How to work like Hemingway

Asked to envision Ernest Hemingway, many people picture the great American author knocking back Daiquiris at the El Floridita Bar in Havana, marlin fishing off Key West, or perhaps stalking the Serengeti for a trophy lion. It’s difficult to imagine him, well, “working.”

The truth is, Hemingway worked very hard. And he was undeniably consistent. The regulars at Sloppy Joes remembered the Mojitos and the laughs and the sunsets, but they didn’t see him get up every morning and hit the typewriter (yes the manual kind where you had to punch the keys with your fingers) and pound out a 1000 words a day. “I start in at seven in the morning,” Hemingway said of his routine. “And I always quit when I’m going good, so that I’ll be able to pick right up again the next day.” The key is he did that nearly every day, week after week, for 30 years.

Is this easy to do? No way. It’s easier to sleep in the next morning, maybe try some ‘hair of the dog,’  or put it off another day. That’s what most people would do. But most people don’t produce 7 novels, 60 short stories and nab a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer before retiring to the Happy Hunting Grounds in the sky.

This disciplined schedule allowed Hemingway the afternoons and evenings to indulge in his favorite pursuits such as fishing (or wooing a new wife). But even then, Hemingway was always working. Once, while out on his boat, Pilar, Hemingway spied a weathered, elderly man in a small boat dwarfed by the enormity of the Gulfstream. This image became the idea for the famed novella, “The Old Man and the Sea.”

At the bar Hemingway also worked; taking in the conversations, the tales, and the mannerisms of the colorful characters he encountered and working them into his stories bright and early the next morning. And it was the thought and effort he put into these stories that got them read and made him a success.

Maybe Hemingway drank too much, or fished too much, or walked down the aisle a few too many times, but he never let his vices or personal pursuits compromise his work. He pulled off this trick by having a daily game plan and sticking to it.

Oh, and he also liked to type standing up.

Success and Regret

April 2, 2010

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Category: Sports


Success and Regret

Reflecting on the Olympics I’m struck by how many silver medalists dispIay sadness, frustration, and even anger at getting silver. We saw Yevgeny Plushenko’s visible frustration on the podium, and the U.S. women’s hockey team in tears as they consoled one another for their “loss.” For athletes of some countries, anything less than gold can actually mean negative repercussions for the athlete’s family.

In The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less Barry Schwartz researched the psychology of satisfaction and regret, and points out that Olympic bronze medalists are typically happier than silver medalists with the latter often experiencing life-long remorse.  “If only I had done this, if I hadn’t done that.”

I asked Paul Kingsman, a professional speaker and Olympic bronze medalist about this and he agreed. “Whereas the bronze medalist has the appreciation of avoiding loss, the silver medalist tends to focus on what they feel they lost by not being one place better,” Kingsman says. “The closeness of the downside is more significant to the bronze medalist and tends to outweigh the potential thoughts of ‘woulda, coulda shoulda’ that the silver medalist might be feeling.”

Kingsman talks about how he trained as a competitive swimmer not to beat others, but to win by competing against himself. “We took the view that the objective was to swim two minutes; I had no guarantee that two minutes would be fast enough to win,” Kingsman says. “But I hit my time and on the day, it was good enough for a medal.” As it turned out, he nabbed that medal by only four one-hundredths of a second!

As we wrap up watching the Olympics it’s a good time to think about what we want to excel in. But as we do it’s important to note that winning–be it gold, silver, or bronze–involves factors that are often out of our control. Teddy Roosevelt said that what really counts is to be in the arena. Only then do you have a chance at winning anything.

Boob Tube Leaders

These days we seem to be looking for our leaders on reality TV. Who are these campy characters we root for from our living rooms? I decided to find out firsthand by attending the casting call for the latest season of Donald Trump’s NBC show The Apprentice.

I awoke at 4 am, donned a suit, and took the 5:04 train to Penn Station, New York.  From there I hopped a cab to arrive at Trump Tower before 6:30. There was already a line.  A looong line. Stacks of empty pizza boxes and lawn chairs meant a number of intrepid souls had spent the night on Fifth Avenue and made a party of it.

Banishing a momentary impulse to bail, I took my place at the end of the queue. Trump had thrown down the gauntlet so as far as this motley assemblage was concerned, it was game on. I started out by making some new friends. There was the blonde twenty-something nurse and her downsized sales rep friend who had made the midnight drive from Massachusetts. There was the  determined, square-jawed buttoned-up MBA candidate.  Then the outspoken lady microbiologist from Latvia, and a working suburban mom (shaken from a fender-bender on the way in from Jersey), and a strange, self-professed computer genius who rambled on about how the FBI was after him. Just the folks you’d expect to meet in The Big Apple.

The serpentine line moved glacially slow, reminding me of Star Wars 1977, or Disney World before Fastpass. About an hour into the scene there was a mix-up in the line and 50 people wound up jumping ahead. There were mutters of displeasure as we rued our chances of getting a coveted wristband that would assure a first-round interview.

As we slowly shuffled forward we were approached by camera-toting foreign tourists asking what we were waiting for. Our reality show explanations were met with confusion but they all understood the name “Trump!”

The morning dragged on. One of the greatest tests of endurance is to stand for hours at a time with absolutely no idea of how much longer you’ll have to wait. It should be an Olympic event.

At 11:30 we finally wound our way into the lobby of Trump Tower where our applications and consent forms were double checked. Then seven of us were seated at a table and a Trump aide took our applications and shuffled through them before passing them to Donald himself. He looked through the papers then asked a single question, “Health Care Bill…for it—or against it—and why?” The Latvian microbiologist took the cue, jumped in, and she made an eloquent case in favor of it, citing Eastern European health care successes. Then the MBA candidate fired back with a powerful free market argument against the bill.

Then we all weighed in while Trump and the aid watched and after several minutes the signal indicated our time was up. If we were picked, they’d get back to us. I had a sense they knew just what they were looking for, and I figured the paranoid computer FBI fugitive was a shoo-in.

Behind us, the line of other hopefuls waited their turn. Walking out of Trump Tower we passed all the Trump souvenir baubles and shameless “You’re Fired!” t-shirts for sale. No matter how high class we might think we are, we all have to hawk something.

I came away from the experience with a respect for the perseverance of reality show candidates, even the goofy or “untalented” ones often mocked on these programs. They’re all people willing to dedicate time and effort to chase a dream against the odds. And that’s really the only way it can be done.