In a scene from the 1965 movie The Agony and the Ecstacy, Michaelangelo (played by Charlton Heston) receives a massive block of marble. He explains that the sculpture he intends to create already exists, hidden within the block. All he needs to do is chip away at the block until the artwork within reveals itself. I have since heard more than one author describe writing in a similar way: The story is already complete. The act of writing simply reveals it.
I have had some time to think about my own writing process, and I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing could be further from the truth. (For me. I’m sure for other writers it works to think this way. But not me.) When I’m trying to write a story, I don’t find myself laden with a massive wealth of raw material like the block of marble. Instead it’s like the story is a massive stone tower I need to build. I can visualize it – a lofty structure with levels and balconies and crenellations, windows that peek into darkened chambers, staircases that climb to dizzying heights, or twist deep into the earth below. The highest point touches the clouds. But… when I look at my materials, I’ve got a couple handfuls of pebbles. I’ll lay those pebbles out as best I can, and then it’s a long wait while I go and find more pebbles. Frequently I get discouraged. The pebbles are so small, and the tower they are supposed to become is so huge. I’m never gonna make it. Maybe I should scrap it and try to build a small tower with the pebbles I have. Turns out, they’re the wrong kind of pebbles for that kind of tower.
Things have been frustrating lately. I feel like I’ve been dealing with a lot of rejection, in both my writing and acting lives. Not any more than usual, exactly, but a few things timed out to make me extra aware of it this week. It’s not a pleasant sensation. I find myself questioning my life choices more than usual, wondering why I couldn’t have found a simple 9 to 5 job in a cubicle somewhere and at least enjoyed decent health insurance while keeping most of my bills paid. But no, I decided to make a go of it as an actor instead. I’ve spent the last few years trying to find and keep work that would also allow me to drop whatever I’m doing at a moment’s notice so I can go out on auditions for commercials, TV shows, and the occasional movie. Aside from the very rare booking, what I’ve gleaned from the experience is that I should have tried it twenty years ago. It stayed exciting for a while, but lately it’s been feeling less and less “worth it.”
So I’ve been wanting to write more. I have a play for Lifeline Theatre in development, to be produced a year from now. I really want to write an original horror piece for my horror theatre company, WildClaw. And I want to write… other stuff. Novels and short stories. I want to develop a respectable catalog of work.
So I sit down and I fire up my laptop… and I stare at these goddamned pebbles.