Ernest Hemingway’s advice for #writers

writers

Ernest Hemingway was one of the great american authors. His slick, straight-forward and meaningful prose serves as direct contrast to flowery and purple prose, and it was this quality in his writing that earned him the Nobel Prize of Literature and a seat among the classic writers of the past. Reading Hemingway feels like stripping away everything that isn’t basic and primordial. It’s like studying the fundamentals, like reading raw feeling and thinking. His style serves as a great example of profound yet concise expression.

And as such, I find his advice for writers to be invaluable. Here are a few snippets it:

Pace yourself.

Take the time to sit down every day and put your thoughts into words, But finish when you still know what is going to happen next in your story. Don’t write until you burn yourself out and run out of ideas, but rather stop while you’re still excited and let your subconscious mind work on it. Next day, when you sit down to write again, you’ll start at a point in the story that you’re excited about, and the words will flow more easily onto the page.

Write, and then re-write. 

However, before jumping back into the story at the point you left off, take some time to go over what you wrote the day before. This serves to refresh your memory as to the mood and setting of your earlier scenes, so that the continuation is coherent with what you already wrote.

Edit as you re-write. 

As you go over what you wrote the day before, take out everything that is extraneous, and leave only the best. Stephen King also refers to this as “killing your darlings.” Everything that is not pertinent to the storyline has to go, no matter how fond you are of the way you structured a sentence or the words you used to describe that scenery. Don’t be afraid to move sentences around, as well. Look for the best structure in all the paragraphs you write, but make sure they are meaningful and add to the story instead of slowing it down with unnecessary fluff.

When you’re cutting things out that would be great in any other story but are not pertinent to the one you’re writing, you know you’re doing a good job.

Once a week go over your entire story, from the beginning until where you left off. 

This is important because you need to see your story as a whole every so often, and edit and re-write as necessary. Doing this is what makes your story all of one piece. I usually do this on the weekends because it’s very time-consuming. Going over 50 pages of my work takes me around 4 hours, so don’t underestimate how much work this is… but it’s also probably the most necessary thing to do. This way you become more familiar with your story, as well. You get to know it better, and can even get inspired to connect different ideas within the story and make it even more rich and ineresting.

Read the classics. 

The truly great writers of the past were great for a reason. You shouldn’t compare yourself to any existing writer, because we don’t know whether his or her work will outlast the passing of time or not. Classic works, however, have already stood the test of time. Read them often, and learn from them. Feel free to compete with them, if you’d like. It’s a good standard to measure yourself up against.

This way you’ll also know which ideas have been executed well by other artists. A writer who doesn’t read the classics isn’t really an educated writer, and his work will suffer for it.

Don’t think of yourself as being talented. 

We’ll never know whether we are talented writers or not, no matter how much praise or how much criticism we receive. So instead of focusing on that, focus on your creative work and becoming a better story-teller and writer in your appreciation every day.

upon a time

A-lot of this advice is technical. But writing well is a very technical process. The important thing is to find a balance between feeling inspired by your story and also working to refine it as you go along. Writing, re-writing and editing should be done simultaneously according to Hemingway, and I agree with him. It takes more time during the day (two hours for me, instead of one), but it’s worth it.

I know many writers work on their first draft without looking back at what they have written, and if that works for them and they’d rather not look back, then that’s up to them. But there’s a reason one of the great american writers worked this way. Personally, this advice has helped me become not only more disciplined in my writing, but also more familiar with it and more involved and invested in my own story. So I invite you to look over these tips, think about them, and implement what works for you.

Happy writing!

Source: Hemingway’s Advice on Writing, Ambition, the Art of Revision, and His Reading List of Essential Books for Aspiring Writers

6 thoughts on “Ernest Hemingway’s advice for #writers

  1. Some great tips in there. I disagree with going over your story every week. I’m one of those people who thinks you shouldn’t start doing real editing or revision until the draft is done. Well, it works for me at least. I also disagree in part with the idea about the classics being great, especially for genre fiction. The classics were great at their time, I think, because there was little competition. There weren’t a lot of writers and there were no easily accessible, common writing courses. Many classic writers never studied writing formally, and it shows when you actually critique the work line-by-line. Classic Lit probably holds up better, but a whole lot of classic sci-fi is crap, from a technical perspective. Even so, I would still agree that authors should be reading the work of their predecessors, if only to know the range of what has been written before.

    • Going over the story every week for me is vital for the reasons expressed (unity in the story, making it all of one piece, familiarity with what you’re writing, etc.). It also saves up a ton of time at the end: when you’re done writing because you’ve already done all the hard work simultaneously to your writing and the manuscript is pretty much done.

      Classics like Tolstoy’s war & peace and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, etc. is what I was referring to.I don’t think it’s necessary to formally study writing to be a great writer. Many great modern writers have also not studied formally. What’s important is to know the craft and to work at it, and you can do this with or without a degree.

      I’m curious–which sci-fi or genre classics do you think are bad?

      • Not necessarily bad, but rough around the edges. I don’t know if I’d label them classics either, but both Starship Troopers and Dune have struck me as problematic for various reasons. Not enough to make it not worth the read, though. Also probably not a classic, The Maltese Falcon is pretty poor as far as the sentence-level writing goes. Pretty much every dialogue tag in that book has an adverb with it, among other things. The sort of things that get drilled out of you through basic writing instruction these days. But perhaps we are wrong about what makes good writing. You are very right, the Big-L lit classics are certainly better. But I wonder how well those writers would stand up against a modern, educated writer, if they were both unknowns. I think we take a lot of their greatness for granted because they have always just been great. Moby Dick is often mentioned as being long-winded, but gets a pass because it’s a classic. A modern author writing in the same manner would probably not get the same pass. But that’s just me. I’ve never been a bit fan of Lit. On your first comment, I can see how it is beneficial to go back do rewrites often. My longer works do sometimes become a mess by the time I am done with them. 😀

      • I see what you mean. Literature evolves, the way writers craft their novels changes with the times.

        I think modern writers still have to stand the test of time. How many writers today will have works of fiction that will still be as memorable as Tolstoy’s War & Peace 50 years from now? How many modern writers have subject-matters that are as deeply relevant and timeless when it comes to embodying and describing the human condition? We’ll have to wait and see.

        I’m a huge fan of both the classics and modern writing, but modern books haven’t been tested by time yet. Classics have, on the other hand. Some of them can be long-winded or have other characteristics that could be considered flaws when compared to today’s way of writing books, but they still have a unique subject matter, an idea, that’s very relevant and that strikes an essential chord.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s