Ernest Hemingway

I could relate to Hemingway’s “superstitions” noted in this article, although that isn’t precisely the word I would use. He didn’t want to talk about his work directly, because to do so would make him lose his interest – or perhaps it would lose its magic for him. He jumped around topics that he didn’t want to answer and when asked to discuss others who influenced him, including Gertrude Stein, he diplomatically spoke of her learning to write dialogue from reading The Sun Also Rises (one of his own works). Watching the way his mind worked through the interview, including his openness with the interviewer – “when you ask someone old, tired questions you are apt to receive old, tired answers” – reminded me of the cynical insights and humour of my own family of origin.

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

What makes some people so much better at writing narratives than others? There are many possible answers to this question, but one response would have to be that those who create narratives that survive are willing to rework those narratives until they are happy with the result. Few create the completed story in their heads on the first attempt. A writer works and reworks the story until ready to send it out into the world.

INTERVIEWER

How much rewriting do you do?

HEMINGWAY

It depends. I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.

INTERVIEWER

Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

HEMINGWAY

Getting the words right.

We are given stories by our significant others – family and whānau – and from our wider (sub)cultures. Sometimes, these stories inspire, motivate and strengthen us. Sometimes, these stories take power from us and we find ourselves stuck within them, unable to grow or move on from these dominant narratives.

What will be your way of working with these stories? Will you stand and type, like Hemingway? Will you read about changing your stories and work through them yourself (seeking allies as you go)? Will you look for someone to help you untangle yourself from stories that do not strengthen you? You are the writer. This life is yours.

While I referenced my hard copy of this interview, it is also available online at https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4825/ernest-hemingway-the-art-of-fiction-no-21-ernest-hemingway.