It’s a well-accepted tenet of fiction writing that you should get through your first draft quickly, not stopping to edit yourself, before you go back and start on the revisions. Otherwise, the reasoning goes, you’ll become mired in the details and lose track of the overall story.
Well, I guess I must be a rebel, because that’s just not the way I fly.
After coming up with a fairly detailed outline, I’ll write for a while—perhaps two or three scenes—and stop for the day. Then, before continuing on the next morning, I’ll go back over what I wrote the day before, honing and polishing it before I continue on with the story. Not only does this sentence massaging give me great pleasure, but it also serves to remind me of where I left off, and it inspires me to keep moving forward.
And it’s also a bit like carving stone.
Many years ago—back when I was still in high school—I read Irving Stone’s torrid novel about Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Agony and the Ecstasy. One of the things that stuck with me about the book was Stone’s descriptions of the technique Michelangelo used when carving his magnificent statues. Unlike most sculptors, who would mark up all sides of their block of marble and then carve a rough model of their piece, Michelangelo started at the the front, perfecting as he went, before continuing on toward the back.
This technique is best seen in his “Captive Slaves,” or “Prisoners,” at the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy. It’s unknown whether Michelangelo deliberately left them unfinished or not, but the pieces provide a glimpse of the artist’s style of carving, through which his figures emerge from the marble “as though surfacing from a pool of water,” as described in Vasari’s Lives of the Artists.
Now, I’m not going to claim that my writing technique is anywhere close to that of the great Michelangelo’s prowess with carving marble. But I do sometimes think of the sculptor when I write—how he’d work his way through the stone from front to back, perfecting each section before pushing on.
Unlike Michelangelo, of course, I can—and do—return to the work after the first draft is complete, to revise and edit like every other serious writer out there. But, hey, I figure, if the honing-before-you-continue-on technique worked for him, why can’t it work for me?
Readers: Is there something you do in your life that goes against all the accepted advice?