Monday Motivation: Writing the sentence that lingers on the tongue and in the mind…

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

Oscar Wilde was at dinner with a group of friends when one of them delivered a little off-the-cuff bon mot of wit and elegance. Oscar exclaimed, “Oh, I wish I’d said that!” A rather more cynical man at the same table, the painter James McNeill Whistler, added, “Oh, you will, Oscar, you will.”

We all wish we’d said the thing that someone else said. As writers, we all wish we’d written the thing that someone else wrote.

Last Sunday the BBC broadcast a programme about grief. The text was composed by a Baptist priest called Richard Littledale, and it consisted of a meditation on the grief caused by the death, last year, of his wife.

His language is strikingly full of similes and images, but the one that snagged me most was this: “Grief,” he wrote, “can turn a soft memory into an unforgiving rock – or a hairbrush into a sword to pierce the heart.”

It’s actually the second half of that sentence that resonated most powerfully for me. “Grief… can turn… a hairbrush into a sword to pierce the heart.” The image yokes the abstract concept, grief, to a concrete image that itself brings together a domestic detail, the hairbrush, and a symbol of countless epic stories, the sword.

Grief – hairbrush – sword.

The alchemy of writing turns those three words into a hook that, yes, pierced the hearts of all who listened to the programme.

I’m sure that that single sentence accounts at least in part for the extraordinary response to the programme. It has been much talked about both on and off the airwaves in the days since.

The challenge to all of us is to turn envy into action, to turn “I wish I’d written that” into, “I have written something I’m really proud of”.

How do you do that? Well, that in a way is what the writing enterprise is all about: to compose a sentence that sets out to say something fresh, that finds the right words and the right rhythm and the right structure to do so, and that lingers on the tongue and in the mind long after it’s been read.

And then to write another… and another.

Happy writing,


Read Jo-Anne’s latest blog: ‘Writing Secrets: What does your character do in his spare time?

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