Confession time: I’ve never been a great fan of Ernest Hemingway’s writing. It leaves me cold. That’s not to say he isn’t a brilliant writer; I’m only saying his style of writing is not my favorite. I go more for Fitzgerald and Steinbeck.
Nonetheless, I longed to read A Moveable Feast, a nonfiction account of his years in Paris during the 1920s. He wrote the book almost thirty years after his life of sharing drinks and philosophies with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and many others of that era. The period and place fascinate me as I’ve often wondered what it must have been like to have so many creative geniuses gathered in one place, sharing and hording ideas and discussing the process of creating when all the rules went with the winds of war so recently fought.
The book didn’t disappoint. A Moveable Feast is the first book of Hemingway’s that I enjoyed and read in almost one sitting. His descriptions of his writing process intrigued me. Here’s a few gems that moved me and made me consider my process.
Here’s what he told himself when he became stuck as he started a new story: “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence.”
I tell myself something similar every time I face a blank page. Then I just write the first thing that comes to mind about the topic. I wonder what one true sentence might mean. He describes it as a simple, declarative sentence. So I suppose that’s all it is: the simplest thing to be said in the most concise way. What do you think is “one true sentence?”
“. . .I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started writing 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. . .”
Sometimes it’s difficult to shut it off, but I believe he’s right about letting the subconscious work it out. Whenever I’ve agonized over a scene or character, nothing comes, and I become more frustrated. When I let it go and forget it about, I often wake in the morning with the perfect solution to the problem. Are you able to let it go when you put down the pen or stop the fingers?
“I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”
This is fairly similar to the last one, and again, it’s the way I write. I stop writing when I’ve figured out a way to begin or end a scene. I take down some notes on how I want to proceed, and then I start fresh the next day after that time of letting it go to the subconscious. Of course, this is in the perfect world of writing – it doesn’t often happen that way. I’ve emptied the well and had to quit until I could pull in the hose and fill it up again.
“I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next.”
Yep. It’s the best way to end the writing day. I’ve ended in the middle of scenes. I read somewhere that Somerset Maugham ended his writing day in the middle of a sentence so he always had a place to start the following day. I don’t go that far, but I do like to stop so I don’t face an empty page the next day. Do you find this a helpful way to write?
Hemingway to Fitzgerald: “Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”
9 responses to “A Hemingway Feast”
I’ve never been a Hemingway fan, either, but those are truly motivational quotes. I may have to check out that book. Thanks for the post.
It’s worth a read. You also have to realize he was a macho man of his times. Today he’d be vilified, but then he was just your average man.
It’s funny that you should list Moveable Feast as your favorite, because it’s my least favorite. I probably biased, because Fitzgerald is my favorite , and it’s Hemingway’s disdainful way of casting off Scott’s talent by literally questioning the size of his manhood, that I just thought went too far in Feast. He also “outs” Stein, and cuts down all the other contemporaries in the book. It has some beauty to the writing, but it’s just too mean spirited for me.
I like Hemingway the author, but Hemingway the man? Not so much. I also think Hemingway’s short stories are better than his novels. Especially the Nick Adams stories.
Fitzgerald and Steinbeck? Now we’re talking.
Hi Chris, I agree with you on most points, but I did enjoy the book and I do think his short stories are better. I took his comments on the other authors as the usual jealousy and envy that exists between artists of the same genre. Right or wrong, it exists and it isn’t a pretty quality. I appreciate your comments. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I do love Steinbeck and Fitzgerald. I reread The Great Gatsby whenever I need the inspiration to see how a great author brings together the main plot with the subplots into a fantastic climax. Great stuff.
Yeah, I read Gatsby about every other year (it just seems to be the perfect short novel). I’ve read his entire cannon and his letters, and just love his language. Steinbeck is fantastic as well, but I can only handle so many depressing farming stories. I will make it through his works eventually (East of Eden is my next “project”). I don’t know what it is about 400+ pages that intimidates me, as usually these tome books are worth their time…
I think I just love that era, where authors were glorified for what they were: artists.
That’s true about Steinbeck, but I love his descriptions of nature as metaphors for the themes of his books. When I taught high school English, I always taught The Pearl to kids who had never read a book before. It’s short, action-packed, and filled with literary techniques. For the most part, they loved it.
This is awesome! Thanks, PC! I’m casually addicted to books on writing and am always looking for good recommendations.
Not that he’s comparable to Hemingway, but I feel the same about Stephen King’s “On Writing.” I don’t much care for his novels, (though I have huge respect) but I very much enjoyed and learned from “On Writing.”
I’ll be off to find “A Moveable Feast!!”
That’s true. I like “On Writing,” but I’ve never read Stephen King. My daughter was a fan in her teenage years, and I always worried about that. But now we read similar types of books and trade back and forth often.
[…] in The Paris Wife, a novel about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley. Using Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, McLain creates conversations and events between the characters. She read Hadley’s letters to […]