Still thinking about revision, which I brought up last post, but now I’m thinking about how one gets to that place where revision starts.
Michelangelo was very eloquent about his approach to sculpting. He said, “I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.” Oh, yes, very nice indeed. Very pretty. Lucky bunch, those sculptors. And here’s one genius sculptor who could turn a phrase, too. But we who actually need to use words to make our work don’t have the luxury of a big slab of marble. We can’t set anything free of some material because it’s up to us to make our material, our silly little marks on paper. Only then can we start thinking about freeing any angels within.
For most writers (there are exceptions, of course) this means creating a wreck of a first draft, one that goes all over the place and sometimes no place at all and stalls and speeds and takes a dozen wrong turns. One that is fuzzy about what it’s about and often confused about characters’ motivations and is basically a MESS. But a writer needs that mess to begin the process of finding the story in there, the true story. So, painful as it may be, writers have to allow themselves to make their mess and lie in it too. It’s the only way to get to the chances revisions offer.
I know some writers who get stuck on the first fifty pages of a manuscript, revising those again and again. They never get beyond that mysterious fiftieth page. So that’s one worry of revising before you write the entire manuscript, but I have another. Revision of those early pages can’t be clear because the writer doesn’t see the whole story, can’t really revise wisely without a sense of where the story will end up. I say a sense because, of course, there will be changes, big changes, but a sense is important so the scenes of the novel all lead toward the general area where the story should end. In revision, of course, we hope everything gets more definite, more clear.
So here’s my point. Writers have to give themselves permission to write a lousy first draft, full of all the things we don’t want to see in our writing, in order to get that raw material. That’s when we have the chance to find the true story within.