Hemingway and Tangerines

By Kathleen Anderson on Aug 05, 2015 at 03:30 PM in For Health Practitioners

When I think of Ernest Hemingway, many stories come to mind, stories from his fiction as well as true stories of his life adventures.  He lived in some unique places at their prime: Paris, Key West, Ketchum.  He achieved a success that most fiction writers can only dream of.  We never consider for a moment that he ever had anything close to writer's block.

I have a list of my favorite 10 books.  A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway is on that list.  While rereading it I was struck by one particular passage that helped me to continue on in my own humble writing and creative pursuits.

In the early days in Paris, when they were poor, he would leave Hadley and the baby at home and climb the stairs to his cold writing studio in another building.  Once there, he would start a fire in the fireplace, take a bag of tangerines and chestnuts out of his coat pocket, and get to work.

Shockingly, however, he suffered from occasional writer's block.  Of course, he write about it beautifully and he came up with the best remedy.  Here he explains:

"But sometimes when I was starting a new story and could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made.  I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry.  You have always always written before and you will write now.  All you have to do is write one true sentence.'"

Isn't that helpful?!  Just one true sentence.  You don't have to know how you're going to write the whole thing.  Just the one true sentence. He goes on to say that the realization that he only had to write one true sentence helped him because he always knew one true thing or had overheard someone say one true thing -- there was always at least one true thing to write.

Whether you write or create or you are trying to find your way, this advice is applicable.  Just one true thing to write or say or do and you will find your way and your way will find you.

There is also a lot to be said in that brief story about the determination that it takes to be great at what you do.  He said that before he left his writing room, he would be sure to take an uneaten tangerines with him because if he left them behind, they would literally freeze.

Tangerines were probably a bit exotic in Paris back then.  Here is a tangerine tree in our yard.  They are best in January and February in California.  They are high in Vitamin C.  When a tangerine is good, it actually great.

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