“A writer’s problem does not change. He himself changes and the world he lives in changes but his problem remains the same. It is always how to write truly, and having found what is true, to project it in such a way that it becomes part of the experience of the person who reads it.”
Ernest Hemingway, The Problems of a Writer in War Time
This quote has been on my mind for a while. Here’s what I’ve been wondering: What does it mean to write truly? What does it mean to become “part of the experience of a reader?” And how can we apply these concepts to our own writing?
Our boy Ernie was nothing if not ambitious: He sees the writer’s mission as finding out what is true and then figuring out how to put that truth out into the world in a way that the readers can absorb it into their own experience, so that it becomes an integral part of their lives. So writers aren’t just truth tellers, they’re also “truth sellers” — their job is to convey the truth in such a way that readers are provoked into wanting it.
But writers are more than “truth sellers,” they’re also almost like surgeons: surgically injecting the truth so that it becomes part of reader’s lives almost at a cellular level. Well, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but I do think old Ernest was investing the writer with a lot of power, perhaps even life-changing power.
Now the question is, how can I apply all this to my own writing? How can I use it to make my YA novel better and stronger? First, it seems to me, there is the responsibility of “writing truly” — of saying something that really matters, something that gets to the heart of what my young readers may be struggling with. And second, I need to say things that ring true in a way that really touches my readers emotionally so that they will want to make what I’m revealing a part of them. A tall order! But surely it’s something worthy of striving for — a standard of excellence we can embrace and make our own. Write on!