Friday, September 25, 2015

Writing inspiration, Hemingway word count edition

Figure 1. So Hemingway was a record-keeper!
Instead of "sit down and write," this has been a week of "sit down and drive, stand up and teach, walk down the hall and meet," etc.

I have a list of about 15 things to do immediately, divided up into writing, reviewing, teaching, and admin.

Guess which category is the one with nothing crossed off?

But just in time, the NYTimes has some writing inspiration: an exhibition of Ernest Hemingway's artifacts at the JFK Library.

Here's a little writing inspiration for your Friday:
He began the original draft of his first novel, “The Sun Also Rises,” which he finished in just nine weeks during the summer of 1925, on loose sheets and then switched over to notebooks. It wasn’t until the end of the third notebook that he wrote a chapter outline on the back cover (which also records his travel expenses and his daily word counts, something Hemingway kept careful track of), and some of the pages on display show him slashing out not just words and sentences but whole passages as he writes. “Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it,” Hemingway wrote later in an Esquire article. “That is .333, which is a damned good average for a hitter.”
Figure 2. Even Hemingway had to cut words.
Those are nice round numbers, but of course, Hem didn't have the Word Count feature. He kept track of his weight, too, writing it in pencil on a wall near his bathroom scales, and I'm guessing that the "fishing diary" in which he wrote an angry letter to Harold Ross of The New Yorker contains size, weight, and numbers of fish caught.

The interesting thing for me about all this record-keeping is that Hemingway never mentions it in A Moveable Feast (either version), although whole chapters of that book are basically writing inspiration and absence-of-food descriptions. It's not in keeping with Hemingway Image (TM), probably, but it's oddly inspiring to those of us trying to keep on track by keeping track.

No comments: