Asked to envision Ernest Hemingway, many people picture the great American author knocking back Daiquiris at the El Floridita Bar in Havana, marlin fishing off Key West, or perhaps stalking the Serengeti for a trophy lion. It’s difficult to imagine him, well, “working.”
The truth is, Hemingway worked very hard. And he was undeniably consistent. The regulars at Sloppy Joes remembered the Mojitos and the laughs and the sunsets, but they didn’t see him get up every morning and hit the typewriter (yes the manual kind where you had to punch the keys with your fingers) and pound out a 1000 words a day. “I start in at seven in the morning,” Hemingway said of his routine. “And I always quit when I’m going good, so that I’ll be able to pick right up again the next day.” The key is he did that nearly every day, week after week, for 30 years.
Is this easy to do? No way. It’s easier to sleep in the next morning, maybe try some ‘hair of the dog,’ or put it off another day. That’s what most people would do. But most people don’t produce 7 novels, 60 short stories and nab a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer before retiring to the Happy Hunting Grounds in the sky.
This disciplined schedule allowed Hemingway the afternoons and evenings to indulge in his favorite pursuits such as fishing (or wooing a new wife). But even then, Hemingway was always working. Once, while out on his boat, Pilar, Hemingway spied a weathered, elderly man in a small boat dwarfed by the enormity of the Gulfstream. This image became the idea for the famed novella, “The Old Man and the Sea.”
At the bar Hemingway also worked; taking in the conversations, the tales, and the mannerisms of the colorful characters he encountered and working them into his stories bright and early the next morning. And it was the thought and effort he put into these stories that got them read and made him a success.
Maybe Hemingway drank too much, or fished too much, or walked down the aisle a few too many times, but he never let his vices or personal pursuits compromise his work. He pulled off this trick by having a daily game plan and sticking to it.
Oh, and he also liked to type standing up.
Last post, we told you how you’re living out a Private Eye Novel. Now we’re going to tell you what to do about it.
Different gumshoes take different approaches. Agatha Christie’s gentlemanly Hercule Poirot uses a Sherlock Holmes-style of methodical deduction to solve the case; and Mickey Spillaine’s hardboiled Mike Hammer has no qualms about getting in someone’s face and throwing a few elbows.
You might be inclined to try a little combination. As Raymond Chandler wrote, “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” You’ve got troubles, so let’s get crackin.’
1. Define the problem. You know what it is. In any good book it’s front and center and smacks you in the face. In crime fiction it’s a dead starlet in a pool, a missing Picasso, and a revolver with the hero’s prints on it. For you it might be legal trouble, the pressure to get a new job, a crushing debt, or a potential health issue.
2. Gather the clues. Set aside some time to consider the case. Need a job? What’s the best city for your industry? Got debt? What expenses are draining you? Got a persistent pain? Research the possible causes for your ailment. That means pounding some pavement along with some computer keys.
3. Set a deadline. Putting it off is no longer an option. If you don’t set a deadline then someone else will—the bank will foreclose on your home, the lawyers will get involved in a personal dispute, or that health problem will turn into something worse.
4. Identify the antagonist. Who’s holding you back? Not that you have to be paranoid, but there are toxic people who like you to stay just where you are, wallowing in your troubles. As they say, misery loves company. They’ll tell you there isn’t much hope, and they’ll point to the economy, the health care system, or the government to make their case, but tell ’em you ain’t buyin.’ Do your best to avoid negative people, negative news, legal entanglements, and doctors with answers that don’t seem to click. Did Bogart let anyone get in his face? Neither should you.
5. Find your allies. Every town is tough. But there is someone out there willing to cut you a break. Even Batman, a detective at his core, has Commissioner Gordon on his side. Talk to people who have experienced the same trouble as you and see how they handled it. Other laid off middle aged managers have found new jobs. People with the same bum ticker as you have regained their health. Innocent defendants out there have beaten the rap. And remember the best way to get help in life: it’s all about quid pro quo—help somebody get what they want, and they’ll help you get what you want.
6. Motivate yourself. From Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, part of the appeal of the private eye archetype is that we love their lone wolf, get-it-done attitude. We like to watch the odds stacked against a protagonist and see him come back with a vengeance and win in the end. You’ve gotta cop that attitude and put it to work for you. No one can motivate you to to solve your problems except yourself.
7. Fix the ending. In every good story the hero is tested by fire and comes out changed in some way. It’s happened to you before, and you can make it happen again. But don’t count on a happy ending lasting for long. When trouble’s the game, there’s usually gonna be a sequel.