Friday, March 15, 2013

Paintbrush or Chisel? by Becky Melby

Becky Melby

One thing that’s been made clear to me on this writing journey is that no two writers follow the same path. We all have our own way of doing things. For instance, some of us may be detailed plotters, while others like to see where the story takes them. Today on Seriously Write, author Becky Melby shares different approaches to writing, and she offers encouragement for tackling your manuscript.  Enjoy her colorful prose! ~ Dawn

Paintbrush or Chisel?
by Becky Melby

A friend of mine writes such well-crafted first drafts that I’ve jokingly said her words actually squeak as they hit the screen. She fully embraces the “write tight” maxim.

I, on the other hand, embrace rabbit trails, too much backstory, purple prose, and too-much-too-soon.

If the two of us sat down together to write our stories longhand, my friend would choose a different color fine-point Sharpie for each word. Like a toddler drawing a rainbow, I would fist a dozen Crayolas at once.

At story’s end, my friend has a lean, meticulously written tale far short of her required word length, and I’m staring at a pudgy manuscript too high on the word count scale. That’s the point where we reach for our tool boxes—hers contains paintbrushes and gem-colored tubes of oil paint while mine holds a hammer, rasp, and an assortment of chisels.

How would you describe your first draft? Too skinny? Or in need of some serious calorie restriction?

Years ago, when my co-author Cathy Wienke and I received a letter saying Barbour Publishing was interested in purchasing our first novel for their Heartsong Presents, line we were ecstatic.

And then we read the fine print.

Our 75,000 word story was 25,000 words too long. If we accepted their offer we’d have to cut one-third of our book.

That sounded about as enjoyable as a root canal sans anesthesia, but leaving two husbands and seven kids behind, we spent a weekend amputating characters, scenes, and story lines. We sat up all night reading and slashing . . . and laughing hysterically. A common phrase became “What were we thinking?” It turned out to be a baptism-by-fire lesson in self-editing I’ll never forget.

Michelangelo believed a sculptor was a tool of God, not meant to create, but to chip away the excess and reveal the figures God put in the stone. With that mindset, he often worked for days on end without sleep. While I don’t believe my first drafts compare to a block of marble created by God, I love the image of chiseling away the excess to reveal the true story.

If you dread the rewrite process, it may help to don a beret and picture yourself as the artist you are. If your story needs fleshing out, imagine Michelangelo holding a piece of red chalk, perfecting the hand of Adam he would eventually paint on the Sistene Chapel ceiling. It all began with a simple outline. If your prose are a bit fluffy, think of your highlight and delete buttons as tools in the hand of an artist.

Michelangelo said, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” I disagree. The end result is even more beautiful when you know it didn’t come easy. So pick up your tool box and tackle that masterpiece-in-waiting. (And I’ll get out my chisel and trim the excess eighty-three words from this article!)

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Becky Melby and her husband Bill live in Wisconsin. They have four married sons and twelve grandchildren. Becky writes contemporary women’s fiction under the tag line “Fresh Start Stories.” Tomorrow’s Sun, Yesterday’s Stardust, and Today’s Shadows, her Lost Sanctuary Series, released in 2012. These contemporary stories contain historical threads transporting readers back to 1852 and the Underground Railroad, the battle for women’s rights and child labor laws in the early 1900s, and the reign of organized crime in the Roaring Twenties. Becky has also co-authored nine novels and three novellas for Barbour Publishing. Contest of Wills, a novella in Cedar Creek Seasons, released in 2012. She is also contracted with B&H Publishing for a Christmas novella slated for 2015. While not writing, reading, working at her husband’s chiropractic office, or spoiling grandkids, Becky may be found plotting and brainstorming on the back of their Honda Gold Wing. 

To find out more about Becky visit