When I was a new writer, I had a lot of misconceptions of how writers wrote.
I had a mental image of a writer sitting in front of a typewriter with a stack of blank paper next to them. I thought that was how all writers worked. I thought that the first sentence I read in a book was the first sentence that the writer wrote. I thought that the first thought was the best one. I thought that writers had to have everything in their story figured out long before they sat down to write it. I thought writers who were good enough to be published never had to rewrite, revise, edit, proofread or question themselves.
As I learned more about writing, I saw how wrong I was.
I learned that process of writing was hard, that it required heart-breaking and soul-crushing determination at times. I learned that the search for the right thought, the right word or the right image was a common one. I learned that great writers were willing to work and suffer for the sake of excellence and that craftsmanship was a process.
I learned, most importantly, that the final story represented only a small fraction of the work that was done by the author.
Now that I’m a little more experienced, I understand that page 1 of a novel is hardly the beginning of a writer’s journey. The mental image of a puzzled writer sitting at a typewriter isn’t an accurate one to me.
Writing A Novel Is More Like Sculpting A Fine Piece of Marble
Like a sculptor, writers start with a big hunk of nothing and end up with something beautiful.
Good sculptors don’t start whacking and hope for the best. Marble is expensive; a good sculptor would plan the moves of his hammer and chisel carefully. A good sculptor has a plan; he may spend hours consulting experts on proper form, on proportion, on style. A good sculptor would practice by making sketch after sketch, filling notebooks with different perspectives of ideas. Before a sculptor ever lifts his hammer for that first big wallop, he’d know what he was doing and why.
An experienced sculptor takes big moves in the beginning of his creation. He pounds big chunks away at first until he gets a very rough shape of the idea in his head. Then, his moves become finer and more delicate. Smaller tools are used to make rough shaped recognizable. Soon the sculptor is able to use tools like files and knives to create the detail. Each curve, each muscle, each surface is carefully and slowly handled. Over time, the sides of the sculpture are shaped. It may be a while before the viewer can understand the vision of the artist.
But the sculptor is not yet done. The finest details must be attended too — textures, eyes, fingernails. No detail must be ignored. The sculpture is not finished until every square centimeter of that creation is buffed by the creator.
What Can We Learn From The Sculptor?
- A sculptor learns from the experts. As writers we need to take the time to learn our craft from experts around us. Our art deserves attention to plot, structure, character, description, dialogue and point of view.
- A sculptor sketches his ideas in advance. Lucky us, our media, ink and paper, is so cheap enough that we don’t have to worry about our mistakes. But that shouldn’t stop us from practicing. We should write regularly and grow in skill and confidence so that when we do sit down to draft the novel, we are at our best.
- A sculptor understands that work that is rushed will show. Good writers are patient writers. They take the time to craft their work well and don’t rush in to publishing just because it’s easy. Our art and our readers deserve to have quality work from us.
- A sculptor moves around his sculpture, focusing on facet at a time. His work is circular or spiral, not linear. He is free to travel from section to section, improving it as he is inspired.
Now, when I start my novels, I want to think like a sculptor.
I want to review my notes and instruction from coaches. I want to spend time with the outline, the character development, the plot, long before I ever draft a word. I want to “swing that hammer” with confidence and that only comes with learning. I’m not going sit down with my art and think linearly. Instead I’ll move from big idea, say plot and move into the smaller details, like line-editing.
I had plenty more misconceptions as a writer, but envisioning correctly who I am in the process of the art has been encouraging and helpful.