Ernest Hemingway On What To Write About

I wish to write about things that are personal to me, things that matter to me, which cause me a certain sense of discomfort to write. The reason for this is that I view writing as a self-exploratory tool through which not only do I come to understand myself better and to formulate my thoughts but also to be able to express what goes unexpressed in daily life. There is always a sense of discomfort when one opens themselves up to others but this discomfort is needed if you wish to write about things that are of importance to you.

It is in this thought where Hemingway provides crucial insight. In his book, A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway recollects his early days as a writer and the time he spent in Paris interacting with other great artists such as Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and many more. Hemingway also speaks on the art of writing, his struggles to write and his attempt to write his first novel. It is in this, where he shares his thoughts on what he wishes to write about, in particular, three ideas:

I would write one story about each thing I knew about.

What did I know best that I had not written about and lost?

What did I know about truly and care for the most?

It’s these three ideas that have stuck with me through my reading of the book. The reason is simple, they are personal and they require thought. In order to transplant those thoughts onto paper, I have to be truthful. This truth may make you vulnerable but it is in this vulnerability that I may be able to write something that has meaning.


Hemingway & The Broken Places

There are two themes that I often reflect on when reading A Farewell To Arms. These two being optimism and pessimism. These opposite themes weave in and out of the novel as Hemingway explores the consequences of war and its effect on mankind. This is clearly shown in the main character, Henry, whose outlook on life can be classified as a form of cynicism. However, at the same time, amidst war, two people come together and find a kind of comforting peace. Henry and Catherine are both struggling with the effects of the war and need one another to feel stable. This is often looked as love between the characters but for me its an example of human companionship. They are a simple presence of comfort in each other lives and this allows them to reorganize themselves from the chaos of war. Even at the worse of times, human comfort can bring relief, that human beings can come together and provide moments of happiness and bliss that can remove the person from the things they might be suffering from. This optimistic viewpoint contrasts with the pessimistic one that is often showcased in the tragedy of any war novel.

Both these themes are represented in the following passage which displays Hemingways writing ability for he is able to convey such depth through the use of simple sentences and language.

If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

When I read this I am reminded of the struggles of life. Not my own, but rather those of other peoples. That everyone is going through something, or has gone through something or will go through something. This is life. Life is hard and it is difficult and even when you go through the rough parts of life and come through it and as Hemingway puts it “are strong at the broken places”, life is not done, it will put more obstacles, more trials, more struggles in your path and that’s it. There is nothing else to it. You either withstand the struggle long enough or you allow it to break you early. Once more, “there will be no special hurry”.

Hemingway’s cynicism or pessimism is clear in the passage, however, there is also optimism. There is a belief in man. That people can be courageous, gentle, brave and good. That even when life breaks you or you fail, you can use that to harden yourself, to get stronger, to get better and yes, ultimately there is no beating life, but it is in the struggle against life that one can show his or her true characteristics. Meaning, the hardships of life are there so that you can be better for a period of time. In a way, you can be grateful for this kind of life.

Lastly, this passage is a good reminder to be kind. To be kind to people you know for you may not know what they have not told you. You may be unaware of the troubles they are going through in their minds or in their personal life or work life. So, be patient with people. Be kind and patient with strangers as well for they are just like you, they are battling life, we are all in the same fight and through kindness and companionship, we can ease that fight, just a little. Or at least bring some kind of momentary relief as Henry and Catherine do for each other.