20. How many good sentences can you write in 30 minutes?

With the twentieth installment of this daily writing exercise, I thought I’d analyze the output of the last 19 days and see if anything stood out. Specifically, I wanted to see if I could confirm a suspicion that has been brewing: I suspect that I am only capable of writing one good sentence in 30 minutes.

First some stats. I’ve been writing for basically 30 minutes per day for the past 20 days (today included). Sometimes I will take a little longer to find a picture and insert it. But the whole point of the exercise is to be time-limited. This forces you to act, which is a very good thing (for me at least). Across the 19 previous posts, the average length is ~500 words. What stands out to me, however, from re-reading the posts is that there is typically only 1 good sentence per 30 minutes of writing.

Of course, this forces us to ask what a good sentence is. That is a topic for another post of its own (or more likely an entire book of its own). But after a quick Google, I found this New Yorker comment which captured part of my view:

What makes a good sentence? Well, perhaps you should be asking, “What makes a bad sentence?” and then doing none of those things. Bad sentences are everywhere.

It is indeed very easy to write a poor sentence. And it’s even easier to write many poor sentences. They have a way of feeding on each other. If you can manage to eliminate the qualities of a bad sentence from your writing, your writing will be clearer. I like the idea of “doing none of those things” because it gets to the refinement nature of the writing process. It’s not about doing more of something good. It’s about isolating what is substantive and making it clear.

A good sentence is a substantive thought clearly articulated.

It just so happens to take me on the order of 30 minutes to wind my way and put words to a decent thought. This means that I leave almost every writing exercise with the desire to take my last paragraph, cut half of it, make it the first paragraph, and start over. If I am to write well, I will have to learn to get to this point of the process more quickly.

Note to reader: This is day 20 of 92 in my commitment to write for 30 minutes each day from October 1 through the end of 2015.

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