Guest Post, David Roberts: One True Sentence


When I begin writing, I usually start with a sentence.

Every now and then, I’ll be sitting at work, driving to or from school, spending time with my daughter, etc. etc., and suddenly, this small little flash of an idea jolts into my brain. Constantly nagging at me. Gnawing away at my every thought.

Suddenly, I find myself daydreaming, pushing out other, more pressing matters to focus on this one idea. It forms, shapes itself in my brain, until I get to a point where I feel like I’ve got the germ of a neat idea. A sentence to start a rush of words and phrases.

But then I sit on it. Call it laziness, call it procrastination, call it whatever, but most of the time when I have this idea trying to burst out from the edges of my brain, I reel it back in, try to control it.

I tell my sentence to calm down. This can wait. Please, I’m trying to watch Frasier reruns on Netflix with my girlfriend.

“Hey. Hey. HEY!” it shouts, waiting for the moment that I will relent to its demands and allow it to escape from my mind and onto the page.

Bedtime rolls around. The lights are off. My girlfriend is asleep next to me, my daughter is asleep in the room across from me. I’m wide awake, staring at the ceiling, waiting for this sentence to shut up and let me get some much needed shut-eye.

Finally, at eleven-thirty at night, I give in. I tell my girlfriend that I can’t sleep, and I’m going to go write. “Mrrmph,” she replies, half-aware of my affliction.

I plop myself in front of my computer, and I pound away at the keys. I start with the one sentence. It’s so excited to get out that it begins another, and another. I’m on a roll here, the ideas flowing out like water, the mere thought of sleep is the furthest thing from my mind.

The clock reads 2:53. I’ve got my thoughts on the page. I’m about to pass out from exhaustion. Edits will come later. For now, sleep. My sentence thanks me for freeing it before floating away.

Hemingway once said, ”All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” There’s really nothing “truer” than this. All you need is one sentence to spark a flow of ideas that you never thought were possible before. But you have to put that sentence down, and you have to follow through with it. Otherwise, it’ll keep eating away at you, until it decides it’s bored and goes and bothers someone else.

Hell, this entire post was started because of that one, tiny little bit of inspiration at the start of this whole thing. You don’t know where the words will take you until you let them, and the only way you can do that is by starting at the beginning. Because that one sentence can take you anywhere you need to go.

So, thank you, sentence. You stupid, nagging, bossy little sentence.

Guest Post, David Roberts: Five Tips for a Stress-free Interview


During my time as a journalist, I’ve found that the hardest part of my job isn’t reviewing, or writing features: it’s the interview. An intimate one-on-one where anything can go wrong if you ask the wrong question (or the right question at the wrong time) can be nerve-wracking for first-timers (or even seasoned veterans).

I’ve interviewed dozens of people, and each time I do I get this horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. When this happens, I remember a few pieces of advice that I’ve heard over the years, and it helps put me at ease. Hopefully, this will help you with any future interviews that you may have to do.

1) Give a shit

This is probably the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard in regards to pulling off a successful interview. If you don’t care about what someone has to say or what they’ve done, your subject will notice it. They will pull away, mentally retreating from your interview, and your piece will suffer for it.

Listen intently, react to what the other person is saying. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most boring thing you’ve heard, or you don’t care about the topic. You’re there on assignment, and it’s your job to make sure that you get a solid interview. Even if you have to fake it, care about what you’re doing.

2) Prepare!

Research your subject before hand. Find out what they’ve done, who they work for, etc.

Prepare a list of questions that you can ask if you end up off topic to get you back on track. At least ten, just in case you lose your place.

An unprepared interviewer will fall on their face, and your subject will notice if you haven’t done your homework. If you go in blind, you will regret it.

3) Don’t be afraid to deviate from your prepared questions.

That said, don’t stick to your prepared list of questions for the duration of the interview. Let the conversation flow naturally, and you’ll be surprised where you’ll end up. I’ve gotten fascinating information out of subjects because they feel comfortable just talking – it’s a great way to get away from stock PR responses and delve right into the heart of what makes their work special

4) Don’t go for the big guns right away. Lead up to it.

A friend of mine was talking about an interview he had, where he had asked a rather hard-hitting question right off the bat. The subject was immediately on the defensive, and immediately shut off.

I interviewed the same person a few months later, and asked a very similar question, but lead up to it with a series of smaller, more broad questions to start with. I got a great, honest response from him, and it just became the next part of our conversation.

Be careful how quickly you try to go into “investigative journalist mode.” It can backfire on you very quickly.

5) Relax!

Calm down. Take a deep breath. If you’ve prepared, have some questions ready, and just approach it as two people having a conversation, you’ll be fine. It may be a bit intimidating at first, but your subject is a person, just like you, and will appreciate an honest, genuine conversation with someone about their work. So loosen up and have fun with it!