One True Sentence


Photo by Ellen Blum Barish

“But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.”

— Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Last week, a writer friend and a rare day off gifted me with an opportunity to visit Hemingway’s childhood home in Oak Park, Illinois. What a treat!

I’m embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t until my friend, Annette Gendler, became the writer-in-residence there that I knew Hemingway’s House was less than 15 miles from my home. I’m hoping to prevent Chicago literary lovers from this terrible shame. Thank you again, Annette.

Hemingway was born and raised in this house. You can step into the bedroom where his mother delivered him. The home is in mint condition, brimming with actual or reproduced furniture, art and everyday kitchen and bathroom items from the late 1800s. Daily tours can be arranged. Writers-in-residence work in the studio/office in the third floor attic (off limits to tours) but Annette provided me with a glimpse. It is the quintessential writer’s garret.

Soaking up that Hemingway energy and talking shop with Annette, an essayist, memoirist and writing instructor, prompted me to revisit some of Ernest’s essays. I love the quote above from this incredibly prolific writer. His soul was clearly troubled, his life ending tragically by his own hand. But the quote suggests that he understood something about the ups and downs of writing.

Just one true sentence, he advised. “Write the truest sentence that you know.”

One more thing that’s true:

When you can, give yourself the gift of a day off.


Live Literary Events

Calendar these!

I’ll be telling my own stories, or hosting the stories of other writers at these locations through September.

Thursday, June 18th at 7 pm

Stories from the House of Truth at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL.

Thursday, August 6th at 8 p

Story Club North in Chicago, IL.

Thursday, October 8 at 7 pm

Curt’s Cafe South in Evanston, IL. The Fall Reading Series.



Slow Sentences


Like thousands of other writers, editors and publishers, I have just returned from literary mecca, the annual conference for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) 2015. This year’s festival of words was held in Minneapolis, which provided us with a moody range of weather-systems – rain, sleet and snow leading to 60-degree sunshine on the final day, beckoning us from the convention center to lie in the grassy park across the street. It was an appropriate reflection of what may have been going on inside the panels, readings, book fair and overly long coffee lines. It’s always an intellectual and emotional roller coaster.

I’d say more about the conference but Dani Shapiro captured it so beautifully in the New Yorker, I urge you to read it here.

I suspect that some of the ripest pieces will squeeze their juices into this blog over the next several months.

After these overstimulating literary events, where you feel like you are among “your tribe,” it’s easy to deflate just a bit upon returning home. But I caught a break this year. Just two nights after my return, essayist, novelist and short story writer Jo Ann Beard was in Chicago and I was determined to go.

What a treat to hear a favorite writer read her work-under-construction in a small, intimate space. The reading was held in a medium-size auditorium on the second floor of Columbia College Chicago with about 25 people in attendance. Beard read from a short story titled “Calypso,” that she said she was writing to teach herself something new, “because I’m weak on plot,” she said. Weak on plot, huh? Have you ever read “The Fourth State of Matter?” Though she does use a good bit of digression in her work – and this story had its fill – we were all riveted.


Next to hearing Beard read new work and sign my books, I was delighted to hear her confirm something I had heard about her creative process. It’s literary legend that she writes one sentence a day. I liked the thought of that; the respect it suggests for sentence building and what that says about the architecture of a piece. I wanted to hear it from the writer herself, so I asked if she thought of herself as a slow writer.

“Yes,” she said, nodding. “Oh yes.”

“Once I write it, I refuse to cut,” she added. “A sentence goes down and it stays there.”

After the reading, and as she was signing her name in my well-worn books, she used the word unambitious to describe herself. Beard has written two books in the past seventeen years and has published just a handful of essays and short stories. At a time when it’s so easy for a writer to get so many words out there, it’s refreshing – inspiring even – to hear a writer say that she isn’t interested in amassing a pile of words.

To me, her work is the written equivalent of handmade wooden furniture, long in the making but every inch of it, fine craftswomanship.


 All photos by Ellen Blum Barish except for the one of Jo Ann Beard. Thanks, Angela Benander!





Over the past two years, I’ve submitted my own essay labors of love to more than fifty publications. I’ve been told by writer friends that this is a drop in the bucket, numbers-wise. They’ve argued that if I doubled or tripled that amount, I’d have far better odds of seeing my work published. I suspect there’s some mathematical truth to this. But, there’s really only so much rejection a girl can take, right?

The way I look at it, of those fifty-something attempts at getting my work published, four of my essays have found homes. I’m okay with that math. I’ll even reach and say pleased, because I know what I’m up against: There are a lot of remarkable essayists out there. And a growing number of outstanding literary publications that publish them.

It’s worth a moment to stop and look at the word submit.

To submit is to offer, present, put forward. These suggests something proactive. But the word also is defined as a yielding, a succumbing, a letting go. It’s this second definition that is, without a doubt, the hardest for any artist. We put an enormous amount of ourselves into our work; we edit, tweak, cut, add, shave, rework, and sometimes  start all over again. When we finally feel that our work is ready to send out –  a moment worth acknowledging, practically worth a small parade –  we are presenting it and surrendering it, simultaneously. Like a tree that put itself out there protectively, like shelter, but also appears, perhaps with one or two branches, to be letting itself go.

It’s with a deep understanding of this weird and wonderful creative process that I announce open submissions for Thread beginning on January 12th, 2015. That’s next week! Please do review the Submissions Guidelines on the site. I never fully understood what all the fuss was until I was in the position of reading vast amounts of content. The guidelines really help smooth the reading process. There’s less in the way and more room for the editor to experience the small universe those words create, the art you’ve poured yourself into.

At this writing, my plan is to publish two more issues in 2015, translating into eighteen essays, perhaps a few less as I have my eye on three or four pieces. Keep that in mind as you prepare to submit. Know that if there isn’t a fit between us this time, it may not be about the writing, but rather the content as I want to keep it diverse. That may feel like bad news to you. But the good news is that there are many excellent literary pubs out there for you to try, and I’m urging you to submit whenever and wherever you can.

Putting yourself out there and letting go is, by itself, a potent and worthwhile experience, a big part of the creative process and what draws us back to the page and screen, again and again.


Leafy Inspiration

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Photograph by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2014.


Everywhere you look, we’re being framed in gold, orange and yellow. It’s my favorite quarter of the year where color takes the stage for a continuously changing runway walk and just the right amount of nip in the air keeps me perking along.  Autumn is the time to manifest dreams.

Which is exactly what I’m doing right now. Manifesting a lifelong dream to publish a literary magazine!

The design has been approved. Essays are in final edit. The online publication – featuring essays and photography – is currently under construction.  The launch is scheduled for early December. Watch this space for more on all of this in the weeks to come.

Wishes for leaves of inspiration to blow your way this season.