One True Sentence – How to Fight the Empty Page

What makes a piece of writing great? Myself and many other writers would argue that it’s the authenticity. No great book was every built without knowledge or research. As writers, it is our job to make sure that what we share with the world is honest, relatable and fantastic. It’s an enormous pressure when you consider that, and many writers spend a great deal of time battling the dreaded writer’s block.

The answer, to many problems of a writer, lies within the works of Hemingway.
“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. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

When faced with an insurmountable blank page, the solution is a simple one. Put something on it. Ignore your plot, ignore your stylistic choices and just put one sentence on that page. Congratulations, you now no longer have a blank page. You have bested it.

What did you put? How do you decide what to write?

The answer does not have to be a complicated matter. I find the simplest sentences, those that are real in the moment are the best. I once began a story based on the sentence “I have seen a lot of half-built Ferris Wheels.” This is true, I had and the story that followed became a story only by me thinking aloud. It was not a matter of plot or structure. All a writer has to do is think aloud on the page. Introduce other characters when you have to and watch how they change the writing but for the core of the novel, it is you who control everything. That’s a tremendous burden but one that we can overcome simply by writing the truth.

Worry about the quality of the writing afterwards. The plot doesn’t really matter, it is allowed a few bumps and contradictions. Fix all this in the editing stage. Just make sure you have something down first.

Terry Pratchett was a master of the “one true sentence.”

“Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.” – Terry Pratchett, Jingo

This sentence does not build the plot. It is just writing. What important about it is how it inspires the writer to keep going, how it impacts the rest of the writing and how the characters respond to this. So the next time you find yourself staring at a blank page, just write one true sentence and see where it takes you.


What Editors Expect…

When submitting work, whether that be a story or poem to a journal or a full manuscript to a prospective publisher, there is a minimum standard editors will expect to see. Often times, without some basic care from a writer, an editor will dismiss the work. Not giving your work due attention is a clear sign you’re not serious about your submission and therefore are unlikely to implement changes in a timely manner or carry out the arduous marketing required.

A great editor can make your work sparkle in ways you might never have imagined. They will pick up spelling and grammar errors, note any readability issues and offer advice for your story in the odd places it may need adjusting. Having said that, that doesn’t mean that you should expect your editor to do everything. They are human and they too may miss things.

First and foremost, an editor will expect your worth to have been proofread. Though they are not expecting a flawless piece, a quick spellcheck from your work-processor (or Grammarly for the more hardcore) will find a litany of mistakes. Your editor will see all these mistakes and they will judge you for them. If a word has been misspelt, it’s a definite strike against you. However, homophones are a little different. An editor shouldn’t mind the odd incorrect use of “there” or “their”, it’s their job to fix these issues.

Many publishers and journals have submission guidelines, dictating which font and spacing should be used when submitting work. Sometimes, these guidelines can seem arbitrary however there’s usually a reason behind them. Partly, it makes sure you’ve submitted work that is suitable for the journal or publisher. Something that fits the themes and style of previously published work. It shows you’ve but in a little bit of research and not just sent out blanket inquiries. Often, the matter of spacing and font is to make it easier for the editor to make notes. Additionally, these editors may read hundreds of pages a day. A little bit of consistency is good for the eyes.

Many writers expect an editor to actually make the edits. This comes back to the issue raised at the top of spotting a lazy writer. An editor is an advisor above all else. They are not the writer, nor should you expect them to be. If a section needs work, they will tell you and it will be up to you to correct it. If they were to make the changes, you would lose track of your original work and it would begin to take the style and form of their writing. If an editor has made a suggestion, you may disagree and offer an explanation but pick your battles well. An editor will grow tired of you defending every issue they raise. When an editor has suggested a change, it’s because they think it will help the work. Not because they’re bossy or they don’t understand you. The editor’s job is to ensure the best work gets put out.

Above all else though, the work you submit should be your best. Some people treat getting published as a numbers game. Blanket emails and submitting everything they’ve ever written. Not only does this clog things up and stop other people’s work being noticed, it also does little to ingratiate to the editors. They will not publish everything and forcing them to trawl through everything to find the occasional nugget of gold is only going to irritate them. Though an editor should be a professional, they’re also human and that means they too will eventually opt to block your messages if you send off too much. It also does little to boost your profile. Readers will judge your material, if they’re seeing the work that should have remained on the cutting room floor, it’s unlikely they’ll forgive you for your productivity.

