Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same.
More than one person, doubtless like me,
writes in order to have no face.

Michel Foucault

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

GREAT WRITERS ARE BORN NOT CREATED

It will come of no surprise to those that know me of my love for the work of Ernest Hemingway. I have this impossible dream of sitting with Papa on the terrace of Finca Vigia in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba and sharing stories or perhaps a fishing trip on the Pilar in hunt of great fish while enjoying a Cohiba.
In our time, writers join a critique group to improve skills. In our time, it’s not enough to ponder your creativity—one must evolve and share with others. In our time, we collaborate and treat each other as equals while spindling our time with other like us tucked away in a library meeting room, coffee shop, or bookstore. In Our Time, Hemingway’s first release of short stories that introduced the world to a literary genius.
Can you imagine Papa sitting before a group of writers and reading: “He had been in love with various girls before he kissed Mrs. Elliott and always told them sooner or later that he had led a clean life. Nearly all the girls lost interest in him.” Perhaps sharing the first lines of, For Whom the Bell Tolls: “He lay on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.”
Sitting in my comfortable chair absorbing the first passage of For Whom the Bell Tolls I became a Hemingway fan. One sentence and the beginning of a fantasy about a writer that died before I was born. After the first chapter I had to stop and catch my breath.

Recently I re-read his speech regarding the acceptance of the Nobel. I was reminded by a gift from my son inscribed, “A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.”


I love this paragraph: 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.

And every writer has discovered: Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.

Underlined is the thrust of my writing this today: 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.
And so I sometimes speculate as to what it is all about. I wonder if Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Stein, or Pound sat around a table reading each other’s stories and commenting on adverbs and sentence structure. And then I wonder why this practice became so commonplace today.
This, I think, is the secret: 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.
Beyond attainment. How many of us write (regurgitating) the same thing we read? How often do you dig deep into your emotion and pull out that line that makes you shed a tear? Or laugh? Hemingway said, “How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written.”

He also said, “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.” This is where I go when I write…far out past where I can go.


Reach for the emotion, quit talking and put your thoughts on paper.

3 comments:

  1. It's funny because another Blogger was saying the opposite.

    http://juliemusil.blogspot.com/2011/06/must-writers-be-natural-storytellers.html

    But I think some writers did talk to other writers. Like Emerson, Alcott, Hawthorne, and Thoreau were all in the same general area and I think probably visited with each other. But I doubt Hawthorne ever read part of "The Scarlet Letter" and Emerson said, "You really need to cut down on the adverbs."

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  2. I am sure some did RM--it was a much smaller group back then. It's quoted that Hemingway said: "James Joyce was the only living writer he ever respected. "He had problems,but he could write better than anyone else. Ezra was nice and kind and friendly and a beautiful poet and critic. Stein was nice until she had the menopause."

    If I began that dialog in my critique group, all hell would break loose.

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  3. You should read the prologue to "The Great American Novel" by Philip Roth where Hemingway and a sportswriter discuss the great American novel.

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