Writing like Hemmingway

Sometime last year I read Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy. An article by Joe Haldeman struck me, enough so that I felt a need to write about the resonance. (Hmmm… looks like I first started this in August, 7th to be exact.)

The article? “Hemingway Talks About Writing”

 Haldeman muses in response to a Hemmingway essay, titled “A High Seas Letter: Monologue to the Maestro.” He describes the piece as an 8-page essay of writing advice to “a young hobo [that] showed up on Hemingway’s doorstep, asking whether Hemingway could teach him how to write.”

My first reaction was to seek out a copy of the original article (here’s one version).

One of the Hemingway insights in that article (and what initially triggered my desire to respond) indicates drafting by hand. [quote below from the original Hemingway]

After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it…It also keeps it fluid longer so that you can better it easier.

I started doing this (with fountain pen, not pencil) a few years ago, motivated in part by Neil Gaiman’s process. [Not specifically because Neil does it, but in trying to figure out a process that works for me, I discovered sitting in front of a computer to compose didn’t. That might change if I try speech-to-text software, but I found scribbling on paper disconnected the inner-critic enough to get something out.]

That same essay includes the “stop in the middle” advice that is often referenced, but also the advice to edit as you go (ie – read over/polish the previous day’s work at the start of a new writing day). That last one, I think, is the best skill to master early.

From the Haldeman piece, the Hemingway essay strikes me as something that should be handed out early in a creative writing course, supplemental material in a course pack, for students to consider while trying to figure their own workflow/approach.

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