Writing and drilling
“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”
— Ernest Hemingway
Of course Hemingway is an excellent writer. *Of course* he’s an influential writer. Possibly THE most influential writer. I can probably almost recite by heart that powerful passage from A Farewell to Arms where he writes, ‘The world breaks everyone’.
But every time I hear the advice to ‘never use an adverb’ or to write plainly or to use only small words, I want, in turn, to break Hemingway.
Because, like all great, charismatic innovators, Hemingway has (inadvertently) screwed us.
In his quest to find his own path, & to boldly — & baldly — state his own desires for HIS work, his words have been taken as gospel (much like, well, the gospel). Because Hemingway sought to write plainly & succinctly, it has been determined, over decades, that the only — the ONLY — way to write is plainly & succinctly.
Ergo, no adverbs. No frills. No unnecessary verbiage.
Hemingway writes good Hemingway. It’s not the only way to write. It’s not even the BEST way to write. It’s good, of course it’s good. But as an avowed style monkey, I rage against the dying of the adverb.
Not that I even particularly like adverbs. I just believe they have a right to exist. In moderation, & with due consideration.
What else do I know about Hemingway? He claimed to sometimes re-write the same page no less than 30 times. He drank whiskey in the evenings. He was a troubled and conflicted man, on the one hand all masculine bravura, on the other … something far more fragile. He went into a rage after Dorothy Parker insulted Spain. He publicly ridiculed her with poetry and never spoke to her again. He killed himself with a gun. His youngest son, a transvestite, died — drunk & heartbroken over his father’s withdrawal of love — in a women’s prison just a few years ago.
Goddamn, some of these writers have depressing lives.