writing lessons from Ernest Hemingway
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Writing Lessons from Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was among the greatest American authors of the 20th-century and the likes of William Faulkner, Ray Bradbury, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was a notable novelist, short story writer, a journalist and a sportsman. His most popular works include A Farewell to Arms, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Old Man and the Sea, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. Hemingway was also awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and was commended “for his powerful, style-forming mastery of the art of narration”.

Here are some of the most inspiring lessons that writers can take from him.

1. What does it take to become a writer?

“As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”

According to Hemingway, writers must possess certain qualities. A writer must be talented; gifted with the ability to spin words. Writing is not learned as much as it is innate. To him, this innate ability was a sort of “shit-detector”. To put it simply, a writer is to be born with the sense of justice that it takes to write something worthwhile.

2. Why you should write?

“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”

Ernest Hemingway’s approach to writing was to either create something perfect and if not, to create something wonderfully flawed. He termed writing as a “perpetual challenge”. Something that writers must learn as they do it. He discussed the motivation that most writers have behind writing which is to get paid by suggesting that writing for the money is much easier to do than writing because you like to do it. As that is incurable. His greatest advice to writers was to simply to become obsessed with their craft.

3. Why you should just start?

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

If there is anything you should take from Hemingway, it is his directness about writing and what it requires. And often so it isn’t inspiration or bouts of creativity. It is the discipline and work ethic to just write. In his very famous quote “the first draft of anything is shit”, he addresses the biggest hurdle writers face; perfectionism. Hemingway was an advocate for creating a writing routine and his advice for writers was to get started and write however imperfectly.

4. What to write about?

“In order to write about life first you must live it.”

Hemingway attributed his success in writing to the very fact that he wrote about what he already knew. He was an advocate for writing about one’s reality, the good and the bad. He explained that the goal of a writer should be to give the reader experiences and often so it means having experienced things yourself.

5. What to not write?

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

Ernest Hemingway was a writer well known for his ability to create stories that readers are invested in. His trick, although, was quite simple. He famously compared prose to an ice-berg that has one-eighth of it above water. He believed that the writer who omits certain details must know full well what they contribute and writers that don’t, leave noticeable hollow places in their writing which the reader can sense. A good writer must know what to omit and what to explore further. His ice-berg theory significantly influenced 20th-century fiction.

There is a lot that we can learn from Hemingway about writing as he provides readers with a unique approach. ‘On Writing’ is a compilation of letters and commissioned articles that give us a fascinating outlook from one of the greatest writers the world has ever seen. 

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