I Hate Half-Baked Creativity; These Three Quotes Name A Way to Find Greatness

O ne of the best Christmas gifts I received this year was a thin book of compiled quotes on the craft of writing by Ernest Hemingway. This is not a one-timer. It’s the kind of book you read every year for, as Hemingway describes it, “kick and juice.”

As Hemingway mastered, there’s a chasm between writing a sentence and making it great. I’ve seen glimpses now, and never want to return to a half-baked creativity. Here are three quotes from Hemingway that name the best of what has happened to me so far in the creative process.

“After a book I am emotionally exhausted. If you are not then you have not transferred the emotion completely to the reader.”

I’ve been exhausted after writing a book before, but the aftermath of the book I have just written is the first time I have been emotionally exhausted. In the month of November, 2013, after I’d just finished the draft for Two Percent, I didn’t compose a single sentence. (Instead I played a bunch of SimCity.) I’d opened up a vein, as they say, and I was drained.

The bravest thing you can do in creative process is not writing one true and honest sentence. It’s staying at the desk after.

“I almost never know what is going to happen when I write. I start to make it up and have happen what would have to happen as it goes along.”

I’ve learned that the cliché that books write themselves is true. If something is truly creative, things happen that you cannot predict. The trick is to trust what emerges, even if it’s unplanned. It’s manna.

Don’t worry about your projects. Instead, worry about your time to create.Tweetable idea
I used to hang on to a good idea like a hoarder, recognizing its potential value but unsure how to use it, clinging to what I might otherwise lose. Just as I did well to learn to trust that God wants to provide every day, I’ve had to learn that if you stow away a creative idea for later, you kill it. You have to use it when it appears, or at least get it into a short queue line.

So my advice is, don’t worry about your projects. Instead, worry about your time to create. If you make the time, the greatness will come. Just show up. This applies to careers and hobbies both. If you block the time and hold to it and really focus, unplanned creative inspiration will emerge. I guarantee you.

“Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. If you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start… If you keep thinking about it, you lose the thing that you are writing about before you can go on with it the next day.”

This advice may seem contrary to the idea that you should let something germinate for a while, which is also true. I think what Hemingway means here is that, once you’re in a project, only get specific while you can do something about it. I’ve lost multiple good sentences and ideas trying to write them in my head while busy with my children.

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).