770: One True Sentence

A week ago, I had a down day – but it wasn’t writers’ block.

Having written for years – including 120,000+ word thrillers – I don’t believe in it.

There were certainly days that my writing was terrible, but there were never days when I just stared at the screen.

I think the ’block’ happens for some people when they let the ’vision’ of the thing get in the way of the reality.

In reality, nothing is created in your head. Sure, you have ideas, concepts and … perhaps … thoughts of the adulation you’ll receive when it’s finally published.

But that’s not creation.

Ernest Hemingway famously worked his way through the block by committing to writing ’one true sentence’. Here he is, in A Moveable Feast.

“Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it 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 that 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 that scroll-work or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”

Most of us – alas – are not Hemingway, so I’d modify his advice by one word.

Write a sentence.

Then another.

Then another.

They may be bad – probably will be. But, as Stephen King says, the first few minutes of writing are always like “smelling a dead fish”.

Our job is to work through that until the rhythm comes.

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