Old Man

Lesson 94 Chapter 1 Module 9

Welcome to Week 8!

Also known as the last week of our regular lessons.

This week, we’re taking all the foundation and theory and tools we’ve spent the past seven weeks learning to apply them more personally to our own writing, by learning about Voice and Style.

While we’ll still be studying the writing of others, we are going to be looking at writers who are known for their very specific voices and styles in writing.

As you are reading through them, start thinking about your own writing style and unique voice.

Do you have them defined yet? Would you be able to describe them to someone if asked “Would I like your writing?” Do you know how you like to write?

Do you know what you want to say and how you want to say it?

In today’s lesson, we’re starting out with one of the first authors I knew I wanted to study in the course.

Weird how it comes at the end, huh?

Many do not actually like Ernest Hemingway’s writing. I have to be in the right state of mind to read it. That’s no reason to not study him, though, and see what lessons he might be able to teach that will impact your own voice and style.

The impact that Hemingway had on modern literature and writing is one that cannot be overlooked.

His background in writing comes long before he was part of the Lost Generation of American expat writers, living and carousing on Paris’ Left Bank in the 1920’s and 30’s. While many of the writers and artists in his community were trust-fund and “family money” artists, Hemingway was a journalist by trade.

And his beats were not easy lovely editorial essays. He was a foreign correspondent covering wars and political unrest in Europe at the time (for which, between the two World Wars, there was a LOT of opportunity and necessity.) His stories were shipped back to The Toronto Star, and expected to give readers a first person account of what was happening overseas.

So when he started writing novels, coming out of the Victorian and Gothic writing eras that we’ve looked at before (Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), he was swimming in the sea of ornate language and dragging exposition.

With his background in reporting, he couldn’t be bothered with such trivialities (even though it was the style most writers of the era aspired to.)

He wanted to write short, crisp, minimal sentences that told complex and deep stories.

His writing process, which he likened to an iceberg (often now referred to as The Iceberg Theory in courses), was to tell the story of this massive hunk of frozen water by sharing with others only what could be seen floating above the sea.

But he accomplished this by knowing exactly what was beneath the surface as well. Many aspiring and learning writers will claim Hemingway’s style and voice for their desire to write superficial pieces.

He would have been irate to learn that is the legacy that people are taking away from his stories though. (He had a reputation for being a passionate fella.)

Hemingway was known for spending months (if not years) outlining and plotting his novels. He knew things about his characters that he never shared in the actual book; but because he had imagined them and ascribed the experience and influence onto the characters’ actions and mindset, his writing was incredibly thorough.

He did all this background and research, wrote out the novel, and then rewrote and revised and edited and cut maliciously, getting the final draft down to the succinct prose we now read in his finished work.

In today’s excerpt, The Old Man and the Sea, he once said that he rewrote the ending 47 times before landing on the version that was eventually published. It was a book he started thinking about when he first considered writing novel himself in his early 20's, but did not finish and publish it until he was in his early 50's.

Additionally, he worked with the same editor, Maxwell Perkins at Scribner for almost the entirety of his fiction-publishing career. It was the professional relationship of two people who admired each other, challenged each other, but also honored the other’s decisions and opinions about the content and changes.

As you work through this excerpt (in regular and extended versions, depending on how ambitious you are feeling as you dive into this final week), pay attention to how precisely every word fits in a sentence, and consider how much work he must have done to get a first draft honed down to what you are copying today.

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