So you can read my books

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


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

Papa here again.

Your gracious comments on my post of yesterday are very gratifying. But you've come here to learn a bit more about writing and not to listen to my thanks. So without further preamble here is my next post :


Secret #1 :
There aren't any secrets.

Secret #2 :
There is only one secret :

The only secret to good writing is that it is poetry written into prose, and it is the hardest of all things to do.

But I will try to see if I can't share a bit of what I've learned. We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

And if you are reading this at night, it will mean something different than if you are reading this in the day. I know the night is not the same as the day:

that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day,

because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started.

There are no secrets to good writing. But there is a compass :

No sentimentality allowed.

There is no sentimentality in prose that touches the heart.

Sounds like nonsense. It isn't.

Sentimentality, sympathy, and empathy are turned inwards, not restrained, but vibrant below and beyond the level of fact and fable.

If you would touch your reader, find what gave you a similar emotion :

what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling as you had.

No secrets. No sentimentality. Yet, there are rules :

Rule #1
Writing is re-writing.

The first draft of anything is shit. Get the draft done, then sculpt away anything that is excess.

Rule #2
In fiction as in life : you can't go back.

The reason most sequels, films or books, fail is that the author tries to unscramble the egg. The hero has changed, has learned, has become something other.

Rule #3

Good books belong to the reader.

The reader will identify with your protagonist if you've been honest.

The tale then belongs to him : the good and the bad, the ecstasy and the remorse and the sorrow. He will have felt the air on his cheek, smelled the bread baking on the breeze, and how the weather was.

He will feel that it has happened to him.

Rule #4
Talent is not enough.

It doesn't matter if you have the talent of Kipling. You must also have the discipline of Flaubert if you would become a good writer. Dreamers dream pipe dreams. Writers write. Writers grow in their craft.

Rule #5
Know everything.

No bullshit. And if you would be a writer, you must develop a foolproof shit detector.

A good writer must know everything. Naturally, he will not. That is why you must read.

Mr. King was right when he said that if you do not have time to read, you have no business being a writer.

Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read psychology texts. Read biographies, autobiographies. Become a student of life.

Good writing is true writing.

If a man is making up a story, it will be true in proportion to the amount of knowledge he has about life and how conscientious he is :

so that when he makes something up, it is as it would truly be.

Sit down and think about what I've written. Look over what you last wrote. Slash and burn what is excess.

Sermon over. Now, sit down and write something.

Oh, one last thought : Roland who?
I like Jesse Cook. Don't cock those eyes at me. An old ghost can like new music. Jesse would have developed a real following in pre-Castro Cuba :


  1. Sound advice here Roland, but I'm wary of absolutes.

    As for the re-writes,I say, beware of too much paring back. Sometimes first drafts are not entirely shit.

    They might need tweaking but the danger of too much tweaking is that you can lose the energy that first erupted on the page. That said, I'm with you as regards the need to read and re-read, your own stuff and that of others. Thanks.

  2. Elisabeth : This is Hemingway speaking here. Those words were direct quotes from other of my writings. I am a man of absolutes. I also won a Pulitzer Prize. Maybe my absolutes are not so wrong. Roland would chastise me for my absolutes. In my eyes he is soft.

  3. What a fantastic post! I loved it! Thank-you!

  4. Thanks for stopping by with your comments. I'll check out that series. I've read, and reread Shelley and Stoker; recently enjoyed "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova. I suppose I was musing about reading the vampire series much as I'm still eyeing the Harry Potter books on my shelf that remain unopened.

    I'm pleased to be led to your blog.


  5. Papa-this is fantastic advice and I thank you for it. I will strive to keep it in mind as I work on my MS (hopefully this week-extreme busyness this week). BTW: are you so small a man that you cannot concede defeat?

    (Arguing with, and baiting this ghost is fun!)

  6. I've come across passages where there is no sentimentality, and it's true that it's better than if there WAS emotion. It keeps the shock factor and surprise going if you aren't in the character's mind at certain points.

  7. Thank you, Roland. I am a person of words--I am a lawyer, for crying out loud, so I write for a living and, on my blog and in my journals, I write for my life. But the poetry-to-prose thing. Ah, yes, I recognize it. But doing it is quite another thing...I aspire. C (PS - BTW, I took you up on the Dr. Forward book and have already passed it on to a client. Thnx)

  8. Thanks for channeling Papa, Roland. And congratulations on reaching 500 followers! Talk about milestones. :)

  9. i loved this an idiot like me could understand each i guess the connection with the dumbest reader is established !!! does it make a difference to you !! who makes a difference to me!! i feel like a part of this journey now :) haa..haa...feel uplifted!

  10. I'm going to have to print out your rules and tape them to my computer... (kidding) (well maybe not) ; P

    I've also tagged you on my blog, come check it out!

  11. Roland, you rock!!!!
    I am not a writer but I wish I were, or at least had your determination to learn to write.

  12. Thank you, Papa! Lots of good stuff here!

  13. Papa, you almost distracted me with that amazing guitar work. To hell with the writing lesson, thank you for introducing me to Jesse!

    Too bad you're dead, you were a mighty handsome and sexy man. But I'm pretty sure you know that. One question. If Roland started a second blog for you, would you let him live??

    There is only one secret. There is no secret. Only prose.

    You da man, ~that rebel, Olivia

  14. I was recently in Key West while a Hemingway look-alike contest was going on (no, I wasn’t a contestant). All those Papa wannabes out on the street were rather inspiring and made me want to go home and write. Now that I’ve read your secrets and rules, I’m even more enthused.

  15. This is such a great post. Loved the bit about sentimentality, looking for the action that gives the feeling. Perfect.

  16. So much wisdom in this post, even if I don't agree with all of it. I especially like the day and night observation (it sounds more like Roland) and the action that gave you the emotion.

    Thanks, Papa. Now, where's Roland?

  17. Terry : The night and day observation is almost a word for word quote from Hemingway. He was more of an empathic writer than he likes to let on. He just put out the stub of his smoking cigar on the back of my hand!

  18. Thanks, this is really interesting, in fact I think I'll have to come back to it several times to re-read it

  19. Wow!!! You are just amazing Mr H!!

    Oh btw, Roland is Marlene's Liebling. Nuff said!

    take care

  20. Awesome rules. My favorite:

    "The first draft of anything is shit. Get the draft done, then sculpt away anything that is excess."

    I would never write anything if I didn't firmly believe this.

  21. Ah, Papa, wish I'd known you… C'est la vie. I thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  22. This is such a great post that it is going to take me a bit of time to digest it. I love the part about writing being re-writing, that is so true!

  23. Wow, I agree with all of the above.

    And night's dusky wings flutter and fall to begin the magic hours. And I am never alone as long as I have myself.

  24. Nicole : That last was quite beautiful and poetic. All my other friends, I am just dragging in from 233 miles of blood runs. I thank you all. Your kind comments mean so much to me. Roland