In 1934, during the heart of the Great Depression, a young writer and moneyless traveler named Arnold Samuelson rode the rails South to Key West to seek the advice of Ernest Hemingway. Not only did Hemingway ultimately grant him an audience; but he also gave Samuelson the better part of a yearlong course in writing, fishing, and what it meant to be a man of action “back in the day.”
Sooooo… My friend (and guest fromEpisode 18 ) T. Nelson Taylor sent me a link on Facebook called Ernest Hemingway Creates a Reading List for a Young Writer, 1934.
The article hipped us to a book by a gent named Arnold Samuelson, who traveled to Key West in 1934 to meet Ernest Hemingway. Samuelson was a poor writer and newspaper reporter, and he made it to Key West the same way that other hobos did: He rode the rails.
According to the book, he was invited to sleep in the city jail and released every day to see if he could find work.
I highly recommend the link above, as well as the reading list from Hemingway, which is reproduced from the book. My purpose here isn’t to recreate the article, but to give my own impression of it.
You can order the book (used, out of print), like I did, HERE. (I also clicked the link to recommend that Amazon put it out on Kindle!)
The book is (in my opinion) well written—and not surprisingly, the concise style reminds me of Hemingway. I found it to be a good read on its own; although it’s hard to separate the material from the historic context that it’s presented in. Would it be as compelling if Hemingway weren’t so famous in actuality? I’m not sure. It might.
One of the coolest things, though, is that since the author is a writer seeking writing advice from “Papa” — and Hemingway actually does give Samuelson a lot of advice — this book is one of the few sources of writing advice from Hemingway, who was notably terse about the subject.
(Interestingly, Hemingway felt compelled to recap some of the advice he gave Samuelson, as well as his perspective on the time they spent together, in an article called “Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter.” (Click here to open it as a PDF.)
At any rate, here are some gems from the book:
“Forget about newspaper work. Do anything else to make a living, but not that. Newpaper work is the antithesis of writing and it keeps the writers pooped out so they can’t write…”
“Never write about a place until you’re away from it, because that gives you perspective. Immediately after you’ve seen something you can give a photographic description of it and make it accurate. That’s good practice, but it isn’t creative writing.”
“Nobody’s interested in what you suffer. If you just wrote about your own sufferings, you’d just be a goddamned bore. Who you are or what happens to you doesn’t make a damned bit of difference to anybody. Forget about yourself and try to look into other people’s heads and see how their minds work.”
“Writing prose is the hardest thing in the world.”
“When you run out of juice, write accurately the things you see so that they become alive on paper and you make the reader see them. Notice not what people should say but exactly what they do say, how they say it, the inflection of their voices, how they look, their distinguishing features. Those are the things that make your writing alive and you want to practice writing them so that you give the reader the exact picture and then try to figure out what gives you the emotion so that you can make the reader feel that, too. That’s the way I learned to write.”
The Iceberg Theory
We talk about this a little in Episode 20, but the gist is this. The Iceberg Theory definitely appeals to me for its Zen-like reduction to the essential — or the “true,” as Hemingway might say:
If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.
Ernest Hemingway, from Death in the Afternoon