Tag Archives: A Moveable Feast

No “Hem”-ing and Hawing About It: Hemingway Speaks in “Ernest” – Part III

Right. So, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t live up to my end of the bargain at the end of my previous post. I haven’t completed any creative writing since then, but I did get through another round of edits on someone else’s super-fun paranormal romance and am taking on some additional freelance work writing/editing commercial documents and web content for a couple small businesses. Hey, it pays the bills. I do find myself in a peaceful sort of limbo today, though, that should allow me a chance to crack open manuscript #2 and crank on its final chapters. But first things first: in getting psyched and inspired to write by those who’ve already done it so well, it’s time to wrap up my little literary miniseries here with some final quotations from Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

On peer critique:

He liked the works of his friends, which is beautiful as loyalty but can be disastrous as judgment.
from “Ezra Pound and the Measuring Worm”

We still went under the system, then, that praise to the face was open disgrace.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

That fall of 1925 [Scott Fitzgerald] was upset because I would not show him the manuscript of the first draft of The Sun Also Rises. I explained to him that it would mean nothing until I had gone over it and rewritten it and that I did not want to discuss it or show it to anyone first.
from “Hawks Do Not Share”

Every writer is different, but hopefully we all understand the value of actively soliciting constructive criticism of our work. That said, I totally share the reluctance Hemingway had when it comes to handing over an early draft, the desire to give yourself the opportunity to critique it first before letting other eyes judge what is surely not yet your best. There does come the time, though, to fork it over, and I’m still steeling myself for this step…I do know a select few friends whose loyalty wouldn’t impair their judgment; they would tell it to me straight without fear of hurting my feelings, which is fortunate and terrifying all at once as I endeavor to shape what I do into something truly good by any measure…but what defines good writing?

On good writing:

[Fitzgerald’s] talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think. He was flying again and I was lucky to meet him just after a good time in his writing if not a good one in his life.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

He spoke slightingly but without bitterness of everything he had written, and I knew his new book must be very good for him to speak, without bitterness, of the faults of past books. He wanted me to read the new book, The Great Gatsby, as soon as he could get his last and only copy back from someone he had loaned it to. To hear him talk of it, you would never know how very good it was, except that he had the shyness about it that all non-conceited writers have when they have done something very fine, and I hoped he would get the book quickly so that I might read it.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

When you first start writing stories in the first person, if the stories are made so real that people believe them, the people reading them nearly always think the stories really happened to you. […] If you do this successfully enough, you make the person who is reading them believe that the things happened to him too. If you can do this you are beginning to get what you are trying for, which is to make something that will become a part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory. There must be things that he did not notice when he read the story or the novel which, without his knowing it, enter into his memory and experience so that they are a part of his life. This is not easy to do.
from “On Writing in the First Person”

Then I started to think in Lipp’s about when I had first been able to write a story after losing everything. […] It was a very simple story called “Out of Season” and I had omitted the real end of it which was that the old man hanged himself. This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood. […] And as long as they do not understand it you are ahead of them. Oh sure, I thought, I’m so far ahead of them now that I can’t afford to eat regularly. It would not be bad if they caught up a little.
from “Hunger was Good Discipline”

I feel the strong need to emoticon that last one, but will do it here so it doesn’t look like Hemingway stooped to my level. Here it is: 🙂 I think that observation speaks (to an extent) to the debate in my first post in this series about writing to the market…I think sometimes you do have to throw the reader a bone and hand-hold just a little if you want them running along with you and cheering you on—rather than giving up on you because you’re trying to be a profound and abstract literary genius, sitting up there on-high in your little turret all alone but for the company of a story only you could love. 🙂 (There, I emoticoned again! It’s a modern disease!) But to continue…

In writing there are many secrets too. Nothing is ever lost no matter how it seems at the time and what is left out will always show and make the strength of what is left in. Some say that in writing you can never possess anything until you have given it away or, if you are in a hurry, you may have to throw it away. […] They say other things too but do not pay them too much attention. They are the secrets that we have that are made by alchemy and much is written about them by people who do not know the secrets or the alchemy. There are many more explainers now than there are good writers. You need much luck in addition to all other things and you do not always have it. This is regrettable but nothing to complain about as you should not complain of those explainers who tell you how you do it and why, if you do not agree with them. […] Good writing does not destroy easily…
from “Nada y Pues Nada”

