The Michelangelo Concept of Writing

Written by on August 25, 2014 in The Writing Life with 0 Comments
Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican. Author: Stanislav Traykov, used under CC license.

Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican. Author: Stanislav Traykov, used under CC license.

Michelangelo said that the form already existed within the marble, and his job as the sculptor was to reveal that form by removing what didn’t belong. Writing stories—short or novel-length—has always seemed to me something akin to what Michelangelo described. The story already exists, and my job as the writer is to translate it into words and give it form in this world.

Sound easy? Ah, would that it were so.

For example, I sometimes try out a scene by writing it several different ways—the characters irritated with each other, sad, coldly angry. Finally something just simply feels right. The characters may have started talking without my manipulation, or they took on life suddenly and sounded real instead of like bad actors mouthing their lines.

When I start a new book there’s a period that I call “dreaming the story.” I let my mind roam, and pieces begin to form. It may be a flash of a face, an image of something like a house, a boat, two people trudging side by side on a long journey. Sometimes I’ll hear snatches of their conversation. It won’t make sense, but I write it down anyway. Invariably the real meaning becomes clear later in the work. Actually, I dream like this throughout the writing.

Something that surprises people when they hear about it is that I never know how the story is going to end until I actually get there. I know the story already exists, and I’ve met these characters, experienced their lives with them, followed them along through unfolding scene after scene. I know there will be an ending, a good ending for the story that has caught me up in it. Although I can’t see what it is yet, I know one day I’ll turn a corner and the panorama of the rest of the story will unroll before me. And it always does.

It’s called trusting the process.

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