What Ernest Hemingway Taught Me About Writing (with 15 quotes)

Hemingway talked very little about writing. Despite this, he is famous for many quotes on the craft, most of which are found in his writings, both in his stories and in his private letters to friends.

One of his most famous quote is: There is nothing to writing. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

For me, this didn’t mean much when I first read it, and even as I began committing countless hours to better understanding the craft, it didn’t really become any more clear.

A lot happens to you the more you write. You go through many new experiences and revelations, thoughts and emotions. Much of it comes unexplained and unexpected (for starters, you only have yourself to mull them over with), and how you interpret what it all means and how to deal with it will shape you as a writer (and most importantly, aid in keeping your mental health and sanity).

In the way Hemingway talks about writing, the difficulties of working with the craft, and how he dealt with it both as a young aspiring writer and as an established author, I found that both him and I (and I imagine countless aspiring writers) share similar experiences, frustrations, and thoughts. And once I discovered that a great writer has faced the same difficulties that we face, has found their solutions, and has shared them with us, I find solace in knowing that I am not alone.

Below are a few of my favorite quotes from this collection of Hemingway’s letters:

How to always practice: “Listen now. When people talk listen completely. Don’t be thinking about what you’re going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe.”

How to observe and feel: “You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling. Try that for practice. When you’re in town stand outside the theatre and see how the people differ in the way they get out of taxis or motor cars. There are a thousand ways to practice. And always think of other people.”

On what to write: “Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipling.”

How to not dry up: “That’s what dries writers up (we all dry up. That’s no insult to you in person) not listening.”

On what to show: “I’m trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across—not just depict life—or criticize it—but to actually make it alive. You cant do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful you cant believe it.”

What to never omit: “Remember to get the weather in your god damned book—weather is very important.”

How to learn not to worry: “By not thinking about it. As soon as you start to think about it stop it. Think about something else. You have to learn that.”

Obscenities: “I only use swear words, for example, that have lasted at least a thousand years for fear of getting stuff that will be simply timely and then go sour.”

On what words to use: “The fundamental reason that I used certain words no longer a part of the usual written language is that they are very much a part of the vocabulary of the people I was writing about and there was no way I could avoid using them and still give anything like a complete feeling of what I was trying to convey to the reader.”

On what words to leave out: “If I can make the effect without the word will always do so but sometimes can’t.”

How to choose a title: “Anyway I have had thirty some titles and they were all possible but this is the first one that has made the bell toll for me.”

On being confident: “Know this sounds like bragging but Jeezoo Chrise you have to have confidence to be a champion and that is the only thing I ever wished to be.”

On what to write about: “Write about what you know and write truly and tell them all where they can place it… Books should be about the people you know, that you love and hate, not about the people you study about.”

How to be timeless: “Do not let them deceive you about what a book should be because of what is in the fashion now.”

How to be happy: “I think we should never be too pessimistic about what we know we have done well because we should have some reward and the only reward is that which is within ourselves… Publicity, admiration, adulation, or simply being fashionable are all worthless.”

~

These are the quotes that most stood out to me. Your experience will surely be different when you get the chance to finally pick up the work for yourself. But it’s one that I highly recommend and one that I can truly say has provided me with great guidance and confidence as I continue to learn a craft that we are always apprentices in and one that no one truly ever masters.

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