Michelangelo supposedly said of his sculpture “David” that he did not carve the figure but released it from the marble. I’ve heard a number of writers quote this when talking about finding their stories – specifically fiction. It is a helpful way to look at writing, I think: the view that the stories we want to tell already exist, and we just need to put them into a form that everyone can see.
I have also found this helpful when it comes to telling stories about my life. My whole life is like a block of marble, a past comprised of an infinitely dense mass of details - every thought, every choice, every gesture. It all happened so it all mattered. To find a story, I must cut away everything unnecessary to the story I want to tell. It is the only way to make the events of my life sharable with someone else. If I told you absolutely every single thing I’ve ever done or said or thought, it would be as if you’d heard nothing at all.
Sometimes, however, I cannot find the story, and I do not want to hear about Michelangelo and his marble. It seems I have to make the marble first all by myself. Meanwhile, the hands I would use to carve have gone numb, and I find myself careening down the steep slope toward failure. These have been the lowest moments of my life, lower even than when I have feared the loss of my life or my loved ones. At least then I merely fear the end of something, whereas with failure I already feel like I am nothing.
It’s a strange thought for a storyteller, to look at literally everything and see nothing. Which is why writing is always first about seeing. Before the beginning, middle, and end, before the conflict and resolution, before the scenes and sentences, before even the words – first there must be the perception. I cannot make the universe, but I can perceive its value, and my place in it. That is enough. How reassuring to know that what I want has always been there, waiting only for me to see it.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.