Is Hemingway’s Writing Advice Legit?

You often hear the advice that writing is basically just sitting down and doing it.  The classy version is “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

Someone on Twitter asked me if I thought Hemingway had said it more tersely: “apply seat of pants to chair.” Well, that sounds as if it might be Hemingway. It’s matter-of-fact enough–but I was dubious.  I’ve read a good deal of Hemingway over the years and many Hemingway biographies and never encountered that line or anything like it.



As usual, the Internet isn’t much help. Even though it shows up as my Twitter contact says in a book about Hemingway, it’s also attributed on the Internet to Kingsley Amis, Mark Twain (isn’t everything?), and more frequently to someone I’d never heard of, Mary Heaton Vorse.

According to Wikipedia, Vorse was the author of apparently a dozen books of fiction, and an activist dedicated to “peace and social justice causes, such as women’s suffrage, civil rights, pacifism (specifically including opposition to World War I), socialism, child labor, infant mortality, labor disputes, and affordable housing.”


But there’s that quote…. Did she actually say it? When you check an authoritative page of Vorse quotes, all of which have attribution details, it doesn’t show up. All the quotations listed there are focused on larger issues; here’s a typical one:

This philosophy of hate, of religious and racial intolerance, with its passionate urge toward war, is loose in the world. It is the enemy of democracy; it is the enemy of all the fruitful and spiritual sides of life. It is our responsibility, as individuals and organizations, to resist this.

Of course, Vorse is listed on Goodreads as the author of those words about the pants and the chair. Good old Goodreads, you can always depend on that site for a bogus attribution when you need one.

So is it Twain, Hemingway, Kingsley Amis, or Honoré Fauteuil, inventor of the chair of that name? (I made him up, actually).

Well, the source is more likely the been famed, caustic humorist Dorothy Parker.  The version she gets credit for is snappy: “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.”

parker writing

Whoever said it, though, is ass-application really good advice for writers? Plenty of us writers have spent idle hours with butts stuck to our chairs not getting anything more than sweaty and frustrated.

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books, most recently Assault With a Deadly Lie, a novel of suspense about stalking, gun violence, and militarized police forces.  His web site is


Discouraged? Often. Defeated? Never!

Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, there are tons of spurious author quotes floating around.  It’s become so prevalent that there are even sites exposing the fake quotations, like this one examining things Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said:

Goodreads is where people turn for quotes, but how can you tell if they’re legit,  since they’re unsourced.  Example? Goodreads pushes a spurious George Eliot quote–“It is never too late to be what you might have been”–which has never been proven to be something Eliot said or wrote.  It’s at the top of their George Eliot list. It shouldn’t be.

Despite intensive investigation by Eliot experts, nobody’s found that line in her books, her letters, or her table talk.  But it sure is popular. I suspected it was fake the first time I saw it on Facebook (another good source of bogus quotations), because I’ve read biographies of Eliot–as well as all but one of her novels–and it just didn’t sound like Eliot.  It felt too 20th century-on-a-mug-inspirational.

So I don’t know if Sinclair Lewis actually said,“It is impossible to discourage the real writers – they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.”  As soon as I saw it on Facebook recently, I checked other Lewis quotes and it doesn’t feel too different from verified quotations of his.

But I do disagree with the sentiment.  It is, I think, very easy to discourage writers.  I see it all the time, and I’ve seen it in my own career.

My first short story to be published hit a trifecta.  It won the Harvey Swados Prize, named after a celebrated editor at Dutton.  The judge was Martha Foley, famous editor of The Best American Short Stories anthologies.  The story got published in Redbook, which paid very well and had four and a half million readers back then.

But I didn’t place another story for over five years, despite writing dozens and submitting everywhere.  I was increasingly discouraged as those years dragged on and the rejections filled my mail box.  How could this be happening?  How could I have started my career so strongly and then hit a wall?

I wondered if I’d wasted my time and money in my MFA program, if my childhood dreams of being a writer would never come true, and I strongly considered a major career change.  I actually started to explore going to rabbinical school, since I was so deeply invested in living my Jewish faith at the time.  Or maybe I would become a psychologist since I had such deep interest in the field.  I wasn’t certain where to turn, but I knew I had to rid myself of this albatross my writing had become.

And then, after the long drought, a letter of acceptance came, and then another, and then more.  That terrible time of profound discouragement was a lesson to me, because it taught me how unpredictable and even crazy a career can be, how all I had control over was making my work as good as possible.

