This week, I was reminded of what the great Ernest Hemingway once said, All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.
By this, Hemingway would effectively beat writer’s block. Once he could write a single true sentence, Hemingway found himself able to write the next sentence. And the next. And the next. The rest of course is literary history, for Ernest Hemingway remains one of the most famous writers in the world. I dare say even non-readers have heard of him, even if they can’t name any of his works.
This reminder, to write one true sentence, couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time for me. Cos I find myself this week struggling to figure out what to post tonight on my blog.
Yep, that’s my truest sentence this week: I’m struggling to figure out what to post.
I suppose it was bound to happen. After all, this thing people call “Writer’s Block” is recounted in so many movies and stories. I too have written about it before in several blog posts here.
At some point in the creative journey, a writer will find himself or herself hard-pressed to come up with something meaningful to say. Or else, the writer is so spoilt for choice s/he doesn’t know what to pick and where to begin.
This week, I found myself somewhere between these two extremes — feeling I have nothing of worth to say, and feeling there are too many things to say!
Until I heard two fellas talking about Hemingway.
That Old Man And the Sea
You see, I was thinking long and hard about what to write this week when I chanced upon a podcast episode that was all about Mr. Hemingway. More specifically, it was about one of his most famous works — For Whom The Bell Tolls.
Though I’ve never been inclined to finish any of Hemingway’s books I started on (except The Old Man And The Sea, cos it was my school’s Literature syllabus when I was 14), I was nevertheless drawn to listen to that episode. Call it my vicarious way into a private book club. For if I never got to read a great writer like Hemingway from start to end, I felt at least that I should hear from guys who have. So I don’t feel like a total literary ignoramus or a jerk to die-hard Hemingway fans.
Part of the reason I was drawn to listen to that podcast was because I had nothing meaningful to say this week about Writing, one of my blog’s four cornerstone content pillars (the other three are Autism, Parenting, and Life). Yet I had already planned to write about, well, Writing this week. I needed to stick to the plan.
But don’t ask me how I got “stuck” executing my plan, okay? It just happened.
Writing Is A Lonely Journey Towards A Distinct Voice
Writing has always been a lonely journey for anyone who dares venture into its hidden depths. Though you can surround yourself with endless reading and listening resources for inspiration, or join a writing community at some point to spur one another as fellow writers, the actual writing itself remains a solo effort.
While keeping a personal diary is certainly a great way to hone one’s writing, it gets tiring after a while. It’s my firm belief Writing has to transcend oneself and offer something more to the universe out there. But to do that, a writer needs to stop emulating others or fulfill some pre-established expectations.
What do I mean?
Firstly emulating others to improve one’s writing is understandable, if it’s to learn writing devices like how to write in the first or third person, when to use dialogue, or how to structure a book or essay. But, to emulate beyond these technicalities, runs the risk of a writer turning into a copycat. No reader likes or wants that!
Secondly, writing to fulfill external expectations, say, about what’s trending, could make a writer appear relevant and in touch with the world. But, if all we do every time as writers is speak to match prevailing expectations around us or what’s in vogue, then we run the risk of burying opportunities to hone our unique voice.
I’m not saying to ignore the world and live like a hermit. In fact, for many of my blog pieces, I’ve strived to address issues in society in a timely manner. All I’m saying is that, in the end, every writer must continuously hone his/her own distinct voice. Even if it’s on “unpopular” topics. Even if that voice isn’t understood or “accepted” by the majority.
Let Your Sentence Give Voice To Your Own Astonishment
Another famous writer, Annie Dillard, once said: You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.
For me, that rings true only when I shut out the world around me and sit in my own space to write. And by “my own space”, I mean a quiet place that allows my inner thoughts to rise uninterrupted to the surface of my consciousness. To allow that voice within uncensored reign over me as I write.
Over time, and with consistency, I will “sharpen my sword” (my voice) as it were, making it as mighty as the pen I hold or the keyboard I type. And hopefully, learn something more about who I am and what I’m here for.
Isn’t that the universal truth of writing; of life in general? To know and be known. For this world to be the wondrous world it is, we each must find our own voice, our own niche. The one our Creator had in mind for us the minute we were conceived in our mother’s womb.
So when I began this post by following Hemingway’s astute advice to start with one true sentence — I’m struggling to figure out what to post — it eventually led me to this point. Not bad right? As Dillard said, this post has provided me my “own astonishment” this week! My own way out of my writer’s block.
Go ahead. Try it. Write your one true sentence today and be astonished!
[PS Please share with me when you’re done okay? I’d love to be astonished again and again!]