In the drawer of my nightstand, I keep a notebook where I write sentences. Not my own, but sentences other people have written. Sometimes the writing I am reading is so good, I feel the need to copy it down, so I can ruminate on it later, and recapture some of the joy I felt when reading it for the first time.
In his book, How to Write and Sentence (and How to Read One), New York Times columnist Stanley Fish says, “I am always on the lookout for sentences that take your breath away, for sentences that make you say, ‘Isn’t that something?’ or ‘What a sentence!'”
A friend in my book club once asked, “What makes this book so much better than [the last one we read]?”
“It’s the sentences,” I replied. I believe it is the carefully crafted building blocks, the ones that sing in our brains, that make a novel memorable.
That kind of careful attention to detail can lift any art or craft into something special. This summer, my brother came for a visit and built us a shed. But, being a talented craftsman, the project turned into so much more than ‘just a shed.’ How did he elevate the lowly backyard storage area into a thing of beauty?
By paying attention to the small details, and lovingly and artfully combining them, you can end up with a shed like this:
Instead of this:
Now, my brother will be among the first to tell you that there were many “first drafts” in his design career that never made it out of his work room (or shouldn’t have). I’m thinking in particular of a chopping block (which I still love) and a blanket box (which my sister still loves) that he would not want to see pictures of published here. But without those early “mistakes,” he wouldn’t have learned and honed his craft and been able to eventually build me something as gorgeous as this:
It can be much the same with writing. Most writers I know have files filled with pieces that make us say, “ugh! I wrote that??” and that (luckily) will never see the light of day. But we need those pieces, those ugly sheds. We all know that to get better at anything, you need to practice. If you are reading this blog, you are helping me in this effort – thanks! By practicing the process of revision, I’m working on taking out the “rusty nails” in my writing and replacing them with sentences that are shiny and galvanized.
I’m hoping that one day, I can put a bunch of little carefully crafted details together and create something beautiful. Maybe I will even write something that will make someone say, “Wow! What a sentence!”