"In each of us there is a little of all of us." -Georg Lichtenberg (found inside The Globe bookstore in Seattle, 07/31/11)I used to keep this notebook full of sentences that don't go together. I would carry it everywhere, and any time I read a really good sentence--whether it was from a book or article or blog or sometimes even a sign in a store--I would write it down. It didn't need to be explicitly inspirational or have any sort of theme: if I liked it, I wrote it down. Just having them all there in my pocket was inspiring enough, no matter the subject.
There's something about reading a really good sentence that makes a previously-stuck gear turn in my head. Whenever I have writer's block, I flip through this book of sentences and it always seems to free up the massive traffic jam that somehow formed in my brain.
"She didn't look like Halloween, but you could go as her on Halloween, and there's the difference." -John Waters (written about Amy Winehouse), "A Bad Girl With a Touch of Genius" from the New York Times, 07/28/11It's not an end-all cure, but it's a start. I haven't documented sentences for quite some time now, but perhaps I should start again. There's something about a really good sentence, after all, that keeps a paragraph, a chapter, a story flowing. It at least makes me want to keep going.
And if that fails, I always go back to this:
"This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important. So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music."
-100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost