Ernest Hemingway’s been a bit of a controversial figure in literary circles over the last few decades. He’s got, as they say in politics, a woman problem. That is – his writing tends to turn off those of the feminine persuasion because so many of his themes deal with masculinity, and what it means (or meant) to be a man in the face of the realities of the early twentieth century. During his time, he was often lauded for his manly stories about bullfighting in Spain, hunting lions on the Kenyan savanna, or courage under fire in the Spanish Civil War.
These days, however, many feminist critics rightly point out the trivialized or marginalized roles that women play in Hemingway’s stories, and I’m certainly sympathetic to those concerns.
I do love me some Hemingway, though, in terms of style. You can’t do much better as far as I’m concerned. He was a master of using short, direct sentences, and plain, precise language that cut right to the heart of his themes. Love him or hate him, you gotta give him that.
What Do You Mean, “Write Like Hemingway?”
Hemingway coined one of my favorite pieces of writing advice. He said, “Write drunk; edit sober.”
Okay. I’ll do some qualification here. First: I do not advocate alcohol use by any of the following – people under the age of 21 or whatever the legal drinking age is in their particular jurisdiction, people drinking to the point of excess (if you can’t remember what you did the next day, you probably over-did it), or alcoholics – whether you’ve admitted you are one or not. That said, what I’m really advocating here is the spirit of Hemingway’s quote.
The Spirit of the Quote…
The spirit of the quote requires no alcohol input at all – though I’m not your mom, so I’m not going to tell you whether to drink or not. What I am saying, however, is that you should write your first drafts as though you’re drunk – with reckless abandon and without thought to caution or consequence.
Your first draft should be completely inhibition free – typing exactly what comes out of your soul when you’re typing it. Let it out. All of it. Vomit it onto the page, if you have to.
Great, I Puked Up a First Draft… Now What?
Now you get to the second part of Hemingway’s advice: Edit sober. This part is non-negotiable. Editing and revising are serious business, and it’s where the bulk of the real work gets done. If you compare writing to a sculpture, your first draft is where you chisel out the basic form of your subject, but the editing is where you do all of the fine detail.
You must not imbibe when editing. You must be clear headed and have all your faculties about you. You need to read your work out loud, and be merciless with your scalpel. Cut out anything that doesn’t directly connect to your controlling idea (or thesis statement, claim, theme, or whatever it is for that piece). Get rid of passive voice sentences and linking verbs wherever possible. Make sure your mechanics are on point, and that your syntax is logical – meaning modifiers are where they’re supposed to be, sentences are structured correctly, etc. Also – kick out as many adverbs as possible.
This Cycle Can Help with Writer’s Block.
If you stop caring about the editing process while you’re drafting, you’ll find your imagination is that much freer to wander in directions it might not have otherwise explored. That’s good for writing no matter whether you’re writing a novel, an expose, or an academic research paper.
I know I’ve said this before, but the best cure for writers’ block is to just start writing. Some of my favorite ways to do that are as follows:
- Find an object and describe it.
- If that doesn’t work, do a character sketch of someone close to you.
- You’ll be amazed at A) how much sympathy you’ll gain for that person by imagining life in her shoes, and B) how easy it is to craft an ordinary every day story (They don’t all have to include infinity stones, space aliens, and radioactive spiders) that can be poignant and moving.
- Describe a place – paying specific attention to all of the sensory input in that place – how does it sound, taste, and smell? What does it look and feel like? Then start to populate it with a character and do the same thing. Describe her/him in detail. Then give that person a mission. Then write a story.
I have to cut this one short because it’s already about 18 hours late in posting. Rest assured, I will have a Thoughts for Thursday up tonight. See you then!