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Hemingway's curious trick: "Stop while you're going good" (1 Viewer)

Kyle R

WF Veterans
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?
 

Skodt

WF Veteran
WF Veterans
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

General
Patron
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

WF Veterans
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

Senior Member
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

WF Veterans
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

WF Veterans
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

Creative Area Specialist (Fiction)
WF Veterans
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

Senior Member
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

Space Lord
Patron
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

WF Veterans
'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

Retired Supervisor
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...
 

JosephB

Senior Member
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.
 
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luckyscars

WF Veterans
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

Senior Member
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.
 

Gamer_2k4

WF Veterans
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

Senior Member
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.
 
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