Hemingway Had to Learn How to Write

Today is a good test to see if writing is a skill or some sort of mystical ability. This is important because every writer asks the same question, “how do I write when I’m not inspired?”.

The short answer from every professional writer I’ve seen is: amateurs wait for inspiration, professionals show up and go to work.

Here’s a few quotes on the topic:

“Do your bit, even when you’re not inspired. Especially when you’re not inspired. Strangely it’s the quickest route to becoming inspired

“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”

– Ernest Hemingway

“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”

– Harlan Ellison


Well today I’m going to put the writing is work theory to the test. I’m as far from inspired as you can be. There’s not a creative idea percolating in my body. The reason is my job today is supervising movers. Not quite but close to as an unglamorous, uninspiring way to spend day as you can find.

Most of my conversations today went something like this:

“That desk goes. That table goes. Those filing cabinets go. Etc.”

When we got to the new place the conversations went like this:

“That goes in the third office on the left. No, that’s not where that goes” but all the movers heard was “blah, blah, blah”

Can’t you just feel the energy and inspiration swirling around me? Now I know why Hemingway drank so much.

Let’s talk about Brother Hemingway. It’s my opinion he, Mark Twain, Harper Lee, and John Steinbeck are the Mount Rushmore of American writers. (Sure John Grishman may have sold more books than all of them combined, but great writers are seldom given their due while they’re still breathing fresh air). And even Hemingway says, “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.” Ernest Freaking Hemingway admits he wasn’t born with the ability to write. Instead of descending into a fit of false modesty, I’m going to boldly declare if Papa Hemingway learned how to write, I can too.

Let me be clear that’s a declaration I could not and would not have made before I began the 500 words a day discipline. Writing 500 words a day has opened my eyes to the fact that writing is just about work. No different than hauling hay, picking peaches or any of the other manual labor I’ve done through the years. The only real benefit to being a writer is you can choose to do it in the air conditioning. But that’s it. Hauling hay was all about putting one foot in front of the other to get through a 12 hour day in the middle of July in Alabama, while writing is putting one letter in front of another. It’s all about the grind.

So that’s 529 words I wrote when I was the opposite of inspired, that means the writing muscle continues to develop.


Hemingway Had to Learn How to Write

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