Sculpting with 3,000 words

When I got back from Idaho, I knew I needed to rewrite my entire story. I had spent six months writing different versions of the story and then seven months writing the complete first draft of the version I liked best. The last thing I wanted was to start over again and drag out the process another six or seven months.

To top it off, I was finding it really difficult to switch gears from researcher mode to writer mode. In Idaho, I was listening and collecting information. At home I needed to actually synthesize that information and produce something with it. I was intimidated by all the work I had ahead of me.

Michelangelo, sculptor of The David and painter of The Sistene Chapel,  helped me through my resistance.  He famously said, “Every block of stone has a sculpture inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” I began to look at my story like a sculptor would look at a block of marble. First I needed to find the body of my story, Hack away at the general parts, then carve away the details, and, lastly, polish it off. Thinking of my story in this way gave me the permission to be rough with my writing, accepting that the refining would come later.

Michelangelo also said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” For over a year now, when I’m in writing mode I require myself to write 750 words a day. At first this was difficult, but as time went by it became a breeze. When I decided to get serious about completing a draft after my Idaho trip, I raised my goal to 1,500 words a day. Again, this was difficult but it wasn’t impossible. I thought about what would be impossible, and raised my goal to 3,000 a day.

For the last 25 days I’ve been writing 3,000 words a day, and I’m proud to say I have completed a great first draft! I am exhausted after writing that much, but it’s a great feeling. I have never pushed myself so hard in writing. I learned that when my goal was 750 words, I would always get stuck after 250 words but once I pushed past that, the rest was a breeze. When I bumped my goal up to 1,500 words, I got stuck after 750 words and then the rest was a breeze. When I pumped my goal up to 3,000 words, I’d get stuck at 1,000 words and then the rest was a breeze. The point is, you are capable of pushing past what you think is your limit, and the more you push past that limit, the higher that limit becomes.

Now I am going back into each scene and refining the writing: more setting descriptions, consistent character voice, and developed arcs for all the major characters. After that I will go back in and polish it up: fix grammar and spelling errors, and make sure every word is exactly the one I want.

What is your goal? I want you to double it. While it’s important to create goals that you can obtain consistently, it’s also important to push yourself to see how far you can go. How else will you know what you’re capable of?Surprise yourself!

8 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your process with us. I especially could relate to the part where you talked about translating what you’ve learned into what you’re writing. My head gets all these rules and I think I see it clearly until I sit down and do the writing. That’s where I feel like I need the pointy dunce cap. The only way through it, as far as I can see, is exactly as you suggest. Keep writing. Can’t wait to see your finished product on the bookshelves.

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