Finding Hemingway

"Don't tell them you had to learn to write. Tell them you were born that way." Ernest Hemingway

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Maya Angelou

Literati,

As our site evolves to be sensitive to the desires of our readership, one new element will be to offer suggestions to help you with your writing.  Here is an excerpt from the eventually-to-be-completed-and-published e-book:  “Editors Edit:  Rubbing Aladdin’s Lamp.”

Getting started

Writing is not about finding your inner child; it is about finding your inner adult.

Kids play in a sandbox. Adult writers play in the desert, usually a sandstorm away from the great Pyramids of Egypt. You are the archeologist of your own unique history, the one buried by trauma or encapsulated by a good life that numbed you to the world around you. You dig until you find your name in the hieroglyphics of a sarcophagus with a facsimile of your face tooled upon it.

According to Lily Tomplin, what separates us from the lower animals is the desire to do drugs.  Before toying with the catnip, consider something else:  Humans communicate with symbols.  There are of course animals that communicate very well with one another, but that is vocal, not verbal. “Don’t mess with my kids or I may end up calling the police.  In fact, I may dispense with you myself as I have a loaded gun in my purse.  And I bite, weigh close to 800 pounds, and my claws are quite sharp. You should be, therefore, afraid of me, and follow my suggestion.  Don’t mess with my kids, or face the consequences.”  A wonderful, declarative statement. Lacking language but having a voice box, a bear can communicate all that with one, mighty, bad-breath roar.

So we humans are at a disadvantage.  What we communicate is generally with words, a translation of feeling and thought and attitude before it even leaves our lips, to be further interpreted by our intended listener or reader. But what we do get in exchange is the element of nuance. The symbols of speech, vocabulary- and the way we string words together, allows us to convey nuance of thought and feeling that as far as we know evades mother bears, rabbits, and orangutans.  We can even coach the reader on how to interpret those words:  He spoke softly/ she answered defiantly.

But still, we can only approximate understanding an author’s intent. Your reader can only approximate your intent.

Here is a simple little exercise, one you may already have tried yourself.  Define “love”.

And then try to find even one other person who defines it as you do.  Get back to me if you find a match.

When you begin to write your story, do not deceive yourself that people will understand you.  The best that you can hope for is that you come close enough in composing the arrangement of words on a page to approximating what you think or feel that your reader can approximate the same feeling.

Describe what your kitchen looks like.  No matter how much detail you include, it will not be the kitchen that your reader sees.  They will translate your words into their own version of kitchen, and that should work for both you and your reader as a perquisite, a setting in which a dialog or action is about to take place. (But use common sense. I had an author who described a kitchen in Asia of fifty years ago.  So no garbage disposals or Waring Blenders.  Instead, clay pots, bok choy, wooden spoons.)

Stainless-steel kitchen sink? Not a lot of room for misinterpretation—and reading is a constant act of interpretation, but now, imagine the difficulty in conveying something abstract, like how you felt when your father died or your daughter was born.  You are counting on your reader to have had a compatible, if not the same experience to be able to grasp the feeling you yourself are trying to convey.

“She was a beautiful woman” will have your reader conjuring up their own prejudices about what constitutes beauty.

And that’s where METAPHOR comes in. More than any other arrow in your quiver, metaphor allows you to offer a concept, a vision, that does not require exactitude, and allows the reader to be a participant in your story, rather than a passive observer, because you are giving them the GIFT of using their own imagination to takeover your story, reducing your role from that of scribe to guide. I could very easily have said “More than any other writer’s device…”  But using metaphor, in this case, arrow in your quiver, gives you the same information, but in a way that is more engaging, less-likely-to-fall-asleep way.

(A quick exercise:  In response to the previous statement, use a metaphor to say “Remember this as you write”.)

Her eyes were        brown, and almond shaped, her lashes long. (factual)

or

Her eyes were        the portal to everything I desired in a woman. (equally factual)

But which sentence is more engaging?

The second sentence allows the reader to fill in the blanks.  What is everything you desire in a woman, that your reader desires in a woman? Portal implies entry.  Entry to what?  Her life? Her pleasures? Her hidden thoughts? Or, let’s go for the cliché: Her soul?

(By the way, it is too contrived for me to try to remain pc, gender-inclusive all the time as I write.  I am male: his/her life, his/her pleasures, his/her soul? Preferring a masseuse to a masseur does not make me massagyinistic).

WHAT? ME WORRY?

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We’ll be posting more stories such as this not only from myself but from our other associate editors and affiliates.  Do come back for visit.  If you have a story to tell, I’d like to hear from you.

2 comments

  1. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Lots of room for different topics here. It would be fun to look at what great writers have said about writing, e.g., he-man, run-with-the-bulls Hemingway: “Writing is the hardest work.” Or tough guy Steinbeck in Travels with Charley, saying the only thing that really scared him was a blank sheet of paper.
    Reading things about writing helps me forget a little about being broke and homeless, but I have been working on my writing, every day.

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