One thing you can be sure of is there is plenty of meat available to sink your teeth into when it comes to devouring the myths surrounding Hemingway. In my replicate reading of A Moveable Feast, the brain becomes thirsty and I delve deeper into subject matter for satiation. Each paragraph submits surprises and if you pay attention, a message appears to benefit your own literary endeavor.
We all know A Moveable Feast is a work of fiction. Sure…if you believe that one I have the proverbial bridge listed on Craigslist. It is a collection of short stories, his forte`, and compiled after his death by those with other self-interests. And as well, EH left out some details of his life which would have made him look bad…which he was. Truth is, he was sort of a prick and took macho to another level. I don’t think he would have survived the literary world of today. Of course, some will argue the facts (or lies) but I like to believe EH was writing his memoirs (and some actually agree) and then neatly tucked them away knowing he would never publish them and then he died and then family in their greedy Michael Jackson dead celebrity fashion, ripped the pages from Hem’s dead hands, added their own words (in some cases) and somehow came up with a “novel.” All of this, if you ask me, to serve them and to continue the legacy of a great writer so they could collect more money. Still, we can learn so much from this book, and the truth is this book holds so many nuggets it’s a thrill to read.
Imagine living in a time when all the famous writers, artists, and poets lived within walking distance of each other; Fitzgerald, Pound, Stein, Picasso, Shipman, Hemingway. Is there a place like this today?
I have learned EH was as fearful of having the inability to write as much as any of us. Imagine that. The great literary brilliance “afraid” he might not be able to write. He said, “I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would…squeeze the peel of oranges into the fire… I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “do not worry.” You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”
Deeper into the book, Hemingway speaks of not being able to write a novel (can you imagine that). He was talking about Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby and said, “…I could not believe this and I wanted to argue him out of it but I needed a novel to back up my faith and to show him and convince him, and I had not yet written any such novel.” Within a short time later he published, The Sun Also Rises.
Then he did what we as writers do: analyze what and how we write. He said, “I had started to break down all my writing and get rid of all the facility (flair) and try to make instead of describe….” He continued, “but it was very difficult, and I did not know how I would ever write anything a long as a novel. It often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph.”
This was an apocalyptic revelation. When I stepped into the writing world, words flowed like water from a spring. Short stories were simple and east and a novel popped out like a July 4th celebration.
So I began reading to keep my mind occupied and fate lead me, once again to Hemingway.
“It often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph.”
And I was worried about my ability to write because I could not get past a thousand words. Hemingway, at times, could not get past a paragraph.
As with everything in life, you learn from the bad and the good. I think, as writers, we are smart enough to understand this and apply it to our success and failure. We have finally learned we don’t have to be drunk, doped, or crazy to write a good story, yet that reputation among others not in our community prevails. We are more likely to sit in a coffee house or park when writing and not a bar. It’s normally too loud in a bar anyway. Still, I enjoy a glass of wine before writing. I do think “most of us are broken,” a quote from David Morrell he stated during a dinner at a MWA conference.
I think it’s important to remember to write your thoughts as they are and write what you understand. I believe beginning writers sometime fail because they believe they can create some kind of world in their head and then translate it to paper. Some can, but I don’t think it works like that unless you happen to be a fantasy writer, and even then, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is allegedly related to his experiences in WWI. By the way, did you know it took 12 years to write the story and he was 63 when LTR published? Gives me hope.
When I am fearful I will not be able to write, I read the passage from A Movable Feast again and know that there will be times when the words will not flow, but as Hemingway said, “You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence.”