Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Got What It Takes To Be A Writer?

Last evening I watched a new movie presented by HBO called Hemingway and Gellhorn. It offered a fascinating but sadly cliched view into the life of two of the 20th century's greatest writers. Both were portrayed as hard drinking, whiskey bottle by the side of their typewriter, bombs blasting in their bedroom, always traveling to exotic locales, wild sex with every sentence individuals. Like their novels, much of this is made up. But then, in some ways Hemingway and Gellhorn lived up to this over romanticized image.

Giving credit where credit is due, the literary couple were more than what was presented on the silver screen (or LCD TV in this case).

In reality they both struggled over their writing, and painstakingly wrote their articles, stories and novels, often wrestling with every word. Hemingway would produce on average no more than 250 new words a day and in the prime of his life, took three straight years off from writing altogether. That's how hard it was for him.

Martha would write alone, sometimes for three or four solid hours a day. Then she would toss it all out and start over the next morning. Like her lover, she possessed a very fine built-in shit detector and in this, she was her own worst critic.

Truth is, they never drank booze while they wrote. They didn't get hammered the night before and wake up fresh and write like the words were simply bleeding out them. This is the stuff of Hollywood. This is romance. This is pure bullshit.

The truth about Hemingway and Gellhorn:

Their writing came first.
It came before love.
It came before war.
It came before partnership.
It came before car payments and mortgages.
It came before children.
It came before health and sickness.
It came before leaky roofs and broken refrigerators.
It came before school PTA meetings and dinner with the neighbors.
It came before birthdays, anniversaries, funerals and graduations.
It came before Christmas.
It came before fun.
It came before happiness and sadness.
It came before God.

This is why fifty years after Hemingway's death and fourteen years after Gellhorn's (both of them by suicide), Hollywood is making movies about the couple. Because they were the best at what they did. And to be the best, you must make tremendous sacrifices.

Being a writer is not about being available to the world. It's about locking yourself away, at a great distance if need be, in order to work. Work alone, with yourself, without interruption. It's selfish and it is painstakingly hard work. In Hemingway's words, it is like "biting the nail."

Do you have what it takes to be a great writer?



  1. Comments people...comments...I can't go this one alone :)

  2. I'm a Hemingway fanboy. The actual creating process is never really alluded to in the media and so people tend to think or assume that Hemingway wrote brilliantly from the start and always with ease. The truth is far from it. The more important part of this post, in my humble opinion, is the lesson that success requires devotion and persistence. Nothing less. Thanks for this Vincent.

  3. Right on Wo3lf....You clearly get it...I'm sure your writing reflects it...Thanks!!

  4. Hmm...I would say that success is not paramount. In anything in life. Even writing. Especially if said success comes at the cost of your sanity and in the case of Hemingway and Gellhorn, their lives. If they truly did put all other aspects of living on the back burner in order to pursue success, that's heartbreaking. And clearly, it didn't work too well in the end for either of them.

    Strange, what other profession would have people idolizing it and romanticizing if if the job description included something like: lose all your loved ones to your ego-driven pursuits, develop addictions to substances or actions to help you cope, kill yourself when things get epically dour?

    I don't think it has to go this way. Writing can be a healthy passion to pursue and it can be in balance with family, love, food, showering... It's just up to each individual writer to decide whether they are the protagonist or antagonist of their own life.