Monday, February 17, 2014

Hemingway's Truth

It’s only in the past month that I’ve started reading Ernest Hemingway. I’ve really been missing out on a writer who is an excellent example of writing simply but well (very well, as his Pulitzer and Nobel Prize would suggest). He makes it look so easy, but we all know how hard it can be to cut out our precious excess words.

In A Moveable Feast, he spends a lot of time writing about writing. In one section, he talks about how he gets through his writer’s block. He tells himself:

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”

He said that when he went back later, he could cut out everything before his “first true simple declarative sentence.” Everything before would be “scrollwork or ornament.” Before, he was writing like he was presenting something, when all he really needed was that one sentence that said it like it was.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the all the flowery words that are available to us. We love to write elaborately enough so that readers can see how much work we put into it, so they’ll know what good writers we are. That’s what always caught my high school English teacher’s attention, anyway. But a lot of times, the best writing is invisible. The words communicate so well that you forget they’re there—you’re too caught up in what they’re saying to you to notice them.

Which goes back to Hemingway’s emphasis on truth. If you focus on the truth of your sentence rather than its structure or its vocabulary or anything else, then the meaning can become clearer. You stop worrying about what the reader of is thinking of your writing, and instead worry about telling them the truth. Without formality or introduction, you simply tell them what it is you’re here to say.

Again, Hemingway makes everything look easier than it really is. But I think when it comes down to it, that’s the core of good writing. You stop writing to impress and just focus on communicating clearly your truth, your focus, whatever it is you’re trying to say.

And if anyone out there has taken as long as me to get to reading Hemingway—I recommend him!

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