What if you only had only one more day to write? What would you write?
This is the dilemma faced by Harry of Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “The Snows of Kilamanjaro.” We find Harry on his deathbed, plagued by the depression that his life will soon end. Yet, the thought that torments Harry most is that he will never be able to write all of the stories he has put off writing over the years. Hemingway writes:
He remembered the good times with them all, and the quarrels. They always picked the finest places to have the quarrels. And why had they always quarreled when he was feeling best? He had never written any of that because, at first, he never wanted to hurt any one and then it seemed as though there was enough to write without it. But he had always thought that he would write it finally, there was so much to write. He had seen the world change; not just the events; although he had seen many of them and had watched the people, but he had seen the subtler change and he could remember how the people were at different times. He had been in it and he had watched it and it was his duty to write of it; but now he never would.
—”The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Ernest Hemingway.
Why We Don’t Write
The writer is a strange breed. We see the world through a lens that tries to understand the reason why and how people react and behave, and then we project it onto our own paper, with our own understanding.
Yet, we don’t always get around to writing these things that we notice. Sometimes it may be distractions such as work, friends, family, or just lack of time that keeps us from writing. Or maybe it is because we don’t know enough about what it is that we want to write. So we wait until later, putting it off and separating that initial burst of inspiration from the actual process of writing because we think that our feelings of incompetence to address the subject is only temporary.
But, Harry addresses a third reason why he has failed to write during his lifetime: fear.
He speaks of the fear that our words and their meaning may reveal something that we know, feel or think that may hurt those around us.
In my own writing, I’ve come to see that I cannot write about a relationship that I am in at the time. I can only write about it retrospect because I fear what the result could have upon the present. Likewise, when I use my past and family to fill out a story, I am terrified of the possibility of my family learning that my fiction represents something more.
But when we experience this fear that our words are powerful enough to hurt those around us, we must not abstain from writing them. If the emotions and reasons behind the writing are true and powerful, it is our “duty to write of it.” For when a real and powerful emotion is represented in a meaningful, artistic way, it is a direct channel for insight into the human experience.
What are you afraid to write about?
For today’s practice, I suggest we write a story (or the story) that we have always been afraid to write. If it is lack of information that prevents you, push through it. If you have ever thought about a story and left it floating in your head, put it down now. And if the story is one that is all too real and true for you to admit, imagine what it would be like to never write again. Wouldn’t this story be the one that you would always regret not writing?
Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re time is up, post your practice in the comments section.
And if you post, please be sure to comment on a few practices by other writers.