Ricky Smith

10 Tips for Constructing Original Material

1. Study…a lot!

The more you encounter, the better your knowledge will be. This will allow you to identify problems and make changes creating better methods than the ones in print already. It will also make you aware of how to judge your own material. This means that you’ll have a better understanding of when something is “ready” or if it’s something that’s so simple or obvious that it’s definitely already been done, even if you can’t find it.

2. Make Mistakes 

Be okay with making mistakes! John Carney’s essays contain much of the best advice on magic, in general, and must be read. In one of his essays he mentions a creativity book called A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech. In this book they recommend making a list of ten bad ideas to get your creative process started. Have fun with this, and you may discover that some of your ideas can actually work out. This was true for Guy Hollingworth in the invention of The Reformation. He did not think the method he eventually ended up using was worthwhile due to the difficult and arduous handling…after a little practice it ended up being THE method and swiffered the planet!

3. Fix problems

Look for things that you don’t like about routines or sleights and try to fix them. Pushing the card forward at the end of Jerry Andrus’ Sidewinder and Panoramic Shifts was the problem I was trying to solve with the Cherry Control. If there’s an idea within a trick that you find particularly interesting but don’t necessarily like it’s application in that situation, think about the different ways you might be able to use that idea in other situations.

4. Expand

Many of my routines are the result of some funny joke or visual that I think up and later expand into a full routine. This can happen with anything, though. Dan and Dave often find an interesting flourish somewhere, and by figuring out which of the classic effects it would most amplify, they end up transforming a cool flourish into a great magic effect.

5. Make a list

I realized early on that sleights often use a small list of covering actions. Try this: make a list of a number of palms, palm transfers, shifts. Then make columns with different covering actions. Put a checkmark in the ones that already exist and then try to figure out methods for all the rest. For example:


All Around Square        Top Card Cover        Transfer from Hand to Hand        Dribble

Herrman Pass

Classic Pass

Black Pass

Circle Shift

SWE Shift


Many of the ones you create will have been invented before, and they might not be in print or used very often because they are not awesome. However, you may hit on something really great, and you will at least have gotten your brain working! One that I would like you to work on that will provide almost no benefit to you, but will be interesting for me, would be to make a list of all the palm positions and create a transfer for getting from one hand to the other. Do this once for just a palmed card and a second time for versions with the deck in your hands for an exercise in developing new techniques.

6. Get a Group

Find some colleagues and get together. They will have ideas and things they are working on that may inspire you. Alternatively, they may have opinions on the things that you are doing that will make them better or prove helpful in moving the idea forward. Collaboration is an essential part in creating, developing, and expressing magic in a meaningful way, and incorporating points of view that differ from your own will make your magic richer.

7. Schedule some time for yourself

While a group is great, they can also easily get off track and not be productive. Make sure that you dedicate some of your own time to focus, maybe with a book or just some props and such, in an environment that you enjoy and find conducive to creative work.

8. Keep a notebook

Make sure to document your ideas, and try to write with some detail. I try to keep two notebooks going at a time: one where I just jot down any idea (usually on my phone) and another that has more formal write ups (Make sure your jottings are long enough that you can figure out or remember your idea!). You will find that you don’t always remember everything, so a trip through your notebook will help you retrieve forgotten ideas. Sometimes a trip through your notes results in a new idea because old ideas have had time to simmer in your unconscious or you have learned new things in the interim that solve a problem or improve an idea you originally wrote.

9. Keep up with the latest

Pay attention to what new things are coming out, and see if they inspire you. If you see a new effect but know that it has unwieldy apparatus, is too expensive, etc., see if you can’t come up with a better method or another way to make the effect yourself. By staying up to date with the newest releases, something may jog a memory of an old trick you read or an idea you wrote down. This will help you to keep your creative juices flowing, as well.

10. Keep up with the oldest

Looking through old magic books and catalogs can be a great way to get ideas. Often the older books will have inadequate descriptions, simpler effects, or something else that will inspire you to move the idea forward in your own way. Similarly, magic catalogues are great for reading trick descriptions. Read the description and then see if you can come up with your own method!

Ricky Smith

Ricky Smith's skill with a pack of cards is as deep as his knowledge of the art. A true student of magic, Smith has learned from some of the greatest card-men the world has ever seen. His devotion to the craft, and tireless scholarship in countless published and unpublished works on conjuring, has thrust him to the highest echelons of the magic community. One thing is for certain, Ricky Smith cares about the art of magic.

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