10. “I learned from Hemingway to stop each day’s work mid-sentence, while it is still going well, then to exercise the body, and not to think about the story till you go to your desk the next day” (Andre Dubus ‘Letter to a Young Writer’)
There are probably a thousand internet pages like this one dedicated to the fiction writing advice of Ernest Hemingway.
And there are some gems.
And there are some duds.
But I want to talk about one piece of advice that Andre Dubus mentioned in his wonderful essay ‘Letter to a Young Writer’. In it, Dubus talks about learning his own craft and steals a lesson from Hemingway.
The lesson is to end each day’s writing mid-sentence. Then you exercise—or maybe just go off and do something off.
And then you pick up right where you were eat the next day.
That’s the lesson he seemed to have taken for himself.
I get the logistics of this. It gives you a place to continue on from when you sit down at your computer the next day.
And I’ve tried it now—a handful of times while working on my first novel.
My review? It doesn’t work. Not for me.
Why? Because I don’t ever want to stop “while it is still going well”—that’s one.
Maybe Papa could do it, or maybe he could do it after the success had already come. But I can’t. I need to push myself beyond that. If things are going well within the first 30 minutes, should I stop? I don’t think so.
So when? Well, that’s a million dollar question. I don’t have that answer—but I know that I like to try and push it through on my days until at least it’s not going so well. Then I can stop.
And what I do when I stop is I let myself write a few shitty paragraphs. THEN, and this may be what Hemingway was getting at after all, I stop and try to give the future me a few hints as to what’s going on. Usually I do this with bullet points. Maybe he wasn’t a bullet pointer. He certainly doesn’t seem like one.
I brought this piece of advice in thinking it would be helpful. After all, Hemingway’s output is impressive and his discipline is the stuff of legend. It seems like one could take his various piece of writing advices and do well with them.
But I use this one to prove that not all advice has proved to be fruitful for me. And thats gotta be okay. Because there’s a million other ways to do things, and what’s important, especially for me in this first novel writing experience, is finding what works and what doesn’t. After all, that’s the way we