Hemingway’s Tips for Writers

A Moveable Feast Not long ago, I read The Paris Wife, Paula McLain’s bestselling novel about the first of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives.

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…

Ernest Hemingway (wearing a beret) sits by a fireplace in his apartment in Paris, France. (Papers of Ernest Hemingway. Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

Ernest Hemingway (wearing a beret) sits by a fireplace in his apartment in Paris, France. (Papers of Ernest Hemingway. Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)


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Discovering Local Flavor

Earlier this week, a photo album of rare color photographs from early 1900’s Paris circulated around Facebook. You read that right…COLOR photos from the early 1900’s. Here is the link: http://curiouseggs.com/extremely-rare-color-photography-of-early-1900s-paris/.

These photos got me thinking…we all have, thanks to the media, news, and marketing, distinct impressions of what makes a place unique. Wisconsin has dairy farms, Texas has cattle ranchers, California has Rodeo Drive, and New Jersey has the shore. Florida has orange groves and Washington has apples.

When I pitched my short contemporary romance set in Vermont, almost every agent and editor I pitched it to stressed the importance of setting taking on the role of a character in the story. In other words, evoke the setting in the prose. If the story is set in a place, make sure there’s a reason the story is set there. Your story should only be able to take place there, and nowhere else, if the setting is strong enough. If you’re setting a story in Vermont, for example, it seems like it should have a few key things…mountains, ski resorts, maple sugar and fall foliage.
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