Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why Carving Stone Is Easier Than Writing

I've been doing a bit of both lately, and thinking about the differences and similarities between the two.

When you sculpt stone, you take an irregular lump of rock that looks like nothing much and you chip away at it with your mallet and your pointed chisel. Then you chip with your fork chisel, and eventually with your flat chisel. You chip and you chip until your arm hurts and hours and days go by, until eventually you realize that you have taken away (to paraphrase Michelangelo) everything that wasn't the form within the stone.

Writing, at least for me, is much the same process of taking away what doesn't belong. Sacrificing what seems clever for the sake of form and flow. Chipping away at whatever gets in the way of the point of the piece.

But here is the main difference between carving and writing. In carving, you heft your stone into the studio and heave it onto the carving stand, then prop it up with sandbags so it stays still while you whale away at it.

In writing, before you can start whaling, you have to produce the stone. And birthing that rock, that raw material, often feels like it must have felt to Zeus to have Athena burst, fully armed, out of his head. Sometimes the prospect of birthing that rock gives a writer writer's block.

Me, I try to get the rock out of my system as quickly as possible. I try to think about it as little as possible as I'm setting it down, except to remind myself that it is just a formless lump, something to work on later, something for my mallet and chisel to chip into shape. And once the rock is on the work table, I get a great feeling of relief.

Because I know that the rest is just fiddling with the stuff--cutting and pasting, changing a word here and there. But mostly it's erasing, deleting, taking away even what is dear to my heart, until the final form emerges.

5 comments :

  1. this is precisely why i tell people, when i'm coaching, that reporting is the hardest job in the newsroom. reporters must create something out of nothing. editors then react to it.

    editing is hard, too--it's as much psychology as it is wordsmithing. but at least there is some raw material to begin with.

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  2. It is why I am an editor, not a writer.

    I would have loved to have seen the original, then this.

    Perfect.

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  3. I think it was Dr. Johnson who said "read over your compositions, and if you find there something that pleases you, strike it out." Ouch!

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  4. yes. kill your babies, they say.

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  5. It's funny how, when I started writing, I found it really hard to let go of certain sentences, paragraphs, etc. Now I (mostly) don't give it a second thought. I guess we all turn into real Herods with time.

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