Ernest Hemingway’s letter of advice to F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Even the greatest writers need a little help and advice from time to time.

In 1934, shortly before noting his famed list of books every aspiring writer should read, Ernest Hemingway received a request for feedback and writerly advice from his long-time friend and fellow literary great, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Following a nine-year period in the literary wilderness, after struggling with severe addiction problems, Fitzgerald had just written Tender is the night, and turned to his old friend for feedback. Upon reading the work, Hemingway responded with detail, vigour, and no shortage of tough love.

Just as new writers can often need a little bit of timely counselling from their peers and mentors, so too, as Hemingway’s letter shows, can some of the finest and most established authors.

Full of sage and sobering advice, Hemingway’s letter offers fine writing tips and advice to writers of all ages and stages of their literary careers. You can read it here below.*

Key West
28 May 1934

Dear Scott:

I liked it and I didn’t. It started off with that marvelous description of Sara and Gerald (goddamn it Dos took it with him so I can’t refer to it. So if I make any mistakes—). Then you started fooling with them, making them come from things they didn’t come from, changing them into other people and you can’t do that, Scott. If you take real people and write about them you cannot give them other parents than they have (they are made by their parents and what happens to them) you cannot make them do anything they would not do. You can take you or me or Zelda or Pauline or Hadley or Sara or Gerald but you have to keep them the same and you can only make them do what they would do. You can’t make one be another. Invention is the finest thing but you cannot invent anything that would not actually happen.

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.

Goddamn it you took liberties with peoples’ pasts and futures that produced not people but damned marvellously faked case histories. You, who can write better than anybody can, who are so lousy with talent that you have to—the hell with it. Scott for gods sake write and write truly no matter who or what it hurts but do not make these silly compromises. You could write a fine book about Gerald and Sara for instance if you knew enough about them and they would not have any feeling, except passing, if it were true.

There were wonderful places and nobody else nor none of the boys can write a good one half as good reading as one that doesn’t come out by you, but you cheated too damned much in this one. And you don’t need to.

In the first place I’ve always claimed that you can’t think. All right, we’ll admit you can think. But say you couldn’t think; then you ought to write, invent, out of what you know and keep the people’s antecedants straight. Second place, a long time ago you stopped listening except to the answers to your own questions. You had good stuff in too that it didn’t need. That’s what dries a writer up (we all dry up. That’s no insult to you in person) not listening. That is where it all comes from. Seeing, listening. You see well enough. But you stop listening.

It’s a lot better than I say. But it’s not as good as you can do.

You can study Clausewitz in the field and economics and psychology and nothing else will do you any bloody good once you are writing. We are like lousy damned acrobats but we make some mighty fine jumps, bo, and they have all these other acrobats that won’t jump.

For Christ sake write and don’t worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket. You feel you have to publish crap to make money to live and let live. All write but if you write enough and as well as you can there will be the same amount of masterpiece material (as we say at Yale). You can’t think well enough to sit down and write a deliberate masterpiece and if you could get rid of Seldes and those guys that nearly ruined you and turn them out as well as you can and let the spectators yell when it is good and hoot when it is not you would be all right.

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.

About this time I wouldn’t blame you if you gave me a burst. Jesus it’s marvellous to tell other people how to write, live, die etc.

I’d like to see you and talk about things with you sober. You were so damned stinking in N.Y. we didn’t get anywhere. You see, Bo, you’re not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write. Of all people on earth you needed discipline in your work and instead you marry someone who is jealous of your work, wants to compete with you and ruins you. It’s not as simple as that and I thought Zelda was crazy the first time I met her and you complicated it even more by being in love with her and, of course you’re a rummy. But you’re no more of a rummy than Joyce is and most good writers are. But Scott, good writers always come back. Always. You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvellous. You know I never thought so much of Gatsby at the time. You can write twice as well now as you ever could. All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.

Go on and write.

