That One Stupid Sentence


Sometimes it takes hours to write one sentence.  Those are the most agonizing hours of a writer’s life.  You start off sitting at your computer, your hands hovering over the keyboard ready to type some brilliant prose, but nothing happens. You pace back and forth for a while or doodle on some scrap paper or play several dozen levels of Angry Birds.  Finally, you find yourself lying on the floor thinking, “Why do I have to be a writer?  Why can’t I be like normal people?  Why can’t I go sit in front of the TV and eat nachos and forget all about this story I’m writing?”

Of course the right thing to do is move on to another sentence.  Maybe skip to the next scene and save this problem for another day.  That’s what successful, responsible writers like J.K. Rowling and Steven King probably do.  But you can’t because your brain is stuck on this one sentence.  You’re obsessing over it, and you’ll keep obsessing over it no matter how hard you try not to.  Your frustration increases until you stop and say to yourself, “Seriously, why am I doing this?”

I suppose each writer has a different answer to that question.  Some of us have multiple answers.  Sometimes I tell myself I’m doing it because I love my characters.  Sometimes it’s because I love my readers.  Other times it’s because I want a new career with a more flexible work schedule or because I think I can do better than some of the trash that gets published these days or because I believe God chose this path for my life and I must follow it.  This can get very deep and philosophical.  Sometimes I think about the purpose of literature and art in a functional society.  Sometimes I wonder about mythical archetypes and the collective unconscious.  Or maybe I consider the possibility that I’m the fictional character and my story is real and that the reason I can’t figure out what to write for this one sentence is because out in the “real” world that part hasn’t happened yet.

So why do I do this?  I don’t have an answer, but at some point after contemplating my existence and determining that the meaning of life must involve ice cream, I suddenly realize I know what that one sentence should be!  Why didn’t I think of it sooner?  Back to writing!

So how do you get through those days when you can’t write a single sentence?

P.S.: Click here to check out more blogs participating in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

17 thoughts on “That One Stupid Sentence

  1. Hello from IWSG. Love this post 🙂 I can’t say I’ve been stuck on one sentence like that. I typically move on to something else. I do get the overall point though. If I’m stuck I go do something else. I’ve learned that the more I “force” writing, the less it works. So I let my subconscious work it out. What really sucks is when this happens during your ONE PRECIOUS HOUR OF WRITING TIME THAT WEEK. Sigh. But we can’t NOT write, can we? And I suppose, when it all comes down to it, that’s the reason we keep on doing it.

  2. LOL . . this was so funny and wonderful and true that I had to read it aloud to my family who wondered why I was by my pc snickering. Thank you!!! I’ve definitely been stuck on that one sentence, scene, paragraph and chapter and that is exactly what I feel like and think like.
    I can’t say I have a perfect formula for getting out of it. Sometimes I write some bad poetry and that helps. Sometimes I just force myself to write something . . .and then I still obsess over how bad that something is . . .because I know it isn’t exactly what I wanted . . . but I still want to keep writing.
    Who wants to be normal anyway?
    Let’s just be writers and be happy with it.
    Best of wishes with every sentence you write in 2013!

  3. I just have to say that, yes, ice cream is the cure-all. Stuck on a sentence? Get out the carton and take just one spoonful. Searching for the perfect word and it doesn’t exist? Another spoon of ice cream but this time drizzle a little chocolate sauce on it. Write an entire page and realize it totally sucks? A bowl. You’re on to something here– I think you might have a self-help book in the making.

    Great article!

  4. Being stuck on a sentence is fine, but don’t get too stuck. That’s what editing’s for. I take comfort knowing that sometimes a lot of what I write will end up getting tossed out, but that’s why we write, isn’t it? If writers didn’t sweat every word, then why write?

    Nice IWSG post!

  5. The ironic thing about obsessing in this way, is that leaving the obsession behind for a while often leaves our minds free to wander, and stumble across a solution.

    Our minds are weird things sometimes!

  6. Great post on elusive sentences. It happens to me with…every sentence. When really stuck, I insert a simple sentence that conveys the gist of it and move on, just to get something on paper. NaNo really trained me to do that, too. Then, I fancy it up later. “See Dick run” becomes “The doctor treated the young man for the worst case of gonorrhea he’d ever seen.”

    Great site…following!

  7. How about that one stupid word? I’ve fallen into both pits, and somehow developed the habit of getting completely distracted when I reach that point. No word to continue the sentence? *clicks on Facebook* (as if that will help).
    Since I’ve recognized that problem, I’ve begun leaving brackets [with a note] anytime I can’t think of a word or sentence. Then, I move on and eventually it comes to me.
    Another exercise I’ve begun when I get stuck is to move away from the story and do some descriptive exercises–whether or not they’re related to the story, it gets my mind moving again.

  8. I think I’ve gotten to the point where I can give myself permission to write the wrong sentence, and know that it won’t break my book so bad that I can’t fix it. Really, there’s nothing I can do in one day or one week that will break the book so badly that I can’t fix it.

  9. Pingback: IWSG: Know Your Limits | The Tomorrow News Network

Leave a Comment

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