I derive true, voyeuristic pleasure from reading about other writers’ processes. Their doubts, anxieties, elations, and musings are at once comforting, frightening, affirming.
For today’s warm up, I return to A Moveable Feast, where Hemingway invites us to watch him write. For a moment, let me take you to his warm, Parisian cafe in winter, then we’ll resurface and find connections.
“I was writing about up in Michigan and since it was a wild, cold, blowing day it was the sort of day in the story.” (17)
Hemingway goes on to say that he writes better about places and times once he’s removed from them. He mentions the boys’ drinking in the story that makes him thirsty. He continues with his observations of a woman entering the cafe.
“…she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere… I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now...” (18-19)
He mentions the moment when the story crosses from writing itself to him being in control of it. When he finishes, he says this:
“After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day.” (18)
Hemingway teaches much with just a few lines, though there are many contradictions and points to ponder. He says it’s easier to write about something when he’s away from it, but then uses the weather of the day and his thirst in the story. He talks about the story writing itself when he’s distracted, but when he gets lost in it, he assumes control of it–which runs contrary to what one would think. He finishes with his certainty that it’s a good story, followed by an acknowledgment that it may not be. He perfectly captures the dance involved in writing–present to past, experience to memory, confidence to doubt. It’s his vulnerability revealed through contradiction that makes him appealing.
This week, I’ll try to be aware of my relationship to the text. I’ll try to write from memory and from concurrent experience, and see which style best suits my voice. I’ll be mindful of my process, and when I’m most productive.
Writers, I’d love to hear your process. Do you write in public, private, or both? Do you write from current experience or memory? How long do you let your writing sit before you revise it?
Readers, do you assume what you’re reading is a result of the author’s direct experience (barring fantasy, of course), and do you judge the writer for it?