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Thursday, October 27, 2011

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

When I first started writing I thought once I had learned the craft, I would be able to outline and draft a book without a lot of wasted words. I actually believed that for a fairly long time (I’m talking years). I still catch myself behaving as if this is true and it interferes with getting words on the page.

It interferes with lots of people I work with in the form of writer’s block. They stare at the blank page feeling as if they could only find the ‘right’ opening line they could avoid having to edit or rewrite. I’ve seen this with people writing fiction, nonfiction, a dissertation, an essay, a technical article or an obituary.

Although I’ve seen Michelangelo’s quote above (and more often the one below) used regarding writing, it wasn’t until today when I read an article on that I suddenly understood just how it applies to writing. The author of that blog added this: “As the writer, you must first create the block of stone. Only then will you be able to see the statue waiting to be released.”

This article says to write about four times more than you plan to have in your finished piece. Sounds like a lot, huh? I don’t know that my numbers are quite that high, but I’ve written a boatload of words for each story that didn’t make it to the final cut. Often times I write something that I know won’t be in the final cut merely to inform myself about the story. No words are wasted. If they don’t make the final draft, they are still part of the iceberg that helps weight the story and make it real.

Show of hands – who has heard of the iceberg theory on writing? (Here’s a great article explaining it in a bit more depth.) In short, an iceberg shows only about an eighth of its total mass above the water.

When you face the page, remind yourself that every word your write is information. Even if it doesn’t make the final draft, it is part of what gives your writing depth and history.

Writing practice (yep, I'm waving the ‘write every day’ banner again) helps to create the block of stone from which you chisel your angel. Instead of random writing prompts, choose prompts to fill in the history and the below-the-surface details that make your writing rich. When you face the blank page, remind yourself to start anywhere, don’t wait for the ‘right’ words, just use some words. If you decide this piece belongs in the final version you can come back later and polish it.

“I saw an angel in the marble and carved to set him free.” –Michelangelo

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