Ernest Hemingway’s 20 Rules Of Writing

Ernest Hemingway is one of the world’s most influential authors. Recently I read the inspiring book Ernest Hemingway on Writing. Bloggers are writers so Hemingway’s advice is very relevant to us. This post contains Hemingway’s best, most helpful and practical advice on the craft of writing.

It’s about happiness, not about money

  • I have to write to be happy whether I get paid for it or not. But it is a hell of a disease to be born with. I like to do it. Which is even worse. That makes it from a disease into a vice. Then I want to do it better than anybody has ever done it which makes it into an obsession.”
  • “I need money, badly, but not badly enough to do one dishonorable, shady, borderline, or “fast” thing to get it. I hope this is quite clear. The one who is doing his work and getting satisfaction from it is not the one the poverty bothers.”

On education

  • “I think you should learn about writing from everybody who has ever written that has anything to teach you. A long time ago you stopped listening except to the answers to your own questions. That’s what dries a writer up not listening. That is where it all comes from. Seeing, listening. You see well enough. But you stop listening.”
  • “A great enough writer has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge. It is the one thing beside honesty that a good writer must have. The more he learns from experience the more truly he can imagine.”
  • I never went to college. If any sonofabitch could write he wouldn’t have to teach writing in college.”
  • “Actually if a writer needs a dictionary he should not write. He should have read the dictionary at least three times from beginning to end and then have loaned it to someone who needs it.“

Make it good

  • “I am a man without any ambition, except to be champion of the world, you have to have confidence to be a champion and that is the only thing I ever wished to be.”
  • “There is no use writing anything that has been written before unless you can beat it. What a writer in our time has to do is write what hasn’t been written before or beat dead men at what they have done.”
  • “My temptation is always to write too much. I keep it under control so as not to have to cut out crap and re-write. Guys who think they are geniuses because they have never learned how to say no to a typewriter are a common phenomenon.”
  • “I happen to be in a very tough business where there are no alibis. It is good or it is bad and the thousand reasons that interfere with a book being as good as possible are no excuses if it is not. You have to make it good.”

Make the stories real

  • Make it alive. So that when you have read something by me you actually experience the thing. You can’t do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful you can’t believe in it. Things aren’t that way.”
  • “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. Then go on from there. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. Whatever success I have had has been through writing what I know about.”
  • “When you first start writing stories in the first person if the stories are made so real that people believe them the people reading them nearly always think the stories really happened to you. If you can do this you are beginning to get what you are trying for which is to make the story so real beyond any reality that it will become a part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory.”

Don’t worry about what other people say

  • You must be prepared to work always without applause. When you are excited about something is when the first draft is done. But no one can see it until you have gone over it again and again until you have communicated the emotion, the sights and the sounds to the reader.”
  • “For Christ 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.”
  • “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.”

Keep yourself in check

  • “What are the things, the actual, concrete things that harm a writer? Politics, women, drink, money, ambition. And the lack of politics, women, drink, money and ambition”.
  • “I wasn’t getting enough exercise or something so have been going out and driving myself in the boat for a while in any kind of weather and am o.k. now. It is better to produce half as much, get plenty of exercise and not go crazy than to speed up so that your head is hardly normal.”

Work hard

  • When am working as hard as have been since the first week in April the days all just blur together…. Wake about seven thirty, have breakfast and am working by nine and usually work straight through until two p.m. After that it’s like living in a vacuum until working time next day.”
  • 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.”

Looking for even more writing advice? See lessons learned from Stephen King’s On Writing.