Writing As An Emerging Sculpture: Inspiration From Michelangelo’s Slaves

Some days the first draft of a book feels like hacking away at a huge block of stone, just hoping something will emerge.

You can type words on a page and they end up a rough version of the story in your mind. They don’t resemble anything like a finished novel, and you can’t see how it will get from that rough draft to a final, publishable book.

Well, take heart from a master.

In Florence, the stunning statue of David is displayed in the same hall as the unfinished slaves that Michelangelo carved (at least it was when I was there last!). At the end of hall, in natural light from a dome surrounding the white Carrara marble, David stands in pristine and perfect glory. Perhaps this is intimidating because in the literary world, David would win the Nobel Prize for Literature – but he started in the same way as those slaves.

They are trapped in marble, hints of the bodies emerge but the majority remains hidden. The muscles are shown but not in detail, they are just rough starting points. It gives us a hint of how they were carved.

The outline of a finished idea was seen within the stone and great lumps hacked off to make the basic form. Then the next layer of detail was added as the limbs were shaped, the torso was formed and the musculature added. Finally, the perfecting details would have been added so that the final statue would be awe inspiring from all angles.

Perhaps we will not all be able to create a masterpiece like Michelangelo’s David but we can take heart from the process of sculpture as demonstrated by the emerging slaves. Just hack away at the top layer until you see your story emerge, then move to the finer detail when that is in place. Of course, it takes time, but part of the fun of writing is the process and what we learn along the way.

(Image: Flickr CC JessoHackberry)

If you like visual art, you might also like this post: 15 Ways Modern Art Galleries Can Inspire Writers

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. says

    At the moment I definately feel like my first draft is a a hacked piece of marble – it’s aweful (and painful) to look at. I kinda wanna dump it and start on a new shiny piece. But you’re right, it takes time and I feel like it I just keep at it for a while longer, something more refined will emerge!

    • says

      Exactly :) This is why I wrote this piece – at the beginning, it just seems a mess, but it has to get better with time and effort….

  2. Antony Gooding says

    Steven King alludes to creative writing being like scupture in his book ‘On Writing’. To paraphrase he says somthing along the lines that the story is in the block of Sandstone and its the writers job to tease it out. I’ve been using this approach on my own story, and when its not going well I put it down to blunt chisles and sharpen up my own act.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *