That First Sentence

One-True-SentenceYesterday, my students wore a few blank stares on their faces when I asked how many had started writing their profile articles. This was a viable question since the drafts are due next week. The truth was, few had begun to write.

Hence, the problem.

Writing that first sentence.

How to craft that first sentence is not an easy task. Often, whether it’s an assignment for school or work, or a creative endeavor you are trying to accomplish, that blinking cursor can be intimidating. Getting started isn’t always easy. But as Hemingway said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” Great advice, but he was Hemingway. What about the rest of us who labor away, striving to get that first sentence down on paper expecting that what will come after it will flow like a river?

Just write it.

Half the battle is getting that piece of work started.

For example, I toiled and toiled with the first line of the novel I am currently working on, which reads as follows:

I stand before the full-length mirror in my bedroom, having just shed my last piece of clothing, and stare at my nude form in the mirror.

That’s it. That’s the first sentence. All that follows is going to hinge on the story of that person who is staring at herself in the mirror. What is her story?

Some writers must start the story at the beginning (guilty as charged). Others begin to write in chunks and then go back and write the beginning. I like to start the story at the beginning so I know where my subject is as I begin the piece. For me, it feels like an unmade bed to begin anywhere else. Joyce Carol Oates begs to differ. She believes you can’t write the first sentence until the rest is written.AP_Blog_OatesQuote

Furthermore, just because you write that “one true sentence” doesn’t mean you can’t play with it, alter it, or scrap it altogether. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

What Hemingway and others are trying to tell you is this: just start writing. Start with an initial sentence and see what happens.

You’ve got to begin at some point.

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