Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tip O'Day for Authors #183

Guest blogger Tom Winton on lessons from Hemingway.

There are three guidelines Ernest Hemingway laid out many years ago that still make good sense. The first one pertains to getting the literary juices flowing when they seem to be all dammed up in your subconscious--when you want to start that next masterpiece and don’t know how to begin. Old Hem said something to the effect of, ‘When you can’t get going, simply sit down and write the one truest sentence you can.’ Now, when we want to write a novel or a story, we obviously have a reasonable idea what the subject matter is about. Mull it over a bit and then type or scrawl that one truest sentence. I have done this. And when those first few words are down, and I’ve ended that sentence with a period, question mark, or exclamation mark, it helped me every time.

The old master also firmly believed you should end your writing session at a place where you know what will happen next. The benefit of this advice is quite obvious—if you stop writing when you know what’s coming next, you won’t need a jumpstart for the following session, other than maybe a cup of coffee or tea.

EH’s third rule is invaluable as well. He staunchly believed that when you finish writing for the day you need to get your conscious mind out of the book—totally! He felt it’s necessary to let your subconscious mind replenish your creative well. Sometimes I have a problem with this. When I’m writing a book it’s very difficult for me to get outside its pages after a writing session ends. But if I try real hard, there are times that I can clear my mind of all literary musings. The funny thing is, when I manage to do that, some of the damnedest ideas come out of nowhere.

For the story of Tom's first novel’s twelve year journey to four Amazon best-seller lists, check out the April 2nd, 2011 post on http://tomwintonauthor.com/


  1. ".... you should end your writing session at a place where you know what will happen next."

    I usually end with a "paragraph" or 2 describing what's next - no full sentences etc - & highlight it in yellow. When I return to the work, I do a brief edit of a few pages leading up to that point & then resume the real work. But I do lots of weird things...

    Gotta love Papa. I posted about one of my visits to his home in Key West (Nov '09) - & his 6 toed cats.

  2. Very interesting, Tom. Hemingway is a writer everyone (including me) admires. His style, concise, simple, cutting to the bone, has been picked up and reproduced by a couple of generations of aspiring writers by now, and taught, usually without acknowledgement, in practically every 'creative writing' class in the world. I suppose the pendulum will swing backwards sometime soon, and we'll be allowed to use adjectives and adverbs again, but meanwhile he's certainly someone to learn from, if not slavishly.

  3. Yes Gerry, he certainly revolutionized twentieth century literature. He singlehandidly took us out of the dark ages. You've got to wonder where all the manuscripts his first wife, Hadley, left on a train ended up.

    And David, I know Hemingway's house on Whitehead Street very well. I actually got married thirty-something years ago by a justice of the peace less than a mile from his house. As for the six-toed cats, many of Hem's biographers say he actually didn't have any. Who knows?

    Tom Winton