I’m glad I’m not Hemingway

I think I was in second grade when I started writing. The teacher put these lines up on the blackboard and told us to finish the poem.

“Where are you going little leaf/I hope you don’t meet any grief.”

Most people added a single couplet. Some added two. I added twenty couplets and a four-line ABAB stanza. It was shown all around school, and put on the bulletin board for a PTA meeting. I may still have it somewhere. My mother was pleased.

A few months later I was sitting in my father’s chair with the lapboard, writing something. My mother asked me what it was. It old her it was a poem. She said, “You’ve written one poem, why would you want to write another?”

Several years later I was writing stuff, ideas for stories, lists of things, I don’t remember. I wrote a lot of lists. My father asked what I was doing, and I told him I was working on a story, that I wanted to be a writer. He said, “You’re not Ernest Hemingway and you never will be.”

Many years later I actually read something by Hemingway. It could have been the first pages of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” I never got any further. I remembered what my father had told me, and if he had been still living I would have told him that he was right. And that I was grateful that I would never be like Hemingway. Because I did not like the way he wrote. Not at all. And I still don’t.


  1. Been there. My father often said, “Ain’t neither of the two of us ever gonna play defense for the Rams.” His point, though, was not that greatness was for other people. His point was that greatness for one’s self was not defined by greatness for another. You must be great within your own potential, even if that means admitting that your potential is not unlimited.

    The greatness of one’s writing need not (should not?) be defined by the (alleged?) greatness of anyone else’s writing. Our fathers were right. I will never play defense for the Rams. You will never be Hemingway. We are both the better off for those truths, and not one bit less great for either of them.

  2. I don’t care for Hemingway all that much either. In most of my journalism training we were asked to imitate his style — terse, simple, colorful. I didn’t care for his substance.

    Surprised to hear that comment about writing a second poem.

    1. My not liking Hemingway is no comment on his quality. I don’t like Van Gogh either, though I recognize him as one of the great artists. If I told my father I wanted to be an artist, he would have taken me aside and helped me learn. But he knew nothing about writing.

      Mother did not like fiction of any kind. She did read Planet Masters, and liked it for the character. Ironically, since I was afraid she would recognize me in him. But she never read anything else of mine.

Comments are closed.