I've been reading and re-reading Hemingway lately, partly because I'm just enjoying his style, but partly because I'm hoping to learn, through osmosis, the art of writing while pleasantly pissed. Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck in this pursuit. I've tried varying the type of alcohol, speeding up or slowing down the pace of consumption . . . but the result is usually the same: crap. So I guess I'm doomed to be a sober writer. And while I suppose that's a noble thing to be, it's definitely not as fun, and makes it all the more necessary to be profoundly intoxicated while not writing.
Anyway, I'm currently involved in A Moveable Feast
, Hemingway's personal account of his early years in Paris, struggling to make it as a writer. There are a number of passages where he discusses the craft of writing. This one, I think is particularly good:
It was wonderful to walk down the long flights of stairs knowing that I'd had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. 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 I knew or had seen or had 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.
I think what Hemingway is mainly referring to here is getting past that point where style begins to stand in the way of content. But I also think he's speaking to how discovering the true content can actually give way to style. Good writing—hell, good anything
—involves starting with that one true thing
. That spark. A feeling, an emotion: bare-skinned and honest. And when you've found that, the rest falls into place. The style, to a certain degree, is secondary. It will unfold around that initial thrust. People are good at recognizing the non-true. People are good at recognizing bullshit
. It'll show.
But writing something true—something that rings true
—does not necessarily mean writing the truth
. One of Hemingway's biographers (and friends) A.E. Hotchner writes in the 1999 preface to Papa Hemingway
, "Part of the mystique about Ernest stems from the manner in which he blurred the demarcation between fiction and fact." He adds that Hemingway once remarked that "Fiction is a magnification of reality." And this is particularly interesting in the context of A Moveable Feast
since it is something of a memoir.
So I've been thinking lately about these ideas of truth and fiction and how they relate to blogs. To my blog, in particular of course (because it is, after all, all about me, isn't it?) But also to all "personal blogs." Because people kind of have a different standard for these, don't they? They expect them to be . . . the truth. And people tend to get very upset when this does not turn out to be the case. I sat in on a panel at SXSW last March about fictional blogs
. The subject was interesting, though the panel itself was way too short. There was one panelist who had maintained a fictional blog for several years and there was a good discussion revolving around how readers of that blog had felt "duped" when they found out the blog was "not real." Because these readers had related to the narrator and had come to see her as a real person. But my take is this: these people were "duped" because they allowed themselves to be duped. It doesn't change the fact that when these people read the blog it spoke to them on some level. And I think it was that "speaking-to," that conversation
, that is what was true. Without it, the blog wouldn't have held their attention. And if they had known that the blog was fiction to begin with, would it have struck them in the same way?
Despite the fact that this blog—my blog—is named after a fictional character, I am not a "fictional blogger." That said, I'll be the first to admit that there are elements of fiction in almost everything I write here. I don't see any other way of doing it really. What I'm always trying to arrive at, though, is something honest and unaffected, and hopefully those are things that come across independent of "fact" or "fiction." Either way, you must get to the one true sentence
. And that usually involves baring yourself in ways you don't always feel comfortable doing (regardless of the fact that you might be an exhibitionist at heart.) Because sometimes the fear
sets in. A fear of offending, maybe. Or a fear of people not understanding or misinterpreting. And the fear
tends to be stifling when you allow it free reign. Of course, this isn't necessarily a problem unique to somebody who blogs. It's a problem with any form of public self-expression or art. And, holy crap, I worry constantly that I don't have the courage necessary to be a writer.
I have toyed with the idea of writing out-right fiction on this blog. Because in some ways, fiction would open up some new possibilities. But it has just always seemed out of place here. And so I've been tossing around some ideas for a different blog, something more fictional that I can do alongside this one, and hopefully one of these days it will become a reality. (Oops. No pun intended.) But if it does come about one of these days, I don't want it to necessarily be defined by the fact that it's fiction. Because even if it is fiction, it's going to be based in some sort of truth. Because, to be honest, I'm just not that
imaginative . . .
I read a lot of personal blogs. Some of them are written by people who give their "real" faces and names to the Internets. Some are people who prefer to remain anonymous. Some of them are people I know "in real life" others are people I've never met. Some of them are probably entirely "factual" accounts of "real" life. Others probably contain a good deal of fiction. Either way, it doesn't really matter to me. The way I see it, every "true story" has elements of fiction. And any good fiction is filled with elements of truth. The "true thing" —the one true sentence—is what speaks to people. That's what matters. Without it, there's nothing.
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