing the world around her that she often transforms the mundane into the fascinating.

    Here’s another one: Curiosity is the best muse. Writers are in the privileged position of being allowed to ask people questions. The funny thing is, I’ve had as much success at getting good responses from blogging (a relatively new avocation) as from my full-time job as an editor (nearly 12 years) with an established trade publication.

    Even busy, successful people love to talk about what they do. (And the people who love/hate them will want to read it if you write it all down).

    Interacting with other people either in person or on Twitter etc. also gets my creative juices flowing.

  4. Pingback: The long-tail of the writer’s pitch « Cuaderno Inedito

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