Interviewer: How much should you write a day?
Hemingway: The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next.
It is a weak question. It is the sort of question that doesn’t have an answer but is asked all the time. Variants of the question are: How much do you write each day? Do you write in the morning or evening?
The answers to these kinds of questions are usually flat useless. Suppose Hemingway had said “Four. Four hours make a writer’s shift,” or, “As much as you can.” I’ve heard writers give variants of both answers. But we can’t blame the inquisitor for failed answers. They’re simply trying to understand what makes the writer tick. It is up to the writer to say what needs to be said.
This quote is from a book called Earnest Hemingway On Writing. It is a slim volume of Hemingway’s comments on the craft of writing, collected and categorized. This quote is the only one I remember from the book. I suppose this is because it has served me so well. This idea has become a central part of my writing process.
I write every day. Starting is the hard part. But I have made this advice my own. I always stop when I know my start, what my first move will be the next day. I always know which paragraph, page, or section holds my starting position. In fact, I leave that document open on my laptop – ready and waiting.
Hemingway took a question he’d no doubt been asked hundreds of times and was unselfish in his answer. He was instructive. Listen. It’s good stuff.