Understanding Hemingway’s Advice to Writers

Ernest Hemingway

I have always found that being familiar with an author’s life and lifestyle makes his or her works more interesting to read. Although my father, an engineer who rarely reads literature, was fascinated by Hemingway enough to have named one of his cats Ernie, I only recently, post-college, came to know Hemingway more intimately. I sort of stumbled into my infatuation with him after reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a book, which my mother gave to me as a gift, about Hemingway’s life during his first marriage, narrated in the voice of his first wife, Hadley Richardson. After reading about him from the perspective of someone he both loved passionately and betrayed immensely, I needed to read more about him. His life and lifestyle are as engrossing to me as his writing, and the following quotes can be considered some of the best, most simple pieces of advice to fellow writers from one of the greatest, Ernest Hemingway.

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”

Just think of all those times we’ve felt emotionally hurt or betrayed and we didn’t know who to turn to, so we picked up a book to be distracted from the world as long as necessary. (Or is it just me doing that?). A book will never let me down. Unless I’m reading something extremely uninteresting, I am happy and content whilst reading.

“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”

As I said in a previous post about a Robert Frost quote, emotions have to pour out of our hearts through our fingers and into the words we’re writing. Write what you feel without thinking too much about what you are writing. In simpler terms, just write.

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

I think this is important for writers to remember: we’re never going to be happy with anything we’ve written the first time we’ve written it because it is never going to be perfect the first time. That is what revision is for. A first draft is exactly what it means. It is the bare bones, the plan, the blueprint of the story that will be developed into something wonderful over time. Don’t be so hard on yourself; we’ve all heard the saying “practice makes perfect,” and writing is not an exception. The only way to be good at writing is to write more.

“Write drunk. Edit sober.”

I first learned about the juice of creativity when I traveled to Cinque Terre, Italy two summers ago. This “juice” was actually Absinthe, and authors would drink it to encourage creativity. Upon returning to university classes, I decided to give the writing drunk thing a try. I wrote some essays whilst drinking, and edited them the following morning. And I must say I wrote some of the best damn essays I’ve ever written in my life under the influence of various creative juices. So, I guess, don’t be afraid to get the creative juices flowing with a tasty beverage. Just don’t forget to edit when you’ve sobered up.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Something phenomenal and worthwhile can be written when we put our whole heart into it. Our work is our blood: we are sharing what is inside of us with whoever wishes to read it. I supposed it’s quite simple: don’t hold back.

“As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”

As writers, we shouldn’t judge different lifestyles because we need to understand them in order to write about them. Everyone has the potential to be a character, and if we judge them, we aren’t utilizing their experiences. Their experiences could expand our writing, but only if we are open to that expansion.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

This relates to previous quotes mentioned in this blog: stay true to the emotions we are writing about. Hemingway utilized simplicity, refraining from using subordinating conjunctions. Sometimes it is unnecessary  to have an elaborate sentence laced with descriptive language in order to convey truth; simply write the truth.

These are further quotes worth putting above your writing desk. Or you can do as I’ve done and make it your desktop background. What do you think? Does Hemingway’s advice make you want to write more simply and honestly?

– Allison Bellows

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