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On Writing

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  3,569 ratings  ·  333 reviews
An assemblage of reflections on the nature of writing and the writer from one the greatest American writers of the twentieth century.

Throughout Hemingway’s career as a writer, he maintained that it was bad luck to talk about writing—that it takes off “whatever butterflies have on their wings and the arrangement of hawk’s feathers if you show it or talk about it.”

Despite th
Paperback, 160 pages
Published 2004 by Scribner (first published June 1st 1984)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  3,569 ratings  ·  333 reviews

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David Lentz
May 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Everyone who writes would do well to read this short volume and understand the methods by which Hemingway achieves power, clarity and the trademark rough lyrical beauty of his work. He projected his entire being into his work by seeking simply to write one true sentence after another. If the writing didn't click, then he would re-read and edit after the sentence at which the writing ceased to be true. He was the master of monosyllabic words opting always for clarity and superior realism based up ...more
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
A glimpse into the psyche and mental preparation of a writer, and not any writer, but Hemingway himself.

Beautiful segments and quotations that make you think about writing, the process, why writers read, etc
Roxana Saberi
Dec 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading "A Sun Also Rises," "A Moveable Feast," "The Paris Wife," and "For Whom the Bell Tolls," I have become so enthralled with Ernest Hemingway's writing that I had to get this book. So far, so great. It offers many useful tips for writers.

Here's a good one: "Remember to get the weather into your god damned book--weather is very important." (1932, Hemingway) I need to work on that one.

Here's another one: "You see I'm trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across-
Jan 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
I have read quite a few books about the art of writing, and what I've observed overtime is that, really, it's best to get advice from those that have done it their whole lives, instead of college professors and other pseudo-intellectuals. Hemingway, or Papa, as some call him, has a lot of opinions and thoughts on writing in here, but not a whole lot of advice. Which is fine, cause after a while you begin to agree with him: that talking about writing ruins the magic of it, ruins the drive. It's b ...more
Dec 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a neat glimpse into the mind of a legendary author. You really get a sense of his inner musings as well as his character. There are tidbits of fascinating information in here regarding his novels and other work.

What I liked most about this was that you get a sense of the humanness of Hemingway. You see the flaws in his writing (literally - in many of his letters there are grammatical and spelling errors) which can provide a sort of comfort to anyone (myself included) who dreams of writ
Dec 27, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-writing
I felt like a voyeur reading this book. Hemingway expressly stated that he did not want anyone to publish his letters, yet here we have a collection of Hemingways' thoughts on writing as collected in his novels and correspondences. There was even a section where the letters were to his publisher, stating that he did not want his letters published; so the editor of this book is highly aware of the wishes, yet for some reason we have this book. I'm glad I got to know Hemingway a bit better, but I ...more
Sidharth Vardhan
Feb 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 8-usa, nobel

"Mice: What is the best early training for a writer?

Y.C.: An unhappy childhood."

Darn! I will never become a good writer.
Jun 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
Read “A moveable feast” last year and enjoyed EHs thoughts on writing, so thought I would give this one a go. Was initially skeptical of the format, cutting out short pieces and gluing it all together without context or anything. It worked surprisingly well though. As others have already pointed out, it is hard not feeling inspired to write after reading it. Lots of sound advice, ranging from working habits, other writers, to knowing what to leave out.
Katie Marquette
Jul 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
For Hemingway fans - this is a must own. For aspiring writers - also, a must have. Full of Hemingway's personal letters, sections from his books... My two favorite letters speak for themselves :


In a letter to Malcolm Cowley in 1945 he wrote:

Been working every day and going good. Makes a hell of a dull life too. But it is more fun than anything else. Do you remember how old Ford was always writing how Conrad suffered when he wrote? How it was un metier du chien [a dog's trade:] etc. Do you su
Nov 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Reading this collection of Hemingway's comments about writing is rewarding, whether you agree with him or not. He's such a character. ...more
Milda Stasaitytė
The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock proof shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.
from GEORGE PLIMPTON, “An Interview with Ernest Hemingway”
The Paris Review 18, 1958

In the world of tutorials and How-to literature and overall discourse, this is as close as I can get to it and still enjoy it.

Simply put, all this book offers is excerpts from Hemingway’s letters to fellow writers, critics and friends as well as interviews, structured th
Marco Matos
Jun 06, 2021 rated it liked it
The two most valuable advices on writing:

"As a writer you should not judge. You should understand" - Ernest Hemingway

"Remember this too: all bad writers are in love with the epic" - Ernest Hemingway
C.G. Fewston
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Some of my favorite quotes taken from Ernest Hemingway on Writing, edited by Larry W. Phillips. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

- - -


In truly good writing no matter how many times you read it you do not know how it is done. That is because there is a mystery in all great writing and that mystery does not dis-sect out. It continues and it is always valid. Each time you re-read you see or learn something new.
To Harvey Breit, 1952
(page 5)

