The Writing Allstars – Ernest Hemingway

All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. (A Moveable Feast)

I think everyone has read Hemingway in the course of their lifetime and most of them, it seems, didn’t care for him. I wish that high school curriculum makers would stop forcing teens to read things they don’t care about or understand because it ruins them for the authors for years to come. But that complaint is neither here nor there. I read, and loved, Hemingway. Maybe it’s because I didn’t start with A Farewell to Arms or The Sun Also Rises, those came later. Maybe it’s because I felt like Hemingway would always tell me the truth. He didn’t tell me what I was supposed to see or feel when reading his stories; he let me discover it for myself. He was able to dance around weighty concepts while still revealing them there, at the heart of the story. At a point in my life where I needed honesty, unflinching honesty, I found it in the short stories of Ernest Hemingway.

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer. (A Letter From Cuba)

I have read that Hemingway’s novels are melodramatic and simplistic and that his true brilliance is revealed in his short stories. While I don’t concede that his longer works are too simple, I have to agree with those who tout the excellence of his shorter works. He shines through short stories. His succinct descriptions and short sentences give me the feeling of gazing at a snapshot, allowing me to decipher the deeper meanings that lie beneath the colorful surface. He has been critiqued for his lack of emotion, his distant and removed way of dealing with such heavy subject matter, but I feel that Hemingway’s willingness to write just the facts allows me, as the reader, to experience the feelings that come with such weighty subjects. Why tell me how Francis Macomber was feeling, when you can show me?

Write hard and clear about what hurts.

This is why I think Hemingway was a master. He called his writing style the iceberg; the facts float above water; the supporting structure and symbolism operate out of sight. He would lay it out simply, but there was always so much more than what met the eye. I realize that it may seem contradictory to list Joyce, a master of stream of consciousness, and Hemingway, a “follow the rules” writer as both influential to my writing but they don’t exclude one another. It is Hemingway’s commitment to honesty, his bravery in the face of pain, his insistence on beauty which influences not how I write, but what I write. I want to face down those deep, dark truths that lie at the heart of mankind but do it in a way that leaves the reader feeling positive and hopeful.

 We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. (The Wild Years)

Because of Hemingway I was able to let go of the idea of perfection and just write. Because of Hemingway, I learned to speak louder through the moments of omission. Because of Hemingway I found Coetzee and Callaghan. Because of Ernest Hemingway, I am the writer I am today.

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