How to start writing

Ask yourself this question

Most of you will agree with me: there’s no point in writing something that’s not true.

Even fictional art is truth. As Elizabeth Gilbert said, quoting somebody else, “If you want to write an honest memoir, write a novel.”

It’s better to show that to tell. Yes, a fictional story might have an imaginative plot, but all good fiction is about a Big Truth – which people universally agree with. If it’s not, it’s not interesting.

The question I ask myself every time I sit down to write is, “What is one thing I know to be true?”

Just one thing. One true thing.

It can be something you’ve heard. Or something you’ve thought, read, or stolen from another writer. It doesn’t matter, since you will have your own version of this truth.

Hemingway used to start writing a short story by coming up with one declarative sentence he knew to be true. That was the hook.

Getting that one true sentence is the hardest part. This is what you want to spend a lot of time thinking about. Once you get that true sentence though, you’ll get something else – a feeling. That feeling will guide you forward until you finish what you’ve started.

I know from experience: when you have that first sentence, everything else (regardless of whether it’s a fictional narrative or an article) flows naturally.

Don’t overthink it.

Come up with one thing you know to be true (or ten things and then pick one that feels better).

Then decide how to package it – in a fictional story format, in an essay, in a listicle, in a short, 100-200 word opinion burst, so on. 

In one way or another, all art is the truth.

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