Formatting a Manuscript: Poetry

Formatting poetry provides a few complications when compared to plain text.
When writing plain text, we let our word-processors handle the text wrapping. A paragraph is one solid line of text formatted so it fits within the margins of our document. With poetry, we use the Enter key to create a new line. This creates a paragraph break instead of a line break. A line break is a smaller break but still puts the text on a new line. Usually you can create one of these by holding down “Shift” and “Enter”.
If you have a line that doesn’t fit in your margins, an indent will suffice on the second line. I recommend setting this with the margin ruler at the top of your word-processor, not the “Tab” key. This indicates it is not a new line but a continuation.
When you begin a new stanza, the paragraph break is used. This slightly larger break will keep your stanzas separated, and any changes to the line spacing will increase this break proportionately.
Next, we need to look at line spacing. A typical manuscript submitted will be in double space. This means there is twice the space between the lines of the text, not “you have to put an extra space between all the words.” A poem is different because typically there is much more space around the writing, leaving the editor room to make notes. If you have your poem set in double spacing, your editor will assume this is how you want the work presented.
If you’re putting together a full collection, make sure you always use page breaks between poems. It’s common to see poetry manuscripts divided by repeated abuse of the paragraph break. This is ill-advised as any changes to the page size will result in a string of blank lines hanging over across text. Under the “Insert” menu, there should be an option labelled “Page Break”. This will create create a new page, regardless of changes made to the text above it or modifications to the page settings.
For ease of navigation, it’s also advisable to use the Heading styles in your word-processor. These formats are customizable, I know many writers have avoided them because they don’t like the font or size of the default options. The Heading styles will give you a section header and can be used to create a table of contents. Heading 2 will appear as a subheading of Heading 1 etc. This is exceptionally useful if your poetry manuscript is divided into thematic sections.
Many poets like their work to be centred on the page, however in recent years this has become passée. If you must centre your text, do so for a reason other than “it looks nice.” If the content actual demands centre alignment, that’s fine but many editors will not print centre aligned works.
One of the surest ways to tell if a poet is new to the craft is their choice of font. Times New Roman is almost universal in the world of poetry. Using a different font to “stand out” will more likely see your work ignored. Use font size 12 for the poem itself, and 14 for the title. Underlining and bolding your title is usually frowned upon.
Poetry is not bound by the same rules of grammar as prose but it’s still important to give things a read through. Poems don’t require capitalisation but your word-processor may automatically have added some. If you’re going for a capital-less poem, make sure you’ve been consistent.

Formatting Text: Covers

Pulling off an effective cover can be a laborious task, and there are designers who focus specifically on creating the best possible covers, putting years of artistic talent into their work. Having a rough idea of how to use fonts wont turn you into a killer designer overnight but for the authors with no budget to employ a designer, it can be a helpful starting place.

  • Firstly, go simple. There are dozens of elaborate designs that you might think scream “arty book title” but take a quick look at the cover of your favourite author. Many of them will use elegant, effective typography to create something iconic. Something like Times New Roman, Arial or Baskerville will look infinitely better than something overly frilly or unpolished. Designers are good at their job because they understand discipline and the rules of design.
    The fonts you consider “classic” have stood the test of time, in some cases hundreds of years, whereas the elaborate fonts typically are single purpose or shortcuts for a designer.
    Ian McEwan’s Solar is an excellent example of a simple cover creating a powerful image.
    Remember, you are a writer, not a designer. Stick to basic rules such as contrasting colour, instead of trying to reinvent the rule.
  • Consider your genre. A romance novel might do well with elaborate handwriting-styled scripts but that would be entirely inappropriate for a sci-fi story. There are many basic fonts that will work for every genre but you may wish to use a more decorative font for a particular highlight.
    If you want to use one decorative font, try putting the rest of the text in an even simpler font to make full use of the contrast.
  • Limit yourself to two fonts. Pair them well, look for similarities between letters in fonts; circular G’s rather than oval shapes. Don’t use fonts that are too similar such as Arial and Calibiri though because this looks more like an accident than a design choice. Pairing Calibiri with Arial Narrow might make a distinctive look however.
  • Never stretch your font out. This will make it look disproportioned and possibly pixellated. If you font doesn’t fit, reconsider it’s placing or chose a different font. Don’t become so bound to a font that you will sacrifice the quality of your cover.
  • Don’t try using more fonts than the cover needs. Again simplicity is the rule. Playing with font sizing can lead to better results than alternate fonts.
    • Use something between 10-14 for the blurb, quotes, reviews, endorsements and any other fluff text you may want to use.
    • 18-36 for the subtitle, your name and the minor words in the title such as “the” “and” and “of”
      Unless you’re notably famous, in which case you can hire a designer, your name isn’t all that important. Likewise, you shouldn’t hide your name.
    • 48-72 for the main title. This should be the main focus of a cover and thus should be the biggest piece of text. Your book will often be seen as a thumbnail online, so a large title will encourage readers to check you out.
  • Have a look for advice online before you start. Sites like offer articles on how to design and are full of idea. Be realistic with what you can achieve.

