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What Michelangelo Taught Me About Writer’s Doubt

Drumroll please, and the winner of the “Writer’s Doubt” writing contest is: “What Michelangelo Taught Me About Writer’s Doubt” by Christine, author of the blog, Better Novel Project. Join me in congratulating Christine in the comments and enjoy her post below, it’s an outstanding tribute to the creative spirit and overcoming Writer’s Doubt.

When there’s a giant obstacle blocking me from my desk chair, it’s always the same question: Why did I think I could be a writer?

Writer Genius Overcoming Doubt

It’s worse than writer’s block, a missing muse, or even the inner critic – because sometimes I don’t even make it far enough for those other hurdles to step in.

This is Writer’s Doubt: self-sabotage and fear that burrows so deep inside of me, so thoroughly, that I don’t know what’s real and what’s not.

But there’s one thing I do know that’s real, and it’s a moment that I turn to again and again– the moment I saw Michelangelo’s sculptures in Florence, The Unfinished Slaves.

I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free. ~Michelangelo


You see, I had traveled to Italy to take it all in– the art, the cafés, the charm– and I expected this to magically fuel beautiful writing.

When it wasn’t that easy, I just felt very, very lonely.

And loneliness breeds doubt.

I questioned why I was standing in line to see Michelangelo’s David instead of working on my story.

After all, by the time I made it to the Gallery Accademia, I had already seen David’s body on souvenir barbecue aprons, his [ahem] on novelty condom wrappers, not to mention the actual full-size replica in the piazza.

But, I had to see the David just so I could say so.

And like I said, I was lonely. It felt good to go through the motions of the experience I thought I should be having.

After an hour in line, I came to terms with what a phony I was because I just. didn’t. care.

And then, before I made it to the David, I saw the most beautiful artwork I’ve ever had the honor of standing in front of. There was no crowd or line waiting to see these massive hunks of unpolished stone:

The Prisoners, The Slaves, The Unfinished Ones.


I gazed up at the prisoners in the marble: Larger-than-life men, half-fighting their stone cages, half-content to die there.

Michelangelo knew how to dig them out. All he had to do was hammer in the right places– just like all we writers have to do is put one word after another.

These sculptures pierced through my loneliness and self-doubt, and I was left with a whisper stuck in my lungs– I was overwhelmed with the contrast of these crude blocks and the angels he found inside of them.

All Michelangelo had to do was clear away the muck. With each clink clink clink of his chisel, he cleared away the to-do lists, the self-doubt, and guilt of doing what he wanted.

If you knew how much work went into it, you would not call it genius. (Click to Tweet) ~Michelangelo

And the instant I accepted that Michelangelo found these creatures inside of him, which let him find their forms in the marble, I remember the work.

Michelangelo was commissioned to make 40 of these giants. 

He failed.

He only began a handful of them. Chiseling marble isn’t like blowing the seeds off a dandelion, after all. It’s work.

The genius part is continuing the work, knowing somewhere inside of you that the creature is there, whether it be Atlas Slave or the hero of your novel.

Michelangelo taught me that the trick is holding on.

These sculptures are always described as non-finiti. Unfinished.

These stone gods didn’t make Michelangelo famous, but he did them anyway. They seem like an afterthought leading up the hallway to the David, but maybe they are the practice that made the David all the better.

Or maybe he left them unfinished just to catch a lonely writer off guard.

So, there I was, standing in awe– not in the beauty of a perfectly finished product, but of the work and the process.

And at that moment, the rays of these ideas converged and I felt them all: the inevitability of finding the forms, the work, and the beautiful failure.

I was moved. My planes of understanding moved, and I felt it all at once and separately at the same time. For a moment, art was faith, and understanding that concept was art in itself, too.

It was a moment that had the clarity usually reserved for falling asleep that can never be recalled– a spiritual kind of moment, even if I never knew how to describe spiritual before.

There is no doubt.

This then, is the moment that I have tucked in the folds of my mind. And still ten years after viewing these statues, I get a little teary-eyed as I remember how they looked– no– as I remember how I felt.

To feel such a strong reaction to another’s art work– You can’t feel like that and walk away.

This is the moment that I pull up when I question my decision to pursue a creative life and to call myself a writer.

When Writer’s Doubt keeps my butt from planting in the chair, this is what I reach for.

And if a brief flash of this memory can turn in to just five minutes more of overcoming Writer’s Doubt, that’s enough.

