In 1934, a 22–year–old aspiring writer called Arnold Samuelson hitchhiked to Key West, Florida to seek advice from his hero Ernest Hemingway.
He recorded Hemingway’s thoughts on writing, storing the manuscript in a drawer, where it was found by his daughter after his death in 1981. She arranged for it to be published as With Hemingway: A Year In Key West and Cuba
While mentoring Samuelson, Hemingway offered an abundance of advice, including this tip:
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.
Hemingway was effectively cautioning writers not to worry about a reaching a daily word count which could become a drudge of a task, ruining their creativity.
Finishing a writing session mid-paragraph aware of where the story is going next helps momentum the next day. One’s brain works on the scene, while awake and asleep, which spurs on new ideas.
It’s a technique I’ve used many times, for after all, it’s far better to stop when things are going well than to wait until I’m stuck! I always follow Thomas Edison’s advice as part of the technique:
It’s surprising how many times sleeping on things produces great ideas.
It turns out that Hemingway’s suggestion is based on a psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect. Named after Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik, a Russian psychiatrist and psychologist, who extrapolated from an observation her professor made about waiters—that they hold a diner’s order in their minds until the food is served.
It turns out we all remember unfinished tasks better than completed goals, which provides great motivation to complete it.
This year, as I build an online author platform in preparation to launch my Cornish Detective novels as a self-published series, I’ve been working in fits and starts on a novella as therapy, but it’s rather backfired on me. Each time, I’ve stopped writing at interesting plot incidents, sometimes not returning to the story for a couple of weeks, which has turned it into a spiky Rubik’s Cube in my mind!
It’s a great sensation when you’re on a roll while writing, in the creative groove, firing on all cylinders and adding to your masterpiece, but that might be the time to pause for a few hours…
What do you think?