Why You Should Ignore Hemingway’s Advice

    advice from hemingway

    “Wait… what? You want me to ignore advice from Hemingway and other great writers?”

    Yep.

    Now, I’m not talking about the kind of advice you get from a top-notch Creative Writing course or personalized feedback. Instead, I’m talking about the many, many quotes you see littering the internet from well-known writers saying something profound about their working process.

    Something like this:

    “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway.

    I mean – sure. This quote is lovely. It captures all the romance of writing and makes a beautiful screen saver when made into an image.

    But how useful is this advice in reality? Should you ignore Hemingway’s advice?

    I mean, what publisher would even look at a stack of ink-stained, blood-soaked pages?

    Let’s make this quote into real advice

    Below, we’ll debunk some of the most well-known quotes on writing and get to the bottom of the real, gritty advice at the core.

    Ready? Okay. Let’s start with that Hemingway quote…

    #1: Blood is not an adequate substitute for ink

    So, what is Hemingway really saying here?

    We know that an awful lot of skill is needed to create something complete. So much in fact, that the fear of writing rubbish can sometimes put a blocker on your creativity.

    Have you ever sat in front of a blank page and wondered what the hell you’re going to write?

    Perhaps a better version of this quote is something like:

    “There’s a hell of a lot to writing. But forget all of it during your first draft and just write the stuff that you’re most passionate about, in the most interesting way you can.”

    After all, you’re probably going to be spending the next few years on the idea, if you’re writing a novel. It might as well be on a subject you love.

    #2: You can’t pave a road with adverbs

    This quote is plucked from Stephen King’s On Writing:

    “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” – Stephen King

    Spoiler alert: Stephen King doesn’t like adverbs much. In fact, not a lot of people do.
    But that doesn’t stop him from using them himself. When used correctly, adverbs can be heavenly.

    So what should this quote be?

    “Use adverbs sparingly.”

    Now that’s advice we can use.

    #3: Don’t write every part of your life into your book

    I could fill several blogs like this just on Virginia Woolf, but this quote is perhaps my favorite:

    “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” – Virginia Woolf

    I’m not sure about you, but 99% of my life is pretty boring. I mainly think about what snacks I can sneak into my writing den.

    Rather than writing every experience in LARGE FONT in the middle of your novel, perhaps do something like the following instead:

    “Use your own human experience to make your writing real.”

    Even if your story is set on Mars, you can draw upon your own memories and emotions to make that alien truly relatable to your reader:

    “Read the way he twists his hands as he talks! I do that when I’m nervous, too.” – For example.

    #4: A novel with too many slain darlings is a gruesome one

    Perhaps the most famous writing quote of them all:

    “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” – William Faulkner

    A ‘darling’, is that lovely snippet of writing you are really proud of. The line that you think might even make a damn good screensaver one day.

    It’s true that too many darlings will slow down your plot and stick out like sore thumbs.

    But kill them all? Really?

    How about this instead:

    “If something on your page doesn’t belong there – slay it with no remorse.”

    If it fits – keep it in.

    #5: Without law, there’s chaos

    We’ll finish with a good one:

    “There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.” – Doris Lessing

    If you’ve ever read a good dystopian novel, you’ll know that all hell can break loose if there are no laws.

    It’s the same with a novel.

    The thing is, there are laws to writing a novel. Without them, books would mainly be a stream of consciousness with no real plot or character.

    But there isn’t just one law that governs every book. And sometimes, great things happen when you break them.

    So perhaps Doris Lessing’s advice should be altered to the following:

    “Know the laws for a novel before you break them – and be clear why you are.”

    A novel that follows the ‘rules’ for great characters, doesn’t always need to follow an Aristotelian plot. Some readers will be happy to just spend time with them.

     

    So, there we have it – 5 quotes from famous authors that you can feel okay about ignoring. Or at least take with a pinch of salt.

    As writers, we need to learn as much as we can from the greats before finding our own way of doing things – which is why sites like this one are so important. Hopefully, when you’re a famous author, you’ll then be able to give out your own advice for other writers to ignore.

    As Carl Sandburg once said:

    “Beware of advice—even this.” —Carl Sandburg

    What famous author quotes would you change? Leave your thoughts as a comment below.

    And please share this post with your friends on social media!

     

    About the author

      Sarah Juckes

      Sarah Juckes is a YA writer who works with The Writer’s Workshop, one of the largest editorial consultancies in the UK, and Agent Hunter, a comprehensive online database of literary agents. 

    • The point is, we have to take the time. Then the results will also be better.

    • syuhada says:

      The quotes are very interesting. Some important points are stored in every pesa. I like qoute number 1

    • I really agree with point number three there, but also i’m the one who’s not agree with point number three either….

