He thought about alone in Constantinople that time, having quarrelled in Paris before he had gone out. He had whored the whole time and then, when it was over, and he had failed to kill his loneliness, but only made it worse, he had written her, the first one, the one who left him, a letter telling her how he had never been able to kill it…
—Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro
What would it take to write that story?
The main character is an American writer who lives in Paris with his lover. They drink heavily and travel on sporting trips in exotic places. An interesting character.
Except the author, too, is an American writer who lives in Paris with his lover, drinking heavily and going sporting.
And he writes about his, er, the character’s trip to go whoring after a fight with her, and writing to the ex he still loves, before coming home and saying nothing of it.
Saying nothing, but writing it, and didn’t his lover ever read it?
And did it break her heart to know?
There are always times when the truth can hurt. More than once, when I’ve mentioned someone on this blog—and thought I was only reporting, matter-of-fact, what was said or done—they told me they didn’t like how they were “portrayed.”
There is a collision of worlds that happens here, and in any responsible blog.
When it hurts it’s the author’s fault.
The Long Game
I play for the long game. I’d rather write something great than keep everyone happy.
In all his writing, Hemingway chose to be canny and blunt. He lays out the people around him exactly as he sees them: their faults as well as their virtues, but mostly their faults. His stories are thinly masked extractions from his own life. The characters represent the individuals or types he knew, and his opinions are clear.
It led to a rough life for Hemingway. The drinking, the war, and everything else helped too—but his series of shattered relationships certainly weren’t made easier by publishing exactly what he thought of them.
Those relationships are done now. The people who were hurt, all dead. Hemingway lived his personal tragedy and his time in the starring role is done.
Long after those feelings are buried, his books remain and his name stays great. He had such a sharp eye for human psychology, and said things so clearly and honestly, that it speaks to us. His stories shake you to the core because you know the people in them. You know them, and you find yourself, too.
He speaks with an honesty most writers are afraid of.
How should a blogger talk about their friends, family, and the people they meet? What do you think? Is writing something truthful and powerful worth it, if it hurts people’s feelings?
How much of your potential do you censor for others?