For the past couple of weeks, I have been reading Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, a historical novel told from the point of view of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson. In telling the story of how they met, fell in love, married, and then divorced, Hadley was Ernest’s first fan, and she tells us HOW he became such a famous and revolutionary writer.
Now I’m not a huge fan of Hemingway’s. Aside from The Sun Also Rises, I don’t teach much of his work. A lover of the classics, I vehemently hold that although his stories are compelling, he simplified the language of writing. He was a misogynist, a cheater, jealous of those with money, and he ruined every relationship he ever honored — with women and with his mentors and those who helped him get to the top. This said, as a writer, he was unconventional and brilliant and passionate and he made it big — even though he also went down big.
Here are a few tips acquired from reading about how Hemingway got bigger than his youthful britches and became a renowned writer while still alive.
1. Passion: In writing, you must have a passion for it — passion, blind and unrelenting, should fuel you to write. Hemingway had to write all the time. When he didn’t, he suffered. And everyone around him suffered as well. Writing for money and fame is fine; after all, we all hope for these things, but longing needs to be there — whether you’re longing to write the next American or Russian novel, the best book of poetry, or the best book on how to become rich and famous. Whatever floats your boat, let your passion and love for writing and your subject guide you.
2. Go to Work: Ernest Hemingway, after he married Hadley, went to work every day. He rented a small studio in another part of town and went there every morning after having breakfast. Even though they did not have money, they were able to survive in the poorest section of Paris. This is something that Virginia Woolf also reiterates, although she intends her advice for women writers: you need a place of your own — a room of your own as a writer. Somewhere where you can escape and be uninterrupted. You work there all day long as if you had a full-time paying job.
Of course, it’s not so easy nowadays, and it wasn’t as easy for him. When Hadley became unexpectedly pregnant, he took jobs as a journalist to make ends meet. But it wasn’t for forever. He saved his money so that they could live off it for a while, and then he went back to work on his work: writing fiction. But figure it out. Schedule a time for you to write daily, and then commit to it — daily.
3: Like Attracts: Today we have writing blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but before we had any of these, writers had to find a physical way of socializing with other writers. Ernest Hemingway moved himself and his new wife to Paris, where all the famous writers were. He had dinner with them, coffee with them, their wives hung out together, and they read one another’s work.
Social Networking is very important — in any field — but for writers, it is crucial. We need to be around one another — not just to socialize, but to push and compete with one another as well as to support each other. No one really understands writers except other writers. Most people think we’re ridiculous and roll their eyes at our ambitions. Find yourself a circle of other writers — start a new Beat Poets or Harlem Writers or Women Rebel Writers. Just move in the circle of other writers — people who understand you and the struggle that comes with writing.
4. Mentor Up: Get a mentor — not just any mentor — another writer; ideally a published one. Or maybe an agent, an editor, or a publisher. Someone who can help you get somewhere. We all need mentors in any job we assume — they give us the ins and outs of the field — and often, we learn from their mistakes — not ours. Hemingway networked like crazy and ended up having his work read and commented on by Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound. He also met key people, editors of journals and publishing companies, who published his work and helped him climb to the top. Without them, his climb wouldn’t have been as smooth as it actually was.
5. Write Your Experiences: My husband always asks me, “why don’t you write about something else? You’re always writing about the same things.” Why? Because that is my passion — what drives me to write. I can go and write a love story or chic-lit, which is something my last agent recommended — but then I wouldn’t be true to myself. I am driven by dark literature and I only want to put into words that which people don’t want to say aloud. That’s me.
Ernest Hemingway was haunted by many things: the war, lost love, a tenuous relationship with his emotionally inconsistent mother, the affluent and vapid qualities of rich folk, the way sexually aggressive women confused and intimidated him, and his fear of and desire for death. All his stories reflect these fears, anxieties, and conflicts that enrich and confuse our lives — giving us all something to which we can relate and examine.