Start That Day Book

This is a short follow-up to my post about day books (AKA a book of days). Are you ready to start one? You don’t need to wait for the new year. It can be your poem-a-day book, but that is pretty ambitious. Or it can be like more traditional day books, recording events of the day.

You could use any notebook, but I am a big fan of bound books for these kinds of projects. One that I found online is specifically a day book blank book designed with 365 pages. Actually, the one I was looking at has pages numbered 1–366. Day 366 is for leap years, like 2024. It has 370 unlined pages so you can write and sketch and paste in pictures, plus a title page and three notes pages – one at the start for your intro and two at the end to wrap things up.

You don’t need a theme or special project to start recording your thoughts, memories, changes, and progress for 365 days. It could be for you but it could be a book to leave for someone else. Record the first year of a baby’s life.

The numbered pages can be a bit of motivation for keeping at the practice, though the blank page shouldn’t be frightening. I know someone whose day book is composed of all images hand drawn and cut out of magazines, mail, or found. Another friend did a gratitude journal as her daily prompt.

Another blank day book I found online has a lock on it. That reminds me of a diary my older sister had when I was a kid. The lock might have protected it but it also made the contents all the more appealing. Day books are not diaries. More almanac than a diary or intimate journal. More log book than confessional.

Not That Stephen King

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others:
read a lot and write a lot.”

This past month, after much hesitating, I read Stephen King’s novel, Billy Summers. I looked up which books of his have sold the most copies and it looks like The Shining leads the list, followed by Carrie, Salem’s Lot, Misery, Pet Sematary, Salem’s Lot, The Dark Tower series, and The Green Mile. Of those, I have read one and seen movie versions of three. I don’t think that qualifies me as a fan and certainly not as a King fanatic.

As you’ll see, my favorite Stephen King is not the famous mystery, horror writer that people know. Not that Stephen King. If you asked me what are my favorites by him, my short list would include the short stories “Stand By Me” and “The Shawshank Redemption” which are two that many people would not know were written by him. Both became quite beloved films.

From the top 10 list, The Green Mile is the only one I have read and I only read it after seeing the movie. I recall when it was originally published in 1996 that it came out in six self-contained monthly installments. That seemed like a Charles Dickens experiment or a publishing gimmick which I found unappealing. I read the volume that combines all six parts, but in 1966 the individual volumes were all on the New York Times bestseller list simultaneously, so I guess it was a good idea. The movie came out three years later directed by Frank Darabont who was known for some horror-ish films but also directed The Shawshank Redemption. The performances by Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan were excellent and so it sent me to the book, which returned to the bestseller list with the movie’s release.

I was able to borrow the audiobook of Billy Summers. I prefer that medium for most of my book reading these days. I used to listen to books on tape or on CDs during my car commuting days. Now, I listen on walks and while working outside in the garden.

I was first interested in King after I found out that he had been an English teacher like myself and was writing in his free time. I had seen a story or interview years ago that said he was frustrated and blamed teaching time for his lack of getting published. I did that too back in the day. His wife made a deal with him that he could take a year off from teaching to write and submit his manuscript. If he succeeded, great. If not, he would go back to teaching. Carrie was published. Goodbye to teaching. I searched for that origin story a bit online and didn’t find it, so maybe I imagined it.

Carrie is a horror and supernatural novel and I think qualifies as gothic fiction. He originally meant it to be a short story since that was all he was getting published. He wrote a longer novella version that he didn’t think was good. When he was writing this novel, he was living in a trailer in Hermon, Maine with his wife Tabitha and two children. He was teaching at Hampden Academy. He had published short stories in some “men’s magazines.” His wife and others rescued the manuscript by making suggestions for changes. It became an epistolary novel with “official” reports and has a framing device consisting of multiple narrators. The book sold so-so in hardcover but much better in paperback editions and much much better when the film came out in 1976. That’s when I discovered King.

The last King novel I read before Billy Summers was 11/22/63. A friend who is a big King fan recommended it because he knows 1) I love time travel stories 2) I’m still fascinated by the Kennedy assassination. This is a book King apparently thought about a long time ago but he didn’t feel he was ready to write. The short description is that it is about a man who goes back in time to save JFK. Of course, it is way more complicated than that. (I wrote about the book in an earlier post.) It is a love story too. To travel in time here is easy but to actually get to 11/22/63 and stop the assassination is not easy.

It’s a long book and I always think his long novels need some cutting. The love story of Jake, Sadie, and her ex-husband could be a novel by itself. I wasn’t a fan of the ending, but overall I did like the book. That’s my mixed recommendation, but I would recommend it if you meet one or both of my time travel and JFK interests.

