Ernest Hemingway was a great American 20th century novelist that did more to influence the style of English prose than any other writer of his time. But there’s much more to the legendary author than the novels he wrote. He was a “character with character” that lived life to the fullest extent. He wasn’t perfect and he knew it, but he was self-aware and knew himself in a way that most people may never know themselves.
The first book I read was actually the last he wrote, “The Old Man and the Sea.” And I fell in love with his direct, yet descriptive storytelling style. From there, I dove into his work and his life, and came out a more inspired and confident person. Here are a few things I learned and try to incorporate into my every day life as an engineer, aspiring writer and a friend.
- Practice your craft every single day. If you can practice now, then do it. There’s no better way be better tomorrow then you are today. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
- Start small and start now. Don’t overthink about your goal or how you’re going to get there. Just start working on the one thing you know you need to do and build on it. This technique also helps when you are stuck or can’t seem to get going. “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
- Stop when you’re going good. Don’t feel the need to reach a “good stopping point” before taking a break or ending for the day. Instead, stop when you know exactly what you have to do next, that way when you restart it’s much easier to get going again. “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next.”
- Sometimes the best edit is a rewrite. Editing is a critical part of the creative process, but never be afraid to throw out your work in order to produce something better. It’s the experience gained that matters. “The first draft of anything is shit.”
- Let your subconscious do its job. When you’re not working, think about something else. And certainly don’t talk about your unfinished work or what you plan to do. Sleep on it. Your subconscious needs time to process and learn from experiences. “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.”
- Enjoy the simple things in life, don’t rush. The only certainty in life is death and a series of journey’s leading up to it. Take pleasure in each and every journey in your life, and learn from them. Read the poem, Ithaka, it changed my life and eloquently sums this up. “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
- Listen to others. When someone else is talking, we all tend to think about what we’re going to say next or in response. That’s a mistake because our brains are incapable of multi-tasking and therefore we aren’t actually listening. People know when you’re actually listening and it draws them in. And don’t cut them off early, let them finish completely, because you’ll almost always learn something new. “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
Also, for a fun, small primer on Hemingway, you should watch Midnight in Paris (one of my favorite films).
David Mark Byttow