Learn from the best. Hemingway and other great writers

How Four Great Authors Write

Writing is hard

Putting words on paper, and making those words meaningful and appealing to readers, is one of the most challenging tasks a writer can undertake, and even renowned authors struggle.

To inspire you with your own writing, here are some methods that four great authors have used to create their stories. What better way to progress with your writing than to learn from the best, following the writing tips of great authors such as Hemingway and King.

Ernest Hemingway, American author and journalist, 1899–1961

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Ernest Hemingway

» Stop while there is still more to be said «

The classic American author is famous for never writing more than 500 words in a day. He said that he would wake up early in the morning – “to avoid the heat” – and write when it was quiet. Hemingway was famous for his drinking habits, but he reportedly never drank while writing. The quotation, “Write drunk, edit sober” is often mistakenly attributed to Hemingway. We have to admit that we’ve previously quoted it on Instagram! However, it seems there is no source for it in Hemingway’s works or conversations. Rather, similar words were put into the mouth of a character by author Peter de Vries in his book Reuben, Reuben (1964). The character was based on the famous drunkard poet Dylan Thomas and he says, “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.” http://www.reddit.com/r/QuotesPorn/comments/1gj6qu/

Hemingway only wrote a small amount each day because he believed that the creative process was continual; writers created their stories subconsciously as they went about their day-to-day lives thinking and daydreaming. Transcribing them was merely the last step. He said that an author should always stop writing when they knew what was going to happen next, because this would prevent their inspiration from being drained and allow them to start again immediately when they next sat down to write. He would supposedly stop mid-sentence on some days for just this reason.

When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.”

Stephen King, American author, born 1947

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Stephen King

» Know when to write and when not to write «

Like Hemingway before him, King’s preference is to write a set amount. He says that he writes 2,000 words a day, every day, however long that takes. But King also knows when not to write. He leaves each completed manuscript in a drawer for months before beginning the revising process, which helps him to be more ruthless when it comes to cutting down on superfluous words.

For King, the distinction between writing and not writing is clear. Although taking a break from writing can ultimately improve the result, when a story is originally being written, it must be written and nothing else. King says that revising and editing should wait until after the story is complete, and that writers must never look at a reference book during the first draft, because checking the facts prevents them from appearing on the page.

“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? Okay, so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? …You can check it, but later. When you sit down to write, write.”

Vladimir Nabokov, Russian-born novelist, 1899–1977

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Vladimir Nabokov

» Structure your work in the way that best suits you «

A common debate among writers today is whether it’s best to type stories directly on a computer, or to handwrite a hard copy with pen and paper (at least for the first draft). Nabokov was a student of the latter school of thought; all of his novels were originally written on 3” x 5” filing cards, which he arranged and rearranged as the story gradually took shape. The cards were initially meticulously organised and stored in long wooden boxes.

“…I am rather particular about my instruments: lined Bristol cards and well sharpened, not too hard, pencils capped with erasers.

Later, once the early draft process was complete, Nabokov copied each of these cards on regular notebook paper, expanding them to create a coherent novel. Another Nabokov quirk was that he always wrote standing up.

Francine Prose, American writer, born 1947

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Francine Prose

» Boredom is productive «

Prose’s writing is well known for containing certain essential (though often witty and ironic) truths about life, which she acquires through a keen observation of the world around her.

Prose lived for long periods in both the country and the city. She says that the reason she was so productive while she lived in the country was because she was incredibly bored. With nothing interesting to do, she did not find it difficult to sit down and write for long stretches of time. By contrast, Prose found living in the city to be highly engaging. There was always something fun or exciting happening to distract her, which had an impact on her writing.

Her solution was to move her writing desk so that it faced the window, allowing her to look out upon nothing but a brick wall. She found the view to be so uninspiring that she managed to write for several hours each day.

“Writing while facing a wall, incidentally, seems to me the perfect metaphor for being a writer.”

(This blog is a collaboration between editors4you.com and Rhiannon Raphael, a student at Bond University.)

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