Guest Post Series, Writerly

(Guest Post) Shard By Shard: The Process of Beginning A Book

I’ve read that Michelangelo could look at a piece of stone and see the sculpture inside it.

But when I think about how he created the David, I suspect he chipped away at that block of marble a shard at a time. Eventually, a hand or the curve of the boy’s calf probably appeared, hints at the large image, stepping forth from the stone.

When I look at my book, I don’t see much of anything but haze. No great figures or amazing storylines, just an intriguing fog further up the path.

You see, I’m just at the beginning of this process. I know what the subject is. I know my reasons for writing this particular book. I know some of the characters, and I know some of what happens to them.

I do not know the structure of the book. I do not know where it will end up or what the “narrative arc” is. I don’t know that much at all, really.

Except this – the writing will show me where I need to go.

As Laraine Herring says in The Writing Warrior, “We live in a results-oriented culture. It is natural to impose this way of thinking on our writing. It may feel absolutely ridiculous to try to write without knowing where you’re going to end up. That feeling is OK. . . . There’s nowhere to go. That’s the most confounding, frustrating, counterintuitive concept in this whole writing life. There’s nowhere to go. Just show up and let everything go. . .  Don’t write with an agenda. Don’t write with a need to accomplish something. Just show up and write. Don’t try to make meaning of your writing afterward, but likewise, don’t try not to make meaning of it. Be in the experience and let everything wrapped up around that experience fall away.”

And that’s what I try to do everyday. I sit down and write. I have no idea where the words will take me that day (and some days I have no idea what words to even start with). I have no clue where this book will end up or what it will look like. I have no agenda.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try to find one. Some nights, I lay in bed thinking – I could alternate this story with this one, chapter by chapter. Or I could tell this story from his perspective or in second person or from Mars or as a child or . . . or . . . or. . . But that process only frustrates me and makes me feel like not writing.

So I am trying to cultivate a “let it happen” attitude in my writing (and in my life, too.) I sit down each day and write.

The shape will emerge from the fog when it’s ready.

I just have to wait for it as I chip away at each day, shard by shard.

About the Author: Andi Cumbo is a writer and writing teacher who is currently working on a book about her family history and the slaves on the former plantation where she was raised. She currently lives with her Dad (her patron of words), four cats, and a needy Pooch named Caruso. You can read her daily blog posts at or visit her on Twitter @andilit!

Andi is taking part in a two-month guest series featuring writers across the blogosphere here on twenty(or)something while I take a brief hiatus to focus on upcoming projects. Want to participate? Email me at twentyorsomething[at] or find me on Twitter!

4 thoughts on “(Guest Post) Shard By Shard: The Process of Beginning A Book”

  1. Andi – Thanks so much for being my first guest-poster! I’m honored to have you here to talk about writing, and about life, which is why I love this post so much — it bridges the two together and goes to show how connected writing is to life in general.

    That said, and as we talked, I can completely empathize with you on starting a book — or any new project — as I’m in the same situation now. That’s both the thrill and the frustration of being a writer — having an idea, one simple strand of thought, and not knowing what it’ll turn into or where it will go.

    For the first time, possibly ever, I’m adapting that “let it go, write first, edit later” mentality as well and, I have to say, I’ve rediscovered the pure joy of writing again, of not having plans, not knowing who the characters are but discovering the world along with them. It’s freeing not placing limitations on yourself.

    Like Michelangelo, like all artists, just keep doing what you love, find the joy in it, and sooner or later, it will begin to take shape.

    Wonderful post, Andi! Thanks for sharing, and best of luck in your writing!

  2. Pingback: Andrea Cumbo

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