Carving Out the Story


Sarah Sennott Cyr - July 2019

I've had a steady writing practice for five years. Except for a period after miscarrying two years ago —where I directed my writing towards an essay on the experience—I've allowed my writing to hold the reins. I'd use a prompt or come to a blank page and whatever surfaced, that's what I'd write.   

This month I began the task of re-reading my old notebooks. If I stacked the collection of (mostly) cheap spiral bounds, Moleskines, and eclectic hardbacks on top of each other, they'd reach my chest. I've taken quite a nerdy approach to the process. I write and circle a capital A in red ink next to sections or phrases of Awake writing: text rich with specific detail, or an unexpected image that reads fresh, where I've allowed logic to drop away. Then I place a Post-it on top of the writing with a one-word notation about the theme of the passage (BRO, WILD, WRITING, HOME). Over the years I've come to see themed patterns in my writing—my coming-of-age story wrapped up with my brother's addiction, wilderness/the natural world, the writing process, the idea of home. 

Michelangelo's David stands 17-feet tall with his slingshot and stones at the end of a long hallway in Florence's Accademia Gallery. Lining each side of the hall before you greet the towering nude are four unfinished sculptures known as the Prisoners or Slaves. These sculptures provide a unique ability to witness the Italian Renaissance artist's creative process. The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material, Michelangelo said. Unlike most sculptors of the time who first made a plaster cast model as a guide, Michelangelo mostly worked free hand, starting from the front and working back. The human form seems to emerge out of the raw Carrara marble as if writhing away from mist. 

What I'm realizing in this process of re-reading notebooks: the words I've written over the last five years are my marble. Now it's my task to carve out the piece of art, the story that wants to be revealed.


Sarah Sennott Cyr is a writer and community organizer around story and literature. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, The Boston Globe, ARTNews, and Cosmopolitan. She leads workshops on writing as a practice inspired by her teacher, Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones). Sign up to receive five free prompts from Sarah every month: 

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