"All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know." -- Ernest Hemingway
This week my daughter is visiting from Colorado. We drove to the Keys for a few days. A mother and daughter road trip. We both love visiting new places and driving in cars. The weather was spectacular as we crossed the bridges from key to key, blue sky and blue water as far as the eye could see. I was reminded once again of what an amazing country we live in.
One of our destinations was Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West. I was captivated by his office on the second floor of the carriage house. A simple typewriter set on a table near a window with a view of the gardens and pool. An inspiring place to work. Much like the place I am temporarily working at now, for I too have a view of a pool and a garden. It is so many miles from the cubicle I left behind.
A writer's life is enticing. Besides his home in Key West, Hemingway also lived in Idaho, Paris and Cuba. He traveled the world and hung out with other famous writers and artists. He had his very own style of writing and believed less was more. He called it the iceberg theory or the "theory of omission." In 1954, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. I can only dream of reaching such lofty heights.
I thought a lot about Hemingway's style when I was writing my novel, The Reverse Commute. My nephew and I discussed this at great length as he is also a fan of Hemingway's work. He advised me to trust the reader to fill in the blanks. "If you write it well enough, you don't need to clobber the reader over the head," he told me. As one of my beta-readers, he reminded me that by describing one thing I could also be describing something else. I could be expressing an underlying theme of the story. Or as Hemingway put it in Death in the Afternoon:
If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.
There is a scene early on in The Reverse Commute, where one of the main characters, Sophie, backs out of her ramshackle mess of a garage on her way to work one morning. She has just had a fight with her husband Ray.
Waving with a sarcastic smile on her face, she backed out of the garage. She heard a crunching sound but kept backing out into the circular driveway and as she shifted the car into forward she noticed the mangled beach chair she had just driven over. Ray watched her leave, shaking his head at the broken chair and looking overwhelmed.
When I first wrote the scene, Sophie had just knocked the chair over. My nephew read it and exclaimed, "I love the beach chair. It's a symbol of all of Sophie's lost hopes and dreams. Don't just knock the chair over, have her drive right over it. Crush that beach chair." So I did. I crushed the beach chair. And I looked for more things like that as I wrote. I tried to simplify and trust the reader.
I am still working towards one true sentence. I write to make sense of my life and like Hemingway I write what I know. Sophie struggles in her dead-end job in a cubicle while trying to hold onto her marriage amid the pressures of work, family and the difficult times she lives in. A scenario I am all too familiar with. There it is: "If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows."
I am not writing to become rich and famous, although that would be nice. I am writing because I have to put the words on paper. I have to tell my stories. I lie in bed at three in the morning listening to the train passing by as the stories in my mind clamor to get out onto the page. There was a train across the river from my house in New Hampshire and now here in Florida, at my friend's house, there are trains that blow their whistle very loudly several times a night. The train as a symbol. I am working on the meaning of that lonesome whistle in the night.
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