I hadn’t planned on doing much of a writing post for this week’s Writing Wednesday, but sometimes the blog gods play nice and toss me a bit of blog-o-rific inspiration to share with you. And that little doggy bone of inspiration showed up in the pages of Hemingway as I was doing a bit of reading this morning.

Writers on Writing

If you do a quick web search for “writing advice” you’ll come across millions (643 million came up just now) of results and many of those results will be from writers offering up their own advice on how they approach their work (I’ve been known to do this myself).

Still, do you want to take advice from some nobody who needs to fill up free blog space to stay active on Google’s search results, or do you want to take advice from successful, well-known writers whose writing skills have proven themselves? I usually go with the successful folks, and so do many other writers.

Image from StephenKing.com
Image from StephenKing.com

One of the most popular books on writing is Stephen King’s not-so-cleverly book titled On Writing. In writing surveys and forums, On Writing often takes the cake for its easy-to-understand tips. And I have to agree, of the writing advice books I would recommend, On Writing is definitely at the top of my list.

But even though On Writing is a short, perhaps you don’t want to read a whole book. Perhaps you just want to get down to the nitty-gritty of what it takes to write.

Leave it to the master of being concise to give you just that.

Ernest Hemingway’s Writing Advice

Whether you like him or hate him as a person, it’s hard to get away from the fact that Hemingway is an amazing writer with a gift for dropping you into a world without wasting a word. In A Moveable Feast, he has a single paragraph brimming with writing advice that any writer should heed.

And while I call this “advice” I kind of picture Papa Hemingway gruffly stating these words then adding, “This is how it is, don’t argue with me.”

“…I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.”

This is excellent advice. Don’t stop until you’ve written something (anything) for the day and don’t finish a scene. Instead, stop work for the day at a point where you know how the rest of a scene will play out. That way you’ll have a catalyst for your next writing session. Okay, but what if you’re working on something new? Well…

Image from Biography.com
Image from Biography.com

“…sometimes when I was starting a new story and could not get it going…I would stand and look out over the rooftops of Paris and think, ‘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 you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say….”

Can’t argue with that. But what is “one true sentence”? What if you’re writing fiction? Well, then that one true sentence should be a “true” sentence about your character, your plot, or your setting. A true sentence is simple; it’s a statement and little more. Hemingway goes on to explain that when he tries to start out with a elaborate or complex he basically ends up scrapping that work.

Because really, once you get that first sentence out, somehow the ink manages to keep on flowing. And often just getting the words onto the paper is the hardest part of writing. Once you have your story down, then you can go back to the lengthier bits of advice and hone what you have before you, but writing advice won’t do you any good if you have nothing written.

Image from notable quotes.com
Image from notable quotes.com

Vonnegut also has some excellent and concise writing advice, perhaps that will be the inspiration for next week’s writing post! See you then.

What’s your favorite tidbit of writing advice? On the flip side, got any terrible writing tips you’ve received? 

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9 thoughts on “Papa’s Writing Advice

  1. I’m pretty sure I remember notoriously grumpy Irish novelist John Banville being asked what piece of advice he’d give to people trying to write their first novel… If memory serves, he answered in one word – “Don’t”. Hemingway is definitely much more encouraging!

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      1. It’s advice I inadvertently ended up taking, anyway… Turns out I just like knitting monsters better than trying to write books. But I still love reading about how writers write, it’s endlessly fascinating!

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      2. YES! Oh, I have some yarn that would make perfect Worhol hair too… That’s another one for the “Beasties I want to make” list, which grows longer by the second. I still haven’t got around to making my famous fictional detectives, or my Lemmy tribute Beastie 😆 That’s it… I’ll just have to learn to knit with my feet!

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