Friday, 19 February 2010

The Michaelangelo Option

Búcaro. Museum no. 307-1872

In my workshops I am always looking for ways of expressing how  a large novel emerges  from the sprawling largesse of ideas, inspiration,  life experience, literary apprehension and  academic research that go into the writing of a novel. For me this can only really be expressed  by analogy.

Because in another life I taught pottery I often use this very practical art to help me illuminate the process of making a novel and making it work. So -  

You start with this great sloppy pile of clay                               (your ideas etc – see above).                                                           

Then:                                                                                                      Búcaro. Museum no. 307-1872 (V &A Museum)

You let your clay dry a bit.

- Some salient notions and structures emerge from the mass (see above…).  

You observe  the colour and consistency of the clay.

- Imagine the energy of a particular  story potential in the mass.

Then you take a useable handful and put it on a board.

- Write sketches that might be an element in the whole of the novel.

Then you ‘wedge’ your clay, slapping  and pushing it on the board to drive out air bubbles that might explode in the kiln and ruin your creation.

- Test out the potential for order in your speculative writing; consider whether the sketches and ideas can sustain a whole novel without destroying it before you start.

Now you centre your air-free clay on your wheel, start spinning and  pull your shapely pot out of the hard packed clay.

- Now you write your novel…. it will take much longer than throwing a pot , although it is no more or less art.

Then last week at the Ashington workshop I  met Julie, a sculptor who is writing a novel,  so we had some fun thinking through the Michaelangelo option as an analogy for the novel writing process.

Michaelangelo allegedly searched and searched the Carrara quarries for the right giant  block of marble to fulfil his commission to create a great statue of David.  When he found it and embarked on this enormous task he said that David was already in there, in the block of marble, and his task  was to free David from the marble with his  sculptor’s tools.

That also could be a good analogy – chipping and chipping away at a resistant mass to allow the shapely novel to emerge.

So on the way home from Ashington I  wondered whether - as a novelist  - I was a potter or a sculptor, a thrower or a chipper. Both analogies  in their own ways, work for me,  but my feeling is I’m more a thrower than a chipper: I tend to like building up rather than cutting out.

This writing  business can be great fun.



  1. A lovely post, as always.
    I like the imagery. Taking raw clay and throwing a pot, or chipping away in the case of sculpture.
    I shall have to see if I can think of some parallels I could draw between writing and my own crafts: Cabinet making, I suppose a bit of both pottery and sculpture, both building up and shaving down; or
    Photography; there are so many variables with this craft, all ending in a deceptively simple product.
    Thank you Wendy, for once again encouraging thought.


    Publish or Perish

  2. 累了嗎?來杯咖啡休息一下吧! ........................................

  3. Hi Wendy.
    Hope you and your family are well.
    Just to let you know Ive had a good response from our southern family and friends. Thney all
    Said that the book shruging of the wind. was the best book they have read for a while. That made me feel proud of everyone. From david
    I thought I would let you know. God bless wendy



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