And once again the first Wednesday has crept upon me, unawares – and the question we are asked to ponder this month is: which writing rule do you wish you’d never read? I didn’t have to think too long about this, because I’ve always thought that Hemingway’s stricture of ‘paring everything to the bone’ was unhelpful and wrong-headed. Hemingway made a virtue out of minimalism; he stripped away everything he considered to be unnecessary and crowed loud and long about paring to the bone. But at first, while I instinctively disliked the idea, I couldn’t find arguments against it. I mean, you don’t want excess vocab, do you? Flowery descriptions, overstatement, repetition; none of these are good habits for an author, are they?
Many people respect Hemingway as one of the twentieth century’s great writers; but I’m afraid I think he’s overrated. This is not just because I dislike a lot of what he stood for, such as the macho values he found while living in Spain, expressed in the bullfight (I went to a corrida once and it made me feel ill*) it’s because of this particular stricture. If you pare things right down to the bone you end up with a skeleton, not a fully-fledged novel. You want flesh on those bones; you want veins and arteries, skin and hair and nails. You want features and mannerisms: you want a body.
In the end it’s not so much that I wish I’d never read his advice; it’s more that I wish I’d never acted on it – because for years I was suspicious of anything approaching verbiage in my own work. I ended up slashing many a valuable phrase because Hemingway’s strictures had got into my mind. Paring to the bone can be a useful editing tool, but not an end in itself.
So that’s it for today. Happy writing, fellow Insecure people!
*only so that I could say I knew what I was talking about