“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story.
When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

But my favorite King book isn’t fiction. It is On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This short book (right there not typical of King) is, as the title says, both a memoir and a craft book. His advice comes from his life, starting with childhood and into his established writing time. King had a near-fatal accident in 1999 and it is very much linked to his writing which is linked to his recovery.

This book got great reviews and I would add my own recommendation to those reviews. As King was recovering (and at first he could not physically do any writing), he did a lot of thinking about writing and his life. That’s why the book is a memoir about writing. It does have a lot of advice in “toolkits” about writing and even about a good life.

Is it worth reading if you don’t consider yourself a writer? I think so. I think it can be inspiring, even if all you plan to write is a journal for yourself. Can we all be “writers?” He says “You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

An Autumn Sunday

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

A lazy autumn Sunday afternoon.  I slept rather late. I woke up to the smell of croissants my wife was baking – which is better than any alarm clock. Drank three cups of good coffee. I glanced at the news but it started depressing me, so I worked on one of my short poems about the day because that is like this blog – a bit of escape into words.

It was chilly his morning. Less than 50 degrees. That’s fine sweater weather. I went out to check on the tomato plants that I covered yesterday to try to get a few last cherry tomatoes. The covers were puffing in the wind like Halloween ghosts.

Halloween is my least favorite holiday. – though I seem to write about it here rather often.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

There were some interesting patterns of fallen leaves in different colors. The acorns and a few pine cones are arranged by serendipity, squirrels, and chipmunks on the deck. Some sticks fell with the wind last night and they almost formed a wreath.

Then I went inside for some lunch and scrolling through my tumblr feed I saw a post about “land art.”

I wrote a bit about this in the past – art made from the materials nature offers and made in nature and allowed to dissolve, decompose or disintegrate naturally. Some names associated with this form are Andy Goldsworthy, Ludovic Fesson, Jeremy Underwood, Lizzie Buckmaster Dove and Emily Blincoe.

I suppose you could look at this day as a wasted one. I didn’t accomplish anything “significant” so far today. Still, I feel like I am one point in a very large circle of Sunday afternoon people looking at autumn all over this top half of our world. It is a good feeling. That is an accomplisgment.

By Evie Shaffer on Pexels.com

Old Man Hemingway

Henry “Mike” Strater and Ernest Hemingway with an “apple-cored” marlin. Bimini, Cat Cay, 1935. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Public Domain

In September 1952, Ernest Hemingway’s last novel, The Old Man and the Sea, was published. It was the last novel published during his lifetime and it was cited when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.

I read that book in eighth grade. I had an overly ambitious or optimistic English teacher who had bought copies of that novel and Steinbeck’s The Pearl and The Red Pony and Of Mice and Men, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Orwell’s Animal Farm and other “short books (novellas) by great authors.” She wanted to introduce us to literature and famous writers before we went to high school. I read all of them that year. I didn’t understand all of what I read, but it was influential. And she loved me for reading them.

It worked with me. I went on to read several other books by those two writers on my own that year and many others in the years that followed. I recall liking The Red Pony as I was going through a horseback riding phase and the other two books seemed a bit preachy to me. I went back to all three books eventually and Hemingway’s novel now is the one that is the strongest.

Ernest Hemingway had been working on a very long novel that he called The Sea Book. It was inspired by that WWII period when he was on his Pilar fishing boat looking for submarines in his attempt to be part of the war. That original manuscript was in three sections: “The Sea When Young,” “The Sea When Absent,” and “The Sea in Being.” It had an epilogue about an old fisherman.

Some aspects of it did appear in the posthumously published Islands in the Stream (1970). Hemingway also mentions the real-life experience of an old fisherman that seems almost identical to that of Santiago and his marlin in “On the Blue Water: A Gulf Stream Letter” published in Esquire magazine in April 1936.

He wrote more than 800 pages of The Sea Book and rewrote them more than a hundred times, but the book still didn’t seem finished. Finally, he decided to publish just the epilogue on its own which he called The Old Man and the Sea.

The novella begins, “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” It tells the story of Santiago who catches the biggest fish of his life, only to have it eaten by sharks before he can get back to shore.

The Old Man and the Sea was written while Hemingway was living in Cayo Blanco, Cuba, and Santiago is an aging Cuban fisherman who struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba.

I have always thought that this old man’s struggles had to be connected to Hemingway’s own struggles as a writer and with the deep depression at the end of his life. Without getting all literary symbols about it, I think the marlin is his writing career as he tries to bring in one more “big book” and goes a long time without doing so. The little book he does publish is good but, like the remains of the marlin that makes it back to Cuba, it is just a part of a much larger work.

The novella is not my favorite Hemingway writing, but it is a good first read for someone who has not read him and wonders why he is considered such an important American writer.

