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Ernest Hemingway on Writing
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121 of 130 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
Of course, I've read everything he wrote, but I wasn't prepared to get the key information on writing enclosed in this little book. Most people think Hemingway was a rough and tumble guy who wrote in his spare time when he had the urge. Most other times, the legend goes, he was too busy drinking, fishing, or womanizing. This book clearly shows that ain't so. He spent most of his time, the way real writers do: Writing and thinking about writing. Often he would check into a hotel, let everyone know he was there, and then stay somewhere else so as not to be disturbed from his main mission. The gems of informations depicted here come in the form of advice to the Mice (H's term for young student writers) from Y.C. (your correspondent). Did you know, for instance, "Most live writers do not exist. Their fame is created by critics who always need a genius of the season, someone they understand completely and feel safe in praising, but when these fabricated geniuses are dead they will not exist." Or how about this gem: "If an sonofbitch could write he wouldn't have to teach in college." Particulary interesting is Papa's advice to writers about reading. He was of the opinion that most writers write too much and don't read enough. His advice is to master Tolstoi, Flaubert, Mann, Joyce, Fielding, Mark Twain, Stendhal, Dostoevskis, Crane, Kipling, Turgenev, Hudson, James, (on and on so fast you can't write them down, three times that many) before you start writing. Very good advice, I would say. His point being you must first read the literature before you can write literature. This book does omit one piece of advice that H never gave but which he practiced by example. He memorized the King James Bible (cf Moveable Feast) and could recite it by heart. He did this to get down into the very structure of his brain the cadences that express beauty and truth effectively. The secret of his terse style is therefore the secret of clear and simple expression as in that wonderful version of the Bible.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
Hemingway was reticent about his craft; he feared that talking about it would destroy it, or even worse, be a substitute for it. Yet, woven throughout his novels and other writings are numerous observations about writers and the art of writing. In "Ernest Hemingway On Writing", Larry Phillips has culled several hundred excerpts from Hemingway's books, interviews, and personal correspondences that touch upon some aspect of writing. They range in length from a mere sentence fragment to several paragraphs. As Phillips explains in the introduction, "This book contains Hemingway's reflections on the nature of the writer and on the elements of the writer's life, including specific helpful advice to writers on the craft of writing, work habits, and discipline. The Hemmingway personality comes through in general wisdom, wit, humor, and insight..."
Some of these reflections are insightful, some are humorous, and some show us Hemingway at his best. But this is not to say that the collection works as a whole. While I like the idea behind book, and feel it has definite value, there are a good number of excerpts that do not seem to have any of the above qualities, so I question why they were included. They seem like filler. Nonetheless, I'll list a few of the reflections that I liked, as they show something of Hemingway's many moods and styles.
In a letter to Charles Scribner, Hemingway reveals a tortured ambivalence about writing: "Charlie there is no future in anything. I hope you agree. That is why I like it at a war. Every day and every night there is a strong possibility that you will get killed and not have to write. I have to write to be happy... 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."
Among the reflections are many little truisms about writing: "...it has never gotten any easier to do and you can't expect it to if you keep trying for something better than you can do." There are also sardonic remarks: "The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life--and one is as good as the other." Some of Hemingway's remarks seem genuinely helpful, as when he describes what he does when he is "stuck". He would say to himself "Do no worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." Then, he explains "If I start to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written." Finally, when asked "How much should you write a day?", he proffered this advice: "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 get stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it."
The collection definitely contains some gems; if you are a Hemingway fan you will likely enjoy it. However, if you are looking for sage advice from the master, you are apt to be disappointed, for once you remove the quips and the anecdotes, there is not a great deal left.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
Hemingway's straight-to-the-point advice reveals much about his own process of writing and helps us get inside his head (just a bit) which is of much interest to the Hemingway fan. It is also great for those of us seeking advice or new ways of looking at different aspects of the writing process. Even when I don't entirely agree with his comments, they are insightful and enlightening and offer suggestions for what may be benificial variations in our too-routine writing routines. I also must agree with one of the other reviewers: the paper is poor (like the brown stuff you used to practice your alphabet letter writing on when you were in kindergarten.) Why? I don't know- this is a book that I can easily refer to anytime I feel myself lacking in drive and I would like to know that it will stand the test of time (physically); a few passages from it and I feel energized by what he has to say. Regardless of the por paper quality, I HIGHLY recommend it.
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53 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
At the risk of being branded a heretic or something, I have to say that while the quotes throughout this book are interesting, it simply is not the guide to writing that one is led to believe it is.
It is a great reference for finding Hemingway's commentary on various aspects of writing and it does contain some genuinely good advice. But ultimately it is a collection of Hemingway's commentary and quotes, not a true guide to writing.
I think the book would work better had the editor (who is to be complemented for culling all of this information out of Hemingway's work and letters and organizing it) incorporated further advice or commentary from other sources. Perhaps by asking some other author or authors how Hemingway's advice has applied to them, the book would better work as a kind of writer's guide.
Regardless, the book is a great source of Hemingway quotes and commentary and I do recommend it. Just don't expect it to turn you into the next Ernest Hemingway.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
Larry Phillips' compilation of the comments Hemingway made on the process of writing contains a wealth of material for writers at every level. I had the good fortune to read the book in its original hard-cover version when it was published in the mid-1980s. At that point, I had been a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for about a decade, and I found several key ideas I was able to incorporate into my own work. I'd long ago loaned out my copy of the hard-cover book when the paperback version came out this summer, so I happily purchased a copy and reread the book. It seems as fresh today as it did nearly 15 years ago. There are still lots of specific tips and techniques writers can acquire. One of my favorites is Hemingway's recommendation that a writer not continue writing until he or she runs dry, but rather stop at a point when the next sentence or paragraph or chapter is known. That way, the writer can pick up later where he or she left off, without the trauma of facing a blank page or a blank screen, wondering what's next. I've tried it over the years, and it works. Beyond those specifics, however, I find it interesting to read how Hemingway viewed his life as a writer. Regardless of how you feel about Hemingway as a person or even as a writer, you might recognize that the man spent a lot of time thinking about what it meant to be a writer and how a writer should develop his or her craft. That alone is worth the price of admission.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
I read "Hemingway on Writing" in nearly one session. I had recently completed a series of difficult articles and felt drained, at least creatively. I took a few days off and read this book. It energized me and gave the wherewithal to jump back in the fire. When Hemingway writes that he suffers like a -------, when he doesn't write or just before, what writer can't relate? Equally powerful is his, "Need to read some bloody thing I've written in order to convince myself ... to write something else." Whatever the particular writing problem, whether fiction or nonfiction, Hemingway's advice can help. Highly recommended! -- Timothy Daiss
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Ernest is my favorite author. I love the way he writes. But this compendium of quotes from the author, over varying times in his life, is thin, hard to enjoy (just a bunch of quotes), and although the advice is wise, it's really just an amalgam of unrelated quotations taken from other interviews. It'd be like reading one of those page-a-day calendars that are all the rage at Christmas. Try reading one of those from Jan 1-Dec 31 in a weekend, and you'll get a feel for this book.

