Ernest Hemingway’s Writing Advice to F. Scott. Fitzgerald

Writing is hard, even the best writers encounter roadblocks and question the quality of their work. So in 1934 when F. Scott Fitzgerald needed honest feedback, he turned to his old and trustworthy friend, Ernest Hemingway.

Fitzgerald had just published “Tender is the Night” and wanted Hemingway’s opinion on the book–Hemingway did not hold back and the brutal honesty of his advice remains invaluable for all writers.

The book “Letters of Note” shares Hemingway’s response.

Here are a few fantastic quotes from his letter:

I liked it and I didn’t...If you take real people and write about them you cannot give them other parents than they have (they are made by their parents and what happens to them) you cannot make them do anything they would not do.
Invention is the finest thing but you cannot invent anything that would not actually happen. That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best–make it all up–but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.
That’s what dries a writer up (we all dry up. That’s no insult to you in person) not listening...You see well enough. But you stop listening. It’s a lot better than I say. But it’s not as good as you can do.

As the letter goes on, Hemingway advice gets even better:

For Christ sake write and don’t worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.
Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it–don’t cheat it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist–but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.
You’re not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write.
But Scott, good writers always come back. Always. You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvelous...You can write twice as well now as you ever could.
All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is. Go on and write.

Hemingway may have written this letter over 80 years ago but his advice, just like his books, are remain indispensable.

If you’re interested in reading the full letter or reading about more letters from a wide-range of authors, you can get the book “Letters of Note” here.

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