I remember walking by bricks that smelled like pee and nicotine and the gravel-scratch of cars passing by, the black suits and the sandstone-gray buildings, the pigeons pecking at the sidewalk, the lime green man dancing on the billboard.
I remember my old-school scrap of lined notepaper and the pen scratching three sentences that crisply described what I saw, smelled, touched.
Six years later, this snapshot of a memory from the first day of a journalism intensive course in New York City still inspires me. Describe my surroundings. Stick to the facts. Thoughts and feelings and philosophies cram out my words when I try to write. I can only communicate when I pare the layers to get back to the basics.
Ernest Hemingway said that "the writer's job is to tell the truth." He described himself standing and looking over the rooftops of Paris, telling himself: “‘Do not worry… 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 from there.” (Read A Moveable Feast right now, this minute. It’s a paradise for writers.) Believing artists should take this responsibility to heart.
I see this paralleled in Jesus' teaching as well. Jesus called Himself the truth. Writers – and all other artists – receive a lot of flack for expanding truth and creating truth. But telling the truth about the world is the foundation for craft, just like it is the foundation for journalism and for following Jesus.
What about you? What is around you right now? Don’t write how you feel about what you see. Simply describe the concrete truth itself. And then follow it.