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Ernest Hemingway as a Writing Guru

Ernest Hemingway is one of the most celebrated and influential American writers of the 20th century and he left an indelible mark on literature with his distinctive writing style and adventurous life. His experiences as a journalist, ambulance driver during World War I, and a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War are said to have informed his writing with a sense of realism and grit.

It’s hard to fly against the Hemingway reputation, although much of it was publicity and an always handy photographer. For me, his novels don’t quite fill the bill, although his short-stories are outstanding pieces of tight prose and elegant presentation.

His writing style is said to be characterized by simplicity, clarity, and a focus on unadorned prose, what he called “the iceberg theory,” where the deeper meaning lies beneath the surface of the text, leaving readers to infer the underlying emotions and themes. That’s very likely why I much prefer his short stories, not being a fan of deep-sea fishing for meaning.

One thing you may not know, is that his wife accidentally left the entire manuscript of a novel on a train, while on her way to Switzerland, where the great man was summering. If you find ‘great man’ a bit of a slam it’s because he spent a great deal of time building that image, fishing for marlin off Cuba and hunting Rhino in Africa, drinking whoever he could find under the table in Paris. I chuckled when I found a quote recommending care with money, from a man who always married wealthy women.

Alongside his literary success, Hemingway battled alcoholism, depression and jealousy over the talents of his good friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom he worried was the better writer. Feeling he had lost his touch and in the clutch of his other demons, he died by suicide on July 2, 1961, blowing his brains all over the entrance hall of his Sun Valley estate. Despite all that, his literary legacy endures, influencing generations of writers and leaving a lasting impact on the literary world.

We all have our writer heroes, he just happens not to be mine. But it begs the question of who we read, who lights our inner fire and keeps us writing through the night when the craft is going well.

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