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Ernest Hemingway: Three Tips on How to Write Fiction

Be careful if you ask Ernest Hemingway for his opinion.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once asked Hemingway for an honest opinion on his book. Hemingway responded “You see well enough. But you stop listening.”

While Hemingway never wrote a book on the art of writing (would it have suggested writing standing up?), he did leave behind many tips in his letters, articles, and books. The best of which are assembled in 1984 by Larry W. Phillips into a book, Ernest Hemingway on Writing.

I want to highlight three tips from his October 1935 article in Esquire, Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter.

Hemingway offers this advice:

1. Stop when you know what happens next.

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.

2. Before you start read what you have written.

The best way is to read it all every day from the start, correcting as you go along, then go on from where you stopped the day before. When it gets so long that you can’t do this every day read back two or three chapters each day; then each week read it all from the start. That’s how you make it all of one piece.

3. Use a pencil.

When you start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none. So you might as well use a typewriter because it is that much easier and you enjoy it that much more. After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter. It also keeps it fluid longer so you can better it easier.