14 Prompts

Practice Writing Prompts that Inspire

Hemingway’s Brushstrokes

When my English Literature pro­fes­sor, Marilyn McEntyre, told us Hemingway would write all day in small Parisian cafes and, after­ward, take his lunch to the Musee du Luxembourg where he would look at Cezannes, it trans­formed how I looked at authors—and writ­ing, for that matter—forever.

In col­lege, I read Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and all the other writ­ers infa­mous among col­lege stu­dents every­where. The authors, if I had imag­ined them, were like stat­ues in some museum, old cracked mar­ble miss­ing limbs, dust piled atop their heads. They were empty-eyed faces carved into cathe­dral stone, look­ing down on us to make sure we knew their names. If we mis­re­mem­bered, they would denounce us before God at those golden gates.

But Dr. McEntyre’s story tore the veil. I saw Hemingway drink­ing cups of French cof­fee at a café with black and white pic­tures on the wall, writ­ing slowly, with lots of crossouts. I saw him with his sacked lunch, made by his lov­ing first wife Hadley, drink­ing out of a ther­mos (did they have those in the 1920s?) and trac­ing those bold brush­strokes with his eyes. He had intense blue eyes.

Writers, I real­ized, were some­how not part of the evil plan hatched by pro­fes­sors to tor­ture their stu­dents, but real peo­ple, with real ambi­tions and inse­cu­ri­ties. I’ve heard the point of art is not com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but I real­ized then they were try­ing to give some­thing to me, some greater per­spec­tive of the world maybe. Or even just an enjoy­able afternoon.

Painting Transformation

On TheWritePractice.com we are look­ing for trans­for­ma­tion. We don’t want to give you just some good tech­niques. We want to trans­form the whole way you approach writ­ing. When I began learn­ing about Hemingway’s life and influ­ences, it helped me to real­ize that to trans­form the way I approached writ­ing, I needed to see myself as part of the tra­di­tion. There is a great con­tin­uüm in this art form, an inher­i­tance that every writer can and should appren­tice them­selves to.

But there is a diver­gence in Hemingway. He didn’t appren­tice him­self just to writ­ers. He looked to a painter to trans­form his work. This week we’re going to look at Hemingway’s debt to Cezanne. What did Hemingway learn from Cezanne? And how can we trans­form our own writ­ing by prac­tic­ing these things?

Today, and off and on over the next cou­ple of weeks, we’re going to prac­tice writ­ing like Hemingway who prac­ticed writ­ing like Cezanne (wow that’s com­pli­cated). We’ll choose one aspect of Cezanne’s style that Hemingway appro­pri­ated. Then, we will play with it, try­ing both to imi­tate it, but also just writ­ing in our own fun way.

Technique Number One: Brushstrokes

I wish I were more of an expert in art, but I do know Cezanne believed in using big bold brush strokes. His paint­ing of Saint Victoire moun­tains could have been done with on an iPhone. Strong strokes con­struct the land­scape like lin­coln logs.

Hemingway believed each word was a brush stroke on the page. Some peo­ple have called Hemingway’s prose child­ish and sim­plis­tic, but his genius was his use of a few strong words to do so much work. He used few adjec­tives. His prose is full of action, not décor, and so when an occa­sional bit of color is revealed, it fills in the whole image.

The Prompts

Find a painting by an artist you admire, and study it for several minutes. What is unique about his style? What emotions does the painting evoke? Who are the characters (paint, light, and architecture count as characters), and how are they portrayed? Are the scenes incredibly detailed, like Dickens or Hugo, or are they spare and modern, like Hemingway? Are they surreal, like Vonnegut? How does the painter see the world? You may want to verbalize the answers to some of these questions in writing.

Next, try to imitate the painting with your writing by describing the scene around you as that artist would. If you want, maybe even go outside with your laptop or pen and paper. Like Hemingway, you might have a hell of a time with it, but it also might give your writing a unique edge like no one else’s.

About Joe Bunting

Joe is a ghostwriter, editor, and an aspiring fiction author. He writes and edits books that change lives. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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