Tips from Ernest Hemingway

27 04 2013

 

Before he was a big game hunter, before he was a deep-sea fisherman, Ernest Hemingway was a craftsman who would rise very early in the morning and write. His best stories are masterpieces of the modern era, and his prose style is one of the most influential of the 20th century.

Hemingway never wrote a treatise on the art of writing fiction.  He did, however, leave behind a great many passages in letters, articles and books with opinions and advice on writing. Some of the best of those were assembled in 1984 by Larry W. Phillips into a book, Ernest Hemingway on Writing. We’ve selected seven of our favorite quotations from the book and placed them, along with our own commentary, on this page. We hope you will all–writers and readers alike–find them fascinating.

1: To get started, write one true sentence.

Hemingway had a simple trick for overcoming writer’s block. In a memorable passage in A Moveable Feast, he writes:

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.

2: Always stop for the day while you still know what will happen next.

There is a difference between stopping and foundering. To make steady progress, having a daily word-count quota was far less important to Hemingway than making sure he never emptied the well of his imagination. In an October 1935 article in Esquire “Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter”) Hemingway offers this advice to a young writer:

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.

3: Never think about the story when you’re not working.

Building on his previous advice, Hemingway says never to think about a story you are working on before you begin again the next day. “That way your subconscious will work on it all the time,” he writes in theEsquire piece. “But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” He goes into more detail in A Moveable Feast:

When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing you were writing before you could go on with it the next day. It was necessary to get exercise, to be tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved. That was better than anything. But afterwards, when you were empty, it was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again. I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

4: When it’s time to work again, always start by reading what you’ve written so far.

T0 maintain continuity, Hemingway made a habit of reading over what he had already written before going further. In the 1935 Esquire article, he writes:

The best way is to read it all every day from the start, correcting as you go along, then go on from where you stopped the day before. When it gets so long that you can’t do this every day read back two or three chapters each day; then each week read it all from the start. That’s how you make it all of one piece.

5: Don’t describe an emotion–make it.

Close observation of life is critical to good writing, said Hemingway. The key is to not only watch and listen closely to external events, but to also notice any emotion stirred in you by the events and then trace back and identify precisely what it was that caused the emotion. If you can identify the concrete action or sensation that caused the emotion and present it accurately and fully rounded in your story, your readers should feel the same emotion. In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway writes about his early struggle to master this:

I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced. In writing for a newspaper you told what happened and, with one trick and another, you communicated the emotion aided by the element of timeliness which gives a certain emotion to any account of something that has happened on that day; but the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always, was beyond me and I was working very hard to get it.

6: Use a pencil.

Hemingway often used a typewriter when composing letters or magazine pieces, but for serious work he preferred a pencil. In the Esquire article (which shows signs of having been written on a typewriter) Hemingway says:

When you start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none. So you might as well use a typewriter because it is that much easier and you enjoy it that much more. After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter. It also keeps it fluid longer so you can better it easier.

7: Be Brief.

Hemingway was contemptuous of writers who, as he put it, “never learned how to say no to a typewriter.” In a 1945 letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway writes:

It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics. 

– Open Cultureernesthemingway





Top 10 Essentials to a Writer’s Life

13 04 2013
I was recently reading through Eric Larson’s Top 10 Essentials List and had a good chuckle.  I figured I could “one up” on his list . So here’s his list and my CORRECTIONS 😉

Erik Larson Photo © Benjamin Benschneider

Top 10 Essentials to a Writer’s Life

1. Good Coffee: Every writer has a ritual that begins the day. It’s like turning a key to start your car. For me, the key that starts the day is a good cup of coffee, preferably Peet’s Coffee. (UGG! First of all, I HATE coffee.  For me, I prefer to start out my day with 15 minutes of meditation, 1 hour of cardio and LOTS of water.  Wake up the body=Wake up the brain.)

2. More Coffee: Alas, I drink as many as five cups a day. And then switch to tea. My teeth are the color of plum-tree leaves. ( My stomach is churning now… refer to number 1.)

3. Oreo Cookies: I mean, look, if you have a cup of good coffee, you need an Oreo. Some mornings—the tough ones—I define as two-Oreo days. Double Stuf preferred. (Okay, Eric is spot on here.  Can’t beat Oreos for brain food.  Just have to watch how many I consume.)

