Revising like a Sculptor

It’s been a while since I posted something new here. Wrapping up summer, with travel, family, and myriad commitments took a grand total of six weeks. In the midst of all that fun and frivolity, I had revisions to do – the third round for an interested editor. I’m guardedly optimistic.

Deep into those revisions, the process as a whole struck me as that of a wood sculptor’s. We begin every new story with a giant chunk of words and ideas heaved onto the page or the screen, jagged edges and random lumps protruding from all sides, each blemish teasing the writer off track.

We tackle the blob with a butcher’s knife, hacking away chunks of scenes, beloved characters, phrases, and plot points. The extraneous wood falls away,  ready to be used as kindling in another story.

We add fresh chunks of maleable words, sometimes from different materials. We dig our hands in, molding this way and that until the first glimpse of a solidified story comes into focus, as if an ultrasound has revealed a book in the womb.

Eventually, we reach for the scalpel and tackle the finery with the eye of a surgeon. We shape paragraph hooks, nix the bulbous middle, add tension to the climax. We tie the characters to their kooky personalities and their wants, desires, and kryptonite. We dot the I’s, cross the T’s, check the grammar, spelling, format.

We reach for the heavy duty sand paper. You know, with a grit so rough it’ll skin your knuckles or beckon a case of wine bottles to your desk, if you’re not careful. We attack those rough edges until a recognizable mold sits before us and within us. A beginning, a middle, an end. A sculpture. A story.

We remove the splinters from our hands and our souls, and file down the random rough patches of our plot. It’s about finessing and fussing now, tinting the layers with a metaphor here, an alliteration there, hyperbole over yonder.  Then we set aside the chisel, the hatchet, the scalpel and reach, instead, for a magnifying glass and a manacurists’ watcha-ma-callit. Ultra fine sanding on one side. Polishing strip on the other. We wear both sides out.

Then we repeat every process until the final polishing rag seems to shimmy by itself.


And Again.

Until the ‘send’ key commands as a voice in our heads.

Then we wait.

And wait.

Until it’s time to revise. Again.

2 Responses to “Revising like a Sculptor”

  1. HelenL

    Well said! I've always thought of revising as sculpting, finding the true story in the blob of a first draft, but I've never expressed it as beautifully as this.