True or False? Hemingway on Writing

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed” Ernest Hemingway

Almost four months ago, as I was entering my final semester before graduation at my university, I got hired as a full-time writer. However, for someone who has grown up with a romanticized and ephemeral conception of what being a “writer” meant— an idea crafted by movies like The Devil Wears Prada and the common cliché of a tortured soul brooding over a weather-beaten journal in a coffee shop — I never knew exactly what this profession required.

As an English major I know analytical writing and I’ve read the great artists and their masterpieces. I’d taken writing courses and been told by both my parents, many teachers and friends, I had a knack for the craft. Traveling Europe for three months my sophomore year of college I experienced what Wordsworth had described art as being: “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected upon in solitude.” I hold the belief that when you go to Europe, the continent cannot help but gift the observant person a story. It’s as if ghosts of the past whisper in your ear and consequently leave their imprint on the present. When those murmurs are heard, it compels you to write. A blank page is not intimidating when you are moved to describe the glittering lights of the Eiffel tower in Paris, the blanket of fog hiding the streets of London from the threatening sunrise, the buried past of great kings, queens, battles and plagues — the larger than life settings.

Then comes normalcy; the majority of your life. You are not in Europe, but are sitting at a plain black desk surrounded by your co-workers or in your bed; wanting to write something but having no idea where to begin. The blank screen, or page, threatens you. Or rather, you threaten yourself; expecting the first thing through your finger tips to be flawless. If it isn’t, your worst critic — the voice in your head — might say “this writing is trash.” Internally, you argue whether or not to “just get something down on paper,” or appease the coward, “I’ll start tomorrow when my idea is a bit more developed.” Tomorrow turns into the next day, and the next; before you know it, months have gone by.

Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit at a typwriter and bleed.” I beg to differ, though I am no Hemingway and I haven’t written any novels. A writing teacher of mine asked our class to describe one trait that encapsulates a writer: three years ago my word was courage. It still is. To bleed one must be willing to open up their veins. They must take up their knife and dig: dig up the buried bones, expose the tender flesh, and allow others, but mostly themselves, to be completely unmasked. It exorcises the demons of the past. It allows others to criticize your mind and your heart. This is no small feat. Writers must have courage. Courage to look into the mirror of their writing and face themselves, sometimes the worst parts. And courage to allow others to point and say, “you are not perfect,” or “you are wrong.”

Some articles I have written for my job I have nailed and received acclamation for. Other articles have been a party to robust disagreement by teachers and peers; some who I respect immensely. I have been elated and encouraged to keep pushing on: keep doing “what I do best” — write. I have been on the verge of tears and even felt anxious to the point of being sick. But. . . I keep writing. I keep bleeding. This is not merely nothing, it can be a sheer act of will to open those wounds, to keep them raw, knowing they will produce scars — battle wounds to boast of.

Writing is not something you can merely imagine. Writers are not people who carry a blank weather-beaten leather journal and sit at coffee shops waiting for inspiration. Writers are those whose journals are written with blood.


Sabrina is both a full-time and free-lance writer and only one month away from earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in English at The Master’s University.