Some Writers Are Only Born to Help Another Writer to Write One Sentence

Ernest Hemingway? Apocryphal?

hemingway12Dear Quote Investigator: Questions about creative influence and artistic appropriation are often fraught with rivalry and controversy. I recall an extreme remark from the prominent writer Ernest Hemingway in which he asserted that the entire purpose of one artist might be to provide a single phrase or sentence to another artist. Is my memory accurate? Is the remark audacious or arrogant? Does this quotation exist?

Quote Investigator: Yes. Beginning in May 1935 “Scribner’s Magazine” serialized Ernest Hemingway’s soon to be published book “Green Hills of Africa”. The work presented an account of the author’s multi-week safari in East Africa together with brief didactic lectures on literature which were woven into the reported conversations. Hemingway discussed American authors and the works he valued as classics. He believed that “a new classic does not bear any resemblance to the classics that have preceded it”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

It can steal from anything that it is better than, anything that is not a classic, all classics do that. Some writers are only born to help another writer to write one sentence. But it cannot derive from or resemble a previous classic.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Some Writers Are Only Born to Help Another Writer to Write One Sentence

Notes:

  1. 1935 May, Scribner’s Magazine, Volume 97, Number 5, Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway, Start Page 257, Quote Page 262, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Verified on paper)

Easy Writing’s Vile Hard Reading

Richard Brinsley Sheridan? Lord Byron? Ernest Hemingway? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There are two complementary and intertwined statements about reading and writing that I would like you to investigate:

1) Easy writing results in hard reading.
2) Easy reading requires hard writing.

Many different phrases have been used to express these two thoughts, and sometimes the phrases are confused with one another. The formulations above were selected to make the two concepts more straightforward. Here is my gloss of the first: If one composes a passage in an easygoing thoughtless manner then the result will be difficult to read. My gloss of the second is: One must work hard to compose a passage that a reader will be able to grasp readily.

Various well-known names have been connected to these adages including: Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Lord Byron, Samuel Johnson, Maya Angelou, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Hood, William Makepeace Thackeray, Ernest Hemingway, and Wallace Stegner. Would you please explore the provenance of these sayings?

Quote Investigator: This entry will focus on the first maxim listed above. A separate entry for the second maxim with the title “Easy Reading Is Hard Writing” is located here.

The prominent Irish poet Richard Brinsley Sheridan composed “Clio’s Protest or, the Picture Varnished” in 1771 and it was distributed in 1772. Sheridan’s name was not listed in the original publication which harshly satirized the efforts of a poetaster. The word “show” was spelled “shew” in the following excerpt: 1

You write with ease, to shew your breeding;
But easy writing’s vile hard reading.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Easy Writing’s Vile Hard Reading

Notes:

  1. Year: 1772 (Date of introductory letter January 26, 1772), Title: The Rival Beauties; A Poetical Contest, Poem Information: Clio’s Protest; Or, The Picture Varnished, Addressed to The Honourable Lady M-rg-r-t F-rd-ce, Start Page: 5, Quote Page: 16, Imprint: London: Printed for W. Griffin, at Garrick’s Head, in Catharine-Street, Strand; and sold by R. Cruttwell, in St. James’s-Street, Bath, Database: ECCO Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn

Ernest Hemingway? William R. Kane? Roy K. Moulton? Avery Hopwood? Arthur C. Clarke? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Most people are familiar with short stories, but there is another class of works that might be called short-short stories. “Flash fiction” and “sudden fiction” are labels that are applied to this style of literature. One of the most famous examples is a tale of only six words in the format of a classified advertisement that according to legend was crafted by Ernest Hemingway as part of a bet:

For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn

The reader must cooperate in the construction of the larger narrative that is obliquely limned by these words implying miscarriage or sudden infant death. There is a popular alternative text based on another item linked with babies:

