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:
- vomit draft–get the story out
- puzzle draft–make the pieces fit together
- 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.