Sharing the morning with Hemingway, Heinlein

“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.” Hemingway in his Paris Review interview with George Plimpton.

There was a short period of time a few years ago when I woke up every morning an hour early to work on my memoir. There was another blessed period when I timed myself for 15 minutes daily and forced myself to write for at least that long (typically longer). The timed writing happened mostly in the evening. Both periods were very rewarding. I invariably feel better about my life and my future when I take the time to write. I like Hemingway’s notion of slowly warming to your work first thing in the morning. Proceeding from dream mind to creative mind to immersed mind with the new day. I might start slow and just wake up 15 minutes earlier than planned to work on new writing this week.

I’m also newly fascinated with Heinlein’s five rules for writing. There’s a lot of coverage of these rules, embracing or discrediting aspects of them. But the simplicity is alluring:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

1-5: Each and every one of these steps is a huge leap, a major requirement, and has a ton of embedded assumptions.

1. Obviously, writing is a requirement of writing. It’s a verb, it requires action. I’m trying to be more deliberate about making time.

2. Action is nice. Completed action is better. Finishing. Finishing is one of many things I struggle with. I try to balance out Stephen King’s advice to let a completed work lie fallow for a period of time before you take it up again with another reported quote by Hemingway I keep around to keep me going: ““Write every day and finish what you start.”  Should I keep at it until I’m done, or give it time to rest? I have done both. Each approach has its frustrations.

3. Refrain from rewriting–that’s assuming my story works. That’s assuming I’ve found a satisfying tone, structure, plot, narrator and dialogue. That’s assuming my metaphors are doing good work. I think it’s a “refrain from tinkering once you have reached the end.” Reaching the end is another matter.

4. Put to market–this is great advice–but it’s totally insufficient to the reality. I’ve just started becoming a little bit better about sending stories out to editors. I have a lovely compilation of rejections, and a (very) small number of acceptances. But my rejections are getting perkier. They’re trickling in slowly, and slowly getting more positive. Editors are letting me know my work is making final editorial rounds, and I’m being encouraged to resubmit in the future. I must be maturing as an author. I’m just not quite ripe fruit yet. At least I have a notion of forward movement–reasons to keep at it. While very few publishers provide feedback, occasionally I get lucky and an editor provides interesting insights that help me with my rewrite.

5. Keep the work on the market until published/sold–I see each round of submissions/rejections as a new opportunity to edit.  My work does get better with each iteration.

Lessons percolating. I think Hemingway, besides being a brilliant (and sexist) author, had the leisure of writing in another age. There were probably fewer aspiring writers sending out their submissions, and there wasn’t Submittable to power instant gratification for those seeking to submit, or the New Yorker’s online submissions option. Mixed blessings, all. I feel for the editors wading through the oceans of random submissions by writers of all stripes and levels of proofreading, let alone writing, ability.

Even as I work to re-master disciplined daily writing, I’m going to remind myself that there is an end goal. I need not only to write, not only to finish, but to publish, and that specific quest has its own set of hazards and opportunities–more on that later.

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