“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know,” Ernest Hemingway wrote.
He was right, of course. It’s the mark of every good writer.
Take John D. MacDonald, the great fiction writer whose detective hero, Travis McGee, lived on a houseboat in Fort Lauderdale.
“There are no hundred percent heroes,” he wrote in the opening chapter of “Cinnamon Skin.”
“Every man can be broken when things happen to him in a certain order, with a momentum and an intensity that awaken ancient fears in the back of his mind. He knows what he must do, but suddenly the body will not obey the mind. Panic becomes like an unbearably shrill sound.”
It was in a novel, but true. A Vietnam vet once described the mental strain of war like a teacup. Everyone has their own size, but everyone’s cup has a limit before it overflows.
As a 40-year journalist, I have seen cups not only overflow but explode.
“I don’t know how you do it,” an education reporter told me one time. So far, at least, my cup has not “runneth over.”
Maybe it’s because I know I must tell people’s stories while also striving to write the “truest sentence.
In “Vampires, Gators and Wackos, A Florida Newspaperman’s Life,” I devote a chapter to cops who are heroes and cops who are crooks.
“Police officers are watched like a hawk, treated like a dog, and loved like the plague while making split-second decisions and keeping their emotions in check in a pressure cooker.”
In my book about Rod Ferrell, “Cold Blooded, A True Crime Story of a Murderous Teen Vampire Cult,” I describe the killer more than 20 years after the crime.
“The former teen vampire cult leader was wearing a faded orange jumpsuit. At thirty-nine, he looked faded, even with a prison yard suntan. His formerly long, dyed black hair was clipped to a gray and red stubble. His tongue, once used for tasting blood and preaching occult sermons, was silent.”
My advice to young writers is to write what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Not because you are obligated, but because you want to, to the point of obsession. Curiosity is even more important than writing. Skills can come later. You can speed up the process, however, by reading the great ones like MacDonald and Hemingway, and writing the truest sentence you can write.