That astonishing thing: writing a novel…

Word count: 238 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

A great way to improve your writing skills is to emulate the work of others. Here is a sentence I read recently that I’d happily imitate.

Lee Upton (pictured adjacent) is an American poet who also writes literary criticism and non-fiction. A friend gave me her book, Swallowing the Sea: On Writing & Ambition, Boredom, Purity & Secrecywhich I have been reading a few paragraphs at a time because it’s written like poetry.

In my sentence of the week, Upton discusses the novel Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark.

Fleur’s poverty, the shabbiness of her room, and her romantic problems can’t depress her because she’s doing that astonishing thing: writing a novel. 

Something about this sentence caused it to jump off the page for me. I liked the word “shabbiness” because it is both simple and evocative. I also liked the sound of it. What’s more, I appreciated the pacing of the sentence — in particular, the way it begins with a list of three challenges. But it was the end of the sentence that sealed the deal for me. I haven’t read Spark’s novel and somehow, I didn’t expect the “astonishing thing” the character was doing to be writing a novel.

I have always found the mere idea of writing a novel to be astonishing. It pleases me that another writer would feel the same way.

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