Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

Noteworthy: Hemingway and his Pencils


Photo by Robert Capa
Photo of Hemingway by Robert Capa

The other day, one of my fellow artists stopped by my studio and happened to catch me midway through my colored pencil sharpening ritual. Since I have a lot of colored pencils, every now and again I will perform a mass sharpening event with the electric sharpener.

“Just like Hemmingway, sharpening your pencils before a day’s work?”

After a bit of Googling, I discovered some people believe that Ernest Hemingway had a ritual of sharpening 20 pencils before he would begin to write-  though this interview seems to set the story straight:

INTERVIEWER: Thornton Wilder speaks of mnemonic devices that get the writer going on his day’s work. He says you once told him you sharpened twenty pencils.

HEMINGWAY: I don’t think I ever owned twenty pencils at one time. Wearing down seven number-two pencils is a good day’s work.

Hemingway on using a pencil for editing: From the JetPens blog: Pencils were also a key component in Hemingway’s process of editing and re-writing — he stated that “If you write with a pencil, you get three different sights at [your story]… First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof.” As a medium, it’s exceptionally well suited for the chaotic beginnings of any essay, short story, or sketch.

According to this post on Ernest Hemingway’s Writing Habits, “His initial drafts were usually made with pencils and written on onionskin typewriter paper, kept on a clipboard to the left side of his typewriter. His handwriting has been described as ‘boyish’, without much concern for punctuation or capital letters and he had a habit of marking an X at the end of sentences.”

“I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Though I’ve tried searching, I can’t seem to find whether or not Hemingway claimed allegiance to any particular brand of pencil. In The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, by Henry Petroski, the author states; “for all the author’s fetishism, we know nothing about the pencil’s brand or color or size or grade or quality.”

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