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Ernest Hemingway on Writing Paperback – 26 July 1999
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- Paperback : 140 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0684854295
- ISBN-13 : 978-0684854298
- Product Dimensions : 13.97 x 1.02 x 21.43 cm
- Publisher : Pocket Books; 1st Touchstone Ed Edition (26 July 1999)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: 68,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer reviews:
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Much of the material comes from Hemingway’s letters to writers, such as F Scott Fitzgerald, and publishers, and what becomes clear is that although it’s possible for writers to form some kind of fellowship with other writers, ultimately as a writer you are alone, with a blank sheet of paper and a legion of onlookers peering over your shoulder who desperately want you to succeed or fail. Other material is taken from his non-fiction, such as “The Green Hills of Africa” and “Death in the Afternoon”. I only read the former a few weeks ago and I struggled to recognise the extracts, so it was useful to see them again in a new context.
A couple of things struck me:
1. Hemingway’s thoughts on writers he considered great came as a bit of a surprise: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, et al. (though it’s notable that there are no women in the list apart from a brief mention of Gertrude Stein). Surprising because Hemingway doesn’t write like any of them as far as I can see. I suppose he developed a unique style by avoiding what they do as in long, complicated novels with multiple plots and perspectives and zillions of characters.
2. He was really sensitive about people delving into his private life, although by the standards of the time, I don’t think there’s anything exceptional there compared to other male celebrities, such as film stars etc: four wives, some heavy drinking and a passion for pastimes beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. However, you begin to get a sense of that paranoia that eventually led him to believe the FBI were tailing him, for which he was prescribed electro-convulsive therapy in the final months of his life. It turned out he was right! The FBI kept a file on him for twenty years.
I’ve read a lot of Hemingway, so there wasn’t much here that surprised me. However, I’ve never read a decent biography, partly because I’m anxious I might learn something I don’t want to know. I’m already aware of the profound criticisms of his writing and his personality, much of which is probably fair, especially from a feminist perspective. And, of course, in the 21st century all that bull fighting and big game hunting is now deeply problematic.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand how and why Hemingway wrote and who believes that might help them in some way with their own writing. If it inspires you to read some Hemingway or to find a good biography or analysis of his writing, then great. You’ll find that extremely rewarding.
Wow, thanks Larry W. Phillips – this is pure gold. Larry says: “As I brought them together... something unusual happened. Comments apparently made at random, at different times, often decades apart, and in different cities or countries, magically began to fit together like pieces of a puzzle.” Yes, absolutely, and Hemingway’s writing creed is a very marvellous thing. It has me looking back at my note on ‘For whom the bell tolls’ in 2011, unsurprised to find I said: “Wow. A huge book. Up there with War & Peace and Hamlet and a tense, gripping thriller into the bargain. Consummate craft, unwavering sincerity, profound, moving themes.”
Here’s part of the last extract in ‘On Writing’, in the category ‘The writer’s life’: “You must be prepared to work always without applause. When you are excited about something is when the first draft is done. But no one can see it until you have gone over it again and again until you have communicated the emotion, the sights and the sounds to the reader, and by the time you have completed this the words, sometimes, will not make sense to you as you read them, so many times have you re-read them. By the time the book comes out... it is all behind you... but... you read it and you see all the places that now you can do nothing about... Finally, in some other place, some other time, when you can’t work and feel like hell you will pick up the book and look in it and start to read and go on and in a little while say... why this stuff is bloody marvellous.”
They don't say much to his method, but they speak very much to his motives and emotion on writing.
My biggest takeaway was the feeling of solace as a writer, that even the great Hemingway himself felt at times a bit of a fraud, and not a very good writer.
Not all what I wanted, and rather boring after a while. But others may find it a good enough read.