Hemingway’s Daily Grind


Every writer is different. Each has his or her own way of working, a method for getting words down on paper. Some are procrastinators, some are methodical, some write in between juggling a daytime job and caring for a family.
Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was one of the most celebrated American authors of the twentieth century, a novelist, short story writer, and journalist. His short sharp writing style had considerable influence on twentieth century fiction writing. But though he has had many imitators no one can quite pull it off the way Hem could. Most of his work was produced from the 1920s to the 1950s: seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction books. Many of his works are considered classics of American fiction and he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.
When Hemingway lived in Paris in the 1920s with the first of his four wives, Hadley, and their young son, there was not enough room in their Spartan apartment for him to work. So he would often go and sit in one of the bistros or cafés nearby and write quietly in a corner.
“It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write. I was writing about up in Michigan and since it was a wild, cold, blowing day it was that sort of day in the story. I had already seen the end of fall come through boyhood, youth and young manhood, and in one place you could write about it better than in another. That was called transplanting yourself, I thought, and it could be as necessary with people as with   other sorts of growing things. But in the story the boys were drinking and this made me thirsty and I ordered a rum St James. This tasted wonderful on the cold day and I kept on writing, feeling very well and feeling the good Martinique rum warm me all through my body and my spirit.” (A Moveable Feast)
Often he would become completely absorbed in what he was writing so that he didn’t notice either the time, or anyone else around him and would come to much later as if he had been sleeping. Then he would order, say, a dozen oysters along with a half-carafe of the local dry white wine and dawdle over that until it was time to go home or go on to meet friends.
After a while Hem and his wife moved to larger premises and there he would get up a daybreak when it was freezing cold in the apartment and begin writing as he gradually warmed and the sun shone through the windows. If he was writing a short story or a novel, he would write until about midday and finish when he knew what was going to happen next in the action. In other words he would stop short just before a key moment. So the next day, when he sat down to write, he would read what he had written the day before, making any necessary changes, and then just continue where he left off. He always said that the agonizing thing about writing was waiting for the next day to come around.
In many ways the rest of his life was a bit of a mess. He was unfaithful to his wife, drank to excess, gambled away his money, was something of an adventurer, and eventually committed suicide a few days before his sixty-second birthday. But he was always disciplined when it came to writing. It was as if he knew that it was his one most important talent and that it had to be nurtured and protected.

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