Ten Good Sentences

Ernest Hemingway advises writers: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” We all know this is harder than it sounds. Secretly, of course, we are looking for more than one. So was he. But one good sentence is a place to start.

A while back I became flummoxed about the next move for my emerging memoir. My teacher encouraged me. “Go somewhere quiet, Margaret, and write ten sentences about your father. How you feel about him.” Actually two teachers advised this, so I thought it must be right.

I did go away. For me writing those ‘feeling’ sentences was like extracting teeth. I sweated, I read, I tossed and turned at night, I drank chamomile tea. And in the end I forced myself to write something. To express how I felt.

“If I had it all again, I would hold his hand. I would simply hold his hand.” Those are two sentences, I know. But you know what I mean. I didn’t have this sentence before I left home. I didn’t even believe it was true. And it helped me to get my narrative back on track.

Later, I showed my ten plus sentences to my teacher. Some were good, some not so good. Some, she said, made her cry. They were not Hemingway sentences. But they were mine. “Was I worming my way back into his heart – or not back, but into his heart in the first place?” Sentences, questions. I was making headway.

We memoirists can follow Hemingway’s teachings. In conjuring ten good sentences about feelings, we might just be moving that memoir along.

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