Cover design doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be a great way to break up the chore of writing and it can inspire choices in your book. Self-designing doesn’t mean you have to settle with mediocre cover art, it just means treating what you available with respect.

Formatting a Manuscript: Fonts for a Published Manuscript

With the rise of self publishing, many writers now find themselves responsible for the final look of their manuscript but without an education in what fonts will work best, and often settle on Times New Roman.

The golden rule of body text fonts is that the choice should be invisible. As a writer you are trying to make your words the important thing. A bad font will put people off but a good font will become invisible. Unlike a submitted manuscript, a proportionally spaced font is better as this has a tendency to “flow” better between words.

In a published work, it’s best to use a serif font. A serif font is one with flourishes on it’s letters, while a sans serif is one without. This is likely appearing in a Times New Roman font, in which case have a look at the end of every letter to see what I’m talking about. American audiences are uncomfortable with passages of text being written in sans-serif fonts, such as Arial, but European audiences accept sans-serif body text more readily.

Many fonts are near duplicates of others and it may seem like there’s little difference between them. To properly test a font, I advise reading 500-600 words in a particular font before deciding to use it. This will allow to assess the potential for eyestrain. Printing this out will also give you an idea about line thickness, as many fonts may look too thin in places when on paper and away from the variable zoom of word-processors.

You may also notice that the spacing of some fonts leads to confusion when two letters are placed next to each other. Examples include “Ill” appearing as three l’s and “cl” being read as a lowercase d.

It’s tempting to use Times New Roman for the body of your text. It’s widely used and easily legible to most readers however, as it’s the default font for many word-processors, using it can make your work seem amateurish. Times New Roman was designed for use in the narrow columns of newspapers, meaning it sets a little too dense for many readers liking. In a book, you have much more ample space than a newspaper so it makes sense not to use a newspaper font.

Garamond has become one of the most popular fonts for body text. This is owing to it’s lighter strokes than Times New Roman and it’s more open negative space. This makes it easier to read while retaining the same character as Times New Roman. It also has a few touches, such as the capital Q and G spurs appearing more elegant.

Palatino is another font with it’s proponents but I have a few personal issues with the font. Firstly, the rounded bows of the capital P and R do not fully join to the main stem. Secondly, there are a number of flourished serifs that lean towards the left. Both of these issues arise from the font’s nature, they are traits taken from handwriting. The Capital X has uneven strokes to mimic the thickness of a quill on diagonal lines. While some may like this sense of character, I personally find those features to be distracting. For a long while, Palatino was the most commonly used font for books and it still enjoys widespread, familiar usage. Book Antiqua is practically a clone of Palatino that also enjoys high status amongst typographers.

Minion remains my favourite font for novel text. I initially began using it as a compromise. It features a heavier weight like that of Times New Roman but it’s better spaced and features a number of ligatures, characters that join up, giving it a sense of character. Robert Bringhurst used it for “Elements of Typographic Style”, considered the bible of typography, which may be the highest honour a font could receive. This has led to it becoming the font of choice for many publishers though there has been a recent call to arms to experiment with font choices more. Minion has simplay become a very comfortable choice.

When using these fonts on a computer screen, I would advise looking at the more basic fonts. These have been designed with the pixel nature of screens in mind. With fonts such as Garamond, the curvature of letters can result in them becoming blocky on the screen. Georgia, Times New Roman and Arial are all worth considering for digital text and e-books.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg. For every font there are pros and cons, fans and critics. Above everything, don’t be afraid to experiment and stray from the familiarity of Times New Roman.

Formatting a manuscript: Fonts for Submissions

Why are font choices important?

When reading a piece of writing, perhaps even more important than the actual text, in terms of letting the reader actually comprehend your work is your formatting. In particular, the choice of font and line spacing you’ve used.

If you’ve chosen your font properly and set your line spacing appropriately to the work, you’ve given your work a proper chance to shine. On the other hand, even if your work rivals Dostoevsky or Hemingway, a bad choice of font will render your work inaccessible to all but the most dedicated and stubborn of readers.

If your choice of font is cramped or overly elaborate, it creates an additional barrier to readers and editors.

There are three times when your choice of font can make all the difference; submitting to a publishing house, publishing and when designing a cover. Not every author will be involved in each stage, however, with the rise of self-publishing, it is important for a writer to have an idea about how to use fonts.


