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Writing Hacks: What We Write About When We Write One Sentence At A Time

Language is a technology. It’s a particularly strange one that’s made of squiggles and sounds and maps of meaning, but like any other technology, it’s hackable. So’s writing.

The best hack for writer’s block is free writing — purposefully separating the act of composition from the act of editing.

But for those of us who just can’t help tinkering with every sentence, here’s a free writing approach that is about tinkering with every sentence.

Here’s Stephen Dobyns interviewing Raymond Carver from Catching Days:

In The Story Behind the Story, Stephen Dobyns writes that he asked Raymond Carver how he wrote a particular story. “He [Carver] said the first sentence had come into his mind and he just followed it.” …Dobyns was intrigued by Carver’s method of letting the writing itself be “a process of discovery.”

Raymond Carver wrote beautiful short stories built out of sentences so perfect they seem as if they were discovered rather than written. And apparently that’s how he did it.

So here’s the hack: you can edit, but only one sentence at a time. Write a sentence. Take an hour. Take a day. Then move on to the next story.

The only rule is once you’re done with the sentence, you can’t go backwards. Also don’t worry about, structure, theme, thesis, or any of those other things you’re supposed to think about while writing.

Just write one sentence at a time until you’ve written what feels like the last sentence.

Then you’re done.

The idea here is to trick the editor — the thing that prevents you from composing — from freaking out about the big picture by giving it some tasty anxiety over each individual sentence.

Give it a whirl. Sentence by sentence.

 


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