13 Writing Lessons
I was eighteen, and papa was paying for my food, lodging, and schooling. There were still times when we could talk. I was in my last year of prep school , thinking about college, and about what would come next.
It doesn't really matter what you do as long as you do something that really interests you, Gig, "he said. "Something that you think is worthwhile and productive. And a lot of things are worthwhile, even though some narrow-minded man will say otherwise. And don't worry about money-if you're a failure at bird watching, I'll support you! Have you thought much about what you'd really like to do?"
Actually, I had thought a lot. I'd had good grades in prep school, could get into almost any college I wanted to, and had the brains for law or medicine. But I hated most lawyers, thought they were sharpies and crooks , while medicine seemed too dull, too staid. What I really wanted to be was a Hemingway hero.
But what the hell was a Hemingway hero? I could analyze all his novels, but by far the simplest explanation was that a Hemingway hero was Hemingway himself, or the better parts of him. Still, to support yourself while doing all the exciting things that allowed you to exhibit grace under pressure , you had to be able to write about them. The passport to this glamorous life was talent, which was God given, and a knowledge of the mechanics of writing, which could be taught. I decided to become a writer. I make light of it now but I was dead serious then.
Papa, what books influenced you most when you were a boy? I asked him one vacation in Havana.
Papa seemed delighted by my question. He gave me a list of books to read, and my apprenticeship began.
That summer in Havana I read papa's favorites, from Huckleberry Finn to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: like him, I sometimes had two or three books going at the same time. Then papa steered me to the short story masters, Maupassant and Chekhov . "Don't try to analyze-just relax and enjoy them."
Now, papa said one morning. "Try writing a short story yourself.And don't expect it to be any good."
I sat down at a table with one of papa's fine pointed pencils and thought and thought. I looked out of the window, and listened to the birds, to a cat crying to join them; and to the scratch of my pencil, doodling. I let the cat out. Another wanted in.
I went to papa's typewriter. He'd finished with it for the day. Slowly I typed out a story and then took it to him.
Papa put his glasses on, poured himself another drink, and read, as I waited. He finished it and looked up at me.
It's excellent, Gig. Much better than anything I could do at your age. Only change I'd make is here, and he pointed to the line about a bird falling from its nest and finding, miraculously, that if it flapped its wings, it wouldn't crash on the rocks below.
You've written ... 'All of a sudden he realized he could fly'. Change 'all of a sudden' to 'suddenly'. Never use more words than you have to-it detracts from the flow of action. Papa smiled. I hadn't seen him smile at" me like that for a long time. "But you've won the lottery , pal. Writing takes study, discipline, and imagination. You've shown me with this that you have the imagination. And if you can do it once, you can do it a thousand times. Imagination doesn't leave you for a long time, maybe never. Dostoyevsky was fifty-seven when he wrote Crime and Punishment".
“你是这样写的：‘突然之间它发现自己可以飞了’。你把‘突然之间(all of a sudden)’改成‘突然(suddenly)’吧！永远别写多余的话，那会影响动作的连续性。”爸爸微笑着。我好久没有见过爸爸这样对我笑了。“但你得奖了，小伙子。写作需要钻研，需要训练，需要想象力。从这篇小说看来你有想象力。你写一次有想象力，那么写一千次也会有想象力。想象力不会轻易离开你，也许永远不会离开你。陀思妥耶夫斯基57岁才写《罪与罚》。”
Only once before can I remember papa being as pleased with me- when I tied for the pigeon shooting championship. And he was confident that there was another winner in the family when I entered the short story for a school competition and won first prize.
Turgenev should have won the prize. He wrote the story. I merely copied it, changing the setting and the names, from a book I assumed papa hadn't read because some of the pages were still stuck together.
I didn't feel like a winner and wondered how long it would be before papa found out that the only creative contribution I had made to the story was to alter "suddenly" to "all of a sudden."
Fortunately I wasn't around when papa discovered my plagiarism . It got back to me that someone asked him if his son Gregory wrote. "Yes," he replied, with gusto and sparkle , flashing that "say cheese" smile he sometimes affected. "Gregory writes an occasional bad check ." And, of course, everyone laughed.
Someone in that crowd might have thought, "What a brutal bastard to make such a callous wisecrack about his son. I guess all those stories I've heard about him being a hard shelled bully are true."
Hard shelled, yes, but I helped make that shell.
(By G. Hemingway )