Ernest Miller Hemingway was born in 1899 in a suburb of Chicago. He cut his writing teeth on articles for his school magazine and on leaving school started his career by working for a local newspaper as a reporter.
He spent time in Italy during WWI and was seriously wounded, spending 6 months in a hospital in Milan. He then moved to Paris and started to mix with writers such as James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, who became his mentor.
Initially, Hemingway published short stories but when he met and became friends with F Scott Fitzgerald (who had just published The Great Gatsby) he decided that his next book had to be a novel. That novel, The Sun Also Rises took him 8 weeks to write the first draft and was published in 1926. After subsequent publication of such famous works as A Farewell To Arms and For Whom The Bell Tolls, in 1954 he received The Nobel Prize for Literature.
Much has been written over the years on the quality of Hemingway’s work, who’s themes were mainly of war, love and loss. Writers today are still trying to emulate him but the New York Times once said that he was “a writer by a combination of great emotional power and a highly individual style that could be parodied but never successfully imitated.”
Hemingway died at the age of 61, the victim of a tragic accident was the story at the time, but 5 years later his wife admitted that he had actually committed suicide.
My favourite Hemingway quotes:
“All I want to do is write well.”
Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.”
“The first draft of anything is shit”
“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”
“Never write about a place until you’re away from it, because that gives you perspective”
Hemingway’s Nobel Prize Acceptance speech
So I think it is safe to say that Hemingway is considered to be one of the world greats and that most writers would sell their souls to write like him. But he obviously didn’t find it easy. It sounds to me like he was a bit of a perfectionist. One page, 39 times? WOW! But where do you draw the line? When do you know you’ve edited, rewritten and tinkered enough? Have you, would you, rewrite a page 39 times? Or do you consider that obsessive?