4. A Sense of Pace: Many writers make the mistake of engaging in what I call “binge writing.” They write for 10 hours straight, riding the perfect wave of inspiration. The problem is, you still need to wake up the next day and do it again. Best is to pace yourself. Write for three hours straight, without interruption, then stop. (Good rule of thumb.  I don’t always follow it but slow and steady does win the race.  I have been known to binge on occasion.)

5. Knowing Where to Stop: My favorite “trick” is to stop writing at a point where I know that I can pick up easily the next day. I’ll stop in mid-paragraph, often in mid-sentence. It makes getting out of bed so much easier, because I know that all I’ll have to do to be productive is complete the sentence. And by then I’ll be seated at my desk, coffee and Oreo cookie at hand, the morning’s inertia overcome. There’s an added advantage: The human brain hates incomplete sentences. All night my mind will have secretly worked on the passage and likely mapped out the remainder of the page, even the chapter, while simultaneously sending me on a dinner date with Cate Blanchett. (I’ve tried this and what ends up happening is I forget my train of thought. I do much better leaving myself a trail of breadcrumbs at the end of a day’s writing… little snippets of direction where I believe the story is heading. Then, when I sit down the next morning, I have all these snippets at the end of yesterday’s writing that fire my brain and beg to be strung together in the story line.)

6. Blocks of Undisturbed Time: I set aside a minimum of three hours every morning, seven days a week, during which no one is allowed to intrude except to report an approaching cruise missile. (I couldn’t agree more. ALL writers need absolute solitude to work on their craft.)

7. Physical Diversion: When I stop writing, I need an escape—something that takes me out of the work and wholly into another realm. My main diversion is tennis, though I also find cooking to be very helpful. Something about chopping onions is very restorative. Dogs are helpful, too. They force you to go outside and confront the weather, although my dog did once eat a 19th-century edition of a British physicist’s autobiography. (This is the sole reason I keep Harley around [our Dutch Shepherd]. He’s my outdoors tag-a-long. My Nikon 3000D provides a good outdoor incentive too)

8. A Good Library: For all writers, but especially those of us who write nonfiction, a good library with open stacks is crucial. (I think this is necessary for writer’s of all genres. I refer to other writing styles ALL the time. Some things just work well across the board and they are too numerous to retain mentally so having referencing material on hand is vital.)

9. A Trusted Reader: Every writer I know has at least one friend or partner who can be trusted to read early drafts of a book and provide an accurate, constructive critique. My secret weapon is my wife, who annotates the margins of my drafts with crying faces, smiles and long receding lines of zzzzzzzzzzzs. (Even better is having 3 or 4. A writer needs sets of eyes and other opinions because as we writers know, we are enthralled with our babies, no matter how ugly the world perceives them to be.)

10. A Fireplace: One of the most important things a writer must do is read, and there’s no greater pleasure than settling in front of a fire on a cold night with a good book (and maybe a glass of bourbon). Falling asleep in midpage is one of the delights of life. (Let me add to this, sitting on a beach on a warm night, listening to the ocean. We writers need to read as much as we need to write. It’s fuel to our minds, transfusion to our life’s blood, and balm to our souls.)

Erik Larson is the author of The New York Times bestsellers In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, Isaac’s Storm and The Devil in the White City, which was a finalist for a National Book Award. He has written for The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Yorker and other publications. L.T. Bentley is the author of Fatal Compulsions and Daughter of My Heart.





ReBlogged from Lee Goldberg

12 04 2013

I love Lee’s kooky sense of humor.  I recently read his blog and had to share this with my readers.  Get ready for a chuckle.

Purple Prose

Royal-palm-tree1A friend recommended a crime novel to me that came out a few years ago from a major publisher and that was also praised by some big-name authors (including some who have praised my work). I brought the book along with me on a short day trip for something to read while my wife & daughter were shopping. The book was awful, but some of the terrible writing was worth sharing. Here are some of my favorite examples:

“A sustained orgasm of flowers filled the strip between the driveway and right side of the house.”

This made me laugh out loud. So did some of the comments my Facebook friends made about it:

 

And on the other side of the driveway, a foreplay of hedges.

