Posted in Writing

6 Quotes by Ernest Hemingway to Make You a Better Writer


Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) was the world-famous author of The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell to Arms, and The Old Man and the Sea.

Here are six of his wonderful quotes to inspire your writing!

1. It was necessary to get exercise, to be tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved. That was better than anything.

There’s something to be said for writing every day and even writing a long, long time every day if you want, but eventually you do need to step away from the desk and do something else, anything else. This is especially true if you want to be a successful writer.

On the occasional day I don’t go for a run or head to the gym after a long morning and afternoon of writing, my body hurts long into the night. I’ll get a headache. I won’t feel my best, and I’ll especially feel a bit down the next day when I try to write again.

It’s in your best interest as a writer to leave the writing room occasionally. Burn some calories exercising or doing, you know, other things. Go outside. Go on an adventure and live a little! Let writing be a small part of your day, but don’t forget about all the other things that make up a successful life.

2. I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

One of the best tips for success in fiction writing, especially novel writing, I tell writers all the time is you should step away from the writing desk when you know what the next scene is going to be, not when you have no idea what the next scene is going to be.

It might make sense to you to write, write, write until you eventually don’t have a handle on the next scene, the next chapter. But the problem with that is you’ll sit down at your writing desk the next day and then ponder awhile and stare out the window and twirl a pen around. You won’t know what to write next, and so you’ll lose precious time you could have been writing instead.

Stop writing when you know exactly what the next scene is going to be. Even better, be excited to write that next scene, but force yourself to step away from the desk, do other things, enjoy the rest of your day and night… and then come back the next day refreshed and ready to put some new awesome prose down on the page.

3. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

I set a lot of goals for myself with each new writing day, and one of them is always to write one really great sentence. One superb, true sentence in 2,000 words of drafting is always a strong goal to be had.

When I’m working on the first draft of a new novel, I know that much of the work is going to be flat, awkward, possibly dreadful. And I’m okay with that, because I know I’ll come back later in revisions to fix what isn’t working.

But as silly as it sounds, it really does make me feel good in each writing session to write at least one fantastic sentence. One sentence that makes me sit back for a moment and say, wow, where did that come from?

Often these sentences happen when I’m deep into our writing session. It’s a thrill every time it happens, it really is!

4. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.

You might struggle coming up with new story ideas. I certainly do, especially when it comes to short fiction. I have friends writing one short story after another, and I’m lucky to write two of them in a given year, partly because I focus more on novels, but also because ideas for short stories don’t come to me often.

So if you want to write shorter pieces and have no idea where to start, Ernest Hemingway is right — think of everything you know about and write one story about each thing! Think of what compels you. What interests you. What have you studied before? What experiences have you had?

It absolutely doesn’t hurt as a writer to start with what you know and then go from there. Writing what you know is a great way to learn the basics of writing and start mastering the craft before you get into more unknown territory later that might lead to a piece of writing that’s truly extraordinary.

5. My training was never to drink after dinner nor before I wrote nor while I was writing.

This might seem obvious to most of you, but just in case it’s not, I feel like it’s worth being said — don’t drink alcohol before or during a writing session. Particularly when it comes to fiction writing.

You want your head to be clear. You want your head to be able to go to surprising places when you’re deep into a writing session. Let the drinking come later. Let the drinking commence as soon as you’ve reached the end of your writing for the day.

Most people write their fiction in the morning, so this shouldn’t be of concern, but what if you write your fiction late at night? I don’t know what to tell you. One glass of wine with dinner is probably okay, but if you write late, don’t go crazy with alcohol. Your drafting won’t be as top notch as it could be, and you’ll probably find yourself falling asleep at the desk too.

6. When I had to write it, then it would be the only thing to do and there would be no choice. Let the pressure build.

One of the most exciting aspects to being a writer is finding that story you’re super passionate about, that you simply have to write, and then let the pressure build before you eventually get started on it.

Sure, you can start writing that story right away if you want, but there’s something special about delaying the writing of it. To let the pressure build as you work out the story and characters in your mind as you go about your days. One of my favorite parts of writing is this, just thinking about the story. And knowing you’ll get to it one day down the road.

I tell writers this all the time — the mediocre ideas you have for stories will fall by the wayside if you wait long enough, and the ones you’re absolutely meant to write will stay with you forever. No matter how long you wait to write that fantastic story — a few weeks, a few months, even a few years — eventually you’ll put your butt in the chair and begin the work you were meant to do.

And who knows? This story might be the one that kick-starts your prolific and successful writing career. The Sun Also Rises is the one that did it for Ernest Hemingway. What’s it going to be for you?

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