Hemingway: Master of the Sound Bite

Ernest Hemingway hemingway[1]

Hemingway was a master of the sound bite before the sound bite existed – write drunk, edit sober. Genius is short and sweet – honed down to the pure essence of meaning.

Let’s expand Mr. Hemingway’s meaning beyond his well-documented love of drink. Writing drunk could mean writing completely soused with what one is engaged in, totally inebriated with the work, drunk on the possibilities. It could mean working within an altered state of being. It might mean writing with a blind eye to everyone and everything. It most certainly indicates a total investment of time and energy.

Edit sober – out of the flow of creativity we enter a disciplined arena where we train clear eyes on what we have written. Being sober speaks to the need for reflection and clarity. Editing is obviously not a process that lends itself to reckless abandon.

I believe the most important message to take from this interpretation of Hemingway’s wisdom is that writing and editing are two different processes, quite possibly exclusive of one another. Let yourself go when you create – rein yourself in when you edit. I wish you the best of luck with both processes.

I wonder what Mr. Hemingway would have had to say about marketing and promoting. At this point they strike me as pursuits that could lend themselves to true drunkenness – just joking – sort of.

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(When I thought of altered states of reality, I was reminded of this photo of poppies that we took when we were touring the grounds of Stanford University in California.)

How did the famous get it done?

A Facebook friend recently shared an interesting post with me – The Daily Routines of Famous Writers

Apparently, Ray Bradbury could write anywhere and when Joan Didion was nearing the end of a manuscript she had to sleep right next to it. E.B White says, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” My sentiments, exactly. White wrote in the middle of his home with everyone in his family roaming around him. Kerouac had some weird lighting and blowing out of candles ritual. Susan Sontag wrote everything out longhand with felt-tipped pens, then typed her work, scribbled all over the typed copy and then typed it all over again. Henry Miller advised that if groggy in the morning, one should type notes. Afternoons were for serious writing and evenings for hanging out in cafes or sketching. Anais Nin did her best work in the morning and Kurt Vonnegut depends on Scotch and water by about 5:30 in the afternoon to get through his days. Maya Angelou writes in the morning, shops for food in the afternoon and does serious cooking in the evening – if she writes nine pages in a day, she may end up being happy with three. William Gibson, my favorite futurist writer, drinks coffee, does Pilates a couple of times a week and if he gets stuck on the writing he goes out to mow the lawn. Good to know how a guy who can predict the future with such eerie accuracy spends his days.

Ernest Hemingway’s thoughts are my favorite – When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you will do it all again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through. Ya, I guess so Mr. Hemingway  – if every day you’re done writing feels like good sex, no wonder you can’t wait for tomorrow. I mean, even it if was mediocre sex – it might still keep you heading back to the old keyboard. Just read an entertaining blog post on the Brown Road Chronicles  that elaborates on how writing is like sex – check it out.

Reading how other author’s get the writing job done has got me thinking about how I work. The jury is out on whether this is worth sharing or not but here goes. There are four desks in the cabin but I can only work at the kitchen table. I listen to The Beat 92.5 on my laptop very loud – which means a cord running over to the speakers on the window sill; I’m always getting caught up in that cord. The table is usually so full of papers and books I can’t see the top. I have an eighteen inch statue of the Nike of Samothrace that I totally love – it’s on the windowsill, right in my sight line whenever I look up from the keyboard and out to the lake. She’s flanked by two huge pinecones I carted home from a trip to California a couple of years ago. I drink coffee all the time and eat right over the keyboard – I know it’s gross but what the hell – no one is anywhere near enough to see me and I do have a fancy little brush to whisk out the crumbs now and then. I’ll eat anything that is quick to prepare – I almost fell over with joy the other day when I found an old package of dried noodles leftover from Emma’s last visit to the lake – easy and fast – the only criteria that really matters at all.

The old and decrepit dog lies on the bare tile right at my feet and every time I get up I trip over her – she is stone deaf so never hears it coming and I never seem to get used to the fact that she is always right there. So with tripping to the right of me on speaker wire and to the left of me over the dog – I’m quite content to stay put in the chair.

If I’m alone here, I basically work all the time. I’m usually going by 5:00 am. I do force myself to get up from the table at least once every couple of hours to walk around a bit and stretch and do some stay-sane type of task – hang up laundry, put a log on the fire, run to the bathroom, feed said decrepit dog, take said dog outside for a pee, answer the phone, make more coffee. Then it’s back to the grind.

So, that’s how I’m trying to get it done. Let me know a couple of the highlights of how you work.

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We saw this little gem on a downtown street in Sacramento and couldn’t resist a picture.