Suddenly it’s like looking at my doubt from far away, and it seems silly and obvious– just chisel it away.

So I urge you, if you’ve got that capacity to experience art (you do), to be moved in this deep way, and to feel beauty, then there is no doubt that you are on the right path. This is worth it.

Find that sentence in a book that makes you in awe of humankind, remember that film that leaves you speechless and quiet while the credits ran, or remember the sculptures, sitting ignored in a hallway in Florence, pushing you forward.

And with that moment in hand, there is no doubt.

Share your moment with us in the comments.

Congratulations, Christine! There is no doubt, you are the winner. Join me in congratulating Christine in the comments. ~Bryan

–  ~-~ –

This writing contest has been extremely rewarding. With so many meaningful entries, it was anything but easy choosing the finalists. Thanks to everyone who participated, you are ALL winners over Writer’s Doubt.

PS: If you haven’t already, get your name into the “Writer’s Doubt” drawing for a $100.00 Amazon gift card. Click here for the rules and how to get your name in the hat!

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

  • This essay is a work of art. Inspiring and beautiful! It’s very clearly the winner. Congratulations Christine! I’ll absolutely return to the wisdom in your words when I’m in doubt, and then continue to chistle away…

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you, Dana! I’m happy you can use it to chip away at your own project. 🙂

  • Christine,
    The best piece won and that was obvious. Beautiful work. And I can relate because my first children’s book was inspired by looking at a piece of my daughter’s art. And that led to another…The art makes the connection and then the words which were there HAVE to come out and be seen. To stay in the mind would be denying what they were created for.

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you, Anne! Isn’t it amazing what art can do? Thanks for your thoughts. 🙂 -Christine

  • Love this: “The genius part is continuing the work, knowing somewhere inside of you that the creature is there….”

    Heartfelt, inspiring writing, Christine. Thanks for sending your encouraging words into the world for us to enjoy. Well done.

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thanks Scott! And thanks for connecting on Twitter. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed this! Best, Christine

  • Well done Christine, I guess I have to keep writing until I set the angels free.

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Exactly, Jon! Thanks for your nice comment. 🙂 Best, Christine

  • Congratulations, Christine! I love the post.

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thanks, Matt!! 🙂 So glad you enjoyed it. -Christine

  • Diane Turner

    This post is most fabulous, visually and in the gut perfection. Congratulations. Well earned. Thanks for sharing.

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you, Diane! I appreciate your kind words. Best, Christine

  • Congratulations! I especially like the quote from Michelangelo “If you knew how much work went into it, you would not call it genius.”

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you, Adelaide! I agree, that quote really speaks to me. Best, Christine

  • Bravo, Christine. There are so many things I loved about your post and can see why you won first place.

    * With I’m struggling with self-doubt, I truly cannot tell what’s real and what’s not.
    * I loved that David FAILED to create 40 statues like he was commissioned to do, but he was VICTORIOUS nevertheless — even with the unfinished pieces.
    * Writing (and all art) is a process.

    Beautifully said. Thanks for sharing.

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you, Marcy! Yes, knowing what’s real is the toughest part. You try to “be realistic” and “follow your heart” at the same time…it leads to a lot of inner conflict (but hey, that’s good for writing!)

  • Wonderful post, Christine! “I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.” This alone caught by attention which kept me reading. Art speaks deeply to my soul and and I marvel how uniquely we each have been given the gift to create. Thank you, thank you. I could go on and on how much encouragement I received from your post.

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you so much, Sandi! It is amazing what we can create when we put in the work. 🙂

  • Joy Lennick

    It’s all about listening to the whispers isn’t it?! And you certainly did just that. Beautifully written. With no illusions about my writing, many years ago I wrote a creative piece as an exercise and then read a book by John Steinbeck, where I came across a sentence which was so in tune with one I had just written, I could hardly believe it. I still have no illusions but it spurred me on and I have just had my fifth book published (‘The Catalyst’ on Kindle and soon on Amazon). I continue to listen and read and hope…

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thanks, Joy! That’s amazing to find your words in a Steinbeck novel. 🙂 Good luck with The Catalyst! Best, Christine

  • debra elramey

    Kudos, girl, on a worthy win!

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thanks Debra!!

  • Andria R Bicknell

    Absolutely beautiful. You’ve created a breath-taking image. Congratulations, Christine!

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you, Andria!

