Seven tips from Ernest Hemingway on how to write fiction


29 Responses to “Seven tips from Ernest Hemingway on how to write fiction”

  1. Henry Pootel says:

    Note.  Writing with a Blackwing will only make you think your prose is better ;)

    However writing with a really crappy pencil will frustrate you and make it not better.

    Owner of a box

    • Preston Sturges says:

      I used to buy handfuls of the “Super Lockbond WALLACE INVADER” 2.5′s.  Apparently they are collectible now.

    • Bonzo McGrue says:

      Pencil geek!

      • Henry Pootel says:

        I’m pretty sure he was writing about good pencils when he wrote…

        “There will always be people who say it does not exist because they cannot have it. But I tell you it is true and that you have it and that you are lucky even if you die tomorrow.”

    • feetleet says:

      I’m pretty sure that’s a Seven Mary Three reference. 

      Literate pop-grunge was WAY more confusing than my parents. 

  2. nixiebunny says:

    Good thing he was a writer and not a numbers guy; his math is a bit off. Since you get 3 chances instead of two, that’s 50% more, not 33% more. 

    • Henry Pootel says:

      The punch felt good.  He sucked his bloody knuckle with a smile.

      “God damned pedant”

    • James Mason says:

      No, that’s not right.  Because one of the chances involves a goat and the other one involves a helicopter sitting on a giant phonograph, clearly the answer is Marilyn VosSavant’s daughter, who is also her granddaughter.

  3. Preston Sturges says:

    In that era, it was difficult to look at different versions of a document, so the typed version would have been much closer to the final draft today.

    I tend to do several electronic drafts before printing off a hard copy, where structural flaws are much more evident.

    But I’ve also used a pencil to solve a number of tasks that were supposedly extremely difficult and projected to take months or years of man hours. And someone asks “Did you use a neural net? Did you use a free text data mining algorithm?”  and I’d say “Ummm no I used a pencil.” 

  4. aperturehead says:

    Of course it helps if one is born Ernest Hemingway

    Aside from hardwired Tips and FAQs concerning computer use (press: Ctl Alt D) or growing geraniums (water lightly at dawn) I find these retrograde “tips from the masters”apply more to the master than to your Average Joe

    I may be a complainer, but these “tips” are fairly obvious…
    use a pencil, be a close observer, write one sentence to beat writer’s block

    This is like getting painting tips from Rembrandt…
    open paint can, paint what you see, use your imagination

    We must remember that along with doling out writing tips, Hemingway was a heavy drinker and ultimately committed suicide. Would I want to take writing tips from a guy like that? No, not me.

    • feetleet says:

      Imagine what Hemingway could have wrought with Clippy the Office Assistant. My guess is – nothing. Just like I can’t seem to write anything spontaneously in an Internet comment (that doesn’t, on reflection – seem bad for civilization). 

      Where Hemingway had pain [succor], wisdom and life experience to inoculate him from the great douchebaggery [banality], I [we - I'm volunteering you] have retractions and edits [yes, I'm probably editing this as you read it] to attenuate [or ooooh, 'mediate' as in you put the m].

      We’re approaching that hole from behind [lordosis].

      You do realize Hemingway survived a plane crash maimed, and THEN committed suicide, right? Schiavo was also, you know, terse.

      Ah, fuck it. There is no small fascination in this community of BB last-worders with the promise of drugs for mice, men, mankind, post-mankind, postman-kind – and I can’t imagine many readers here, or writers (inwardly) agree with you. So surehead [can I call you surehead?], let’s rephrase this for the bona fide wet-dream think tank you’re addressing:

      Do you think alcohol/alcoholism impair your writing, and if so, why?

      Do you think suicide impairs your writing, and if so, why?

    • Jim Saul says:

      I’d be happy to take writing tips from him, and just not let him drive me anywhere or look to him for life coaching.

      There are some writers who really do give useful practical advice. Lately I keep running across excellent advice from authors in youtube interviews, then those authors attribute the advice they just gave to “as George R. R. Martin puts it.”