There’s lots out there to discourage writers: bad reviews, poor sales, a lousy book cover, nobody showing up to your bookstore reading or signing, an editor switching houses, a publisher dropping your book.  And writers do give up and stop writing, if not forever.  However, I think many of us ultimately learn the truth of lines from Joseph Brodsky’s wonderful poem “Aeneas and Dido”: “But, as we know, precisely at the moment / when our despair is deepest, fresh winds stir.”

Nude Authors?

I’ve been publishing books since 1990 and have seen publicity fads come and go (and sometimes come back).

Over the years, publishers have urged me and other authors I know to do postcards, bookmarks, business cards with a book cover on them, and all sorts of doo-dads.  They’ve pushed attending mystery conferences.  Sending out posters to book stores.  Advertising in magazines, newspapers, and mystery conference program books.

But wait, there’s more!  Hiring your own publicist and taking yourself on tour. Starting and constantly updating a web site.  Cultivating reviewers and famous authors. Doing professional trailers for your books.  Having a fan page on Facebook separate from your regular page.

Then there’s blogging.  Guest blogging.  Setting up a blog tour.  Advertising on line.

And that’s not all, folks.  Creating contests and book giveaways. Establishing a presence on Goodreads and carefully pretending to be there for discussion while you slowly mount a campaign to take the site over and crown yourself queen or king.  Tweeting.  Jumping on Tumblr and Instagram so you can be the Beyoncé of the book world.

Plus, if you’re one of those authors getting a book out every year (or more often, even), you need to be supplying your fans with “content” between books to keep them in a buying mode, so you have to be writing short stories and novellas and loading them as e-books.

The pressure can be relentless. Push, push, push.  Sell, sell, sell.

One thing that hasn’t come up yet, at least not widely, is selling yourself.  I mean, your physical self.  While people do have their hair and makeup done for photo shoots, publishers haven’t yet become body bullies.  They don’t push their authors to lose weight or go for spray-on tans.  They don’t suggest fashion makeovers or keeping track of your body fat percentage.   They don’t send links for Spanx.  They don’t raise the subject of cosmetic surgery.  They don’t urge us to take hot yoga, sign up for spinning classes, go running, do Pilates, enter Iron Man contests, train for marathons, and try liposuction when all else fails.

Because otherwise you’d see a  new wave of hokey photos:  authors at their laptops in thongs or Speedos (or nothing at all); authors casually nude or semi-clad as they take notes in a coffee shop or at the Eiffel Tower for their next books; and most obviously, working out at the gym.  There would also be a new  tacky classic, standing around shirtless or topless, perusing your latest opus.  Or the super-obvious reading nude in bed. The publishers would love it: hot author! hot book!  What could be bad?

Round Robin: Thinking About Social Media

Our favorite harbinger of spring, that round robin.

Our favorite harbinger of spring, that round robin.

Time once again for our rotund avian friend, the Round Robin. This time the Perseverance Press authors discuss social media. Love it, hate it, somewhere in between, it’s still part of the business of writing. Here’s are a few questions for our PP writers (and our web maven Sue Trowbridge), and their responses, regarding social media and how they use it.

Which platforms are you using or dabbling, or dipping your toes? Do you find it useful? Is it a major time suck? Why do you like it? What turns you off? Would you include blogging with things like Facebook and Twitter, or is it something else entirely?

Lea Wait: Although I’ve grown to look at all my contacts with potential readers as marketing, I do categorize types of contacts differently. For me there are two kinds of blogging. One is the regular, getting-to-know you, blog, where you have repeat readers; the others is the “pleased-to-meet-you” cocktail party guest blog where you in effect leave your calling card/book mark and hope the reader remembers you or checks out your book. I blog with Perseverance, of course. I also blog regularly (3-4 times a month + group blogs on Sundays) with I do guest blogs or interviews perhaps 1-2 times a month.

The only other social media I do is Facebook. I don’t have an Author page. I only have about 2300 “friends” so I’m not near needing one, and I think most people like the idea of being a “friend” instead of a “fan” – although they don’t call it a “fan page” any more. I probably spend a couple of hours a day on FB. I post all my blogs there, and other blogs of my friends. I write short reviews of books I enjoy. I comment on life in Maine, on events I’m involved with, and on what I’m writing. I also comment a lot on my friends’ posts – from wishing them happy birthday to liking their cat and baby photos and so forth. I do try to be their “friend” – not just an author who posts about her writing. I think it pays off when I have a new book out. At first it felt awkward – now I actually enjoy it.  Plus it’s a way to keep in touch with actual long lost friends and relatives.

I haven’t gotten involved with any of the other social media, although people have tried to talk me into Twitter and Pinterest. At the moment, one “time suck” a day is plenty – plus the blogging. If I added up the number of hour a week I spent blogging and FBing . . . it would be a lot.

