The First Sentence – Truth, Failure, Critique, and the most dangerous experiment.

Today I (Carson) had the chance to sit with a writer I admire so greatly in order to talk about her novel.

I had been postponing this meeting for weeks. Because I was scared. Because I was invited to be a reader for this novel-in-progress and I had nothing better to say than thank you, this saved my life a few times. I wanted to bring in everything I’ve spent 10 years learning about narrative strategy, point of view, patterns, form, image, and, well, everything, and instead all I could say, in addition to thank you, was, “well, this is True.” Helpful? Nah. Not at all. But it reminded me of something. I don’t know exactly what.

Today, I read Glen Weldon’s review of Love is Love NPR, in which Weldon, a critic, attempts to respond to an anthology of comic/ graphic artists responding to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. It’s the best thing I read all week:

I went in equipped, as always, with the Three Questions every critic keeps scrawled across their frontal lobe: What does this project set out to do? Does it accomplish that task? Is that task worth doing?

And like me this morning, this conclusion:

Ten pages in, I realized how very much, for this particular project, those questions were completely beside the point….

It’s too big, of course. Too unfair, too shattering. They can’t succeed. They won’t succeed.

But so what?

It’s the attempt to do something — to create, to make change, to comfort each other — that matters. It’s all we ever have, in the wake of tragedy. It’s all we can do.

We can’t succeed. We won’t succeed. If we’re lucky, we’ll someday write something true enough that critique fails.

Those are the dangerous, innovative, strange, sometimes messy, sometimes over-the-top, some might say too-earnest, some might say unkempt, wild, undisciplined books that don’t always win critical acclaim and that don’t do well in workshops. But those are the books that tend to save lives (even if only our own).*

*Not to say my friend’s book was unkempt. It wasn’t. But it wasn’t tame either.

I hope I get to write something that true someday.

Meanwhile, here’s a piece of danger I’m too scared to try:

Write something true.

And here’s an excerpt from one of the books we will be reading in our novel workshop. And by the way, we’re almost full, so come on in. We’re not tame in here.

“The first sentence of the truth is always the hardest. Each of us had a first sentence, and most of us found the strength to say it out loud to someone who deserved to hear it. What we hoped, and what we found, was that the second sentence of the truth is always easier than the first, and the third sentence is even easier than that. Suddenly you are speaking the truth in paragraphs, in pages. The fear, the nervousness, is still there, but it is joined by a new confidence. All along, you’ve used the first sentence as a lock. But now you find that it’s the key.” – David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing



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