Ernest Hemingway was one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. His most popular work, The Old Man and the Sea, earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1953, and in 1954 Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature "for his powerful, style-forming mastery of the art of narration."

While Hemingway never codified his writing strategies into a single volume like Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, or other writers have, he did document his approach to writing in his letters to agents, publishers, other writers, and friends, and through commissioned articles on the subject.

Ernest Hemingway on Writing is a compilation of his reflections on his writing process, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of the world's greatest authors.

Though Hemingway was a novelist, these tips are still very useful for business owners, whether you're writing a book on management strategies or just trying to improve your daily business correspondence.

Here are just a few of the many inspiring nuggets of advice Hemingway shares in this book:

1. What writing is and does.

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorry, the people and the places and how the weather was.

Nobody really knows or understands and nobody has ever said the secret. The secret is that it is poetry written into prose and it is the hardest of all things to do...

2. The qualities of a writer.

All my life I've looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time...

...real seriousness in regard to writing being one of the two absolute necessities. The other, unfortunately, is talent.

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it.

A writer without a sense of justice and of injustice would be better off editing the yearbook of a school for exceptional children than writing novels.

A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge. 

3. The pain and pleasure of writing.

I believe that basically you write for two people; yourself to try to make it absolutely perfect; or if not that then wonderful. Then you write for who you love whether she can read or write or not and whether she is alive or dead.

...writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done -- so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well.

I have to write to be happy whether I get paid for it or not. But it is a hell of a disease to be born with. I like to do it. Which is even worse. That makes it from a disease into a vice. Then I want to do it better than anybody has ever done it which makes it into an obsession. An obsession is terrible. Hope you haven't gotten any. That's the only one I've got left.

4. What to write about.

You see I'm trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across -- not to just depict life -- or criticize it -- but to actually make it alive. So that when you have read something by me you actually experience the thing. You can't do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful you can't believe in it.

Write about what you know and write truly and tell them all where they can place it...Books should be about the people you know, that you love and hate, not about the people you study about.

...whatever success I have had has been through writing what I know about.

5. Writer's block.

...sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, 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 that you know." So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. 

6. Knowing what to leave out.

If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.

It wasn't by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics.

7. Daily word count.

I loved to write very much and was never happier than doing it...And days of 1200 or 2700 were something that made you happier than you could believe. Since I found that 400 to 600 well done was a pace I could hold much better was always happy with that number. But if I only had 320 I felt good.

8. Reading.

I think you should learn about writing from everybody who has ever written that has anything to teach you.

Ordinarily I never read anything before I write in the morning to try and bite on the old nail with no help, no influence and no one giving you a wonderful example or sitting looking over your shoulder.

When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written...afterwards, when you were empty, it was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again. I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

9. On fame.

I think we should never be too pessimistic about what we know we have done well because we should have some reward and the only reward is that which is within ourselves... Publicity, admiration, adulation, or simply being fashionable are all worthless...

You must be prepared to work always without applause. When you are excited about something is when the first draft is done. But no one can see it until you have gone over it again and again until you have communicated the emotion, the sights and the sounds to the reader... 

Published on: Jun 6, 2016