Thursday, May 13, 2010

The relief of the uncrafted sentence

I just finished up a freelance job writing a grant proposal to the Department of Education. I am now in the process of turning my mind, which is about as nimble as an aircraft carrier at this point, back to my novel. Not that grant proposals aren't a form of fiction themselves.

Writing bureaucracy-inflected prose for weeks on end is probably not good for one's fiction. On the other hand, while attempting to explain complex ideas under considerable time pressure, I did make a discovery: you do not need to craft the shit out of every single sentence. Sometimes you just need to say the thing and get on with it. We request five million dollars. It is snowing. There was a sign in the front yard. No need for flakes of white down settling in the branches like a distracted flock of birds; no need to banish "to be" or "there was" constructions altogether. Of course if all of your sentences are like this, you will sound either like a children's author, or a bad imitator of Hemingway. But every so often--and probably far more often than I think--just throwing down a sentence is fine. It's even good. It feels like such a relief to just say what I mean, I suspect it's a relief for readers too. They get the information they need, everyone's on the same page, and now we can move on together.

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