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Selected Quotes from “Ernest Hemingway on Writing”

A guest post by by Steve Amoia

While few of us will ever reach the literary brilliance of Mr. Hemingway, some of his advice might provide an intriguing perspective from one of the most gifted writers in the English language. I have selected a few of his most salient observations about the art and science of writing. The book itself, which was expertly edited and organized by Mr. Larry W. Phillips, is available from Amazon.com.

One interesting fact about Mr. Hemingway might surprise us: He never went to college.

So the next time a potential client or employer says, “English or another pertinent degree required for this position,” you may desire to gently remind them that with that criterion, they could not hire Ernest Hemingway.

The Craft of Writing

“Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done.”

“There’s no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

“I think you should learn about writing from everybody who has ever written that has anything to teach you.”

“You see I’m trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across, not just to depict life, or criticize it, but to actually make it alive.”

Daily Routine

“Ordinarily I never read anything before I write in the morning to try and bite on the old nail with no help, no influence and no one giving you a wonderful example or sitting looking over your shoulder.”

“Charlie’s (Scribner’s) ridiculing of my daily word count was because he did not understand me or writing well nor could know how happy one felt to have put down properly 422 words as you wanted them to be. And days of 1200 or 2700 were something that made you happier than you could believe. Since I found that 400 to 600 well done was a pace I could hold much better was always happy with that number. But if I only had 320 I felt good.”

On Success

“Whatever success that I have had has been through writing what I know about.”

On Criticism

“I hold very simply, that a critic has a right to write anything he wishes about your work no matter how wrong he may be. I also hold that a critic has no right to write about your private life while you are alive.”

Quotes are courtesy of and copyrighted © 1984 by Larry W. Phillips and Mary Welsh Hemingway. First Touchstone Edition 1999 by Simon & Schuster, Inc. These quotes were made possible by the kind permission of Mr. Phillips.

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and editor from Washington, D.C. He has published articles, book reviews, and interviews about alternative health, art history, career-related themes, historical figures, Italian and international soccer, martial arts, psychology, and sports medicine topics. His writing portfolio and contact information can be found at www.sanstefano.com.

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • God's real

    Of course he didn’t go to college. Why would anyone find that surprising? The best artists always start poor. It’s like a rule of thumb. Once you go to college, your chances of creating a great work are severely diminished, if not shot straight to shit. Of course, that all depends on if you really believe any of the crap they feed you.

    Art: Created by Peasants …Stolen by Upper Class Snobs

    • maybe

    • I mentioned that he did not attend college because many who do not know his life story in detail would assume he had higher formal education. As you know, he cut his teeth at the Kansas City Star and his correspondences from Europe were brilliant.

      He also had a great quote and I will paraphrase it:

      “Newspaper work can help a young writer as long as he gets out of it in time. ” He obviously took his advice to great effect.

      If Mr. Hemingway were alive today, we could argue that few would interview him for a writing job with only a high school diploma. My secondary point, as you also noted in a different fashion, was that writing talent is not conferred solely by a degree. Since many freelance writers face the degree hurdle with clients, I used Mr. Hemingway as an example.
      Steve Amoia recently posted..AboutMy Profile

      • No degree here and all it’s done is stopped me from getting job jobs I probably didn’t want anyway. And you’ve got three languages… I am impressed. Want to do an article for me on writers and translation? No pay, maybe some glory and links back to your site.

  • Thanks for a great post on one of my favorite writers. I am ashamed to admit that I never knew about his lack of a college education. He was probably too busy living his life and sharing his experiences with the world via his writing. Bill Gates, one of the founders of Microsoft dropped out of Harvard to build Microsoft. Interesting parallels.
    I also admire John Steinbeck, who attended Stanford University but never graduated. He had to work to pay for his tuition. He won the Nobel prize for literature in 1962.

    • Anne

      You’re right about education… there are more ways to get one that many suspect. And degrees, while valuable, aren’t the only way.

  • admin

    Thanks George… great website you’ve got.

  • I am a great fan of EH and even went down to Key West to visit some of his
    haunts when I was in college at the University of Miami.
    Great ideas from a writer who tests all times.
    He was a terrific influence on how I write and so was Faulkner but not as much.

  • admin

    glad you like it Jamee – love it when my guests are popular.

  • Jamee

    Ya know- I read many of Hemingway’s books in school and think now that I should perhaps go search them out again. I’ve come full circle it seems and am just now (at 34) returning to my writing roots I established after I graduated from high school. Thanks for posting this…

    Jamee’s last blog post..Spirit of Christmas

  • ah yes!

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