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.”