What do we do with our words? I listen to Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway knew a thing or two about the use of words.

We’ve all been given a deck of words. We shuffle them. We deal them. And we all play our hands differently.

Hemingway was dead solid serious.

So was the interviewer.

Hemingway had the answer.

The interviewer wanted it.

He asked, “How much re-writing do you do?

Hemingway paused, thought it over a moment, then replied, “It depends. I re-wrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times.”

The interviewer raised an eyebrow.

One answer obviously led to the next question.

“Was there some technical problem there?” he wanted to know. “What was it that had stumped you?”

Hemingway didn’t hesitate.

“Getting the words right,” he said.

That’s the problem facing any writer.

We all have the same words in our basket.

We learn them.

We collect them.

We lock them away.

Need a new one?

Go to the dictionary.

Dictionaries are full of words.

So is Google.

But it’s what we do with those words that make the difference.

We never scatter them the same way.

Some of us pack a few words into compact sentences.

Others try to find out how many words they can string into a single sentence.

What’s best?

John had been expecting her when she came through the door.

He had waited up most of the night.

He was fearful.

She was tall.

He had been crying.

She was blonde.

He wore a frown.

She wore a red dress.

She carried a revolver.

Was she worried?

Or mad at him?

John no longer saw her face.

His eyes had not left the gun.

If she were leaving again, he thought, she would take his life with her.

That works for me.

It might not work for you.

You may prefer for your prose to be more lyrical.

You may want to write the same scene in a sentence that borders on literary fiction.

John had been up most of the night, full of angst and self-doubt, and he sat alone in a small, cramped room on the second floor of a walkup hotel, waiting for her to come, wondering if she would stay or leave again, wondering if he even wanted her to stay or leave again, and she had walked into the room before he saw her coming, and his eyes darted from her face, framed by long blonde hair, to the revolver she carried in her hand. He waited for her to speak, but she had nothing to say, and he was afraid to open his mouth, afraid she would close it forever with a single shot.

That works for me, too.

Writers simply sit in the darkness.

At least I do.

And we’ve all been given a deck of words.

We shuffle them.

We deal them.

And we all play our hands differently.

As Hemingway said, we all have one responsibility.

We must get the words right.

And we keep dealing them until we do.

Sometimes we fold the hand and walk away.

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of The Man Who Talks to Strangers. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

The following story is an excerpt from my Memoir of Sorts. I talked to a lot of strangers, not all of them under ideal circumstances.

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  • Great post Caleb. I love words, and it’s a thrill to see them ordered correctly to form thought, and subsequently form stories that entice readers. Wishing you and yours a creative and fruitful 2018!

    • Caleb Pirtle

      With friends as talented as you, Eden, my new year is off to a great start.

      • So kind, Caleb. Happy 2018 and celebrate big! xo

  • Vickie Phelps

    Good post. Isn’t it amazing how we all handle words in a different way.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      That’s the amazing thing about writing, Vickie. Give ten writers the same plot, and you’d wind up with ten entirely different novels. Threads never run the same way in different minds.

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