Writing lessons from Hemingway

Ernest-Hemingway-007Hemingway often derided fellow authors who wrote about what they had read, rather than what they had experienced. To him, such abstract writing was ornamental and stolid. Firsthand experience, firsthand understanding should provide the uncut marble for the writer’s chisel, he said.

For example, Hemingway thought Edgar Allan Poe drew his material from fancy—invented from rhetoric and literariness, rather than reality and truth. He characterized Poe’s writing as “skillful, marvelously constructed” but ultimately “dead”.

For Papa (Hemingway), living and writing were inseparable. Life made fiction worth reading; fiction made life worth living.

One of his dictums was: mind the role of rhythm and repetition in language: “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

Come directly to the subject of the piece, he advised. The subject is always interesting enough without the blankets: treat the subject directly; use absolutely no word that does not add meaning; write in the rhythm of music, not the pretense of the metronome (The Kansas City Start copy sheet).

The further you go in writing, the more alone you are.

Hemingway’s Iceberg theory commands writers to do one thing: omit—leave out the overwhelming details, the backstory that can be guessed at in the action of the plot, leave out dialogue tags

Once you know the subject of your story in depth, leave most of what you know out.

A writer who appreciates the seriousness of writing so little that he is anxious to make people see he is formally educated, cultured or well-bred is merely a popinjay.

Hunger is good discipline and you can learn from it.

Hemingway’s code heroes accepted life’s tragedies as they came. The accepted the triumphs with the same stolid resolve. Honour and dignity demanded that suffering be handled with grace.

Write, don’t judge your characters. Hemingway hated sentimentality in stories.

Writing is a rough trade and first you need to last. Persevere through both the good and the bad writing, the good and the bad reviews.

The youth has a “lyric facility”. He gave up that. What Papa saw in his early writing was an affinity for the overly artful. Dismiss your overeducated flamboyance. The purpose of serious writing isn’t to demonstrate how much you know. Save that for your school writing.

Choose the true description over the artful one.

When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” Bring in all the contradictions of human personality. Good people lie. Liars can be the most kind. The dying can feel most alive.

–Adapted from ‘Write like Hemingway’ by R. Andrew Wilson, Ph.D. (Adams Media, 2009) by Zafar Anjum


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