Writing Tip by Sarah Maclay

That Hemingway Thing

“Just write one true thing . . .” I can’t tell you how many times this has gotten me out of a jam.  And that’s “true” with a small t.  Try a Big T truth and this will have the opposite effect:  it’ll shut you down.  Plus it will probably be abstract, which is the opposite of where you want to go.  Usually, the “true thing” is something I see—“A bell in a window. Verdigris.  Still.  How the roses tatter in heat. ” It doesn’t seem to matter how small it is, if it registers precisely on the senses.  For some reason it unlocks the next line, and the next.  What becomes important: don’t jimmy it.  Stay true.  This can be odder than you’d think, but embrace that oddness.  As Charlie Murrow says, only the strange is luminous.  I once started a poem while driving across town in the late afternoon among wet vines, block after block, lining the boulevard: they smelled like cat piss.  This “smell image” started a poem that ended in an apartment, with a sweeping of shattered glass.  The cat piss, by the way, did not stay in the poem.  But without it, the poem would not have begun.

Biography of Sarah Maclay: Sarah Maclay is the award-winning author of The White Bride and Whore (University of Tampa Press). Her poems, reviews and essays have appeared in APR, Ploughshares, FIELD, The Writers’ Chronicle, Verse Daily, The Best American Erotic Poems: 1800 to the Present and Poetry International.  She teaches creative writing and literature at Loyola Marymount University.


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