Who’s right?

So… I stumbled onto these two quotes within a few seconds of one another…

“In order to write about life, first you must live it!”

– Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961), writer, journalist

But then:

“A writer doesn’t need to go out and live, but stay home and invent.”

– Ned Rorem, Pulitzer Prize-Winning American Composer

Which is it?

Come on. Time’s wasting, and I need to know.

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  • anonymous

    “We are the toys of absent things.” — Paul Valery

  • As someone who’s both composed music and written a novel, you can probably get away with pure invention when it comes to non-representational art like music (but to the extent that you can bring your personal experience into it, it’ll definitely be more authentic), but some degree of experience is necessary for any sort of coherent narrative (and, conversely, invention will make your stories seem like more than just a memoir written by a guy who likes the ocean).

  • Cheryl Russell

    Yes. :-)

    I don’t know. For me, and I think that’s where these quotes center–on what worked best for that particular person–life experiences help fuel the writing, but a lot of it comes from my imagination.

    What works for one writer may be a total dud for another.

    I’m partial to the “read, read, read” advice, and variants thereof, I’ve heard over the years–probably because I can now justify buying many books. They’re all educational in one way or another. :-)

  • tyler

    If the world is rolling at your feet, then what are you standing on?

    And, I still believe Kafka really became a giant cockroach.

  • Rick,

    Let me finish writing *this* fantasy novel and I’ll cook up a reply.

    In the meantime, allow me to complicate matters. This quote just in from my friend Michael Demkowicz:

    “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you and be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
    – Franz Kafka

  • Ned wins, or else my 13-year-old’s ability to write would be nil. Since I think she has a definite knack for writing, Ned can’t be all wrong.

  • tyler

    Hemingway was biased because he had “lived” so much. Writers like Emily Dickinson and Proust wrote some of the most famous literature in the world, and they were both basically shut-ins. I’d say you need some life experience to have as a starting point, although any fiction writer is obviously going to make stuff up.

    A more interesting question is what kinds of experiences inform fantasy authors (like, well, you), since they really can’t write about things that have happened to them.

  • I side with Hemingway on this one. Writers should live life, then turn it into a fantastical reality that doesn’t really exist. What else is a writer to do when he realizes that real life is painful and monotonous? Hemingway lived life and then committed suicide, for heaven’s sake. So what am I saying? Live life, turn it into a fantastical nether world that resembles life, and please don’t commit suicide anywhere along the way.

  • Rick Ro.

    As someone who is in the process of writing a sci-fi novel, I’m with Ned Rorem on this one. If you want to write “just about life,” maybe Hemingway’s right, but if you want to tell a STORY, then you need to stay home and invent it.

    Having said that, the poet in me (I’ve written tons of poems, also) agrees with Hemingway. I think most poems are glimpses into life and one needs to “live life” to write those.

    How’s that for a decisive answer?!

    Jeffrey, you’ve written three (soon to be four) fantasy books so far. What’s your take?

  • Gaith

    Seems to be they’re both right – and they’re talking about two very different things. Composing is a highly mathematical exercise, whereas narrative prose is nothing of the sort.