I love me some Ernest. Okay, sure, there’s the philandering and the alcoholism, the excessive machismo and animal slaughter, (special condolences to the bulls of Spain, the elephants of Africa and the marlins in the Gulf Stream. Though, on balance, he did seem to quite adore his kitty cats.) But then there is the writing, and that’s the only reason we care about any of the rest of it.
I’ve been a fan ever since, at my father’s recommendation, I first read FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. From there I moved on to THE SUN ALSO RISES, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, A MOVEABLE FEAST, the heartbreakingly brilliant THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, and assorted short stories and related books on him including PAPA: HEMINGWAY IN KEY WEST, and a memoir written by his long-time editor, A.E. Hotchner.
I’ve visited his beautiful home in Key West and stood in bemused awe at the sight of his desk. On it lay a giant fishing reel, his typewriter, and a lazy tortoiseshell cat snoozing peacefully in the letter box, as though the old man had only just stepped out for a swim and would be back momentarily. I am, as I say, something of a fangirl. So, I was quite excited when I happened across a collection of articles he wrote while working as a reporter, some before his great fame as a novelist, and some after, entitled “BYLINE: ERNEST HEMINGWAY”.
The attached essay is from this book and was written for Esquire magazine in 1935, (when Hemingway was thirty-six). It details the writing advice that Hemingway gave to a young man who’d hitchhiked from Minnesota down to Key West, and shown up on his doorstep claiming he wanted to be a writer. Hemingway gave the kid a job as night watchman on his boat, the Pilar, and was from then on pestered endlessly about what he calls, “the practice of letters”. What I particularly love about this piece is not only its slightly jaundiced yet still good-natured wit, but also that the writing advice is real and good and honest. It might not be about screenwriting, per se, but the knowledge imparted, particularly toward the end about paying attention, is valuable for any writer, or for that matter for any human being.