The Perfect Sentence?

On Monday I blogged about the Japanese tradition of Wabi Sabi – the art of appreciating beauty in an imperfect world. Novelists should embrace the concept of wabi sabi. For writers who strive to create the perfect sentence are not only likely to fail but drive themselves nuts in the process.

Wabi sabi
Wabi-Sabi by Kelly Teague courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Anne Lamott in her excellent book ‘Bird by Bird’ extols the virtues of ‘writing a shitty first draft’ and I applaud her for it. Write the story that is buzzing around in your head, capture those characters, their voices and their hopes and fears. Don’t worry about the story arc or a particular character’s journey. Don’t try to craft the perfect sentence, scene or chapter. Just write the story. Capture its essence, it’s heart. If you love it, others will too.

The rest will come on the second run through and countless edits but if you write with the handbrake off and let the story explode out of your head and through your fingers and on to the screen or page if you write longhand, the spirit of the story will shine through.

Shine by Rodnei Reis courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

When you come to start the edits try to get the concept of the perfect sentence out of your head. We all want to write the best books we can but if you get hung up on the little details you will find the editing process a constant source of frustration instead of the joy it can become as we see our book grow with each change and rewrite.

You need to do enough to shape the book into all it can be but not so much that you deaden the writing and lose the essence of what you worked so hard to capture in the first place. It’s a delicate balancing act but one worth pursuing and far more worthwhile than wasting your time and energy chasing the perfect sentence.

Egg balanced on forks by Clint Budd courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

If such a thing as the perfect sentence exists and one day you create it you can allow yourself a moment’s pride. But remember a perfect sentence does not make a novel. It’s the thousands of other imperfect sentences that will make the difference. Novels are wabi sabi and that’s okay by me.

Open Book
Open Book Pages by Jo Naylor courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s