One Sentence Beginnings

Posted On November 16, 2010

   A few of years ago, I set up a weekly Happy Hour at a local establishment, and those who could come, would attend at 6 PM on Wednesdays (just to get everyone through the week). I would arrive early, get a table, and while waiting for people, I would write.

  Some of you who have been reading my blog for a while may think this is nothing unusual, as I often write while waiting. However, what I did with this particular time was just to begin things. I wasn’t working on a project (like I have been the last couple of years), so I wasn’t pressed to finish a poem or a novel or a round of editing on either. Instead, I used my senses (I’ve also blogged about this quite a bit) and made notes of my surroundings. When looking back at this activity, it is quite the opposite of my intention when I sit to meditate. Now, I’m asking the mind to quiet down, to follow the breath or a mantra. Then, I let it roam wildly (could be why I sometimes have trouble with my spoiled ego).

   The restaurant I was in had tables that seated four, placed around a U-shaped bar. It was a sports bar, so there were several TV’s, usually with various sporting events broadcasting from many different places. With pen in hand and my spiral open before me (taking a breath and letting go of whatever I was worried about or thinking of is a given), I would allow my eyes to roam the interior and waited until something was novel enough that they lingered on an object or person. There was a stack of ashtrays that a waitress had set down on a nearby table that were waiting to be taken outside to the smoking patio. As a single ashtray filled my vision, was displayed on the ‘movie screen’ in my head, I relaxed into the moment to see what else my muse would give me, how it would fill in the background. What I wrote was something like this:

   Stained fingers, the stench of a three-pack-a-day smoker clinging to his flesh, snuffed out yet another stick that simultaneously brought calmness to his mind and anxiety to his bloodstream.

   As I sit here now and envision that same black, plastic ashtray, I can also write it this way:

   Snugly held in the divot of the mass-produced, plastic tray, a newly lit Marlboro smoldered, its cherry glowing a deep red in the darkened room, blue-gray smoke wafting steadily away from the white paper, pale ash beginning to collect underneath.


   Four carats of white ice winked in the neon flash of the ‘open’ sign as an expensively manicured finger tapped the ash from the end of a Menthol, remembering the days when being caught smoking behind the barn in rural America was a punishable offense.

   For a few of those days that I sat waiting for friends, I caught snippets of conversations or interviews on the television, an expression of a patron or employee, the scent of a meal being delivered to a table, and I would allow my muse to take that one item and spin it in as many different directions as it wanted to. Despite how much one of the descriptions triggered my imagination to take it further, I stopped at the first sentence. This was not an exercise in writing an essay or flash fiction. It was an attempt to create beginnings.

   Even if you’re not a writer, try this activity anyway. You could either carry a small notebook or journal with you (I’ve heard several creative people do this even if they aren’t ‘writers’) and jot down a sentence (complete thought with a noun and a verb, and if you throw in a few adjectives or prepositional phrases, it makes it all the more interesting) about something that becomes ensnared in your senses. If you paint, sculpt, sketch, or shoot pictures, ‘make’ what you wrote. Either literally, a black plastic ashtray with a cigarette in it, or some rendition. If you compose music or dance, take your one sentence beginning, and use it as a basis for a song, or move your body the way the smoke would dance on an unfelt air current. ‘Paint’ a picture of the person, the place, the circumstances surrounding the cigarette, the abandoned shopping cart, the cat that dashed down the alley and behind a dumpster, the 25-year old scotch being poured over ice into a crystal tumbler as the private jet reaches an altitude of 20,000 feet. What is the feeling? Desperation? Loneliness? Love? Revenge? Longing? Patience? How can your medium be used to express the feeling through the object? What about colors, textures, sounds?

   If you don’t want to record your observations in a notebook, then gather your supplies, and begin by settling the thoughts and breathing. What arises for you? A song lyric? Part of a conversation? Something you saw in the grocery store aisle? Hold it in your mind’s eye and give your muse an opportunity to form details around the object or word or picture. Take another few breaths to decide (or listen in case a particular emotion is strongly suggested to you) what feeling is attached to this subject that you are going to paint, sketch, or sculpt.

   One sentence beginnings could be just that, one simple sentence about an object. You may list ten or twenty of them before something catches and holds in your imagination, your muse feeding you what colors define the background, the foreground, the past, or what is to come. Let it fill you, then reflect that picture or story on your canvas or sketch pad or spiral notebook or guitar. These are only first sentences, but perhaps they can become more. Some of my beginning sentences evolved into poems and short stories, which can be read for free on my web site Leave a comment, and your ‘one sentence beginning’ and let me know how this activity worked for you. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter where I have no choice but to offer ‘one sentence beginnings’.

Written by Michele Venne

Writer of immersive and intriguing stories.

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