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Bear No Malice Cheater Epigraph 4 and the Best Sentence I've Ever Written

I’m calling this a “Cheater Epigraph” because it isn’t an epigraph: it’s actually the first sentence of Chapter 13. The epigraph for Chapter 13 is too much of a spoiler, and besides, the first sentence of the chapter is the best sentence I’ve ever written: “It had been a mistake to buy the toy train.”
Are you shocked? Are you wondering what’s so great about this sentence? It has no brilliant insights or beautiful metaphors or unusual words. It’s innocuous. Simple. Ordinary.
Now I’m thinking of John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman in which the narrator plays games with the reader in the “unlucky” Chapter 13. I’m not playing games with you. Well, maybe just a little. 🙂
I couldn’t have known in 2008 when I first started writing Bear No Malice that this sentence would end up in the final version, and I’m very glad it did. It’s the best sentence I think I’ve ever written because it came out of the best writing session I’ve ever had. Just like a soul-changing, deep conversation with a friend, a perfect dinner with loved ones around the table, or a gorgeous sunset painting the sky with pastel blues and pinks, the best experiences are not easy to put into words without sounding like cliches. But I’m going to try.
Often when I sit down to write, I feel rushed. Nobody has unlimited time to write: even those writers lucky enough not to have full-time day jobs still have responsibilities to other people, appointments to keep, dishes to wash. It takes a supreme effort of will some days just to sit down with my laptop and write fiction. Only ten minutes is all I can manage at times. But that day in 2008 was different. I don’t know if I had fewer responsibilities than usual or if it was just my mood, but I lapsed into a deeply thoughtful state of mind as soon as I opened my laptop. I was starting a new chapter (Chapter 13!), and I wasn’t sure how to begin. I stared out the window and . . . daydreamed? Not really. It was more focused than that. I was thinking about how to start the chapter, but I wasn’t anxious or rushed or stressed. I just sat there in front of my open laptop, staring out the window, without typing, for two hours.
I’m telling the truth. It really was two hours of sitting in silence staring out a window.
At the end of that two hours, I wrote, “It had been a mistake to buy the toy train.” Then I saved my document, closed the laptop, and went on with my day.
Would you consider such a writing session a success? I did then and I do now. I still look back on those two hours as one of the best writing sessions, and certainly one of the happiest, of my life. Not because the sentence is amazing, but because I allowed myself to think and dream and take my time to work out how I wanted to start the chapter.

The finished hardcover copies of Bear No Malice and paperback copies of Impossible Saints arrived at my door last week, and they’re beautiful! Tansy was happy to pose with them.

I want to talk about this especially now at the end of November when no doubt many writers who joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) are feeling discouraged that they didn’t “win.” I’m not knocking NaNo at all: it’s a great way to get words on paper (or onscreen) if you feel blocked as well as getting started on a project you’ve been putting off. It’s also a great way to connect with a community of writers all over the world.
I tried NaNo a couple of years ago, and I wrote quite a lot the first week, but then I lost steam and eventually dropped out. You can read about my experience in this blog post. I wasn’t devastated because I hadn’t expected to keep up with the 50,000-word goal (1,666 words per day for the month of November). I’m a slow writer. While I may seem like a fast writer to outside observers because I’ve published two books in as many years, I started both books more than 10 years ago, so I’ve been working on them for a long time. I do like to have a minimum word count for writing sessions when I’m struggling with a first draft, and I do think sometimes I just have to get the words out, no matter how bad they are, in order to have something to edit later.
All the same, every time I think of the first sentence of Chapter 13 in Bear No Malice, I smile and remember those blissful two hours when I did what most people would consider “nothing.” Thinking is part of the writing process, too.
If you feel discouraged about not writing as fast or as well as you think you should, check out this wonderful blog post by Lauren Sapala, author and writing coach. She always has lots of wise advice for writers!

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