For Sale, Baby Carriage, Never Used

Did Hemingway write either of these succinct telegraphic tales?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Ernest Hemingway composed this six word story. He died in 1961. A literary agent named Peter Miller stated that he was told the anecdote about Hemingway and baby shoes by a “well-established newspaper syndicator” circa 1974. Miller published this claim in the 1991 book “Get Published! Get Produced!: A Literary Agent’s Tips on How to Sell Your Writing”: 1

Apparently, Ernest Hemingway was lunching at Luchow’s with a number of writers and claimed that he could write a short story that was only six words long. Of course, the other writers balked. Hemingway told each of them to put ten dollars in the middle of the table; if he was wrong, he said, he’d match it. If he was right, he would keep the entire pot. He quickly wrote six words down on a napkin and passed it around; Papa won the bet. The words were “FOR SALE, BABY SHOES, NEVER WORN.” A beginning, a middle and an end!

Advertisements closely matching the abbreviated text above did appear in classified sections over the decades. Here is an example published in 1906. Intriguingly, this section of short ads was labeled: Terse Tales of the Town: 2

For sale, baby carriage; never been used. Apply at this office.

In 1910 a newspaper article about a classified advertisement that was thematically similar and twelve words long was published:

Baby’s hand made trousseau and baby’s bed for sale. Never been used.

The article referred to the death of the child, and the sorrow of the parents. The unnamed journalist emphasized that within the easily overlooked quotidian advertisement was “woven a little story of the heart”. The details of this important precursor are presented further below.

In 1917 an essay by William R. Kane in a publication for literary workers discussed the composition of powerful short stories. The concise title “Little Shoes, Never Worn” was suggested for a story about “a wife who has lost her baby”. The details of this key precursor are also given further below.

In 1921 the newspaper columnist Roy K. Moulton described an ad with the words: “Baby carriage for sale, never used”. Moulton presented the reaction of his friend Jerry:

Wouldn’t that make a wonderful plot for the movies?

Details appear further below. During this ideational evolution the name Hemingway was never mentioned. QI did not find any sharp natural demarcations in this development, and hence there does not appear to be a single author for this tale.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn

Notes:

  1. 1991 Copyright, “Get Published! Get Produced!: A Literary Agent’s Tips on How to Sell Your Writing” by Peter Miller, Quote Page 27, Shapolsky Publishers, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  2. 1906 April 28, Ironwood News Record, Terse Tales of the Town, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Ironwood, Michigan. (NewspaperArchive)

Writing Is Easy; You Just Open a Vein and Bleed

Thomas Wolfe? Red Smith? Paul Gallico? Friedrich Nietzsche? Ernest Hemingway? Gene Fowler? Jeff MacNelly? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Whenever I have trouble writing I am reminded of a brilliant saying that uses a horrifyingly expressive metaphor to describe the difficult process of composition:

Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.

Here is another version of the saying that I found while Googling:

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

I have seen statements like this credited to the prominent sports columnist Red Smith and to the literary figures Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway. Could you explore this quotation?

Quote Investigator: There is significant evidence that Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith used a version of this quote by 1949. In April of that year the influential and widely syndicated newspaper columnist Walter Winchell wrote. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. …”Why, no,” dead-panned Red. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

This is the earliest known attribution to Smith and it was located by top-notch researcher Bill Mullins. But a few years earlier another novelist and highly-paid sportswriter used the same metaphor to describe the often arduous task of putting words down on paper. In the 1946 book “Confessions of a Story Writer” Paul Gallico wrote: 2

It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.

Today Gallico is perhaps best known for the novel The Poseidon Adventure which was made into a blockbuster disaster movie in 1972. The popular work was remade for television and for theatrical release in the 2000s. He also wrote the 1941 story Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees that was made into the successful film The Pride of the Yankees.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Writing Is Easy; You Just Open a Vein and Bleed

Notes:

  1. 1949 April 06, Naugatuck Daily News, Walter Winchell In New York, Page 4, Column 5, Naugatuck, Connecticut. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1946, Confessions of a Story Writer by Paul Gallico, Page 576, A Borzoi Book Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified on paper; Thanks to Stephen Goranson for checking this cite on paper) link