This morning, I managed to have another read though the Letters to Note anthology and Letter No. 079 is pretty good, especially for budding writers. In fact, even a published writer would likely find truth within the words and make use of the advice.
This particular letter, written in 1934, is a correspondence between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway writes the letter in response to a request from Fitzgerald asking for his opinion on his new novel. This is after he’d written The Great Gatsby and was in fact Fitzgerald’s final novel.
The intro to the letter, from Shaun Usher, includes the below:
‘Hemingway certainly didn’t hold back and replied with a brutally honest letter that contains valuable advice for writers the world over.’
I won’t type out the whole letter as you may have the pleasure of coming across the anthology one day, or in fact already have it. But, as a writer who frequently believes their work isn’t great (and I know I’m probably not alone in that thought) this letter was comforting to read. Hemingway tells it how it is, and encourages you to not overthink what other people will say about your work.
Few highlights of the letter below:
‘That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best-make it all up-but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.’
‘Scott for gods sake write and write truly no matter who or what it hurts but do not make silly compromises.’
‘That what dries a writer up, not listening. That is where it all comes from. Seeing, listening. You see well enough. But you stop listening.’
I paid more attention to this one because we sometimes get so involved with our work that we may miss something brilliant, simply by not listening. Appropriate advice for life in general too; being, seeing, listening.
My personal favourite and easily identifiable as Hemingway-esque advice:
‘For Christ’s sake write and don’t worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.’
Savour that one word, one sentence or one page of sheer brilliance and thrive on it.
‘Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it – don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist – but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.’
We get too hung up on what others may think that I forget how good it actually feels at the end of a writing stint to realise what I’ve done isn’t half bad and remember it’s an achievement to get any words down at all. An excellent letter that I will come back to again and again when those moments of self-doubt appear and stunt creativity.
Read the letter in full if you can and hopefully it will ignite something within that you thought was lost.
‘All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.’
‘Go on and write.’