Saturday, March 23, 2013




I’m indebted to that consistently stimulating web site Brain Pickings for the above quotation—as well as for quoting Ernest Hemingway’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech in full. I have used an extract on loneliness towards the end of this piece.

Maria Popova (the talented author and editor of Brain Pickings) then comments:

Solitude, in fact, seems central to many great writers’ daily routines — so much so, it appears, that part of the writer’s curse might be the ineffable struggle to submit to the spell of solitude and escape the grip of loneliness at the same time.

Though she is certainly right about solitude being fundamental to the daily routine of most writers, I take issue with her comment about “the grip of loneliness”—at least as far as I am concerned. God knows, I have other problems, but loneliness is not one of them.

In fact, I regard writing, because my mind is necessarily so active during the creative process, as it sifts and sorts ideas, characters, locations and situations—and endeavors to distil the jumble into a clear and entertaining narrative—as the ultimate antidote to loneliness. Indeed, it is rare that I don’t feel much invigorated after a writing session—even if also exhausted.

Let me put it another way: Typically, after a writing session, I feel rather as if I had just spent a fascinating few hours (frequently more) with particularly entertaining and stimulating friends. Better yet, the effects last, so that although I currently live alone, I rarely feel lonely.

This isn’t to say that writing cannot be difficult, demanding, frustrating, and sometimes pure hell, but more to comment that loneliness does not happen to be my particular demon. I feel truly fortunate in that regard.

For others, it is clearly an issue. Hemingway seems to have fallen into that category. The following is the relevant extract from his Nobel acceptance speech.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.

Hemingway has long fascinated me, though more for his lifestyle than for his writing—though here I should add the qualification that A MOVABLE FEAST remains one of my favorite books. It is about his time in Paris and supposedly a work of non-fiction though some would say it has been somewhat embroidered. I won’t comment on that. It remains a beautiful and moving book.

But I have never regarded him as a role model in writing terms—particularly where fiction is concerned. In fact, I have never tried to emulate any particular author’s style. I just felt that if I wrote enough, eventually my own style would evolve. I live in hopes that it has, but that is really for others to judge. What I can say is that I set up certain principles quite early on: (1) Be clear. (2) Be entertaining. (3) Be unpredictable. (4) Blend humor into your work. (5) Develop your inner voice, and then listen to it.

Your inner voice develops in line with your expertise as a writer. It is extraordinarily important, because you will discover over time that you cannot rely on “the experts” as a writer—no matter what professional reputations they have cultivated. This should scarcely be a surprise because “the experts” are fundamentally focused on what has worked in the past, whereas genuinely creative talent is focused on pushing the envelope, on doing things which are risky, unpredictable and unproven.

My complicated mother—who was never a supporter of my writing, though she wrote and painted herself—used to call me “Hemingway,” though more as a jibe than as a compliment. I took it in good part and remember thinking that if I could have as adventurous a life as Hemingway, and leave behind a few works of merit, I would die content.

I retain that goal.


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