I must say, I’m touched by Fitzgerald’s humility regarding The Great Gatsby, as well as the esteem he was held in by his contemporary Hemingway (even when other aspects of Fitzgerald’s life hardly impressed him). What a fascinating time to be a writer back then, when there was still uncharted territory—hell, when there was still un-agented submissions!—and classic American literature was given new voice. So many pioneering and influential artists, right there in Paris at the same time and toasting cocktails to one another…no wonder Woody Allen wanted to pay homage with his recent film Midnight in Paris. An era idealized in nostalgia? Sure. But there’s no questioning the contribution that those people at that time made to what so many of us continue to aspire to today; it was a recipe for greatness whether they knew it themselves yet or not…a wonderful alchemy of talent and ambition that not even the explainers can explain.

In closing:

“Hem, you won’t forget about the writing?”

“No,” I said. “I won’t forget about the writing.”

I went out to the telephone. No, I thought. I would not forget about the writing. That was what I was born to do and had done and would do again. Anything they said about them, the novels or the stories or about who wrote them was all right by me.

from “Nada y Pues Nada”

PART I

PART II

Advertisements

No “Hem”-ing and Hawing About It: Hemingway Speaks in “Ernest” – Part II

Yikes, have I taken long enough to follow up on this? Busy days, folks, busy days, and I clearly lack Hemingway’s discipline…for writing anyway. His discipline seemed to stray when it came to women…

Right, moving on. I left off last time with commentary on how Hemingway’s autobiographical yet “fictional” book A Moveable Feast might have been called The Early Eye and The Ear had its author let himself live to see its publication. To continue:

The Early Eye and The Ear gets at the need to hone your craft, something Hemingway truly believed in and worked at all his life. It implies talent, for you must have a good eye and a good ear to begin with if you are to be successful, but it also suggests that you need experience to develop your abilities as a writer, and Paris at that time was for Ernest Hemingway the perfect place to do this.

Indeed, I imagine Paris isn’t too shabby a place to do it. Especially back then when being an expatriate really would have felt exotic as opposed to today’s globally minded society that shuffles the likes of us in and out the door with more frequency. Not that moving to London wasn’t a massive inspiration for me and my own writing, but I probably hear North American accents here as often as any, and the likes of Starbucks is everywhere (which I’m at peace with because I very specifically love their chai lattes and granola bars).

At any rate, any place is fitting for a writer—or human being in general—that can introduce you to new perspectives, cultures, aesthetics, interesting, worldly if not quirky people, and allow you to expand into a sense of self you might not have realized you could be back home. I’ve learned firsthand how moving away helps you see that home with sharper clarity; as Hemingway said, “Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.” Let’s hear more of what he had to say about those days when he first endeavored to become a novelist…

On starting to write a novel:

I knew I must write a novel. But it seemed an impossible thing to do when I had been trying with great difficulty to write paragraphs that would be the distillation of what made a novel. It was necessary to write longer stories now as you would train for a longer race. When I had written a novel before, the one that had been lost in the bag stolen at the Gare de Lyon, I still had the lyric facility of boyhood that was as perishable and as deceptive as youth was. I knew it was probably a good thing that it was lost, but I knew too that I must write a novel. I would put it off though until I could not help doing it. I was damned if I would write one because it was what I should do if we were to eat regularly. When I had to write it, then it would be the only thing to do and there would be no choice. Let the pressure build. In the meantime I would write a long story about whatever I knew best.
~ from “Hunger was Good Discipline”

Since I had started to break all my writing down and get rid of all facility and try to make instead of describe, writing had been wonderful to do. But it was very difficult, and I did not know how I would ever write anything as long as a novel. It often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

