It was 1922, and a 23-year-old Ernest Hemingway had just experienced one of the most devastating blows to his writing career.
A blow so devastating that he did not think he could ever write fiction again.
In fact, he seriously considered giving up on his dreams of becoming a famous novelist.
But eventually something within him drove him back to his typewriter.
He kept writing.
Four years later, he had completed The Sun Also Rises, and over thirty years later, he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Are there obstacles, interruptions, and distractions threatening to sabotage your writing goals in the New Year? Here’s what Hemingway can teach us about remaining dedicated to our craft even when life seems set on undermining our plans.
The Disaster that Nearly Destroyed Hemingway’s Career
In 1922, Hemingway was living in Paris, working as a journalist, and struggling to have his short stories published.
On one of his newspaper assignments, he traveled to Lausanne, Switzerland to cover an international conference.
He told his wife Hadley to meet him in Switzerland so they could enjoy a skiing vacation together.
She decided to surprise him by bringing his short stories with her so he could work on them during the vacation.
Foolishly, she packed a suitcase with not only the originals, but also the typescripts and the carbons. That meant that Hemingway’s nearly entire lifework was in that one suitcase.
While waiting for her train to leave the Gare de Lyon station, Hadley left the suitcase unattended.
When she returned, the suitcase was gone.
In his memoir A Moveable Feast, Hemingway recounts his conversation with Hadley:
She had cried and cried and could not tell me. I told her that no matter what the dreadful thing was that had happened nothing could be that bad, and whatever it was, it was all right and not to worry.
We would work it out.
Then, finally, she told me. I was sure she could not have brought the carbons too and I hired someone to cover for me on my newspaper job.
I was making good money then at journalism, and took the train for Paris.
It was true all right and I remember what I did in the night after I let myself into the flat and found it was true.
Of all of his work up until that point, only two stories remained: one that Hemingway had sent out to an editor and was currently in the mail, and another that Gertrude Stein had disliked and Hemingway had locked away in a drawer.
Everything else (short stories, papers, an unfinished novel) was gone. It was every writer’s worst nightmare.
Hemingway admits, “It was a bad time, and I did not think I could write any more then.”
After all, why should he continue writing fiction?
His stories hadn’t been selling.
He was making more money as a journalist.
All of his work was gone.
There was no assurance of future success.
Hemingway had an arsenal of seemingly valid excuses he could have used. And, yet, he didn’t let a cruel twist of fate have the final say.
The Conversation That Motivated Hemingway to Keep Writing
We have one of Hemingway’s friends, a man named O’Brien, to thank for Hemingway picking up the pen once again.
One day Hemingway showed him one of his two surviving stories.
Hemingway notes that it was “as a curiosity, as you might show, stupidly, the binnacle of a ship you had lost in some incredible way, or as you might pick up your booted foot and make some joke about it if it had been amputated after a crash.”
When his friend read the story, Hemingway noticed,
He was hurt far more than I was…so I told O’Brien not to feel so bad. It was probably good for me to lose early work and I told him all that stuff you feed the troops.
I was going to start writing stories again I said and, as I said it, only trying to lie so that he would not feel so bad, I knew that it was true.
When Hemingway realized that his friend was more hurt than he was, Hemingway knew that he needed to continue writing.
He recognized that writing wasn’t only about him exercising his creative muscle or seeking to become a famous author.
It was most importantly about his readers.
It was about him having the opportunity to share his experiences with others.
Hemingway says it best himself:
All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.
That last sentence is key.
Writing is about giving.
It is about crafting words that will entertain and teach and encourage your readers.
And that is what we must remember when the going gets tough.
When Hemingway faced tremendous obstacles, he refused to give in.
He knew that we cannot predict what the future will bring. We do not know who our words will inspire.
A Writing Resolution for 2016
Writing is a difficult art.
Maybe you suffer from writer’s block. Maybe the words aren’t flowing like you would like them to.
Maybe you can’t find the time to write. Maybe the phone rings or someone interrupts you as soon as you do find the time.
Maybe your computer crashes just as you are about to hit save on the rough draft of your next blog post.
Who better than Hemingway to understand this?
“There is no rule on how to write,” he once observed. “Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”
So let’s make a writing resolution for this new year.
Let’s resolve to try to write everyday even when life throws us curveballs.
And on those days when our writing is beset by difficulties, to never give up. To not become discouraged if we miss a day.
To keep writing and seeking to develop our God-given talents with the expectation that there is someone out there who needs to hear our words.
What will you write today? If you enjoyed this post, leave a comment below and share with someone you would like to inspire.