Rewriting is Texture

Last week I took a fun getaway trip to Mt. Rushmore, my first time there.  My brain was still thinking “texture,” as in what-in-the-heck idea was I going to come up with for my next post??  And there it was in front of me.  Texture, in the form of carved rock.


I got to thinking about a quote I’d read some years back, likening writing to the process of carving statues.  It’s simply the act of cutting away what doesn’t belong.  The story emerges from all those words as does a statue emerge from stone.  Or something like that.  I’m pretty sure this was attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, although all that I can find is his famous quote that “drama is life with the dull parts cut out.”

Same difference, right?

Some folks say that writing is rewriting.  Personally, I aim for 3 drafts:

  1. vomit draft–get the story out
  2. puzzle draft–make the pieces fit together
  3. polish draft–make it sparkle

Sadly, my current work-in-progress is not cooperating with that method.  I’m cutting out and throwing away at least half of the first draft.  Because they are pieces that just don’t further along the story.  And yes, it’s painful!

While searching for the source of the carving quote, I came across some others that support the metaphor of rewriting as cutting out the dull parts:

  • In a highly entertaining guest-of-honor dinner speech, Elmore Leonard once quoted his ten rules of writing.  Number ten is:  “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
  • Helen McCloy wrote in her essay “Cutting:  Surgery or Butchery?”:  “The first thing to cut is the beginning.  Almost all amateurs fail to realize that you must begin a story in the middle, not at the beginning.  A great deal must have happened before the curtain rises.”


And I learned another interesting comparison at Mt. Rushmore.  The original plans called for carvings that included presidential torsos, not just their heads.  But once the project started, it required a change of course.  Sometimes that happens in books, too.

Rewriting is the hardest part of writing, I think.  It’s hard to recognize those parts that need to be left out.  And it’s hard to know when to stop carving away.


11 thoughts on “Rewriting is Texture”

  1. What a fantastic picture and post. Rewriting is the hardest part and yes, it is hard to know what to cut. I’ve yet to write a book that hasn’t lost its first three chapters in the rewrite process, but I’ve never been able to write a book without including all that backstory for myself. Besides the first three chapters, I’ve learned that if I think a scene must go, but I love it-it goes. There is so much truth in the phrase “kill your darlings.”


  2. I’m from the Black Hills! You can actually see Mt. Rushmore from my parents’ kitchen window with binoculars. Great post. It’s food for thought. Man, though, it would be a lot harder to have a vomit draft when carving a mountain.


  3. That is my way of writing – throw it all out there and then cut away what is unnecessary. Kait, the only difference for me is that if I love a scene, but it isn’t doing anything, I try to give it a job. If I can’t give it a job, it goes. Learned that from a writing instructor.


  4. Wonderful post, Sue, and sounds like it was a great trip! This reminded me of Mark Twain’s quote: “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.” Very cool about how the original plans for Mt. Rushmore changed!


  5. Kait, 3 chapters?!? Wow, that’s a lot of darlings to kill!

    Sam, it’s so beautiful! The guide book says it got its name from the darkness of ponderosa pines, but we have those in Colorado, too. The soil there looks darker, which must help give the overall landscape its name. I want to go back!

    Mary, that’s great advice–give those scenes a job!


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