All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Monday, July 8, 2024

One True Sentence

Yes, I often get hung up on writing stories. Not the writer's block kind of hung up, but rather trying to think about how I want to present a story, lay out the idea, create a mood, all that stuff. I get lost in all the technicalities and lessons and rules, and lose track of my process. It's easy to do - sometimes, if I'm not careful, it's inevitable. Invariably, what I end up is pretty scattershot - it misses the point, it lacks the feelings, it tells rather than shows, all those usual mistakes than I should've long since outgrown. And I know it will happen again.

This is when I fall back on Hemingway. True, this was an author who could at times be very succinct, and at other times wander all over the page. Everyone seems to have a very distinct opinion about him, and you can usually tell which of Hemingway's works a person has read by their feelings about him as a writer. Well, be that as it may, I often set those opinions aside and dig into the individual quotes. Often I take them very much out of context, using them for my own personal ends rather than his intentions - whatever those may have been. And in this regard, I often return to the idea of "One True Sentence."

This phrase comes from Hemingway's posthumous memoir, A Moveable Feast, which in itself is shrouded in controversy due to many factors. Besides the many edits, rewrites, and so forth prior to its publication, it's hard to tell where the original words land. However, those things are not important relative to my purpose (as I said, I often take things out of context for situational purposes). In this regard, I look at one particular tip he supposedly offered himself as a starting writer in 1920s Paris:

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. 

I like to think these are his actual words, the young writer telling himself in no uncertain terms that he does not have to be afraid of failure because he knows of his past successes, and all he has to do is be true to himself. Armed with this quote, I approach my writing from a new trajectory. Whenever I have to write something, I get away from all the rules, all the noise, everything that is getting in my way, and I ask myself in no uncertain terms, "What is this writing about?"

At that point, the only thing I need to write is that one true sentence. It doesn't matter what the elements of the story are, who it's for, or what the characters are about. It can be a story about an agoraphobic werewolf, a vampire trying to style their hair, or aliens arriving on Earth just in time for New Year's Eve celebrations - it doesn't matter. At its core, a story has a very simple meaning, a very personal message. If I focus on that one question - "What is this writing about?" - and answer it in the most simplistic way possible, then the rest is just words surrounding that answer.

Now, Hemingway scholars might find this overly simplistic, or that I am missing the greater point of this quote. That's fine. Like most products of the creative process, it can mean many things to many people. This is the takeaway I need for that one moment in time. In short, once you focus on the truth of the situation, then you are writing in exactly the manner meant to be. The rest is just words.    


  1. I just got caught up with June & July - Kudos to you keeping up, especially considering your health blahs. Thanks for all your insight. Besides being talented, you are a kind person to share so much of what you know.
    By the way - I'm not a Hemingway fan but can profit from his "true sentence" message. ~ Phyllis

    1. Thank you, Phyllis! It's been a real adventure recovering, but I am pretty much back to my old(ish) self.