Hemingway Speaks to Life Writers


I’ve never been a huge Hemmingway fan, finding the couple of novels I read dull and dissipated. How could anyone possibly drink as much as his characters and still manage to walk around? Besides, the action seemed to move slowly. Maybe it was a guy thing, I decided, determining to abandon this dissolute literary icon.

But my opinion has changed. To pass the time on a recent road trip, my husband and I listened to a recording of The Snows of Kilimanjaro and I reached for my Moleskine to jot some notes. Hemmingway may have been writing fiction, but that story has a lot to say to those who write memoir. Intrigued by the recording, I found a book of his short stories at the library, and found more passages of specific relevance in other stories.

I admit it. I plan to finish the book, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Short Stories. Who knows? I may even try another of his novels. Here are three clips I especially liked:

Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them,and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well he would never know, now.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Who would dare to delay writing after reading that passage? Who knows which day the bell will toll for us?

It was not so much that he lied as that there was no truth to tell.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

The subject of Truth is always a topic of interest and conversation among groups of life writers. Hemmingway has much to say about Truth in this particular story.

The major, who had been the great fencer, did not believe in bravery and spent much time while we sat on the machines correcting my grammar. He had complimented me on how I spoke Italian, and we talked together very easily. One day I had said that Italian seemed such an easy language to me that I could not take a great interest in it; everything was so easy to say. "Ah, yes," the major said. "Why, then, do you not take up the use of grammar?" So we took up the use of grammar, and soon Italian was such a difficult language that I was afraid to talk to him, until I had the grammar straight in my mind.

 In Another Country

This passage seems especially relevant to those who fear the Grammar Police, whether that be the one resident in your head or the one in your writing group. Note that the two men talked together easily before the main character acceded to the major’s coercion and began to learn grammar. While I don’t downplay the importance of grammar and the value of learning correct usage, I suggest that you not lose sight off the primary importance of writing the story. Let grammar cleanup be secondary. And be gentle with others lest you have the effect of the major and destroy their joy or stifle their urge to write.

Write now: pull out your Story Idea List and add a few new entries. Then pick one and write that story. Now. Before your leg begins to rot and it’s too late.

Photo credit: Stig Nygaard

1 comment :

Shirley said...

Sharon, you found some great memoir connections in an unlikely place. I too have had a hate/love relationship with Hemingway. I too assumed it was a "guy thing." However, many people consider A Moveable Feast to be a classic memoir. I found it fascinating and wrote about it here: http://100memoirs.com/2009/01/17/a-moveable-feast-classic-memoir-classic-metaphor/

I also wrote about the Bear River Writer's Conference near Hemingway's summer home at Walloon Lake in Northern Michigan. There are lots of Hemingway lovers around there and lots of Hemingway books in the wonderful bookstore in Petoskey described by Ann Patchett in the New York Times.http://100memoirs.com/2010/09/07/let-us-now-praise-independent-bookstores-public-libraries-and-local-newspapers/

I enjoyed my re-acquaintance so much that we also visited the boyhood home and Hemingway museum in Hyde Park. I'd highly recommend any of these as you make your summer vacation trips.