June 13, 2008

One true sentence

Here's an interesting excerpt from Hemingway's posthumously published memoir of his life in Paris in the 1920s, A Moveable Feast; as gleaned from an article in the WaPo by Jonathan Yardley, who finds the book to retain a "certain irresistible charm" even on its fourth re-read -- although, in general he regards Hemingway's venerated style of writing "as more self-conscious and mannered than pure, declarative and spare; I realized that in almost all of his writing, he had little of interest to say; and I came to loathe his worst traits of personality and character -- meanness that often turned into cruelty; self-centeredness; bluster and braggadocio; exaggerated, showy machismo."
"It was wonderful to walk down the long flights of stairs knowing that I'd had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But 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. . . . If I started to write elaborately . . . I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline."
I'm just waiting for that first true simple declarative sentence to sneak up on me. (Tsk tsk.. not going to happen, Sanjeev. Writing is hard work. Much against what I have long thought, like all other arts and talents, this one will not come naturally either and needs much practice, honing, and is sheer hard-work, laden with anxiety, frustration, and when successful is rewarded with endless joy!)

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