Saturday, 5 December 2009

Ernest Hemingway: Writing in Pencil

I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write... A girl came in the cafe and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin... I watched the girl whenever I looked up, or when I sharpened the pencil with a pencil sharpener with the shavings curling into the saucer under my drink. I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.
 From Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, 1964

Like John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway's favorite writing instrument was the pencil. When he started on a project, writes Bruccoli, he always began with a pencil, filling an onion-skin typewriter paper with handwriting which as years went by became "larger, more boyish, with paucity of punctuation, very few capitals, and often the period marked with an x." Only when the writing became easier, for instance, when he was writing dialogue did he shift to the typewriter. But writing didn't come easy with Hemingway.

You know that fiction, prose, rather, is possibly the roughest trade of all in writing. You do not have the reference, the old important reference. You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true,
he wrote to Berenson. Hemingway wrote in shorthand at a tiny desk with a stubby pencil. "And every page is a tremendous effort. For writing doesn't come easy with Hemingway."

Ernest Hemingway, 1939

Although he did use the typewriter, the pencil remained for Ernest Hemingway the preferred writing instrument, a conductor of feeling, place and emotion to the reader. There is a permanency in a typewritten text, a rigidity, something that yields reluctantly to revision. But a pencil-written text keeps the writing "fluid longer so that you can better it easier", writes Hemingway On Writing:
After you learn to write, your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil, you get three different sights at it... First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it... It also keeps it fluid longer so that you can better it easier".

Ernest Hemingway writing in Kenya. Photo Bobster855

Sources: Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, 1964; Christopher Knight, The patient particulars: American modernism and the technique of originality, Bucknell U. Press 1995; Matthew Joseph Bruccoli, Conversations with Ernest Hemingway, U. Press Mississipi 1986; Ernest Hemingway and Larry Philips, On Writing, Pocket Books 1999.

Perhaps as Mont Blanc has produced an Ernest Hemingway fountain pen as part of its Writers Edition, a pencil manufacturer should have produced an Ernest Hemingway disposable pencil.

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