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View Full Version : Hemingway's curious trick: "Stop while you're going good"



Kyle R
June 14th, 2013, 10:23 PM
Winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature, Ernest Hemingway gave this advice on how to maintain writing momentum and avoid writer's block:

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck.

Author and screenwrite Roald Dahl swore by the advice:

I never come back to a blank page; I always finish about halfway through. Hemingway taught me the finest trick : “When you are going good, stop writing.” You don’t go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do, then you say, well, where am I going to go next? You make yourself stop and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next.

Many authors who use this technique recommend to stop mid-scene. In other words, instead of finishing the scene, you stop halfway through (despite your desire to keep going!), that way you have something to jump into and begin writing immediately during your next writing session.

Some authors even suggest taking it a step further, to stop mid-sentence at the end of each writing session, for the same reasons.

What do you think of this technique?

escorial
June 14th, 2013, 10:48 PM
I can sense the logic and the method but it must be pretty hard to stop in full flow.

Skodt
June 14th, 2013, 10:53 PM
I always have so much more to say after I stop writing. I have never came to a point where I say, "Well I started, now how do I finish," maybe it is sort of a subtle way of approaching this technique.

Sam
June 14th, 2013, 11:00 PM
I've always done it. When I stop writing for the night, I never finish the last sentence. It always awaits me come morning. It's a great way of getting started on a new day. I already know how I was going to finish it, so it's a matter of tying that up and getting into a flow from there.

Gargh
June 14th, 2013, 11:04 PM
I didn't realise it was advice from Hemingway (it was given to me by an author at a writing 'event') but it is the best advice I have ever had. I finish in the middle of a scene, go to bed and by the next day I know where I'm going after. Saved me many times during NaNo. As a matter of fact I am stuck right now with a story for the first time in months after I stupidly completely ignored that advice. I think I've made it clear where I stand! :star:

Robert_S
June 14th, 2013, 11:05 PM
I'll have to try it out. I'm stuck with the first of my trilogy not knowing if I'm liking it at all. The second is going swimmingly, perhaps too well. I fear I may have to revision out scenes to keep it under 120pgs.

shadowwalker
June 14th, 2013, 11:45 PM
I haven't stopped mid-sentence, but there are times when, like running downhill, the momentum starts to take over and I make myself stop before I get carried away. I often stop at the end of a chapter when I'm raring to get moving on the next one. So it works for me in a modified way.

FleshEater
June 15th, 2013, 01:23 AM
I am forced to do this every time I write...life always gets in the way. I don't think it makes me write better though. I'm more of an obsessive compulsive writer where I almost have to perfect before I can move on.

Blade
June 15th, 2013, 03:40 AM
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck.
I have never heard of this advice from Hemingway and have certainly not left things sitting in mid sentence but I think it works as a method of preservation of momentum. I have no qualms leaving a piece with quite a ways to go if I feel I have made good headway and that I am essentially on a roll.with the material concerned.

There is really no point in pushing each session to the absolute dried out point because you are likely to cut corners and omit material in order to get there.

Angelicpersona
June 15th, 2013, 03:45 AM
Unfortunately, and probably because of my work hours, my brain just isn't what it should be a lot of the times. I've left things half done, knowing where they're going, and by the time I got back to them, half an hour or a few days later, I just don't know what I was going to say anymore. I either have to get it all out there and then or I would never get anything accomplished because I'd spend all my time wondering what it was I WAS going to write.

squidtender
June 15th, 2013, 06:55 AM
I'm more of an obsessive compulsive writer where I almost have to perfect before I can move on.

Almost? Sometimes, those who help you Google how many years they'd get for murder . . . 8-[

As for your question, KC, I've done that for years now and it really works. I've stopped just short of my nightly word count (and I'm anal about hitting that), just so I can slingshot myself into the next night.

Kevin
June 15th, 2013, 02:35 PM
'Stop before you get there'- Is that the advice? Hmm. My story is like me, driving a car. There's a roadblock up ahead and I can see it. When I get there I won't be able to go any further. I can't figure out what happens next or what to do about it. I could pull the car over and stop before I get there but what's difference? There's no going around it. If I leave the vehicle I'll have to abandon it. I've done it before. I've left a whole junkyard of blocked roads.


thank you Kyle
and thank you R. Serling, for my fourth sentence :)

Terry D
June 15th, 2013, 03:49 PM
Tremendous advice! I can see where this would solve a world of witing and momentum problems. I just have one question;how would you use this technique in the troubling case of character...