Now, as he alluded to in that first quotation, Hemingway had lost not only the entire manuscript of his first attempt at a novel but also the majority of anything else he had written, and he didn’t have any copies. He then went on to write The Sun Also Rises. Talk about rallying! That must have taken tremendous drive, patience, and discipline to simply sit down with pencil and notebook and start writing again. Fortunately, he was seated in the midst of life, buzzing around him with inspiration…

On writing from life:

In the early days writing in Paris I would invent not only from my own experience but from the experiences and knowledge of my friends and all the people I had known, or met since I could remember, who were not writers. I was very lucky always that my best friends were not writers and to have known many intelligent people who were articulate. In Italy when I was at the war there, for one thing that I had seen or that had happened to me, I knew many hundreds of things that had happened to other people who had been in the war in all of its phases. My own small experiences gave me a touchstone by which I could tell whether stories were true or false and being wounded was a password.
from “On Writing in the First Person”

A girl came in the café and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair black as a crow’s wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek. / I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere […]. The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. […] I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.
from “A Good Café on the Place St.-Michel”

So, it seems Hemingway had found a sweet spot in a café where his writing could flourish. I had to laugh, then (but with as much pity as humor), at his agitation when other people disrupted that peace…

On less-than-ideal writing conditions:

The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of café crèmes, the smell of early morning sweeping out and mopping and luck were all you needed. […] Some days it went so well that you could make the country so that you could walk into it through the timber to come out into the clearing and onto the high ground and see the hills beyond the arm of the lake. A pencil-lead might break off in the conical nose of the pencil sharpener and you would […] sharpen the pencil carefully with the sharp blade and then slip your arm through the sweat-salted leather of your pack strap to lift the pack again, get the other arm through and feel the weight settle on your back and feel the pine needles under your moccasins as you started down for the lake. / Then you would hear someone say, “Hi, Hem. What are you trying to do? Write in a café?” / Your luck had run out and you shut the notebook. This was the worst thing that could happen. […] Now you could get out and hope it was an accidental visit and that the visitor had only come in by chance and there was not going to be an infestation. There were other good cafés to work in but they were a long walk away and this was your home café. It was bad to be driven out of the Closerie des Lilas. You had to make a stand or move.
~ from “Birth of a New School”

It appears he made a stand. It wasn’t pretty. But he made his point. Then there’s that friendly chap F. Scott Fitzgerald, fellow member of the Parisian literati who invited Hemingway and his wife Hadley to join them in the French Riviera.

It was a nice villa and Scott had a very fine house not far away and I was very happy to see my wife who had the villa running beautifully, and our friends, and the single aperitif before lunch was very good and we had several more. That night there was a party to welcome us at the Casino […]. No one drank anything stronger than champagne and it was very gay and obviously a splendid place to write. There was going to be everything that a man needed to write except to be alone.
~ from “Hawks Do Not Share”

I was getting tired of the literary life, if this was the literary life that I was leading, and already I missed not working and I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

Not that Ernest couldn’t whoop it up on his own terms, but, when he wore the writing hat, it was all about productivity.

On the discipline of writing:

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. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. 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. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written. 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 discipline.

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 I would read so that I would not think about my work and make myself impotent to do it. 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.
~ from “Miss Stein Instructs”

And now that Hemingway has made me feel thoroughly guilty, it’s time to go get some work done. You should, too. Let’s say we write ourselves proud for a while and meet back here when I post the last installment of this series. Deal? Good. Now keep those eyes and ears open…

PART I

PART III


No “Hem”-ing and Hawing About It: Hemingway Speaks in “Ernest” on Writing – Part I

“It is not that things should be published. But I believe now that it is important that they exist.”

Ah, and that quotation wasn’t even Hemingway; it was his friend Evan Shipman. But I figured it made a good segue from my previous post about “When Not Being Published Doesn’t Feel Too  Shabby,” no? Who was Evan Shipman? Alas, perhaps if he hadn’t held the views on publishing he did, his name would be as household as Ernest Hemingway’s by now.

Evan Shipman, who was a very fine poet and who truly did not care if his poems were ever published, felt that it should remain a mystery.

