book writing

10 writing tips to live by from Ernest Hemingway – InqPOP!

July 21 marks the 118th anniversary of the birth of Ernest Hemingway. He was an American writer who is one of the most popular and celebrated writers of the 20th century. His seven novels, six short story collections, and two nonfiction works are characterized by his economical use of words and understated storytelling. His particular writing style has greatly influenced American literature, and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1954.

Although he never wrote any essays on writing, he did give numerous pointers to his friends and fellow writers who came to him for advice. Here are 10 of them:

1. On beginning to write again

“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 someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”  – A Moveable Feast

2. On editing your own work

“The best way is to read it all every day from the start, correcting as you go along, then go on from where you stopped the day before. When it gets so long that you can’t do this every day read back two or three chapters each day; then each week read it all from the start. That’s how you make it all of one piece.” – Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter (1935 Esquire)

3. On knowing when to rest

“I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”- A Moveable Feast

4. On how to avoid getting stuck

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.” – Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter (1935 Esquire)

5. On creating believable fiction

“Invention is the finest thing but you cannot invent anything that would not actually happen. That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best — make it all up — but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way… Write and write truly no matter who or what it hurts but do not make these silly compromises.” – Excerpt from a 1934 letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald

7. On using your own tragedy

“Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it — don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist — but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you… You see, Bo, you’re not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write.” – Excerpt from a 1934 letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald

7. On the rigours of writing



“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit.” – Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter (1935 Esquire)

8. On a writer’s need for solitude


“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.” – Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Acceptance Speech

9. On being influenced by other writers


“In any art you’re allowed to steal anything if you can make it better, but the tendency should always be upward instead of down. And don’t ever imitate anybody. All style is, is the awkwardness of a writer in stating a fact. If you have a way of your own, you are fortunate, but if you try to write like somebody else, you’ll have the awkwardness of the other writer as well as your own.” – Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter (1935 Esquire)

10. On finding the courage to write again


“Scott, good writers always come back. Always. You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvellous. You know I never thought so much of Gatsby at the time. You can write twice as well now as you ever could. All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.

Go on and write.” – Excerpt from a 1934 letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top