Jeko
June 15th, 2013, 03:53 PM
I've always wanted to do it, but haven't yet garnered the willpower required.

JosephB
June 15th, 2013, 03:57 PM
Makes sense -- but I usually write at night -- and so I don't stay up too late, I set the timer on my phone. When it goes off, I'm done. That -- or when my human timer calls after me from the bedroom. Either way -- I generally don't have the luxury of picking and choosing when I quit. Oh well.

luckyscars
June 16th, 2013, 08:42 AM
There's a lot of truth in this, I'd say. The problem - as so often is the case whenever it comes to Hemingway wisdom - is that it's probably best not to be taken too literally.

Now I don't know about everybody else, but speaking for myself I find that getting into 'the flow' is damn hard. Not least because to get there one must overcome all else and absorb oneself entirely with the story. So no, I do not stop 'when the going's good'. It's too good to stop.

However I do absolutely agree that there is something to be said for stopping midway through something. Could be anything - chapter, a paragraph, even a sentence or a word. I do this a lot and it does help. Acts much like a catapult on an aircraft carrier. Even if you know nothing else, you at least know how to begin.

H. Giggles
June 16th, 2013, 08:42 AM
Sounds like an interesting technique. I don't know if I could do it though...once I get going, I can't seem to stop until I'm literally falling asleep at the keyboard.

FleshEater
June 16th, 2013, 02:52 PM
Almost? Sometimes, those who help you Google how many years they'd get for murder . . . 8-[

There's at least a pay off for that method though; easier editing! Mr. Several ;)

Gamer_2k4
June 18th, 2013, 04:43 PM
Once you've got a rhythm going, why ruin it? My best scenes were done all at once, because I found my stride and hit it hard. Even if I stopped them mid-scene to keep writing later, I'd have to reach the end of that scene eventually. Then what? Then I've wasted my momentum, and I'm left with a half good, half mediocre scene. If it's not broken, don't fix it.

As for starting again once you've stopped, I've found that this is where outlines help quite nicely. I'm never at a loss as to where to begin, because everything is planned out beforehand.

JosephB
June 18th, 2013, 06:10 PM
You have to wonder too how much of what Hemingway said was just for effect or to screw with people. Like people have been tripping all over that "the first draft of anything is crap" for 60 years.

TheYellowMustang
June 18th, 2013, 08:41 PM
Unfortunately, and probably because of my work hours, my brain just isn't what it should be a lot of the times. I've left things half done, knowing where they're going, and by the time I got back to them, half an hour or a few days later, I just don't know what I was going to say anymore. I either have to get it all out there and then or I would never get anything accomplished because I'd spend all my time wondering what it was I WAS going to write.

Exactly! I have that problem too because I have a horrible memory. I have to write ideas and quotes down at once, or else it will just vanish from my mind. If I forget an idea and can't remember exactly what it was I wanted to write, it drives me insane. If I was going to follow that advice I'd have to at least write down a shortened version of my ideas for the following pages.

If I get writer's block I find it that it helps to just write another scene than the one you planned to/the next one. When I got to chapter 5 or 6 and had WB I just wrote a couple scenes from the last chapters instead.

Blade
June 18th, 2013, 10:01 PM
Unfortunately, and probably because of my work hours, my brain just isn't what it should be a lot of the times. I've left things half done, knowing where they're going, and by the time I got back to them, half an hour or a few days later, I just don't know what I was going to say anymore. I either have to get it all out there and then or I would never get anything accomplished because I'd spend all my time wondering what it was I WAS going to write.
:onthego:This sounds to me like a good place for the good old-fashioned pencil and notebook so you can record a point form resume of exactly where you were planning to go. All you need is the tile and a series of point form notes on direction.

I find that despite computers, word processors, spell check and whatever the simple pocket notebook is vital in keeping my writing efforts organized and coherent. Not only can you catch the odd unexpected inspriration but record condensed future plans as well.:cool:

WackedWes
August 13th, 2013, 03:55 AM
Seems like a wonderful idea to me, I mean if you're not so sure about what to do next then you're sure to be deterred to go back to it. The interest you get mid-way through a scene is bound to drive your imagination wild when you're away from the story. Just thinking about it and not being able to write- due to self control- is sure to help ward against future writers block.

Kuro
August 18th, 2013, 07:06 AM
I'm surprised this is actually a technique, but I can see why this would work. Whenever I stop while I still have plenty ideas for what to write, I find myself itching to write more. So much so that when I do finally get around to working more on my story, I feel even more motivated than I previously had.

