Monday, March 21, 2011

One True Sentence

But sometimes when I was started on a new story and I could not get going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, "Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know." So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut the scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written. - Ernest Hemingway,
A Moveable Feast

Every writer struggles with writer’s block, and I love Hemingway’s idea of “one true sentence” to help him overcome it. I can’t compare myself to Hemingway, and was never so eloquent as to name my strategy, but I do have a solution that works for me.

When I’m having difficulty deciding where to begin, I look at all the information in my computer file, or in my notebook or some combination of both, and the words and sentences and paragraphs are jumbled together and I don’t know where to begin, and I can’t see how it will all come together, I ask myself a simple question. “What would I tell my best friend about this story?”

That question forces me to focus on the big picture. From there, I might start with a sentence to summarize the main idea or thought. The sentence I write isn’t necessarily great, but once I get something on the screen, I know I have begun, and knowing I have begun puts me in the middle of it, and not on the outside looking in, wondering where to begin.

My sentences may not be as “true” as Hemingway’s, but if I let them do the work, before long I have a finished piece of writing.

Talk to you soon,


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