They say, famously, that a sculptor can see the shape of their creation trapped in a block of stone, and they must simply knock away the excess material that surrounds it to reveal their art.
A writer does not have a block to start with. All he has is a blank page. The first job of a writer, then, is not to find the story in something and clear away what’s not needed — the first job must be to create that block of stone — a block of text. Fill the blank page. Create something to work from.
Then, once we have that block of text, that raw stone, our ideas on the page, our roughest output, we can begin to chip away at it. We can look at the text and find the story within it. We must pick out those threads that make our art — and then get rid of everything around them.
This is the editing process, and this is why the editing process is, in many cases, more about the craft of writing than writing is. It’s seeing in the shapeless block, the first words we spewed on the page, which words are the good ones, which story embedded in that block is what we’re truly trying to say. And then we cut away everything that doesn’t enhance that story, everything that isn’t needed.
The most important step is to create that block, for without that, we cannot find the true shape of our work. We must first write, do that first draft, get something on the page. But once we have, then we can find the shape of the story, and we can free it from the rough stone that surrounds it, bringing our art into the world.