SVenus
September 2nd, 2013, 11:55 AM
Tried this with a chapter and I have to say I quite liked it. I wrote 80% of a chapter, stopped and went to sleep. When I woke up I immediately finished it and then wrote 80% of another chapter and left it. I've found it that when I just complete a chapter when it's time for me to write again I'll just use excuses like :"I'll start tomorrow."

Blade
September 2nd, 2013, 11:09 PM
I like this approach as well as it seems to sustain momentum within the writing rather than deliberately bring it to a stop. A little risky with shorter works like poems and short stories as it offers the temptation of abandonment.:shock:

Rip Van Twinkle
April 11th, 2014, 06:11 AM
I usually take it one further and stop mid-sentence, in the middle of a scene. Drives me nuts, but afterwards I'm always looking forward to sitting back down each day and writing.

Bishop
May 1st, 2014, 10:44 PM
I always stop at a point where I know what's coming next. If I don't, the next day's 2000 words can be rough starting. :D

Gyarachu
May 1st, 2014, 11:23 PM
I find if I stop before I start, I never run out of ideas.

Elvenswordsman
May 2nd, 2014, 04:46 AM
Brilliant idea! I'll have to try that.

Greimour
May 2nd, 2014, 05:07 AM
I have never tried this intentionally.

I don't particularly have a set belief or definition I believe in as far as "writers block" is concerned. However... I have before now, for life reasons, been torn away from my work mid writing.

As many know, I write by the seat of my pants... I kind of make it up as I go along. So - with this one particular piece, I stopped mid action to go do (something)

Due to life's dramas I had completely forgotten about it. I started reading it some weeks later and began to marvel at it - *Had I really written this?* I could remember it vaguely and it was coming back to me slowly. As I read on I became more and more entranced by the story and I was truly pleased with myself ... until ... all of a sudden - the words ran out.

This was my reaction:

"What!? Screw you Kev! What the effin fudge happens next!?"

I beat my brain for hours wondering where the story could have been going, but nothing came to mind and eventually I turned my mind away from it. That's the condition it remains in to this day.

Did I even know at the time what was happening next? Can someone steal that pill from Limitless and give me a couple? I wanna know what happens next -.-''

Yep, not sure Ernest's method would work for me... I might try it some time though.

danielstj
May 7th, 2014, 08:17 PM
I think that every writing technique can work properly if used properly, and that they can ALL be used in conjunction with one another to make something of true essence.

Poet of Gore
September 21st, 2014, 07:07 AM
i stop in the middle of a wo

garza
November 28th, 2014, 02:31 AM
Faulkner gave the same advice. If you write yourself down to empty you won't have a place to start tomorrow.

Apex
November 28th, 2014, 04:16 PM
The best time for my writing is early morning. First, and second cup of coffee. I don’t have things on my mind about what I need to do that day.
Where do I stop writing? wherever I’m at, when I no longer feel like writing.
Computers ease the task of my writing. When I stop, I leave notes in red…stuff I want to write following where I stopped. My notes tend to lead me to new ideas. It is true I work on a pre-thought-out-plot, and never change course, but when I’m writing a story, sub-plots do come into play.
Do I think writers should follow how other writers solve problems? I have to answer yes, and no to that. Our brains are all built the same, but we don’t think the same. My suggestion would be, “Do what works for you.” When you hear about methods others use, try them, modify them, and if they work for you good…if not, put them aside.
I like writing. As I’m building a story I never think, “Is this good? Will it sell? I leave that for the rewrite. Writing a story has to be a thing I love to do. It’s my time to be a teller of tale tales.
There are two writers in me…the story teller who writes for the fun of it, and that other guy, the re-writer who is all business. The re-writer can fix a story, but he can’t write one. I never let these two sit down at the computer together…they would just disrupt each others flow.
Yeah I know, writing is a business, and should be treated as such...but, I also know the business would be nothing without the writer...that makes us, the writers the apex of the business. Why do you think my name is Apex?

jk1973
March 4th, 2018, 01:04 AM
In a totally unintentional way I've been using this technique and I find that I am so eager to get back and finish the sentence or paragraph so that my character can rest and I don't leave them hanging. It sounds strange but I envision them in a freeze frame until I can complete writing their actions.

seeoil
June 18th, 2018, 07:25 PM
This is an intriguing trick. I think this is the solution for my problem of writing until I burn myself out and taking days to recover. Thank you for sharing, must try this out!