Anyway I’m damned fond of you and I’d like to have a chance to talk sometimes. We had good times talking. Remember that guy we went out to see dying in Neuilly? He was down here this winter. Damned nice guy Canby Chambers. Saw a lot of Dos. He’s in good shape now and he was plenty sick this time last year. How is Scotty and Zelda? Pauline sends her love. We’re all fine. She’s going up to Piggott for a couple of weeks with Patrick. Then bring Bumby back. We have a fine boat. Am going good on a very long story. Hard one to write.

Always your friend


  • Please note: Hemingway’s spelling is shown accurately. For example, he twice wrote “write” where, presumably, he meant “right.”

16 books all writers should read – according to Hemingway


As any aspiring writer or artist will attest, there will always be a natural desire to meet those whose creative works have inspired you. The longing to meet and converse with the men and women whose artistic works have connected with you on some biological – perhaps even ethereal – level, is one that many of us will sadly never see fulfilled; especially since, unfortunately, many of those great cultural titans are no longer with us (not to bring the mood down here at all).

Yet in 1934, a 22-year old aspiring writer named Arnold Samuelson was granted this most precious of meetings. Having set out with one goal – to meet Ernest Hemingway and become his literary apprentice – this young son of Norwegian immigrant wheat farmers spent almost an entire year staying with one of the most important writers of the 20th century.

“It seemed like a damn fool thing to do,” Samuelson recalled, “but a twenty-two-year-old tramp during the Great Depression didn’t have much reason for what he did.”

Yet Samuelson’s quest was not in vain. Shortly after the young man’s arrival in Key West, Hemingway got right down to granting him what he had traveled there seeking. In one of their first exchanges, he hands Samuelson a handwritten list and instructs him:

“Here’s a list of books any writer should have read as a part of his education… If you haven’t read these, you just aren’t educated. They represent different types of writing. Some may bore you, others might inspire you and others are so beautifully written they’ll make you feel it’s hopeless for you to try to write.”

The full list is here below:


  1. The Blue Hotel(public library) by Stephen Crane
  2. The Open Boat(public library) by Stephen Crane
  3. Madame Bovary(free ebook | public library) by Gustave Flaubert
  4. Dubliners(public library) by James Joyce
  5. The Red and the Black(public library) by Stendhal
  6. Of Human Bondage(free ebook | public library) by  Somerset Maugham
  7. Anna Karenina(free ebook | public library) by Leo Tolstoy
  8. War and Peace(free ebook | public library) by Leo Tolstoy
  9. Buddenbrooks(public library) by Thomas Mann
  10. Hail and Farewell(public library) by George Moore
  11. The Brothers Karamazov(public library) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  12. The Oxford Book of English Verse(public library)
  13. The Enormous Room(public library) by E. Cummings
  14. Wuthering Heights(free ebookpublic library) by Emily Brontë
  15. Far Away and Long Ago(free ebookpublic library) by H. Hudson
  16. The American(free ebookpublic library) by Henry James

What would Hemingway do? Minimalist typewriter, anyone?


The ‘Hemingwrite’ – a minimalist typewriter for distracted writers

Aspiring writers the world over know the perils of the digital age better than most. You’ve spent the morning vacuuming, organising your junk email folder, sorting all the fast-food leaflets stuffed through your door into alphabetical order and watered your geraniums – and you’ve finally sat down in front of your shiny new laptop to write that novel you’ve been working on. But, oh no! Disaster. Somehow you’ve found your way to a website for creatives who believe in giraffe sporting equality and are reading an article about some new-fangled typewriter. You check your watch and suddenly it’s 8pm and you’ve lost the day to youtube videos of cats riding tortoises and obscure articles about chaffinches. You’ve been distracted by the ravaging digital background babble. But don’t worry – there’s always tomorrow.

Of course, there are a whole host of ideas for how to get around this (apart from the obvious action of actually just writing your novel). You can press a button to turn off the internet. Or you can go cold turkey from social media. You could even pay a friend to tie you to a chair, sit you in front of your computer and unplug the Wi-Fi – promising not to return until you’ve produced this generation’s version of On The Road. But it’s another idea that’s got us talking here at Nothing in the Rulebook – the ‘Hemingwrite’: a minimalist digital typewriter.

