I’m working my way through Ken Burn’s in-depth documentary on Ernest Hemingway.
Before he became a famous writer, Hemingway was just a young father, living cheaply in Paris, who often struggled to find the time and place to write.
He had friends popping over at all times of the night, and he was forced to find tiny pockets here and there to work on his short stories.
And yet, day after day, he won this battle with The Resistance, and created:
Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before, and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
So finally I would write one true sentence and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or heard someone say.
If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true, simple declarative sentence I had written and then go on from there.”Ernest Hemingway, “A Moveable Feast”
As I’ve shared in my article about Seinfeld’s work ethic around comedy, and beautifully explained in author Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, being creative is mostly about just showing up every day, planting your ass in the seat, and finding comfort in the uncomfortableness of filling in a blank page.
What’s often mistaken for creative genius is usually a few decades of hard fought consistency, studying, and micro-improvements. Hemingway wrote 47 different endings for A Farewell to Arms before finding one he was happy with.
And this is where his genius lies: the process and the craft.
Hemingway studied the greats like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. He honed his craft by surrounding himself with writers and artists and creative people.
And day after day, night after night…
He would write the truest sentence he knew.