Thursday, March 08, 2007

LS: Lessons from Ernest

My book in play right now is A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway. My daughter's been telling me to read this for two years now and thankfully, I finally listened. Ensconced in the world of Hemingway in Paris as he was seeking to learn to write prose, I'm learning a lot about the writing process. Hemingway gives some great insights:

1. On the day's work.

"It was wonderful to walk down the long flight of stairs knowing that I'd had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day."

2. On getting started.

"I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.' So finally, I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard somebody say."

3. On not mulling 24 hours a day. (This one made me feel vindicated. I'm not one of those writers who walk around with her characters yakking in her head all the time! I always felt like a poseur because of it.)

"It was in that room too that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped; learning, I hoped; and I would read so that I would not think about my work and make myself impotent to do it. Going down the stairs when I had worked well, and that needed luck as well as discipline, was a wonderful feeling and I was free then to walk anywhere in Paris."

Hemingway, by the way, saw reading as a way to keep himself from thinking about his work. See? Another reason to make reading a big part of your writing day!

4. Finally, it's okay if you can't write at home.

Now, there's no quote that says this, but for the most part, while in Paris, Hemingway did not write at home. This makes me feel so much better. I have such a hard time writing at home, the only way I can see significant wordcount per day is to, I kid you not, drive to the gas station, get a cup of cheap coffee, and head to the parking lot of the grocery store! I can't write in coffee shops anymore. They all have wi-fi!

Great ideas from Hemingway, and if you read A Moveable Feast, like me, you may find that some of your idiosyncracies aren't so strange after all. The lesson I'm learning? We writers are a mottled lot, bearing many stripes and colors. How you structure your day isn't so important as that you make your day count.



At 10:10 AM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

Ooh, more posts like this! I agree, Lisa. Writers are the speckled pups of artistic culture. I find stories and threads in odd places, sometimes at the gym or taking lunch in the food court, or out on the patio of a burrito joint.You can't write about characters without being around them.

At 10:41 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Okay, you've sold me. As soon as I get done the 15 books sagging my floor, I'm getting into this one.

At 12:35 PM, Blogger James Scott Bell said...

Good stuff from Papa H. I like that part about reading and the subconscious ("the boys in the basement" as Stephen King puts it).

At 12:15 AM, Blogger Karen said...

Thanks. I found this very encouraging.


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