- Next trainer development cohort 23rd - 27th September 2024

A golden writing lesson from Michaelangelo

15th March, 2024

A golden writing lesson from Michaelangelo

18-year-old me wasn’t feeling that excited.


It was a suffocatingly hot day in Florence. We’d been kept awake all night by the lumpy mattresses and he drunk Swedes in our hostel.


I was too hot and bothered to go and see Michaelangelo’s David, but my brother and fellow traveller was keen.   So off we went.


After a lot of queuing, my damp T-shirt clinging to my back, we finally edged forward in the sea of sweaty tourists.  


When I got up close to the statue, my jaw dropped.  


Smaller than I thought, David somehow glowed.  Emotion poured from every part of his face.  Each curve and indent told a story.


I welled up, shocked that a statue could make me feel like this.


But it somehow all made sense when I read how Michaelangelo worked. He’s purportedly said:


‘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.’


What a quote, right?


It really stuck with me.


As it applies to so many areas of life, especially our communication.


The real art isn’t so much in what you write, it’s in what you leave out.


In the editing process, we need to chisel away the superfluous.  We need to look at each word with fresh eyes and ask ‘What job is it doing? What place does it have here?


We need to chisel, chisel, chisel until we’re left with the nub of our message – articulated in a way that inspires action.


I’m not advocating a scorched earth approach, stripping everything back to bare, brusque orders.  


After all, personality, charm and emotion are all important too (as Michaelangelo well knew).  They can be powerful motivators.


But mostly we need fewer words than we think.  


So, focus on the words that add value.  Chisel away everything else.


In other words, write less and say more.

University of Cambridge


- Next trainer development cohort 23rd - 27th September 2024

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