Hemingway, Refugees, and Writing with Emotion

In 1922, Hemingway was in Greece reporting for the Toronto Star on the evacuation of Thrace and the refugee crisis that followed. He used some of his memories and notes from the trip as material for In Our Time, his first collection of short stories.

 

Hemingway’s war reporting appears in italics between his stories. These vignettes put his journalistic roots  on display, they show his early attempts to paint with words (he was a big Cezanne guy),  and they remind the reader that his fiction is drawn from life.  

 

For a writer, these scenes give a great example of how to craft emotionally charged prose without heavy, emotional language. Take a look:

 

Minarets stuck up in the rain out of Adrianople across the mud flats. The carts were jammed for thirty miles along the Karagatch road. Water buffalo and cattle were hauling carts through the mud. There was no end and no beginning. Just carts loaded with everything they owned. The old men and women, soaked through, walked along keeping the cattle mov­ing. The Maritza was running yellow almost up to the bridge. Carts were jammed solid on the bridge with camels bobbing along through them. Greek cavalry herded along the procession. The women and children were in the carts, crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bun­dles. There was a woman having a baby with a young girl holding a blanket over her and cry­ing. Scared sick looking at it. It rained all through the evacuation.

 

There’s not an adverb to in sight, and it would be hard to find a word that doesn’t pull its weight here.  He lets the images speak for themselves rather than muting them with emotional redundancy. He doesn’t have to tell us that these  people are hopeless or miserable, he shows us “carts loaded with everything they owned” and “old men and women soaked through. He reminds us of the scale of the tragedy which has “no beginning and no end.”   Instead of saying the  scene was scary or sickening, he gives us the jotted fragment “scared sick looking at it.”

 

That last line–“It rained all through the evacuation”– comes last for a reason. Suppose he had lead with the weather “It was raining as…” or mentioned it in passing “Just carts loaded with everything they owned out in the rain,” it just wouldn’t have the same power. Besides, we kind of already know it’s raining or has been raining: the river is almost up to the bridge, it’s muddy, and the old people are soaked through. By saving this detail for last, he gives it the power to devastate. On top of all the hardship and suffering he describes, as if these people haven’t suffered enough: It’s raining.

Norman Mailer on Trolls and Critics

The Spooky Art, Norman Mailer’s book on the art and business of writing, is a lost classic of the writing advice genre. Like Mailer himself, it’s brilliant, frustrating, and full of fist-fighting analogies.


What’s cool about this title is that it was written for working writers and advanced amateurs. You won’t find much in the way of plotting advice or grammar pointers, but you will learn  how to deal with unreasonable movie execs and how to handle potential pitfalls in the writing life, even outdated ones like Seconal addiction.

 

Mailer has a lot to say about facing criticism. He hated critics and often times the feeling was mutual. However, he accepted that criticism is inevitable in the writing game. As he saw it, the only way to write another book after your last one was eviscerated by the rabble is to develop a thick skin.

“Every good author who manages to forage a long career must be able to build a character that will not be unhinged by a bad reception. That takes art.”

 

The Spooky Art was published in 2003, a few years before internet trolling came into its own. But these lines could apply as easily to a hostile comment as a bad review:

 

“(A writer) Must learn to live with the bruises left by comments on his work.”

 

And if the moral high road isn’t satisfying enough for you, Mailer goes on to offer advice–from personal experience–on how to physically intimidate a reviewer at a book party without actually throwing a punch.

Image: the Daily Mail

 

What do you Need?

One way to deal with procrastination is to bargain with it. When you get stuck, stop and ask yourself, “Self, what do you need?”

Typically, your demands aren’t too outrageous: maybe you need a walk, or a run, or you need to punch something (protip: punching bags are better than walls.) It could be that you need to get some mindless browsing out of your system, in which case you might want to set a timer. If you need a nap, take a nap. If you need coffee, brew some.

Give yourself whatever you need; then, get back to work.

I’m writing this while reclining in a chair because I was getting nowhere at my desk. That may not sound like a big deal, but it’s the difference between getting a post done and studying the walls while fighting the urge to get online.

In other words, be kind to yourself.

 

How to Practice Public Accountability

The flipside of the public over-share is public accountability. Here are a few ways a writer can do it:

  • Commit to a regular blogging practice. (emphasis on regular)
  • Uses Twitter and Instagram to show yourself showing up.  ( I recently posted a video of me starting my morning pages at 5:15AM)
  • Post a screenshot of your word-count
  • Write/ post a serialized story
  • Do a  Live event on Facebook. (Accountability in realtime)
  • Tweet that you’ve completed your journaling for the day (no need to share your journal.)
  • Do NANOWRIMO (even if you don’t follow their rules exactly.)
  • Post weird statistics about your tools and supplies (Steinbeck went through 300 pencils writing East of Eden.)