Advice on Writing and Life from Hemingway, Hornby, and Parini
A short collection of decent suggestions to end the week.
Three pieces of advice from three very different writers to end the week. Well, really, one short meditation and then two very short suggestions. The first bit, about being daunted, isn’t only about writing. The Hornby and Parini quotes are specifically about writing, but I think they apply to other things, too. We live in a time of tremendous excess and tremendous need. Paring down is probably as good for our mental health as it is for finances and our work, whatever that work is.
Have a great weekend!
Be Daunted in Public
For whatever reason, one of my favorite pieces of dialogue in The Sun Also Rises is Bill Gorton going on about never being daunted in public. It’s almost a hundred years old, but it’s still funny.
There’s nothing wrong with being daunted in public, of course. And I guess old Bill has nothing against being daunted in general. The trick is, don’t stay there.
Here’s the exchange:
‘Certainly like to drink,’ Bill said. ‘You ought to try it sometimes, Jake.’
‘You’re about a hundred and forty-four ahead of me.’
‘Ought not to daunt you. Never be daunted. Secret of my success. Never been daunted. Never been daunted in public.’
‘Where were you drinking?’
‘Stopped at the Crillon. George made me a couple of Jack Roses. George’s a great man. Know the secret of his success? Never been daunted.’
‘You’ll be daunted after about three more Pernods.’
‘Not in public. If I begin to feel daunted I’ll go off by myself. I’m like a cat that way.’
I like what Sally Skinner has to say about it:
“Sparkling, pitch-perfect dialogue or what? The drunken swagger captured phonetically in almost hiccuped fragments of speech; the different shades of meaning taken on by the word ‘daunted’; the easy, natural wit. More than a little daunting to a novice writer…
There’s a carefree hedonism that blows through this book like a cool breeze. This makes it refreshing sort of read, even when the character are drunk, or brawling, or lapping up the violence of the bullfight. But it’s worth reading purely for the dialogue.”
Bill seems to know there’s no inoculation for feeling daunting, so he mitigates by slinking off. (Notice how Hemingway mercifully does not use the word slinking, but cuts right to the chase with “I’m like a cat that way.”)
Bill seems aware that his code (it feels more jocular than how we’ve often treated Hemingway) is half-baked. Whatever you make of his corpus, Hemingway relished finding support, commiseration, encouragement, and inspiration in the company of others. He didn’t mind being daunted in private, or in the various semi-public circles he anchored. You can’t really share an idea, a piece of art, a life – love – without risking something of yourself. For more on Hemingway’s private, public, and semi-public lives, Papa Hemingway by his close friend A.E. Hotchner is a brilliant read.
Good Advice is the Hardest to Take
"Anyone and everyone taking a writing class knows that the secret of good writing is to cut it back, pare it down, winnow, chop, hack, prune, and trim, remove every superfluous word, compress, compress, compress..."
That’s from Nick Horny. I found it via Brendan Zorning.
In Ann Hood’s workshop, she tells students to “blow it up.” Same idea. Oh, how we resist!
Jay Parini’s Advice to New Writers
"There is really only one worthwhile piece of advice. Write about what really interests you, and do it every day..."
Read the rest here, and check out Jay's work while you're at it. I really like what he says about reading and writing going hand-in-hand. When I’m having a hard time writing, reading is always a kind of key.
See you next week, and thanks for reading!
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