18 Quotes for Writers from Ernest Hemingway

578_originalToday marks the 115th anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s birth. In his lifetime, Papa had quite a lot to say about writing. Here are 18 of our favorite quotes, in no particular order.


1. I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.


2. If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.


3. For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.


4.That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best – make it all up – but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.

5. Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up.


6. My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.


7. When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.


8. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.


9. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.


10. There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.


11. To F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”


12. Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.


13. All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.


14. A serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.


15. It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.


16. To an aspiring writer: “You shouldn’t write if you can’t write.”


17. After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day.


18. My training was never to drink after dinner nor before I wrote nor while I was writing.


What’s your favorite writerly quote from Ernest Hemingway? Share it in the comments!

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13 thoughts on “18 Quotes for Writers from Ernest Hemingway

  1. marquest

    Most of these quotes are bombastic and uninspiring and do not showcase this man’s genius. To me, one of the most down-to-earth things he said was: “The first draft of anything is shit.” And it’s not here.

  2. nyfrancis

    Ernest Hemingway was my first favorite author … and the one author I wanted to write like.

    Over 50 yrs later, I’m still working at that. I believe in setting the bar high. 🙂

    My two most favorite Hemingway quotes are: …

    “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. 
    This is the writer’s radar and all good writers have it.” – Ernest Hemingway 

    “A writer’s problem does not change. He himself changes and the world he lives in changes, but his problem remains the same. It is always how to write truly and, having found what is true, to project it in such a way that it becomes part of the experience of the person who reads it.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

  3. adventurehermit

    Had the chance to visit Hemingway’s house again earlier this year. You can still feel his spirit even amongst the shuffling tourists, of which I was one. Reading these quotes I feel as if I can practically hear his voice.

    These are 3 of my favorite quotes.

    After losing my dad this one had more meaning than ever!
    “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

    As an adventure motorcycle journalist I should probably have this added to my tattoos.
    “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

    So much truth in so few words!
    “Never confuse movement with action.”

  4. cmartinez

    Does anyone else find # 15 and #16 contradictory??
    So what is it, “You have to learn to write and as long as you learn the craft well enough to make it look easy and like you were “born with it” that’s OK; or
    You shouldn’t attempt “learning to write”, because if “you shouldn’t if you can’t.”

    15. It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.

    I believe there is truth in this statement. Yes, there are “born writers” who can pump out a story, article or essay that just flows linguistically, logically and imaginatively, all the while holding the readers attention. But most writer’s. and writer’s of great prominence such as Hemingway, had/have a spark of talent, that increases with each word they write and each book they read which lends experience and insight, allowing them to develop their own style of writing.

    16. To an aspiring writer: “You shouldn’t write if you can’t write.”

    Although contradictory at first glance, I think he meant, if you don’t have a spark,or inclination to/for the written word, and are just writing as an excercise in putting some sentences together, and find no joy in it, you shouldn’t write.

    1. darkstorm

      Yes, at first glance they do seem to be contradictory, but I think he was meaning/talking about that inner drive, that need to write that pushes writers to write. Some of us may be naturals at the craft, they just ‘know’ how to make it all fit and flow together. The rest of us need to be taught, but if there is no inner drive or desire, it won’t work and we would be better off doing something else. I guess you know you’re a writer when you stop writing and try to do something else for a living and keep thinking that would make a good story, or taking notes or something like that. When you don’t feel right if you don’t have a pen in hand and a piece of paper in front of you.

      1. Scott

        “I guess you know you’re a writer when you stop writing and try to do something else for a living and keep thinking that would make a good story, or taking notes.”

        I think this is a great statement, and very quotable, even though I’m reasonably sure you’re not Hemingway (and I sure as hell know I’m not).

    2. jotokai

      If you can stop writing, you should. Certainly if nothing comes out onto the page, you should try not writing. But if you failed at not writing, then you might as well study up to write well. How could that be more simple and straightforward?

  5. sassy

    I love this. So much wisdom from someone so seriously solemn he killed himself. Too often that is the end of genius, but in retrospect the life spring of true immortality.

  6. Debbie

    Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Hemingway wrote as much as he did and as well as he did; although he was an adventurous loner, he just seemed like he’d rather be doing nothing during those times.

    1. nyfrancis

      Debbie —

      I think this may be how Hemingway would reply to your comment: …

      “In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused.” – Ernest Hemingway 

      He did have a way with words, didn’t he? 😉 lol

      Take care … and enjoy! 🙂


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