Hemingway’s Last Decade and Last Day

In 1950, Ernest Hemingway had been working on a long novel tentatively titled The Sea Book. The writing was difficult and he felt his abilities were diminished. He only published a section of the manuscript during his life as The Old Man and the Sea (1952). Despite the fact that the book was well-reviewed and won the Pulitzer Prize, he was disappointed with himself for only being able to finish that short novella.

In 1953, while in Africa, a plane he was in collided with a flock of birds and crash-landed on the shore of the Nile River. Hemingway sprained his shoulder but boarded another plane which also crashed, this time fracturing his skull and cracking two discs in his spine, and causing internal bleeding.

The crashed plane wasn’t immediately located and Hemingway was reported dead by the press. He later said that he strangely enjoyed reading the obituaries in a Tom Sawyer-ish way and he saved newspaper clippings in scrapbooks.

The injuries never fully healed and he increased his alcohol consumption as a way to self-medicate. He wrote a lot but published none of it.

A trunk of old manuscripts and notebooks from his days in Paris gave him the rough materials to write his memoir A Movable Feast which was published posthumously in 1964. It is often considered his best book of non-fiction. Still, he was disappointed in it when he finished the manuscript because he was not writing fiction and the book was the result of reworking old material. He was a harsher critic of his writing than some who did for their livelihood.

He battled insomnia, pain, depression, and failing eyesight in his last decade. He was losing his hair and was very vain about that and about getting old in general.

He became very paranoid and was convinced that he was under FBI surveillance. His wife thought he was losing his mind. Ironically, it was revealed much later that he actually was under FBI surveillance.

He entered the Mayo Clinic and was given electroshock therapy which did not help and probably made things worse.  The treatment affected his memory and made writing even more difficult. He believed that he was only alive in order to write and that if he could not write, there was no point in living. He talked frequently about suicide.

ERnest with shotgun

Back in 1928, Ernest had received a cable telling him that his father had committed suicide by shooting himself. He was devastated, particularly because he had earlier sent a letter to his father telling him not to worry about his financial difficulties. That letter arrived minutes after the suicide. He commented at the time that “I’ll probably go the same way.”[*]

Ernest Hemingway’s behavior during his last decade was similar to his father’s final years and it has been suggested that his father may have had the genetic disease hemochromatosis, in which the inability to metabolize iron culminates in mental and physical deterioration. Medical records made available in 1991 confirm that Ernest’s own hemochromatosis had been diagnosed in early 1961.[*] His sister Ursula and his brother Leicester also committed suicide.

On July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway got up early, loaded his favorite shotgun, and shot himself.

Updated Post – originally posted 2013

Writing Like Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

A friend who does a lot of writing told me that he downloaded a “Hemingway Editor” app that is supposed to help you make your writing bold and clear as if Ernest Hemingway was editing your writing.

It is not unlike other editing and proofing apps. I use Grammarly and online it installs into the Chrome browser and reminds me about things as I type. Many of my mistakes are typos as I am a terrible hunt-and-peck typist. There is a free version and a premium version.

The Hemingway Editor app highlights wordy sentences, adverbs, passive voice, fancy vocabulary, and other things as you type. Ernest was not a fan of those four things. The app lets you publish blog posts directly to Medium and WordPress. You can also import and export text from Word documents. (It is a paid app.)

Hemingway is well known for his objective and terse prose style. You probably had some writing class in high school or college that used Hemingway as an example of a clean writing style. Even Hemingway’s dialogue is very simple. My Grammarly app actually gives me reports and praises me for my extensive vocabulary. Of course, when I write on this blog and in other places, I am often using scientific or technical words. When I am writing poetry, I think I tend to be more Hemingway-ish in my writing. I like using new words but I don’t want readers to need a dictionary to understand the poem.

The Old Man and the Sea is a good example of Hemingway’s writing style. The language is simple and natural on the surface, but it is also very deliberate and there is more going on under that surface. His concise, straightforward, and realistic, style is a departure from other writers of his time.

Sometimes his style is referred to as the “iceberg theory.” This simple style of writing has minimal detail on the surface, with deeper meaning hiding below.

In poetry, I might compare it to the poetry of Billy Collins. Before he became the U.S. Poet Laureate, some people criticized his poems as being too easy to read, and too often amusing. I think his poems are very accessible but there is more to them and they benefit from multiple readings.

My friend let me use his app and I put in an old post I wrote here about Hemingway. It seemed like a meta thing to do. It had suggestions and I took the advice and revised that post from 2013 and reposted it today.

Here is one paragraph that the app thought was wordy. You can see the revised version in my repost.

He entered the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and was given electroshock therapy which did not help and probably made things worse as it affected his memory and made writing even more difficult. He believed that he was only alive in order to write and that if he could not write, there was no point in living. He talked frequently about suicide.

No app will make you write like Hemingway, but it’s a good thing to have some artificial intelligence looking over your shoulder as you type.