Michelangelo and an Analogy for Writing

by limebirdvanessa

Michelangelo said “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

Michelangelo, David

I think this is a wonderful analogy for writing. Often when we think about writing, we know that the ideas, the motivation, and the ability are all inside us and yet we can’t quite get to them. How did Michelangelo discover a statue inside a stone? He didn’t sit and wait for it to emerge, he got on with removing all the bits he didn’t want until he was left with what he did want. Can you see where I’m going here? Maybe in order to get to what we want, we should turn our attention to what we don’t want, and work on getting rid of that.

How would this work in practice? I’m going to talk through one of my writing projects, and we’ll see what happens…

I have written the first draft of a short story. I know it’s a good story, I have no doubts about the story, but I also know that it’s not written well at all. It’s based on a true experience from my childhood with my grandmother. It wasn’t a big life-changing experience, but I’ve had it in my mind for years as being something that would make a great story if it was turned into a piece of fiction. I finally got around to writing it about eight months ago. Since that first draft, and despite receiving some really helpful feedback on it, I have been unable to touch it again. I’ve looked at it. Several times. I’ve wanted to redraft it, but I find myself completely stuck. If this story is my stone, how do I get to the statue inside? What don’t I want that I should aim to get rid of?

The emotions…

– I don’t want the pressure of feeling that I can’t possible do justice to this story that I’ve had inside me for so long.
– I don’t want to want to feel like I’m letting my grandmother down if I get it wrong.
– I don’t want to feel like I’m not good enough to write it how I want it to be written.

The life barriers…

– I don’t want other things to always take a higher priority.
– I don’t want tiredness to keep being an excuse.

The writing itself…

– I don’t want the story written from the perspective that I’ve currently written it in.
– I don’t want the story to start from the point where I’ve started it.
– I don’t want the flatness of some of the writing.
– I don’t want the parts in it that sound contrived.
– I don’t want the vagueness that permeates it.

But most of all…

– I don’t want another 30 years to pass without the story being written.

It feels wrong writing so many negative statements, I generally like to focus on the positive, but sometimes facing up to the negative might be the only way to get rid of it. Looking at those statements now, it somehow seems more manageable. There’s a lot there, but broken down like that, I can see a way through.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Michelangelo.

photo credit: see.lauren via photopin cc


23 Comments to “Michelangelo and an Analogy for Writing”

  1. Sometimes it really is necessary to look at the bad stuff in order to help 🙂

  2. I suppose that for a writer, that “block of stone” is the blank page. That can be intimidating starting back at us, but the possibilities are exciting!

  3. This is a really interesting point of view Vanessa, I find I defeat myself so often nowadays that it is hard to get anything to paper anymore. I should try this with some of my work. Thank you!

  4. Yes, great authors also have the uncanny ability to edit what they write. If writing is the visualization of the statue inside, editing is the chipping off of what is not required, and also what needs to be rounded up better.

  5. Unfortunately (Vanessa, ask Neil if you don’t believe me), my stories to become the block of stone – so hard I couldn’t chip it with a jack hammer! I can edit my own writing from a technical sense – grammar, paragraphing, etc. – and I can make small adjustments, but to alter the entirety of the piece – that often proves to be an impossibility. The story simply “becomes” – it is what it is. I can see parts that probably are superfluous, but eliminating them? Ha!

  6. Interesting take on approaching a piece of writing. I never looked at it this way before, but I’m sure it’s one way of handling our woes. I like the idea of seeing the shape of the story inside a block of paper and cutting and shaping away to get to our characters and what they have to show us.

  7. Oh, Vanessa, you have touched a nerve. I see that stone as all the words of the first draft thrown down on paper. It’s the crafting of the piece, the sculpting that happens afterward. And I’ve got a very untidy mess of a “novel” from NaNoWriMo (wanting to write it for 20 years) sitting in the corner, breathing heavily in my oatmeal every morning. It has bad breath and horrific body odor, and I just can’t seem to face it at the moment. All of those negative thoughts you’ve listed are mine. Perhaps I should write them down, too, and then burn then, letting the charred sheets float away on the wind. Good thing I need to focus on my children’s writing right now. Thanks for such a meaningful post!

    • I’m glad it touched a nerve for you, we need that sometimes don’t we! I’m not very good at facing the negative, I tend to always think it’s better to focus on the positive, but maybe that just allows the negative to fester and grow! Those stories that have been inside us for a long time can be the hardest to write, or like with yours and mine, we can do the initial writing, but then the editing seems so daunting because we know the first draft doesn’t come close to what we had envisaged for all those years. Hope we both manage to get there in the end!

  8. I also recognize those negative thoughts! And it is often so frustrating, not knowing what needs to go, what needs revision, and what is good. Somewhere, I know there are good paths between the excuses that will help us move forward with our writing. But finding them is difficult!

  9. Great reflection and a new way of thinking about the story that I’ve never thought of before! I have A TON of short stories written but I feel almost this same way about all of them…why did it all make so much more sense before I wrote it down? So I stare at my block of stone in frustration til I just give up and move onto the next. Thank you for the fresh way of thinking, I’m going to revisit the ones giving me fits with this approach!

    • It’s worth a try right! I think if the story sounded great in our heads before we started writing it, then it has the potential to be great after we’ve finished, so we just have to find a way to break through the barriers and uncover the story we wanted! 🙂

  10. Vanessa, I know the feeling. Here’s what I suggest. Take a paragraph–any, but preferably not the first or last–and change the POV, tense, or whatever you think might liven it up. Then read it aloud. See what you think. Does it feel better?

    Another thing. Write the story as a letter to your grandmother–a real letter. Let it flow from your heart. Works of heart becomes works of art. Maybe you’re over-thinking the piece too much. Or, do the reverse: channel or grandmother telling you the story. hear her voice, smell her cloths, be with her and record it all as she “dictates the story to you.”

    These are things that will shake up the writing process for you and give you a fresh perspective. They may be worth a try…Good luck! 🙂

    I’m sorry I can’t follow all of your posts due to my illness and the meds I’m on, but I just want you to know that I’m still alive, kicking and thinking of you. 🙂

    • Thanks Lorna, great tips here! I’m going to print this out to refer to when I come to tackle the story again. And no need to apologise at all, it’s just lovely to see you when you come and visit, but of course looking after yourself and your health must come first!

  11. Sometimes writing is a process of elimination. You figure out what you don’t want and then you get to what you want. Great post Vanessa!

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