All my life I've looked at words a
Tariq Said
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have learned a decent amount from this novel. The letters that Hemingway wrote to his colleagues and friends cleared the invisible fog surrounding the definition of the difference between good and bad writing. I enjoyed reading this book and found myself surprised at the sincerity Hemingway has in his letters, a very genuine author. He wanted to be the best author and competed against those whose legacies were secured (the dead) and avoided competing with the living. His writing was as true as ...more
Shuhan Rizwan
Nov 11, 2020 rated it liked it
"...Every novel which is truly written contributes to the total knowledge which is there at the disposal of the next writer who comes, but the next writer must pay, always, a certain nominal percentage in experience to be able to understand and assimilate what is available as his birthright and what he must, in turn, take his departure from." ...more
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this little book. You really see the man here--astonishing warts and all--but I love his pugilistic take on writing fiction. Laughs galore, both with and at, and lots of useful insights in how to BE a writer and keep ego up.
Tom C.
Jan 20, 2021 rated it liked it
This was fun and inspiring in its way. The guy was really committed to realism. There are many variations on this: "...the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced." I like the parts where he discusses the importance of weather in books, how he says that sometimes he just put ...more
Mihail Victus
Jun 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short excerpts from other books by Hemingway, letters and interviews. But good excerpts. Just don't be misled and believe that this is a standalone book about writing composed with this purpose by Hemingway.
And here is one of the tips you will find in this book:

“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 sig
Apr 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: hemingway
Hemingway lived to write. His eventual failing as a writer—his inability to actually write—is one of the several reasons that led to his suicide in 1961. What he did write for the most part and for much of his life was superior and often innovative seen even from the perspective of the twenty-first century. It was not merely that Hemingway was a gifted writer but he also had a profound impact on a generation of writers who cut their teeth in imitation of or in reaction to his works.

In spite of t
Răzvan Molea
Feb 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
Puțin cam dezamăgit. Speram la mai multe ”lămuriri” (asupra stilului). Editorul a făcut ceva eforturi ca să treacă de pragul de 100 de pagini.
Sunt totuși câteva reflecții (fiindcă în asta constă cartea) de care nu auzisem:

“Nobody really knows or understands and nobody has ever said the secret. The secret is that it is poetry written into prose and it is the hardest of all things to do…” - am citit destul de atent să aflu că așa e - către Mary Hemingway (scrisori)

”Look how it is at the start—all
Alexander Fitzgerald
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I could write every day for a hundred years and still never approach the talent Hemingway displayed in just his offhand notes.

Absolutely stunning. I reread so many passages. He truly was a master.

Essential reading for any aspiring writer.
Peter Murray
Jul 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Hemingway did not write on writing, thinking to do so siphoned off that precious, magical material from which the highest expression comes. So this book is a collection of tidbits that the great writer dropped and left behind in books and letters (most of them to F. Scott Fitzgerald). But through this collection of on-the-moment projectiles you come away with actually having known the man's mind on the craft. He's a man who tries to achieve truth through simplicity, economy. And so in these simp ...more
Mar 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Funny how many times Hemingway mentioned in this collection how he was not so fond of the idea of his letters being published, yet here they are. Definitely some great insights into writing and into the life of one of America's greatest writers. The editing wasn't great and overall it was mostly boring little excerpts from his writing with bits of gold tucked here and there. It was boring, but luckily it was also short. ...more
May 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hemingway, writing
This book contains Hemingway's reflections on the nature of the writer and on elements of the writer's life, including specific and helpful advice to writers on the craft of writing, work habits, and discipline. The Hemingway personality comes through in general wisdom, wit, humor, and insight, and in his insistence on the integrity of the writer and of the profession itself. ...more
Jessica Shelley
May 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Quick and insightful read full of lots of quotes that I have tabbed and will try to remember when writing. His overall approach to writing was very inspiring and I will be flicking through this book whenever I need some motivation/inspiration.
Kris Rafferty
Dec 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you choose to read one book on writing, this should be the one.
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book so much that now I am considering reading some of his stuff. Feel free to recommend a good one to start :)

Some quotes I liked:

"...writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done—so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well."

"Interviewer: But reading all the good writers might discourage you.
Hemingway: Then you ought to be discouraged."

"Hunger is good disci
Teodora Todorova
Jan 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: home_library
The book is collection of quotes which normally I don't enjoy reading - usually these are randomly selected and out of context. This is the case here as well. Although the editor arranged the book by themes like "Working hours", "Characters", etc it still feels random.
I have found few quotes that made sense for me but overall I didn't learn much on the Mr. Hemingway's opinion on writing.
It is true that he never wrote a book (like On Writing by Stephen King for example) so may be to certain ext
Mark Fallon
Jan 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
After touring Hemingway's house, I picked up this book at a local Key West bookstore. Straightforward, blunt writing about writing. His letters to F. Scott Fitzgerald border on being harsh.

To be honest, I don't remember really liking Hemingway's novels, but that was almost 40 years ago. Perhaps I was too young to appreciate them. Will go back and try one again.
Börkur Sigurbjörnsson
Jul 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-writing
There were some good points scattered throughout the book, but quite short of awesome.
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Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American author and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short story collec ...more

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“Mice: What is the best early training for a writer?

Y.C.: An unhappy childhood.”
“Don't let yourself slip and get any perfect characters... keep them people, people, people, and don't let them get to be symbols.” 22 likes
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