Of elephants, writing and mice

There’s an apocryphal quote that floats round the Internet about a sculptor who, when asked how to carve a statue of an elephant, replied “It’s easy. You just chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.”

I love to think about the writing process as a learning experience every time, and I’ve just finished the first draft of a short-deadline story (using Scrivener) which was written very much by this kind of process. I am happy to report that writing using the carve-an-elephant model is an excellent way to produce, as you might expect, an elephant. The problem is that when it’s a short story you’re writing, an elephant is not as useful as you thought.

At 10k words the story’s definitely failing on the “short” criterion. To be fair that’s a first draft and it’s now in the capable hands of my flatmate and fellow writer, who is gifted at wielding the Big Hatchet and will likely tear both the loose flesh and the sci-fi background to shreds for me. It started out as a longish, exploratory set of rambling paragraphs that established a world and a mystery but had no real plot; on being asked by an anthology editor whether I could come up with a different piece which was a better fit for the antho I submitted to, I’ve now spent a manic week (in between work and an assortment of irritating medical appointments) (a) outlining a proper plot, (b) producing enormous quantities of further verbiage which developed the irritating habit of redefining the plot plan without asking, then (c) throwing chunks of prose around like a mole in a temper and rewriting the linking material according to the brave new plot’s demands. In short, I’ve been lost in the attempt to chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.

Well, now I’ve got an elephant. And the next task is to seek its inner mouse…


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