Ernest Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Acceptance Speech on Working Alone

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.”
“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.”

Solitude is an important aspect toward accomplishing great things, creative or otherwise. In fact, it’s one of the commonalities found amongst the routines of great writers and artists.

That’s not to say that if you lock yourself in a room, you’re going to turn into something great. It does suggest, however, that there is something to being alone with your thoughts.

The great philosophers enjoyed walking, in part for the peace and freedom it offered to play with ideas.

Stretches of solitude often enable, rather than prevent, meaningful work and quality time. And for the introverts among us, solitude refreshes our soul.

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Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October of 1954. His acceptance speech, found in the 1972 biography Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, is one of the best ever. Unwilling to travel to Stockholm, after two nearly fatal plane crashes, Hemingway asked John C. Cabot, the United States Ambassador to Sweden (at the time), to read his speech.

Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.

No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.

It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.