I’ve read a sampling of a modest range of authors (or a tiny range, depending on who you ask), and the good ones have left their mark on my writing. The really good ones are still doing it today.
But no writer has influenced my writing more than Hemingway. Doesn’t exactly make sense, because his stories don’t rank in my all-time favorites. I’m much more inclined to take after the lyrical Fitzgerald, or the warm voice of Kathryn Stockett or Jane Austen. I even, from time to time, attempt to invoke that skill of Lauren Groff or John Green, the skill of creating those pithy one-liners that you love to read over and over again even though you know they’re a little contrived.
But Hemingway? At times The Sun Also Rises reads like a travel diary, and a terse one at that. High action? Nope. Lots of repetitive activity? Yes. So why does he have the most influence?
If Aristotle can call virtues means between two extremes, then Hemingway is to me as foolhardy lack of fear is to cowardice; I want to end up somewhere in the middle and so be brave. Not that I think Hemingway is an extreme that is bad, I just know that there is no way my writing style is ever going to resemble his, on the level of appearances or syntactical structure at least. I’m just not wired to write with that kind of spartan detail. But structurally, doctrinally, I have much to learn from him. I know so because other people, in person or through books, have told me so.
- Mom to me in 5th grade: you write well, but you write a lot without actually saying a lot.
- Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: Know your characters, not your plot.
- Friend to me: I like it! What’s it about again?
- Hemingway in an interview: A writer, if he is any good, does not describe.
Alrighty then. First of all, ouch mom. No, that advice was actually really helpful don’t worry, mom. So. Write less, say more. Don’t plot your plot, but get to know your characters. And don’t describe your characters, let the reader get to know them. Also make sure people understand what in the world you’re talking about. Yeah don’t forget that.
I see Hemingway as the perfect exemplar of their advice. I think that is why I find his writing of particular interest to me; it is in the hopes that I can learn from his absolute simplicity and ability to write by showing instead of telling.