You might think “a publishing house will just make the quick changes they need to before reading my manuscript.” A publishing house, even an indie publisher, receives dozens of manuscripts every day and many editors cannot afford the few minutes it may take to bring your work into their format. By ignoring submissions guidelines you are effectively stating that you don’t care if your work gets reviewed.

Some publishers have very strong preferences for submissions. You may have heard of the Van Halen tour rider; the document with everything a band wants a venue to take care of. Van Halen famously had a requirement that a venue must provide them with a bowl of M&M’s with all the brown ones removed. This may sound silly but it was an easy way for the band to check if the venue had read their rider and the important technical requirements.

In the same way, adhering to a publishing house’s submission guidelines shows that you have made a serious consideration about sending them your manuscript, that you haven’t just sent out a generic manuscript to as many publishing houses as possible, hoping one picks you up.

Writers will often be advised to use a monospaced font. A monospaced font is one where each character occupies the same physical width. This is useful for the editor as it allows the editor reviewing your submission to guess at your approximate word count. You may be thinking “ah, but I’ve put a word count at the bottom of my novel/story.” In publishing terms, the word count is the amount of space your work will occupy – five characters plus a space. Many short story publications are paid for by the word but they calculate based on the publishing worlds definition of word count. This stops writers going out of their way to use the shortest possible words to flesh out their content. This word count is helpful to editors as it allows them to quickly work out if they have room in their publication for your story. With novels, monospacing allows the editor to quickly guess page count and the cost to print your work. This rule also applies to scripts. A monospaced font means it’s easy to calculate the approximate timing of the script.

Courier is the font of choice for many editors. It’s simple, clean and monospaced. This font may seem hard to read in but its uniform thickness means it’s much easier to read at great length without straining the eyes. The extra space around the letters also gives editors a little bit more room to make their notes. In a variable-spaced font, it can hard to flag spellling issues that automated checks have missed.

I often hear people complain that “Courier looks boring. Can’t I use a more interesting font?” No! The fact it is boring is exactly why it is used, it’s light and uncomplicated.

Times New Roman is also widely accepted these days. It is not monospaced but it is the most widely used font thus it has become easily read because it is the most widely used font. I find after 100+ pages it can wear on the eyes however, hence why it is not universally accepted for submissions.

Often when I am given a digital manuscript I will do my first pass reading in Times New Roman, while I check the actual content of the piece. On the second I will convert to Courier to pick up any errors.

These rules are there for a reason and If you ignore them to “try and stand out,” the chances are you work will just be thrown out.

As a fun bonus to illustrate one of my points, I deliberately misspelled “spelling” with three l’s. Did you notice?

Another lost rockstar…

With so many deaths

I am starting to grow bored.

I remember when rock stars did heroin

And died gracefully, in their sleep.


Now everyone has to make a noise

To cut through to the evening news

Where stiff white men in ties

Will remember what the music meant to them

When they wore ripped jeans

And stayed up all night.


There is one I follow,

Without a shelf of Grammys

And amidst the stream of

Repeated memories, he writes

“All my friends are dying”

And for him,

I worry.


Perhaps it’s the curse of a twenty-four hour news cycle and exposure to all stories via social media but in the wake of Chester Bennington’s suicide, I don’t feel sad. I feel empty. I know there is lose but I think it’s one I knew would come.

With Chris Cornell, he seemed like he had defeated his demons and so, that shook me. With Chester, I never thought he was finished fighting, so when the news broke that he had committed suicide, all I could feel was a sense of bitterness.

In the wake of Chris Cornell’s death, I read the feed from Richard Patrick of Filter as he shared Chris’s impact on his journey to sobriety. In that, I knew the humanity and I was saddened. Again, Richard loses another friend and he shares five words that cut deep: “all my friends are dying.”

Maybe right now, all I can do is repost the same message about how Hybrid Theory was one of the first albums I owned. Maybe I could be angry. Maybe I could be sad. Maybe I don’t care anymore, as I watch another teenage hero of mine pass away at their own hand. Maybe I’m angry at the legions of people who have nothing to say except that they owned an album of his and that grants them a ticket to take part in the grieving.

I know people are entitled to their own sadness. I won’t chase them down to tell them they own no part of this. I just wish people did more. I hate the statues of “my door is always open” or the same old suicide hotlines that are shared in the wake of these tragedies. Suicidal people don’t need open doors, they need long-term support, not drama hungry platitudes. One day, I may call these out but for now, I suppose I am angry and this is my grieving.