For the sake of interest, sure, ask your librarian to get it for you and read it one afternoon in a hammock...you'll think it has tons of good advice, but with no format to "hang it on", it comes off like a worldly Grandpapa give you all the advice he's ever learned, all in 1-3 line snippets, all at once. You'll be asleep in 15 minutes.

Sure, sure, you could parcel the pages out and read one a day for 6 months, but then it truly IS no different than a calendar.

So, all in all, you'll learn more about how Hemingway writes by re-reading The Old Man And The Sea again. And for a book on writing, try Annie Lamotte's Bird By Bird... which is exemplary (see my review). Thanks
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
Ernest Hemingway changed the way people wrote. Victor Hugo, writing a mere fifty years before, has a sentence in 'Les Misrables' which spans two pages. After Hemingway, that, no one would dare.

The editors have culled virtually all Hemingway's remarks on writing. Very useful to have in one place. I bought this little book on publication in 1984 - been with me ever since. Unlike other writing manuals, this one can be read piecemeal - savored in bits - like the poetry of the craft it is.

Two favorites:

"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, sh[...]t detector." (famous)

"Eschew the monumental. Shun the Epic. All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones."

Think of 'The Old Man And The Sea'. Epic - transcendent - speaks to almost all of us - probably, for almost all time. But, it's only a story about some old fisherman Hemingway may have known and the one that got away. May have even heard the storyline somewhere.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book should be required reading for anyone who aspires to write, along with those already in the writing profession. It is a rare glimpse into the private thoughts, personality, and intellect of one of our greatest writers.
Mr. Hemingway's intriguing quotes, selected letters, and practical advice will be a tremendous resource. The reader will see how Hemingway's experiences during WWI shaped him, along with his lifelong devotion to the craft of writing. The letters to his contemporaries are enlightening. We owe Mr. Phillips a debt of gratitude for this educational book.
"Write about what you know... I always wanted to be a writer... All my life I've looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time... All you have to do is write one true sentence." Those are just the tip of the iceberg... :-)
I hope that you will enjoy this book. Thank you for the opportunity to review it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
Eye-opening excerpts from many Hemingway letters to his closest friends, typos and all. Insightful and revealing. A must-have for any Hemingway fan or aspiring writer. Mice: Pick this up at your own peril. This is true Hemingway, he pulls no punches. Such a short read though, regrettably much too short, although the Hemingway gems scattered throughout this sparse booklet are still well worth the price. Being that he never intended this material to be published, it shows his honesty as a writer as much as it reveals in snapshot style, his honesty in how he lived and survived his short, magnificent life. It's editor (Phillips) unwittingly perhaps, might have made Hemingway proud after all. Including not one, but many of the truest sentences you'll ever read.
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