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.

4 thoughts on “Guest Post, David Roberts: One True Sentence

  • January 14, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    A lovely post that describes a feeling that I am intimately familiar with as a young writer. I Often times I lose a good thought due to my need to push things from my mind in order to focus on a task at hand with my busy university schedule.

  • January 14, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    I understand the feeling of being pestered by that one sentence that needs to get out, although I also have the issue of that one idea, that one new character, that one new scene. Losing a good sentence to a busy life (or to a moment where you’re somewhere that you fail to locate a notepad or some other recording device) is a nasty feeling and I’ve plenty of those moments. For this reason I at least make an attempt to drop everything and jot down the sentence or idea that pops into my head. Like you said, you never know where it might take you.


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