Thoughts from Papa, and one from Faulkner

Last month (July 2) marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Ernest Hemingway (right). At the time, I passed out to my Library writers’ group a compendium of quotes taken from two books on my shelf. Most came from Ernest Hemingway on Writing (edited by Larry W. Phillips and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1984). A couple were from a profile by Edward P. Stafford, reprinted in On Being a Writer, a 1989 compilation of articles from Writer’s Digest Books. Hemingway’s work may not be to everyone’s taste, but his influence on how we write was profound. So some of his thoughts about writing are worth another look.

• “The important thing is to work every day. . . .The best way is to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that you’ll never be stuck. And don’t think or worry about it until you start to write again the next day. That way your subconscious will be working on it all the time, but if you worry about it, your brain will get tired before you start again. But work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.”

• “There is no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

• “You just have to go on when it is worst and most helpless—there is only one thing to do with a novel and that is to go straight on through to the end of the damn thing.”

• “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

• “I can write like Tolstoy and make the book seem larger, wiser and the rest of it. But then I remember that was what I always skipped in Tolstoy.”

• “You must be prepared to work always without applause. When you are excited about something is when the first draft is done. But no one can see it until you have gone over it again and again until you have communicated the emotion, the sights and the sounds to the reader, and by the time you have completed this the words, sometimes, will not make sense to you as you read them, so many times have you re-read them.”

• “That terrible mood of depression of whether it’s any good or not is what is known as The Artist’s Reward.”

• “. . .Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done—so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well.”

Still say there’s nothing Papa can offer that will make you a fan? Let’s end, then, with a thought from his chronological contemporary and stylistic opposite, William Faulkner:

• “Don’t be ‘a writer.’ Be writing.”

—Alex McNab

Published in: on August 16, 2011 at 4:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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