    • Preston Sturges says:

      As Burroughs said in “The Adding Machine,” there is more good writing on any page of Conrad’s “Lord Jim” than in Hemingway’s entire career. 

  5. Doug Black says:

    I’m too lazy to check.  Is one of the tips “Throw away your thesaurus — the vocabulary you learned by fourth grade is fine”? 

  6. miasm says:

    Fluid between drafts, fluid on the page, fluid in the mind or, you know… way out there, ‘fluid before the mind’?

    At any rate, I was struck by the suggestion to write ‘one true thing’ when faced with writer’s block, a skill that is perhaps convergent with the ability to discern the route-cause of an emotion.

  7. Donald Petersen says:

    About fifteen years ago I had occasion to work on a TV movie scripted by Tom Stoppard.  Since I could spell and possessed a secondhand laptop with Scriptware on it, I was pressed into service as the production script assistant, since Stoppard turned in script pages and revisions on handwritten legal tablets.  Production needed actual typed & formatted pages, so I’d spend each morning typing and formatting his pages.

    That turned out to be a very fun gig.  It wasn’t the best writing he’d ever done by any means (though better than most MOW writers manage in a career), but he was loads of fun to talk to, and it was fascinating to watch him work in such a manner.  It was like a handcrafted teleplay.  In twenty plus years in the industry, I’ve only known two screenwriters who write that way.

    I imagine it was much, much more common when studios employed pools of typists.  And even fifteen years ago, Stoppard was not exactly young.

  8. wygit says:

    Anybody know what make/model that pencil sharpener is? I like it!

    Never mind… found it.

  9. eldritch says:

    Good advice for the pre-digital age.


  10. MollyMaguire says:

    What’s funny is that I didn’t find his comment fluid at all. I had to back up and reread multiple times. Perhaps he didn’t give it a second or third look. “better it easier” sounds particularly awkward.

  11. Peter says:

    But writing it out first also gives you more opportunities to screw up… you can screw up while writing it, or you can screw up while transcribing it, or, if your natural penmanship is as bad as mine, you can screw up by not remembering it because you find you actually can’t read what it is you wrote and were sure you would remember.  “What is that?   Does that say “It was the best of times,” or “I’d wash the breast of Himes?””

    • Gilbert Wham says:

       Christ, the thought of writing longhand fills me with dread. I can barely scrawl block capitals on a page.

    • Linley Lee says:

       I have been unable to read my own shopping lists.

    • CH says:

      Yeah… that’s what I was thinking, too. “… if I can still read it.” And as I heavily edit every darn single thing I write (writing a trivial e-mail takes ages) I’m so much more happy typing on a computer. I can edit without having a now gray paper that is almost torn to shreds from all the erasing. I love the delete and copy & paste functionality so very, very much!

  12. [original] 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. [/original]

    [my edit] When you start to write you get all the kick; the reader gets none. So use a typewriter at first; it’s much easier and you enjoy it more. After you learn to write, your object is to convey every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. Writing first with a pencil gives you an extra chance to improve, to see if the reader is getting what you want to convey.   You get three chances: First when you read it over, a second chance when it is typed, and a third in the proof.  One more chance to improve is a damned good advantage for a writer. It also stays fluid longer so you can better it more easily. [/my edit]

    Fixed that for you, Ernie.

    [Crosses "Rewrite Hemingway" off bucket list.]

  13. fireshadow says:

    While I was writing my dissertation I found it helpful to start writing in a notebook (I technically used a pen …) and then type it once I had a decent amount of a section written.  If I did not like where something was going, I could cross it out but still read it easily in case I wanted to reuse part of it.  If I was getting frustrated, I could turn the page and feel like I was getting a fresh start.  The act of typing something also helped me reevaluate my words in a way that was different from just reading them.

  14. “7. Be brief.”

    Hem is a great writer. But I’d have to say, this is something he may have aspired to, but perhaps did not always achieve.

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