Ernest Hemingway on Writing (Part 2)

These are some of my favorite passages and quotes from Ernest Hemingway’s On Writing.

“…I thought about Tolstoi and about what a great advantage an experience of war was to a writer. It was one of the major subjects and certainly one of the hardest to write truly of and those writers who had not seen it were always very jealous and tried to make it seem unimportant, or abnormal, or a disease as a subject, while, really, it was just something quite irreplaceable that they had missed.” Green Hills of Africa, p.70

“…civil was is the best war for a writer, the most complete. Stendhal had seen a war and Napoleon taught him to write. He was teaching everybody then; but no one else learned.” Green Hills of Africa, p.71

“The hardest thing in the world to do is to write straight honest prose on human beings. First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write. Both take a lifetime to learn…” By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, p.183

“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 to 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 has happened on that; but the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be 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.” Death in the Afternoon, p.2

“Y.C.” Then get in somebody’s head for a change. If I bawl you out try to figure out what I’m thinking about as well as how you feel about it. If Carlos curses Juan think what both their sides of it are. Don’t just think who is right. As a man things are as they should be or shouldn’t be. As a many you know who is right and who is wrong. You have to make decisions and enforce them. As a writer you should not judge. You should understand.

Mice:All right.

Y.C.: Listen now. When people talk listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe. You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling. Try that for practice. When you’re in town stand outside the theatre and see how the people differ in the way they get out of taxis or motor cars. There are a thousand ways to practice. And always think of other people.” By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, pp.219-20

“Seeing, listening. You see well enough. But you stop listening.” to F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1934. Selected Letters, p. 407

“This is the prose that I have been working for all my life [The Old Man and the Sea] that should read easily and simply and seem short and yet have all of the dimensions of the visible world and the world of a man’s spirit. It is as good prose as I can write as of now.” to Charles Scribner, 1951. Selected Letters, p.738

“After a book I am emotionally exhausted. If you are not you have not transferred the emotion completely to the reader. Anyway that is the way it works with me.” to Charles Scribner, Jr., 1952. Selected Letters, p.778

“Summer’s a discouraging time to work- You don’t feel death coming on the way it does in the fall when the boys really put pen to paper.” to F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1929. Selected Letters, p.306  

“Mice: Should a writer have read all of those?

Y.C.: All of those and plenty more. Otherwise he doesn’t know what he has to beat.

Mice: What do you mean “has to beat”?

Y.C.: Listen. There is no use writing anything that has been written before unless you can beat it. What a writer in our time has to do is write what hasn’t been written before or beat dead men at what they have done. The only way he can tell how he is going to compete with dead men…

Mice: But reading all of the good writers might discourage you.

Y.C.: Then you ought to be discouraged.” By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, pp. 217-218

“[F. Scott Fitzgerald’s] talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.” A Moveable Feast, p.147

“Work would help him; noncommercial, honest work- a paragraph at a time. But he {Fitzgerald} judged a paragraph by how much money it made him and ditched his juice into that channel because he got instant satisfaction. While if you don’t make so much and somebody said it was no good he would be afraid.” to Maxwell Perkins, 1936. Selected Letters, p.438

“The stories aren’t whoreing, they’re just bad judgement- you could have and can make enough to live on writing novels. You damned fool. Go on and write the novel.” to F. Scott Fitgerald, 1929. Selected Letters, p.307

“After the New Yorker piece I decided that I would never give another interview to anyone on any subject and that I would keep away from all places where I would be likely to be interviewed. If you say nothing it is difficult for someone to get it wrong.” to Thomas Bledsoe, 1951. Selected Letters, p.746

“”But B.B. 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…” to Bernard Berenson, 1954. Selected Letters, p.837

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: