H is for Hemingway

"…All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." -- Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Ernest Hemingway. Even if you've never read one of his books, you admit that he's written classics. 

As I struggle with week 2 of the A to Z Blogger's Challenge, I feel like I'm hemming and hawing simply to come up with something that starts with the letter "H." (And believe me, "G" was a challenge! Yikes. I waited until the last minute with that one, and wrote a few different posts before I finally settled on writing about Galahad.)

Anyways, back to Hemingway. I've procrastinated enough on writing this post.

I've had the honor of visiting Hemingway's house in Key West, Florida. The thing I most remember about that visit? The cats. I think most visitors remember those the most. Well, I also remember the warmth. It was December, and I was wearing a tank top. For a girl from the Arctic, that's pretty unusual. Usually, I'm bundled up in a down jacket, scarf, hat, boots and mittens. Oh, and it's about 120 degrees colder than Florida in December. 

Right, Hemingway. Hemingway Home. 

This is Hemingway House. It's full of cats. 

If you know nothing else of Hemingway, know that he liked cats. And, he made his home a haven for polydactyl cats—i.e., cats with a sixth digit on their paws (some have six digits on only two paws, others on all four).

But back to writing. Hemingway had a lot to say on writing, on many subjects. Here are some quotes of his speaking to different aspects of writing well.

1. Writer's Block

"I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it."

Hemingway's clear method of avoiding writer's block is to stop writing before it happens. I've tried this technique and found it to be true. Essentially, stop writing for the day when you know what's going to happen next. Then, when you return to your WIP, you can pick up with confidence. Usually writer's block is avoided when you can get started writing. This is a technique that I am especially attempting to use this month as I partake in Camp NaNoWriMo.

2. Knowledge

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

I think this is most obvious when a writer tries writing about something that he or she does not know. Often, those are the books so bogged down in unnecessary detail that the reader starts skipping pages. It's important to know where factual information is needed and where it can be skipped. Is that bit of explanation on which paintbrush a character chose and how he mixed the paint really necessary? Or do we just need to know that he chose the red paint?

3. Characters

"When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature."

"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…" 

This must be one of the thing a lot of writers struggle with. How do you create a character that is real, one that has flaws and strengths just like real people? How about one who speaks and thinks realistically? I think it's especially tempting to create "perfect" heroes and heroines in romance novels, but that's not reality.

4. Craft

"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master."

"There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges."

"For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can."

"When I have an idea, I turn down the flame, as if it were a little alcohol stove, as low as it will go. Then it explodes and that is my idea."

Ah, Ernest. Wise words from a master of the craft. Or should I say "apprentice?" 

5. Editing

"…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." -- By-Line: Ernest Hemingway
Editing has to be the single most important thing to good fiction. Certainly no rough draft ever became a masterpiece.