The novel covers a remarkable period of time—Paris in the 1920s—when the Hemingways socialized with accomplished literary figures such as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, a group that came to be known as the “Lost Generation.”
I was so riveted by the interactions among these fascinating characters that I immediately downloaded A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s own account of his time in Paris as a struggling, unknown writer.
There were many things about the book that resonated with me, including Hemingway’s self-described habits for fruitful writing and I thought they might be of interest to other authors as well.
So here are a few tips that might help you get your “Hemingway” on…starting with a technique Ernest used to make sure the words kept flowing:
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…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.
During this period, Hemingway worked in a small room on the top floor of a hotel, a space he described as “warm and pleasant.” He would bring mandarin oranges and chestnuts to roast on the fire when he was hungry. And when he hit a stumbling block…
I would stand and look out over the roofs 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 that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.
Hemingway spent a lot time in Paris cafes socializing with other members of the “Lost Generation.” He and his wife, Hadley, also traveled, attending the bull fights in Spain and going skiing in Austria. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway outlines how not taking his work home with him was an important part of his creative process.
It was in that room too that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped; learning, I hoped.
And when he was satisfied he’d done a good day’s work, Hemingway rewarded himself with long walks through the city, which seemed to refuel his creativity.
Going down the stairs when you had worked well, and that needed luck as well as discipline, was a wonderful feeling and I was free then to walk anywhere in Paris…I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out. It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something or seeing people doing something that they understood.
Like Hemingway, I think most writers have their own ways of overcoming writer’s block and ensuring productivity.
Sometimes, when I’m stuck, I find moving away from the computer and taking a shower helps shakes things loose in my mind. I don’t know what it is about the shower—maybe it’s because it’s essentially a mindless activity—but I’ve worked out many plot points there!
What about you? Please feel free to share any techniques that help you to be more productive.