Laura Crum: I have been blogging for five years at the equestrianink blogspot and have found it a very effective way to reach potential readers of my horse-themed mystery series. Since the readers of this blog are interested in horses and writing about horses, it is very much my target audience. My backlist is now up on Kindle and it is easy for me to see the bumps in sales when I do a promotion through the blog. So I would say that it is very useful. I also enjoy the discussions with other horse bloggers. Since I don’t like to take the time away from home/family to do physical book tours, etc, the blogging has been a great tool for me, enabling me to both find new readers and connect with fans.

I’ve been using Facebook for just over a year. I resisted it for a long time, because I knew (and I was right) that it would be addictive for me and a major time suck, as you say. However, it does work. On my last Kindle promotion, many “friends” shared the info and within hours of the sharing the sales more than quadrupled. I’m pretty sure that I have reached a lot of potential fans of my series through Facebook. But even so, I do waste time there, for sure.

I’ve resisted trying any other social media because I feel that I give enough time to Facebook and blogging as it is.

Lev Raphael: I signed up for Twitter and Facebook because I thought they’d be interesting ways to get my work out there beyond what I’d previously done.  Frankly, they’ve been more important in terms of fans finding me (which isn’t quite the same thing), and for learning about news, books, authors, or places I might not discover otherwise.  The downside is what everyone knows: Facebook can be a black hole. I try to limit my time there to, say, fifteen minutes in the morning.  I’m not always successful.  However, the days I stay away from it I tend not to miss it.

What I dislike most about Facebook is that people often misread things there and take offense quickly without thinking through their reactions.  Twitter and Facebook are both very cold ways of interacting that can create hot reactions.  They lack crucial basics of human communication: tone of voice, facial expression, body language, and the ability to repeat or backtrack or correct.  I also think people in a lousy mood can go ballistic on both those social web sites, take out their bad moods or work out their problems on others.   The quick nature of both media can bring out the bitchiness in some people, and too frequently does.  I’ve seen people de-friended on Facebook for ridiculous reasons.

I also think that Facebook can elicit inappropriate sharing from people who don’t know when to stop posting.  I’m not talking about authors telling fans and friends about meals or vacations, alerting them to readings or book sales or new books. When an author brags about royalties, that’s crossing a line – but then the problem with Facebook is that the lines are blurry anyway because the whole thing is so removed from reality.

Nancy Means Wright: I’m on Facebook with both a personal page and my Mary Wollstonecraft page, which early on attracted over 900 people – but I can’t see it has sold many books. People on FB don’t want to read a lot of “Buy Me” posts. So I try to entertain with lighter fare. Moreover, FB doesn’t show my photos, et al. the way it used to, so the page isn’t as interesting as it once was.

Goodreads (now acquired by Amazon) is helpful: I offer three or four Giveaways of each new book and usually have just under a thousand people wanting a copy. Sometimes I get a review, as well, and recently a reviewer of The Nightmare won $50 for her delightful review sent to Bas Bleu catalogue. I also post Giveaways in Library Thing, and might or might not get a review there. I’m on Linked In, but doubt it sells books. No Twitter at this point—I simply haven’t time!

I’m on listservs (chatrooms) for Crimethrutime,  Dorothy L, Historical Excerpts group, MMA, MWA, LLDreamspell, Red Room. And other subgroups within larger groups. I’m on Linked In, too, and seem to attract friends, if not sales.  I’m on two group blogs: PP of course, and Vermont Book Shelf, which is just for Vermont fiction writers. In a sense, blogs count as social media, since we do give and get comments. I make a point, too, of commenting on blogs by people who comment on mine. A courtesy – but I usually find them interesting, and learn something new.

Is social media a time suck? To a degree, yes – it keeps my name alive. But everyone is out there trying to promote his/her book, offering free e-book copies, et al. – and I’m just one of hundreds or thousands.

As a former teacher, though, I like to help others in any way I can. It’s in the blood.

Sara Hoskinson Frommer: Unless you count DorothyL, I don’t even dip my toes in.  Time pressure, for sure.  And I’m leery of Facebook. Blogging doesn’t worry me in the same way.  Not sure why.  Except that there too I protect my time.

Sheila Simonson: The main problem with social media is the way they suck up time.  I use Facebook and Linked In, though not as well as I’d like to.  It would be helpful if each medium would set up a user-friendly tutorial exploring all the possibilities, and if that’s not likely, perhaps some kindly expert somewhere could summarize.

