Time For A Sentence

My freshman composition professor, in trying to convey the importance of word choice to a group of what was largely business majors, told the story of Gustave Flaubert emerging from his study after a full day’s work, soaked in sweat, declaring, “Today, I wrote a sentence!” I don’t know about the business majors, but it made an impression on me. There is a romance to the labor of a well-wrought sentence, and I’m a bit of a romantic. Something grand and beautiful and worthwhile must surely lie at the end of the journey from the idea to the completed sentence, and as we all know, the longer the journey, the more meaningful the destination.

There is, however, another famous writing story my professor might have told. According to Faulkner, As I Lay Dying was written in six weeks “without changing a word.” So there you are. I can hear the explanation already, of course. “Well, that was Faulkner. He was a genius.” Whatever. He was a writer. And for every writer there is a different way to write.

I’m all for beautiful sentences. They’re delicious. But the truth is, a beautiful sentence can be written in eight hours or eight seconds. What’s more, a sentence is only a sentence. It is one, small, complete idea. Books aren’t published as a collection of 1,000 sentences. Like it or not, in the end the whole is far more than the parts. You can admire a sentence, but you will love a book.

I have written slowly and I have written quickly. The best slow writing is an expression of my patience, the worst of my criticalness. The best fast writing is an expression of my trust, the worst of my impatience. As long as fear doesn’t win out, any way will do. But remember, no matter how you come to the sentences you love, the most important sentence you write will always be your next one.

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