“We need more true mystery in our lives, Hem,” he once said to me. “The completely unambitious writer and the really good unpublished poem are the things we lack most at this time. There is, of course, the problem of sustenance.”
~ from “An Agent of Evil”

Ah, sustenance. Indeed. Well, it doesn’t seem  even the published can necessarily count on that anymore. But this is how F. Scott Fitzgerald did:

He had told me at the Closerie des Lilas how he wrote what he thought were good stories, and which really were good stories for the Post, and then changed them for submission, knowing exactly how he must make the twists that made them into salable magazine stories. I had been shocked at this and I said I thought it was whoreing. He said it was whoreing but that he had to do it as he made his money from the magazines to have money ahead to write decent books. I said that I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best they could write without destroying their talent. He said he had learned to write the stories for the Post so that they did him no harm at all. He wrote the real story first, he said, and the destruction and changing did him no harm. I could not believe this and I wanted to argue him out of it but I needed a novel to back up my faith and to show him and convince him, and I had not yet written any such novel.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

[After Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby:]

I was trying to get him to write his stories as well as he could and not trick them to conform to any formula, as he had explained that he did.

“You’ve written a fine novel now,” I told him. “And you mustn’t write slop.”

“The novel isn’t selling,” he said. “I must write stories and they have to be stories that will sell.”

“Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”

“I”m going to.” he said.
from “Hawks Do Not Share”

Hm, and did he? Was Scott a sell-out? Or was he just doing what he needed to do to make a livelihood of his craft? It raises the question that hits me time and again—to what extent do writers need to write to the market if they ever want to be published? Just at the start of their careers to get a foot in the door? Throughout their careers to keep earning a living? Is there a happy medium? And could writing to the market harm your writing if it’s any less than your best? Questions I don’t feel the need to answer at this time. (But see my post “To Market, To Market” if you want to further chew on it.)

Moving on, the bits that I’m quoting here are from one of my latest reads, Hemingway’s posthumously published book, A Moveable Feast. The title, though chosen by his wife after his death, bears Hemingway’s stamp, taking liberties as he did with spelling and punctuation out of an innate grammatical logic of his own—in this case, the “ea” in “Moveable.” In any case, I used to read so much Hemingway in my teens and twenties and had neglected him for a while until recently reading Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife about his days in Paris in the 1920s with his first wife Hadley. This led to reading A Moveable Feast, his own accounts of what transpired in those ol’ Paris days, and then re-reading The Sun Also Rises, which is essentially autobiographical of a group trip at that time to Pamplona, Spain. It’s funny how we readers bring so much to a story’s meaning depending on our evolving frame of reference, because first reading that novel a decade or two ago was a different experience for me than reading it now as a fellow American expat in Europe—especially different after attending a bull fight in Madrid last year (and sobbing like an infant, I might add. I’m not going to run out and join PETA or anything, but I’ll say this: Never. Again.)

Anyway, that’s the side of literature I’ve been embracing again: being a reader. Nonetheless, as I won’t be entirely foregoing the trials and tribulations of being a writer (as implied in my last post), I thought I’d share some insights on writing Hemingway gave throughout his Paris memoirs—Paris being where he was still cutting his teeth on his pencil. I’ll break it up into separate posts as this is already getting long, but before I close up shop today, I’ll share this from Seán Hemingway’s introduction to the book. Regarding how A Moveable Feast was originally going to be titled The Early Eye and The Ear:

The eye, a term usually used in the connoisseurship of fine art, draws an interesting comparison between writing and painting […] Hemingway first developed his eye, his ability to discern the gold from the dross and turn his observations into prose, in Paris in the twenties. The ear, which we think of as more pertinent to musical composition, is clearly important to creative writing. Hemingway’s writing typically reads well when spoken aloud. When complete, his writing is so tight that every word is integral, like notes in a musical composition.

Hemingway’s writing isn’t for everyone. I, too, fluctuate in my response to it sometimes. But I’ll never question my overall love for his storytelling if only for For Whom the Bell Tolls. He brought something different to the table, and even if it isn’t the style other writers or readers want to embrace, the discipline and the principles he abided by were universally sound. Until next time, when we’ll hear more of what Ernest has to say!

PART II

PART III


%d bloggers like this: