When I was much younger I loved to read books about how to do magic. Not real magic, of course; mainly card tricks.1 I practiced doing passes, side slips, palms, and other basic sleights for hours on end. Today all that's survived of whatever skills I learned is a few card flourishes. I can manage one-handed shuffles and fans, and if the deck isn't too new, I can spring cards from one hand to the other. But I never performed, so I can't even claim to be an amateur. Still... on with the show.
When you're writing, you're performing. Your writing, for better or worse, is on public display. Let's see what a few of the rules for magic can tell us.
Pay attention to angles. For sleight of hand and for a great deal of stage magic, it makes a difference where the audience is and what they can see. In writing, do you want to show or tell your readers everything? In a mystery, obviously not. But otherwise? You can't show everything. You work in a limited space. (Unless you're Marcel Proust, in which case you've been dead for almost a century.) The angles you make visible can be a deliberate choice.
Make it look easy. A few magicians can pull off a frenetic act, with visible flop sweat, props apparently not working, and magic effects coming off as if by accident. But this is rare. Similarly, while I love the pyrotechnics some writers can create, I generally follow Elmore Leonard's rule: "If it looks like writing, I rewrite it."
Use misdirection when you need it. Magicians need it almost all the time, of course. In writing it's not so much misdirection as directing the reader's attention to what's important or relevant. Part of this is mechanics; in an essay, for example, a topic sentence usually comes at the beginning of a paragraph, but saving it until the end can make it more prominent. There's also pacing, diction, and so forth--and then the narrative you're laying out.
Pick a style, any style. After performing a trick, some magicians seem to be as surprised as the audience. Others show little reaction beyond, "Yeah, I did that." Some magicians engage their audiences closely, others are distant. Sometimes, in writing, a shift in style can have a useful and surprising (possibly humorous) effect. Consistency is best, though.
Learn by watching others. When I watch a magician perform on TV, sometimes I'll try to figure out how it's done. I'll do the same with a good piece of writing. (And a bad piece. What went wrong? Can I avoid doing the same thing?) Some writers have enough talent not to be readers. For example, E. B. White said, "I was never a voracious reader and, in fact, have done little reading in my life." I'm not E. B. White.
Practice, practice, practice. Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, popularized the hypothesis that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a field. You can practice writing by yourself (Renni Browne and Dave King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is a good guide) or with the help of friends (two OSers have read chapters of my book, Ordinary Mortals, and one read the entire thing). I think I probably have a few thousand hours to go yet.
I'd add a last rule, which is Don't explain too much, but that's exactly what I've been doing in this post. Don't be too cute? Guilty again. I'll try this, then: When you've said all you want to say, stop writing.
1 I attended a talk by the philosopher Daniel Dennett a few years ago, in which he pointed out the oddity that when we say "real magic" we're talking about something that doesn't exist; fake magic is all there is.