Writing Lessons from Other Disciplines

Noticing details, working with natural colour changes
and adding textures can give the sculptor
a much wider palette to work with.
In addition to writing, my other creative outlet is stone sculpture. The two may not seem to have much in common, but sculpting has taught me a great deal about writing.
1) Patience. If you rush a sculpture, all sorts of bad things can happen. The most obvious and common one is splitting the stone unexpectedly. When you are handcarving stone, you start with big tools, sharp hammers and chisels that can sheer away unwanted stone and help you start shaping your sculpture. Rushing this step can be a big mistake. With the amount of stone dust you raise, it can be hard to see cracks forming - and the sheer impact of each hammer blow can encourage any pre-existing hairline cracks to split wide open. I've had more than one sculpture simply sheer in half right when I was starting to get excited about what it was going to become.  If you take your time and pay attention, and you can catch a problem early enough, it can often be averted, by removing the chunk of rock that is already unstable. It can turn your carefully planned piece into something else entirely, but you can still turn it into something beautiful as long as you go with the flow. Sometimes spontaneity can be as valuable an asset as patience.
Laura Belford's "Go With the Flow"
had all sorts of tricks up its stony sleeve
2) The Value of Perseverance. Even when working with the softest stone, it's still stone. In addition to the the chance of sudden fractures, soft stone has its own challenges. Some soap stones are exceptionally talc-like. You'll be carving away and suddenly sink your chisel into a soft patch, or come into a section that's porous. I've had several sculptures start disintegrating during wet sanding. You never know what you'll find. Several times, I've been working on soft stone and come into a section filled with bits of iron. When I tried to sand off the resulting rough texture, the stone around the iron bits sanded away, actually making the problem worse. So I switched to a tiny file and tried to cut the hard bits down to create a smooth surface - at which point, the iron bits started to come loose and fall out - leaving big holes and indents in the surface of the softer stone.Often the best thing to do is just embrace the anomaly - face the fact that it will never be smooth and shiny like you wanted and start playing with the texture as a unique feature of the stone. As long as you don't give up, it can still become a beautiful piece of art.

3) Attention to detail. A careful, steady approach will allow you to see what's happening with the stone, so you can start anticipating breakage, texture changes or porosity. But lots of amateur sculptors get anxious to finish and rush to the end, leaving them with a sculpture that looks nice but lacks the professionalism that can turn a nice piece into a brilliant piece. The devil really is often in the details. Of you look closely at the seams and lines, you'll see they haven't been cleaned out properly - so that sharp lines don't pop. the inside of a hole or a curve will be dull and unsanded. Sometimes that can create an effect of its own, which can work in the sculptor's favour if it's deliberate, but otherwise, just looks lazy. And finally, there is the finish. If you hurry this stage, the finished piece not only looks dull, but the fascinating detail, the grain, the colour changes, the natural beauty of the raw materials don't come across. It's like an unpolished diamond. Accomplished sculptors know that it's seldom a good idea to sand an entire sculpture to a uniform gloss. It may be sort of pretty, but it probably won't be interesting. All sorts of effects can be created by varying texture - from simple colour contrasts to bas relief effects,to making the stone look like a different medium altogether (patterned fabric anyone?)

What has all this taught me as a writer? Be patient. Never give up. It's the details that only emerge during the final polish that differentiate an amateur work from a professional one. Pretty valuable lessons all round that can be applied to pretty much any other art form. 
Get the scoop on my new novel, The Human Template at https://dalelsproule.com.


  1. Very nice to see some examples of yours and Laura's work. My only quibble might be with your final paragraph. These days we're pretty much all "amateurs" in the sense of not making any money from most of our work. Besides, the word "amateur" shouldn't be used as a synonym for "poorly done." A true amateur is someone who does something for love rather than for money. I'm pretty sure that this describes writing for both of us at the moment.


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