Quiet please: I’m using a chisel on my novel

It is said that Michelangelo, when asked how he had sculpted his masterpiece, David, replied, “I looked at the stone and removed all that was not David.”

Not a bad description of the novel revision process. From the mass of words you have created, you’ll take away all that is not your novel. You’ll chisel and add, touch up, and cut, but in the end what you want is your story in its purest form.

And only you can decide what form that will be.  Kelly’s Picks:  Write Great Fiction: Revision & Self-Editing October 26, 2009 by  Kelly Nickell

Quiet please everyone – I’m using a chisel on my novel.

Not literally, of course. Metaphorically this is beautiful. I’m currently on the 4th draft of my novel for children set in Nepal. After so many drafts I am still astounded at the changes that are occurring, and the alterations needed. This editing and rewriting stage is crucial  if I want my story to be the very best it can be.

Sometimes it’s just a word or two here and there. Often a whole sentence needs to be chipped away; it adds nothing to the story so out it goes. Occasionally a whole paragraph or even up to a half page needs to be removed to reveal the underlying beauty. In many cases a simple rewriting of the sentence will suffice.

No going back

With a sculptor there is no going back.

Once a piece of stone has been chipped off, it’s gone.


That’s pretty drastic, but that’s the reality. Once committed there’s no going back. Bit like life really.

Writers can go back

Writing is different. If I cut something out and later change my mind, I can always go back and resurrect that which I’ve cut out of a story. I keep back copies of each draft, so it is relatively easy to bring back to life something I’d previously eliminated. I don’t do it often, but it’s reassuring to know I can go back if needed.

Writers can add

Something I am finding with my current novel is the importance of adding words, sentences and whole paragraphs to enhance the story. I do this strategically, always with a very critical eye and asking myself that important question: ‘Is this crucial to the story?’ If it is mere padding to get to a word count, there is a fundamental problem with the story. Sculptors don’t have that luxury; they can’t add a new bit of stone.

Time to cut and run; my chisel is getting cold.

Good writing.

Related articles:

  • Writing a novel – more articles in a series I’ve written about the processes I used to write my current novel.


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