Ernest Hemingway was one of the greatest American writers of the 20th Century. He was a novelist, short story writer and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-Century Fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations.
Hemingway was raised in Oak Park, Illinois. After high school, he reported for a few months for The Kansas City Star, before leaving for the Italian Front to enlist with the World War I ambulance drivers. In 1918, he was seriously wounded and returned home. His wartime experiences formed the basis for his novel “A Farewell to Arms” (1929).
In 1921, he married Hadley Richardson, the first of his four wives. The couple moved to Paris, where he worked as a foreign correspondent. He published his debut novel “The Sun Also Rises” in 1926. After his 1927 divorce from Richardson, Hemingway married Pauline Pfeiffer. They divorced after he returned from the Spanish Civil War, where he had been a journalist and after which he wrote “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in 1940. Martha Gellhorn became his third wife in 1940. They separated when he met Mary Welsh in London during World War II.
His most popular work, “The Old Man and the Sea”, earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and in 1954, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature “for his powerful, style-forming mastery of the art of narration”. Shortly after the publication of that book, Hemingway went on safari to Africa, where he was almost killed in two successive plane crashes that left him in pain or ill health for much of his remaining life.
Hemingway maintained permanent residences in Key West, Florida (1930s) and Cuba (1940s and 1950s) and in 1959, he bought a house in Ketchum, Idaho, where he killed himself in mid-1961.
He had published seven novels, six short story collections and two non-fiction works. Additional works, including three novels, four short story collections and three non-fiction works, were published posthumously. Many of his works are considered classics of American Literature.
While Hemingway never codified his writing strategies into a single volume like Stephen King, Ray Bradbury or other writers have, he did document his approach to writing in his letters to agents, publishers, other writers and friends, and through commissioned articles on the subject.
“Ernest Hemingway on Writing” is a compilation of his reflections on his writing process, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of the world’s greatest authors. Though Hemingway was a novelist, these tips are still very useful for business owners, whether you’re writing a book on management strategies or just trying to improve your daily business correspondence.
So, for anyone who admire his writing style and want to learn more about his writing rules, here are 10 of his most famous advice for aspiring authors:
1. What writing is and does!
«All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorry, the people and the places and how the weather was. Nobody really knows or understands and nobody has ever said the secret. The secret is that it is poetry written into prose and it is the hardest of all things to do!»
2. The pain and pleasure of writing!
«I believe that basically you write for two people; yourself to try to make it absolutely perfect; or if not that then wonderful. Then you write for who you love whether she can read or write or not and whether she is alive or dead.
…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.
I have to write to be happy whether I get paid for it or not. But it is a hell of a disease to be born with. I like to do it. Which is even worse. That makes it from a disease into a vice. Then I want to do it better than anybody has ever done it which makes it into an obsession. An obsession is terrible. Hope you haven’t gotten any. That’s the only one I’ve got left!»
3. What to write about!
«You see I’m trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across – not to just depict life – or criticize it – but to actually make it alive. So that when you have read something by me you actually experience the thing. You can’t do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful you can’t believe in it.
Write about what you know and write truly and tell them all where they can place it…Books should be about the people you know, that you love and hate, not about the people you study about.
…whatever success I have had has been through writing what I know about!»
4. To get started, write one true sentence!
«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!»
5. Always stop for the day while you still know what will happen next!
«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!»
6. Never think about the story when you’re not working!
«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!»
7. When it’s time to work again, always start by reading what you’ve written so far!
«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!»
8. Don’t describe an emotion – make it!
«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!»
9. Writer’s block!
«…sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, 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!»
10. Use a pencil!
«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!»
11. Knowing what to leave out!
«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 ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.
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!»
12. Daily word count!
«I loved to write very much and was never happier than doing it… And days of 1200 or 2700 were something that made you happier than you could believe. Since I found that 400 to 600 well done was a pace I could hold much better was always happy with that number. But if I only had 320 I felt good!»
«I think you should learn about writing from everybody who has ever written that has anything to teach you.
Ordinarily I never read anything before I write in the morning to try and bite on the old nail with no help, no influence and no one giving you a wonderful example or sitting looking over your shoulder.
When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written…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!»
14. The qualities of a writer!
«All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time…
…real seriousness in regard to writing being one of the two absolute necessities. The other, unfortunately, is talent.
The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.
A writer without a sense of justice and of injustice would be better off editing the yearbook of a school for exceptional children than writing novels.
A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge!»
15. On fame!
«I think we should never be too pessimistic about what we know we have done well because we should have some reward and the only reward is that which is within ourselves… Publicity, admiration, adulation, or simply being fashionable are all worthless…
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…»