  • Angie

    I recently blogged about Michelangelo inspiring me as a writer. I love this perspective! Such inspiration! Here’s my post: http://www.thewritersalleyblog.com/2014/10/your-voice-released.html

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Great piece, Angie! 🙂 thanks for sharing! -Christine

  • William Ballard

    Hi Bryan,

    Thank you for sharing this. I was actually thinking a similar idea for an article at my own blog.

    You see, before I took my first step in the writing life I have always been very interested in art. When I was younger (I am still young ;)) I was always sketching (or drawing) and just simply have always loved art.

    However, my writing now has taken up much more of my time that I have not been able to draw or sketch like I use to, but I have been thinking about taking my love for drawing and finding some way to merge it together with my love for writing and just never could up with an idea to do it.

    So, think you for inspiring me once again to re-look at this idea.

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Hi William! I’m glad this inspired you! I hope you do write about it. I also enjoy drawing and try to incorporate that facet of me into my literary life. At my site betternovelproject.com, I draw a “doodle” to accompany each post instead of stock images. It’s a lot of fun and keeps my creative juices flowing. Thanks for your nice comment. Best, Christine

  • Rick Carter

    What more can I say except I am richer for your creation of art! Also the gift of courage to press forward to the prize! I can’t thank you enough! Blessings to you! Rick =)

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you so much, Rich. You are too kind. 🙂 -Christine

  • I didn’t want this article to end! What a beautiful way of talking about Writers Doubt. Whatever you’re writing, I want to read it. Don’t ever stop!

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you, Chelsea. Awesome encouragement!! 🙂

  • Amazing story! Thanks for sharing how you saw the process in his art.

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thanks, Kent!

  • Liwen

    I love this, Christine!! I love your honest, soul-baring perspective. Congratulations! I also checked out your blog and will be following along!

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you, Liwen! And thanks for following Better Novel Project. 🙂

  • Marianne Kesler

    I felt moved just reading about your experience with the sculptures. Thank you for sharing and congratulations. I am a writer of poetry, prose, a blog, but first of all a songwriter. My musical moment came during a James Taylor concert when he came out solo with a guitar, sat on a stool, and sang the most beautiful songs. I literally began to weep and knew in that epiphany that was what I wanted to do in my life. Good to be reminded this morning as I read your post. 🙂 http://www.mariannekesler.com

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Hi Marianne! Your moment sounds beautiful. It’s funny how art and music can strike us in the tear ducts. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words. Best, Christine

  • Jeanne Doyon

    This spoke to my writer’s soul. Thank you for verbalizing what doubt screams at me daily.

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you, Jeanne! 🙂

  • Omoye Boroni

    I posted UR link on my blog (omoyeboroni.wordpress.com) because of how extraordinarily precise this post is. Spoke to hearts and confirmed what we’d previously refused to acknowledge.

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you, Omoye! I’m happy to hear this resonated with you and inspired you to write! -Christine

  • Tami

    This was just beautiful! What an amazing experience. Thank you so much for sharing that with us all <3

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thanks, Tami! My pleasure– I’m really excited that Bryan posted my work here. 🙂

  • Congratulations, Christine. A compelling way to relate to one of the world’s greatest artists.

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thank you, Kathryn! I appreciate it. Nice to see you over here. 🙂

  • So honored to call you a writer friend, Christine. You are very gifted at writing, that much is obvious just by this post alone! You really described the scene so well, and that analogy between Michelangelo’s half-finished works and the preparation they gave him for completing “David” was spot on.
    Now hurry up and share your writing with us, already!

    • Christine (BetterNovelProject)

      Thanks, Ashley! And I am honored to call you a friend too. 🙂 Such a positive writing community!

      I am really looking forward to the release of your novel…I will definitely get cracking on mine and share it as soon as I can!

      Thanks again,

  • Great work Christine, you really did opened my eyes 🙂

  • I am sure this is the first article that I am reading from Christine and I really enjoyed it. I am so glad that you found your motivation and won over your doubt. Great advise that all you need to do is find your own inspiration too. Congrats, Christine!

  • Thank you for sharing that moment. Inspiration for other people’s work always uplifts me. I only have to think of Monet’s cathedrals or haystacks and it lifts my heart. There is great beauty in the state of becoming and no endings – only evolution and transformation. If you find love in the process and intent is pure, there is no need for doubt. Inspiration will find you. The Uffizi has been calling to me for years, so I’ll remember your story when I do get there. ( :

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