Over the last year or so, I’ve been re-reading some Ernest Hemingway. The more I read, and the more I learn about his approach to writing and his work habits, the more I’m in awe of his genius. I’ve come to see him as a remarkable example that serious writers would do well to study and emulate.
Setting aside the depression, the personal demons that drove him, and the drinking he used to cope, Hemingway stands as a master of the craft with a great deal to teach us. Here are a few valuable things I’ve identified:
1. He read the masters and studied them obsessively. His teachers were Homer, Dante, Flaubert, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and countless other exceptional writers.
2. He was friends with writers and discussed writing, art, and literature incessantly. His early circle included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. I’ve always been fascinated that many of the great writers (including Lewis and Tolkien) found like-minded souls to be with regularly. They seemed to feed off each other. They undoubtedly supported as well as challenged one another. This is why I’m always suggesting to writers that they find a writing community or partner.
3. He prioritized his writing. Hemingway treated writing as his most important work, even when he was doing other jobs to make ends meet.
4. He wrote all sorts of things. He experimented with many forms—poetry, short stories, novels—and he was a journalist as well. He taught himself to become a writer through this continual exploration and was always seeking a new and better way to express himself.
5. He wasn’t afraid of the process. He knew that a book or short story had its own timetable, and he didn’t try to force it. If a project needed weeks, months or years in the editing and rewriting phase, that’s what he gave it. Despite the same anxiety for publication that all writers share, he still gave his books the time they needed to develop.
6. He knew when his work needed to be put in a drawer. He would set a completed project aside for weeks or months to “simmer on its own” while he worked on something else, allowing his subconscious to continue meditating on that first work. When he went back to it with fresh eyes, he’d be full of ideas to improve and refine it.
Are you developing any of these same habits?
What have you learned from some of the great classic writers of history or of today? Do you study them and read them?