    • Hey Sarah,

      Brilliant post indeed. A very interesting post on it. Great advice to ignore Hemingway’s advice. The use of Hemingwayapp is popular who often confused their writing. Sometimes it’s auto correct features seems very bad. But I like the way I write.

      I noticed many times, my lovely words were incorrect and it the app ask to corrected it. There are many times I have used this app but haven’t taken it seriously all the time.

      Thanks for sharing a lovely post on it.
      – Ravi.

    • An excellent post. We so often take these quotes literally, except perhaps the Hemmingway one. Thank you for this.

      • Sarah Juckes says:

        Thanks for reading, Vivienne!

    • Deena says:

      Hi, Sarah.

      Love, love, love this post! Thank you for debunking what has become empty cliches that serve only to make writers feel hopeless.

      All the best,
      Deena

      • Sarah Juckes says:

        Cliche is definitely the right word! Thanks so much for your lovely comments.

    • Philip Mullion says:

      I had Hemingway comment on my use of adverbs – the Hemingway App that is. It recommended I keep my adverb use to between 5 and 0 … or fewer. Tricky.

      • Sarah Juckes says:

        Good tip, Philip! Thanks for sharing.

    • A few months back, I thought I would improve my writing by reading Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. I ended up giving up in disgust. His opening pages had a style that I found most irritating.

      Sentence after sentence followed the same pattern. Slightly simplified, it went like this. The direct object of Sentence One became the subject of Sentence Two, while the direct object of Sentence Two then because the subject of Sentence Three. On and on….

      I’m convinced that there are two kinds of readers and that writers must choose between them.

      One wants no surprises. They want predictable plots with people in stereotypical roles. Nothing must differ from how they regard the world, however deluded that may be. Both the romance and thriller genres are filled with such books. Sentences have to be predictable too, with no bothersome thinking demanded. That subject to direct object pattern required little thinking. While reading Sentence One, you know what Sentence Two will be about.

      The other kind of reader wants to be stimulated and made to think. They want genuine surprises. They want to be engaged in their reading. They want to have to stop and ask themselves questions.

      I write for the latter. Indeed, as I edit my books about more recent books about medicine and nursing, I deliberately force readers to think.

      I am currently writing a book that will include an account of the first little boy with leukemia that I cared for who died. The boy is portrayed just as he was—absolutely terrified. Other dying children in the book will be different. Why? Because I want my readers to ask themselves what they’d do confronted with so many different situations. I want them to think and not just read.

      –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

      • Sarah Juckes says:

        Thanks for these thoughts, Michael. Hemingway certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Your book sounds really interesting though – is it written from the POV of the boy?

    • Thanks–this is both true and great fun too! Too often writers, newbies as well as the masters, seem inclined to impress others (and maybe themselves?) with the “suffering for my art” concept. I think most questionable writing quotations comes from this premise. Writing is like any profession: it has thrilling and not-so-thrilling aspects. Learn the craft, practice, and persevere. Those three verbs will take a writer farther than any “look at me, I’m a writer” quotation.

      • Sarah Juckes says:

        I LOVE these three verbs, Sandra – thanks for sharing. And I agree – writing is very romantic, but it’s also a business. It needs a lot of hard work to be successful.

    • Joe says:

      Very good post, which I’ve shared. I like the sense of humor here, and in a
      few words efficiently goes from blog advice to even novels.
      The importance of reading to improve writing—As a youth I read a variety of authors to improve my writing: Robert Benchley, Charles Dickens, H.L.Mencken, Henry Fielding, to learn complex sentence structure with a sense of humor.
      How about another bit of Hemingway’s advice, as related by Ben Gazarra as Charles Bukowski (in a bio movie named after a CB book) reading poetry to an appreciative open-air theater:

      “When Hemingway put his brains to the wall . . . “

      • Sarah Juckes says:

        Great stuff, Joe – thanks for sharing this.

    • Erik says:

      I always considered “darlings” to be things that I love, but doesn’t belong… like a sentence, or a plot twist, or a character, or a setting… so, by my definition, I kill all my darlings… (since they don’t belong, I have to…)

      However, I seldom do it without a lot of angst and bargaining first! (Oh yeah, the five stages of killing a “darling!”) 😀

      • Sarah Juckes says:

        I’ve been there, Erik! It’s funny, but it often takes another reader to point out my ‘darlings’ – do you find that? Perhaps I unconsciously turn a blind eye to them for as long as I can.

      • Geoff English says:

        Great comment Erik!

        “The five stages of killing a darling” – sounds like a wicked great idea for an article! (unless it already is one?)


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