Friday, March 14, 2014

Writing Words, Writing Code, Hemingway Style

One thing that motivates me to write is reading great writing. Whether I'm writing words or writing code, the ability to capture an idea and write it in an impactful way is powerful.

Hemingway – much like Apple – knew how to pare away the cruft to get to the heart of the experience.

When I first began writing fiction I read Hemingway's short stories for inspiration. The first one I read was The Snows of Kilimanjaro where he vividly described a scene without explaining the details.

...he and the British observer had run too until his lungs ached and his mouth was full of the taste of pennies...

This description hit me like a ton of bricks. In this single sentence I understood Hemingway's writing style. When someone's shooting at you the adrenaline deep in your throat tastes exactly like copper pennies. Hemingway had seen combat – he knew what adrenaline tasted like – so there's no need for him to explain it.

The West Wing: "You tasted something bitter in your mouth.
It was the adrenaline. The bitter taste was the adrenaline."
A reference to the bitter taste of adrenaline is also seen in an episode of The West Wing. Josh Lyman is in denial about his PTSD after being shot. A Yo Yo Ma performance triggers a PTSD episode and a psychologist jump starts Josh's counseling session by telling him about the bitter taste.

Hemingway left out details which pulls in the reader rather than shuts them out. That's hard to do. And Hemingway knew exactly what he was doing which he described in his essay, The Art of the Short Story:

A few things I have found to be true. If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless. The test of any story is how very good the stuff that you, not your editors, omit.

Writing workshop

It's pure chance I came across Joyce Maynard's writing workshop, last spring, that lead me to her home in Mill Valley to work on my writing. There's nothing better than being taught by a woman who's earned her living as a writer her entire adult life. I'm writing this piece, today, because, yesterday, she pointed out that even the best writers have to handle rejection. And it's through Joyce I feel a connection to Hemingway since she lived with J.D. Salinger and Salinger met with Hemingway during WW II.

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