Camille Minichino: When one of my stepdaughters was in college in San Diego, she’d send us postcards. “I’m in the library studying,” she’d write.

“No, you’re not,” her father and I would respond (to each other), “You’re in the library writing postcards to all your family and friends.”

That was about 20 years ago. That same “girl” is now on Facebook, posting up to the minute reports on what she’s doing. “Hubby and I are enjoying a date night,” she posts.

“No, you’re not,” her father and I say. “You’re on Facebook.”

In other words, Facebook hasn’t changed who we are; it’s simply our current tool. I try to use it the way I use any tool—to serve my needs, under my control. Not that it always works that way, but it’s my choice, and I can never blame it for time wasted. 

Albert Bell: I must admit that I view social media with suspicion. That’s due partly to my age (late 60s) and partly to my temperament (deeply introverted). I don’t want people following me, on Twitter or in any other fashion. Nor do I want to follow anyone else. I have better things to do with my time than to tell people where I’m having coffee or to be told where someone else is having coffee or anything else about their lives. Some days I think J. D. Salinger had the right idea – hole up and write. I’m not a Luddite; I use a computer and the internet for hours every day, in my job and in my writing. I have a couple of web sites and am on Facebook, but the current craze for interaction through social media feels to me like a violation of privacy – mine and everyone else’s. Blogs do seem to offer the kind of safe distance between the person posting and those commenting that makes me more comfortable. And a post on a blog is usually thought out more fully before it goes public.

Nancy Tesler: As a traditionally published author from the pre-internet, pre-ebook days, I am a total dunce when it comes to using social media. I am learning, however, that it’s an important tool for me as an author, to have in my arsenal in order to get my “brand” out there.  Consequently, I do have a website and a Facebook page.  I also, thank God, have a wonderful friend/assistant who helps me.  I have not yet ventured into Twitter or P<interest, partially because I’m intimidated, and partially because I find even Facebook a tremendous time suck. When I see how often some people post, I wonder how they get any work done. It takes too much time out of my day just to read all the posts, much less to post frequently myself.

Having said that, I believe the announcements I posted on Facebook for a recent eBook giveaway were very helpful. I posted at least two announcements with graphics before the three-day-giveaway and one on each subsequent day. The various posts were seen by 150 to 1400 people and I received many more “likes” than I’d had previously.  FB had given me $50.00 to do an ad and I did take advantage of that. Reportedly I had a good click-through rate. How many of those people actually downloaded the book I can’t say. The tremendous success of the promotion and the sales of my five books that have followed, I attribute to my having purchased a featured spot on Bookbub and to a lesser extent on Awesome Gang. Both sites have FB pages and numerous subscribers.

Kicking and screaming I’m being dragged into this new world. I don’t believe any of us can afford to ignore it.

Sue Trowbridge: Before the advent of the Internet, fans would only hear from authors when they had a new book out. I used to get occasional newsletters from writers like Carolyn Hart, Charlotte MacLeod and Elizabeth Peters via the U.S. mail. Today, thanks to social media, it’s possible to keep up with many of our favorites year ‘round. I can see Cara Black’s photos from Paris, find out which New York Times opinion pieces Lev Raphael has been reading, or get a movie recommendation from Lee Goldberg. In addition, I follow publishing industry watchers like Sarah Weinman on Twitter to find out what’s new in the book world. One thing the folks I follow have in common is that they all seem to genuinely enjoy interacting with their fans and friends, and they frequently have useful or fun information to share, not just “BSP.” If social media is not for you, don’t worry about it. Many of my favorite authors, like Peter Robinson and Marcia Muller, don’t have a social media presence at all. It doesn’t make me any less likely to buy their books. I think all fans recognize that the most important thing an author can write is not a status update – it’s an excellent book!

Wendy Hornsby: I have resisted the social media.  Like Rip van Winkle, I had a long nap in my publishing career.  Not as long a nap as his, but during which as much change in what was familiar occurred as his did. In 2009, when In the Guise of Mercy was published by Perseverance Press, I had been away for a decade, except for short stories. I was encouraged to start a webpage and to go on Facebook and to join various Listserv groups. I did what I had time and resources for.  But it seems that every week there is something more, and each new medium requires both more time and more tending. Honestly, because I am still teaching full time, and writing, I find the social media to be a great time suck. How productive is it?  I don’t know.

Recently, I participated in a writing project led by my friend Tim Hallinan. After the success of an anthology of donated short stories to raise money for Japanese relief after the great tsunami, Tim asked the participants to next contribute to a book about how various authors, twenty of us, create stories. Do we plot meticulously, or do we fly by the seat of our pants? The product of our conversation is a very fun book called Making Story.

