What We Should Learn From Hemingway

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No writer creates in a vacuum. The craft has been handed down from generation to generation. We study history to avoid repeating mistakes. Writers should listen to those before them to perfect their own art.

Hemingway arguably perfected his own style of writing and stamped his name in the history books. We owe a debt to him for the literary world we live in today. He left us many expert works and much sage advice. Here are some of my favorites:

“The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time.”


In an interview with Esquire, he departs some wisdom about writing that he previously told an aspiring author:

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.”

I’ve been guilty of doing the opposite of this, thinking I was on to something. Sometimes, writing in a marathon after inspiration strikes works for the writer. But, in my experience, once I go back and read what I wrote, I found the spot at which I should have quit every time. I overextended myself. As a result, much of what I wrote had to be rewritten. Stop while you’re ahead in order to preserve the fire inside.


“[A writer] should have read everything so that he knows what he has to beat.”


This is one way of presenting a piece of advice I’ve seen from many authors. If you want to be a fantastic writer, read the works of fantastic writers. Find the ones you look up to and reverse engineer their works and minds.

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, no writer creates in a vacuum. Whether we want it to be or not, this is a community taking part in a craft that has centuries of precedent behind it. To know and create what is “good,” we have to read what falls into the category. Without each other, we go nowhere.


“When people talk listen completely. Donʼt be thinking what youʼre going to say. Most people never listen.”


I think this should be a lesson for everyone, but it is especially important for writers to learn. This quote is from Hemingway speaking about learning how to emphasize with people.

“If Carlos curses Juan think what both their sides of it are. Donʼt just think who is right…As a man you know who is right and who is wrong… As a writer you should not judge. You should understand…Listen now.”

In order to know and understand the characters of our stories, we have to first be able to know and understand anyone. Hemingway sends this home with this excerpt. It’s important to be able to figure what motivates a person and what makes them tick. If we don’t understand this, our characters run the risk of becoming flat and robotic.

This is just a small sample of the advice Hemingway left behind and a speck of all the advice the greatest authors have given us. Don’t be afraid to use the advice you find and see what helps you become the best writer you can be.

And whatever you do, never stop writing.

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About Author

John Paul Schmidt is a former news journalist. Now he's a freelancer by day and bartender by night while he works on his novel.

1 Comment

  1. Oh, so now you want Inkitt authors to think like Hemingway? Most of the authors on Inkitt are light-years from Hemingway (including myself). That’s what we learn from Hemingway. And many of the winners of Inkitt competitions do not compare with Hemingway. I doubt Hemingway would bother reading most of them. Most of what passes for good authoring on Inkitt isn’t in the same league as Hemingway. Because that’s not what passes for good authoring these days. Asking people to live up to Hemingway’s standard is ridiculous, especially since Inkitt’s only concern is what the majority think is good writing. And what the majority (on Inkitt) think is good writing has nothing in common with what Hemingway thinks is good writing. Inkitt’s algorithm determines what is good authoring and what isn’t. But an algorithm that is feed the whimsical thoughts of people who probably never read Hemingway because that isn’t fashionable anymore. People today have 30-second attention spans and would never attempt a Hemingway novel, would consider it pretentious literature. God forbid they read something artistic, worthy of their time and energy, unlike Fifty Shades of Grey which is considered worthy of their attention spans. Because this is what passes for good authoring these days. Jon Schmidt’s article was posted on Inkitt by mistake, surely.

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