 

Haven’t you ever had a sustained orgasm of flowers?

 

Better than a multiple orgasm of concrete.

 

Not just an orgasm of flowers, but a sustained orgasm of flowers. I want to live in that neighborhood.
Here’s another excerpt:

“Staring at the picture, I had a clear sense of the living person whose image was cradled in chemicals on the bed of thick paper.” 

Or as a less pretentious writer might say it: “I got a clear sense of the person from her photograph.”

“The girl in the picture had a glimmer of erotic fear in her dark eyes, waving like a thin, white arm of a drowning person.” 

So fear that is sexually arousing… or perhaps fear of something to do with sex…is visible in someone’s eyes as a white glimmer that looks like the arm of someone who is drowning. Yeah, that makes sense.

“Her short black skirt clung like a high priest’s desire to the curves of her ass.”

I suppose this might make sense if anybody had any idea what a “high priest’s desire” is. A high priest of what? Tortured metaphors? Speaking of which…

“The night was filled with the exotic feeling California still evoked for me, surf shushing beyond the campfires, palm trees thrusting their composers’ haircuts up into the starry sky, swaying with the symphony of the wind.” 

Surf shushing? Palms thrusting? A composer’s haircut? WTF? And am I the only one who thinks “a symphony of wind” sounds like another way of saying “a herd of cows farting”?




Does This Mean There’s Hope?

10 04 2013

Writing is a struggle for all of us, even the Greats.





Career or J. O. B.?

8 04 2013

I don’t know how some of my friends do it. Brenda Novak, James Owen, Oli Hille all make writing look so easy. They crank out several books a year and I look at the manuscripts sitting partially written in front of me and I cringe. How can you possibly have so much inspiration that stories just flow from your fingertips, or in the case of Ollie, practical knowledge just flows?

I have days where I can’t wait to get to my desk and start in on a story.  But most days, the opposite is true.  I sit in front of my computer and stare at the screen wondering where the story line is going, what should come next, what is this character going to do and how will these characters react in response.  It’s maddening because most days, I can think of a million and one things I’d rather be doing than beating my head against a book.

What is their secret, I have to wonder.  How is it that James, the most dedicated writer I know, can go to his office and write day in and day out and NEVER (or hardly ever) come up against brick walls in his stories?  My stories seem to be riddled with such walls.

How is it that Brenda can manage to write two or more books at a time and I can’t focus on one long enough to get it to the halfway point? I maybe have 1/3 of a story in two of my manuscripts and just a few pages in the third. I can’t write in one without a thought popping up that pertains to one of the others. It was like this with my first two books as well, which could explain why Fatal Compulsions took almost two years to write.

I love my work as an author…don’t get me wrong. But most days, it seems more J. O. B. (a word I detest) than a career I enjoy, especially when I can’t get the stories moving in the direction they should go. What is the secret?  If it’s a magic pill, I wonder if any of my writer friends is willing to hook me up? Brenda? Oli? James? What say ye?





I Have A Dream…

2 04 2013

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-9365086-2-402No. I am not going to start quoting Martin Luther King, Jr (well I might), however, I too have a dream.  I have fantasized for years now about being a public speaker (funny thing to fantasize about for a woman who’s pretty shy around people, particularly strangers). Yet, I couldn’t see speaking about my novels. After all, anyone can write fiction and what purpose does it serve to speak about fiction. No, I wanted to speak about something meaningful, helpful, insightful.  The problem was, I hadn’t a clue what that something was.  Then I began reading motivational books, Osteen, Covey, Long, Ruiz, Sharma. Top it off with a meeting with one of those writers and an idea struck.  As a relationship therapist and blogger, I write motivational pieces all the time. What’s stopping me from writing about something that really helps and encourages me? After all, it might just help and encourage others.

SO… watch for some different writings from me in the near future (no, I’m not putting aside the sequel to Fatal Compulsions or my fourth novel as yet untitled; just putting them on the back burner for a while) and let me know what you think when I begin posting my ideas and trains of thought.  Just to help me stay on the right track.








marykoster

Independent Consultant, Rodan and Fields Dermatologists

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SpiritualChocolate

Living inside a Delicious Relationship with the Divine

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