The project was interesting from the beginning, and continues to be. When Making Story was first released as an E-book original, and then a paper and ink POD, we all posted on Facebook, blogged and tweeted like mad. I wrote about the book in my bi-weekly newspaper column, hawked it whenever I spoke about writing. With the efforts of twenty authors, the initial sales soared. And when the efforts faded, so did sales. We bottomed out at #300,000.

To bolster sales again, during the period from April 12 to 16, in honor of Income Tax Day, we offered the book online through Amazon, for free. Once again, we all hit the social media by storm.  By Friday morning, April 12, Making Story was number one on Amazon in the category of books about writing.  By Sunday morning, it was in the top 100 of non-fiction e-books.

It will be interesting to see if all the work to promote the book when it was free will help sells when it is back at its regular $3.99 bargain bite.

Do the social media sell books? Sure, given enough time, effort, and variety of postings. Would I alone be able to create such a move in the rankings as twenty of us working together affected? Nope. I know that there are bloggers, tweeters, reviewers and Likers (is that a new noun?) for hire at the rate of about five bucks per post. But I’m a school teacher so I doubt I’ll ever go that route.

For now, I have a web page, I check Facebook every week or so, I post on the blog for Perseverance Press authors and post on various guest blogs.  I write my newspaper column, “No Mystery Here,” for the Grunion Gazette.  And at the moment, that’s about all I can manage. Tweeting? If you explain why I should, maybe, after I retire.

Janet Dawson: Yep, it is a time suck. Which is why I don’t post on Facebook that often. I blog here with my fellow PP authors and I have my own blog, Got It Write. I view blogging as an opportunity to write short pieces about whatever catches my fancy. But sometimes it’s several weeks between posts. I was on Twitter for about a year but I still don’t get it, so I got off that one. I did get on Pinterest and am having fun with it, simply because it’s a place to post all the cute kitty pictures of my fabulous felines and my beautiful roses. Does it sell books? Maybe. But I work full time, which means writing time is at a premium. I simply don’t have the time or the inclination to devote several hours a day to social media, at least not right now. In fact, I just put up a sign on my desk that reads “Write First!”

What We Keep, What We Throw Away

In January 2012, I wrote a post for this blog wondering if this would be the year I finally cleaned my office.

As I suspected at the time, I’m still cleaning it, going through files and papers, tossing and sorting.

Making slow progress, emphasis on slow. But progress nonetheless. Once again the Friends of the Library book sale benefits from my periodic forays through the bookshelves.

In some respects, parting with books is easier that going through the accumulated paper.

In the earlier blog post, I mentioned keeping letters, and how glad I was that I have a packet of letters written by my long-departed grandmother. Now I rarely get letters, in this era of e-mail communication. I get e-mails, and periodically I go through and delete those.

I read an article recently that talked about how much electronic data people have stored up there in the cloud, the 21st century equivalent of the storage locker.

That got me to thinking about my writing process. Used to be I’d print out the book as I wrote it. The journey of writing my most recent published book, What You Wish For, was long, with many twists and turns and revisions. As a result, I have multiple versions of the book, enough to fill a couple of banker’s boxes. Those versions are also on the computer. Now that the book is in print, it’s time for those papers to go, so I can free up some space in the closet.

I’ve noticed that I no longer print out the books as I go. Where I used to edit and revise with a pile of manuscript pages and a pencil, I’m doing it on the computer. The pile of paper for Bit Player and the recently completed Death Rides The Zephyr is much smaller, although the latter, the train book, has a file box of research material accompanying the manuscript.

The impetus for this most recent spurt of decluttering, in addition to freeing up some real estate in my office, is a yearly trip, with a friend, to the commercial shredder. Together we collect our boxes of paper and haul them to the place with the industrial-strength machines that will chew up old tax records, statements from various accounts, and other things I wouldn’t want to toss in the recycle bin.

Much of the paper I used to receive now comes to me electronically. My bank statement is posted online. I access it by logging onto my account and then I print it out to reconcile it. The bills come via e-mail notification and the money is drawn automatically from my account. I deposit checks by endorsing them, then photographing them with my smart phone. All of this is convenient, but it still clutters up that data cloud I mentioned.

Then there’s clutter of another sort. Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads – and blogs. Keeping up with all of this eats up time, a precious commodity that would be better spent writing the next book. But the marketing aspect of writing has always been a double-edged sword. We write the books and then we must let people know the books are out there.

I find as I get older I’m saying “no” more often.

Enough rumination. Back to my piles of paper, deciding what to keep and what to throw away.