Earnest like Hemingway

Looking through the author interviews on The Paris Review, I realized something. I like my books the way I like my television–trashy with unnecessary romantic subplots.

It is not surprising, then, that there weren’t a whole lot of options for me to choose from. Most of the authors that I recognized wrote books that I was assigned to read during high school. Then there was Hemingway. I had never been assigned one of his novels but I had read his short story “Hills Like White Elephants,” and remembered enjoying puzzling out the subtext. Also, there was substantially more white space in his interview and I thought that I’d be more likely to stay focused reading it.

After reading the expository before the interview, it became clear to me that Hemingway and I have differing perspectives on writing. While he is described as feeling that “writing is a private, lonely occupation with no need for witnesses until the final work is done,” I push my drafts in front of as many noses as possible. While he pushes forward and marks down how many words he writes a day, I write sporadically. Some days, I feel like the words come out too quickly for my fingers to catch up. Some days, the fountain runs dry. Hemingway had somehow found a way to grease the wheels just enough for a little progress every day. Like an exercise routine.

His strategy was simple–he cliffhangered himself every day. He would write up until he got to a point where he knew exactly what would happen next and then he would stop. The next day, the “juices” would come flowing back so that he could start again. This sounds like the kind of thing that works for very disciplined people (like morning people with exercise routines). I would like to be a very disciplined person.

“You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it.”

Hemingway’s dedication to writing has me reconsidering my entire writing process. The truth is, how necessary is the background music? How necessary is the solitude? How necessary is the location? All you truly need is yourself and a way to record your thoughts. Maybe I should let myself be ruthless more often.



5 thoughts to “Earnest like Hemingway”

  1. I think that his writing process is very interesting. Like you I tend to write when I feel like it and when I have time to. I don’t think that I could do what he does and push it to a point where I have it planned out and then just stop. I feel like that would just backfire on me and the next day I will have lost the thread and still not have written the section. I also don’t have the self-control to do that I feel. When I am really into writing I feel like I wouldn’t be able to really stop myself until the next day. I would maybe be able to push it off for an hour or two but not for most of a day though. I guess this is just why we all write differently I guess.

  2. Oh, Hemingway, what a strange dude. I developed a not-so-small infatuation with him high school, so I was excited to read your post! I’m also a very sporadic writer — I definitely understand your yearning for a more disciplined routine like Hemingway. But, I mean, everyone has their own peculiar brain, and so it makes sense that we all have different writing processes. I feel like Hemingway was sort of an all-or-nothing type of person…so he also saw his writing as a very militant thing, as well. Basically, what I’m trying to say is: embrace the uniqueness of your sporadic-ness!

  3. Hey Regina — I, too, feel like I differ from Hemingway on my writing process. It seems almost weird that he would stop writing at the point where he knew exactly what he was going to write next. If I were in that position, I would not be able to stop until I had let all of my thoughts out on paper. I mean, wouldn’t he want to write down as much detail as he could? I would forget what I wanted to write if I waited until the following day to finish it. Similarly, I feel as though writing is not a private thing, unless you intentionally make it private. If you let others read what you have written, it becomes a social thing. But I guess he knows what he is talking about considering how successful and well known he is.

  4. Hi Regina! I too find Hemingway’s discipline and writing process admirable because I definitely write primarily sporadically. However, I think that part of this is likely because we as students are not solely writers, and given that writing is our minor and not major, it is not necessarily a main focus of ours. I thought your final paragraph where you questioned the importance of location and background music towards the writing process to be very thought-provoking. While I personally probably won’t change my writing process of writing when inspiration hits, being less uptight about the circumstances of writing is definitely something to consider.

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