Monday, January 7, 2008

Resolution: One True Thing

by Julia Buckley
Well, the New Year is here, and I, like many humans, am ready to start afresh. I've been looking at a variety of websites to determine a list of the most popular resolutions. These seem to be the top ones that people make every year:

Lose Weight
Pay Off Debt
Save Money
Get a Better Job
Get Fit
Eat Right
Get a Better Education
Drink Less Alcohol
Quit Smoking Now
Reduce Stress Overall
Reduce Stress at Work
Take a Trip
Volunteer to Help Others

If you're like me, you have a few of those on your own list. But those of us who are writers also tend to make writing resolutions, and if we broke them down to one basic idea it would be this: write the best thing you've ever written.

Every year that must be the resolution, because every year we try to learn from what we've written before: the writing we feel we've outgrown or upon which we could now improve. We learn from the great books we read, and we learn--gasp--from the reviews of our own work.

All of those things lead us to a new place, a place where we will write something different from what we wrote last year or any year before that.

Hemingway spoke of writing "one true sentence" as a way of getting started. Here are his words, from A Moveable Feast:

"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 started on a new story and I could not get 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 you know." So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut the scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written."

So, inspired by Hemingway and the resolutions of others, I shall pursue the truth in my own writing.

What's your one true sentence?


Julia Buckley said...

Some people said the comments weren't working for them, so I'm testing it here. Obviously we have a server problem in some areas. ?

Sandra Parshall said...

Julia, I think my "truest" writing comes when I remove myself from the picture and concentrate on the characters. Autobiographical fiction might work for some writers, but when a character represents some aspect of myself, I start being protective, wanting to put up a shield between the character and the reader. And I don't want to hurt the character who is part of me. If I let characters be themselves, I can see them and present them more honestly. And I don't get queasy about hurting them! :-)

My only resolution for the new year is to try, at long last, to start believing in my own abilities.

Clea Simon said...

If I knew what it was, I'd have written it - and now I'd be doing something else. It's agreat concept, though. For me, it's about trying to go for the heat - whatever feels uncomfortable, too close to the bone, is usually "true" in that sense - and never easy.

Julia Buckley said...

Luckily, Sandra, many other people have confidence in your ability--but I know exactly what you mean.

And Clea, I think you're right. We keep writing because we haven't quite found the way to say that one true thing.

Rick Bylina said...

One true thing: Only by writing will I finish my novel.

She bolted the door against friends who don't knock, shut off the phone against those who would steal her time, and closed down the Internet to protect herself from the alure of idleness disguised as work. One light on, she wrote into the night, collapsing when the pink hues of morning distracted her from the gentle glow of the computer screen. She saved her work, and her eyelids crashed like a heavy curtain. "One true thing," she said, laying her head down.

Lonnie Cruse said...

I have the same problem with causing my characters problems. But I'm learning to let go and give them a good life-whack. Hehehe. I also have many of your resolutions on my list, sigh.