“There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time,
which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring.”
Hemingway has contributed to our wisdom on writing — both general advice on writing and specifics to writing fiction. He even tracked his daily output on a chart:
“so as not to kid myself,” he said. When the writing wasn’t going well, he would often knock off the fiction and answer letters, which gave him a welcome break from “the awful responsibility of writing”
And those letters were beautiful and often contained gems of timeless wisdom. Hemingway’s response to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who asked his friend for an honest opinion on his book, references a trap that we all fall into — “You see well enough. But you stop listening.”
Death in the Afternoon is Hemingway’s exploration of bullfighting, which was much more than a mere sport to him. The mix of athleticism, artistry, and simplicity combined with the need to maintain grace under pressure served as an inspiration to his creative pursuits. Describing the sometimes brutal ritual he wrote: “The emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty that can be produced by a man, an animal, and a piece of scarlet serge draped on a stick.” Bullfighting, to Hemingway, is not a simple act but rather a magnificent performance.
A classic gem of Hemingway wisdom comes to us through the book. Writing on how sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to learn he says:
A good writer should know as near everything as possible. Naturally he will not. A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge. There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave. 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.
Ernest Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Acceptance Speech on Working Alone is one of the shortest Nobel acceptance speeches ever.