Modelled as a distraction-free ‘smart’ typewriter, which stops you surfing the web but still lets you save files to the cloud, this is a Kickstarter-funded tool for procrastinators of all creeds.

A pair of designers have added a modern twist to the traditional typewriter, the inventors – Adam Leeb and Patrick Paul – insist “it combines the simplicity of a typewriter with modern technology like an electronic paper screen and cloud backups to create the best possible writing experience”.

And, because it doesn’t allow access to the web, it is claimed the Hemigwrite will help writers work more efficiently.

The device includes a mechanical keyboard, and e-ink display that can be read in daylight, and access to cloud storage, such as Dropbox and Google Drive.

The portable word-processor’s battery is also reported to last 4 weeks. Which, while longer than your average laptop, still falls someway short of the traditional – ahem – typewriter, which has a battery life of well, for ever, since it doesn’t actually need any batteries.

Retailing at around £300, the device may appear less for poor, broke writers and more for people who quite like the idea of popping up in Starbucks with a new hipster-typewriter to order a mochalattecino while they brood in a leather chair and loudly laugh at quotes from Machievelli, as if it were an olden-days version of Seinfeld.

Now that the prototype has been developed, its creators have lined up a leading manufacturing group to begin making these writing tools en masse. Mr Paul said: “The 2015 Hemingwrite will ship with a minimalist interface but we will also support a development kit (SDK) to fulfill the needs of more specialized professionals like screenwriters.”

Professor Wu’s verdict:

“Obviously, in theory any new device that helps writers concentrate on putting words to paper seems like a good idea. But for much less than half the price of one of these new-fangled gadgetizmos, you could just buy an actual typewriter. And if you want to access the internet and the opportunity to save your files, just stick with your laptop or desktop, and get on with the task at hand. The only way you’ll ever find out if you “have it in you” to write a novel, or a collection of poems, or a screenplay, is to get to work and see if you do. It’s hard to write, of course; but it can be harder not to. Maya Angelou said there was no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. It’s true. The only way to override your distractions is to focus on that agony and to produce. So stop reading this article, get to your desk and ask yourself ‘what would Hemingway do?’” Professor Wu says.

“In fact, the man himself told us exactly what we needed to write, and it’s pretty simple. All you need, he said, is “The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble topped tables, the smell of early morning, sweeping out and mopping, and luck.””

Getting on the Write-Track


“There is nothing to writing – all you have to do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway.

Ernest makes it sound simple enough there, and possibly fun, for those into that kind of thing. But of course the reality of writing is that it is difficult; Hemingway also suggested, remember, that any young person thinking of becoming a writer should first try to hang himself (because at least that way he would “have the story of the hanging to commence with”).

Of course, at Nothing In The Rulebook, we absolutely do not suggest hanging oneself – or any other self, for that matter – just to be clear. Instead, we advise practice, and listening to and learning from others. Because of that, it was nothing short of being our duty to inform you all about a fantastic writing tool to aid you in finally writing that novel you’ve been working on – or even just starting to write anything, really; anything at all.

Write-Track is a supportive, goal-setting community and writing productivity tool for writers who want to write more.

Whether you’re writing a haiku, a comedy caper, a hardboiled cop drama or a zombie romance thriller set in space, one thing remains the same – you need to get it written. Write-Track helps you do just that; and as a result comes highly recommended by both of our moderators.

“Write-Track is a fantastic tool for all writers – aspiring, experienced or otherwise,” Billy the Echidna says. “No matter what you’re writing, it helps you track the frequency of your writing, set yourself achievable writing goals, and also monitor your writing against those goals.”

“If anything it would be a failure of mine not to recommend Write-Track,” Professor Wu adds. “This is, simply, a quality tool for all writers. If you’re a writer and you’re still reading this, frankly I’m unsure why, because you should be getting involved with Write-Track right now! Just like Nothing in the Rulebook, Write-Track has that community feel – where you can engage with other writers and offer and receive the support and motivation to keep writing.”

So there you have it. A fabulous writing tool for writers. But don’t just take our word for it – check it out for yourselves and get on the Write-Track!