Max Perkins, Hemingway and Me

The famous editor Max Perkins wrote:

I think, in truth, that the best writing of all is done long after the events it is concerned with, when they have been digested and reflected upon unconsciously, and the writer has completely realized them in himself. It is good journalistic writing that is done quickly while everything is still new, but not the best writing. Long ago I went to visit Ernest Hemingway, after he had been a couple of years in Key West. We went fishing every day in those many-colored waters, and then also in the deep-blue Gulf Stream. It was all completely new to me, and wonderfully interesting — there was so much to know that nobody would ever have suspected, about even fishing. I said to Hemingway, “Why don’t you write about all this?” and he said, “I will in time, but I couldn’t do it yet,” and, seeing I did not get his meaning, he pointed to a pelican that was clumsily flapping along, and said, “See that pelican? I don’t know yet what his part is in the scheme of things.” He did know factually in his head, but he meant that it all had to become so deeply familiar that you knew it emotionally, as if by instinct, and that that only came after a long time, and through long unconscious reflection.

(Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins, edited by John Hall Wheelock. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1979, p. 266)

I have spent a good deal of my adult life trying to sort out the dynamics in my family of origin. I have written dozens of short memoir pieces, a memoir, as well as a fictionalized rendition of that memoir with an ending different from the actual events based solely on the question, “What if only one reaction had been different?”

Unfortunately, most of what I’ve written has been journalistic reporting. As I age, perhaps “unconscious reflection” will provide deeper insight.  I am not certain when and if that will happen, but I am hopeful.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. sampatron says:

    Very astute, Len. It seems that at least jotting notes immediately or so about an event or something is important but I like the part about “unconscious reflection” most. It’s helped me to put words to something I’ve often done – without realizing it, of course – and then making a “spontaneous” decision seemingly without thought. Has me smiling contentedly, knowing I’ve thought about things without thinking about it.

  2. Yes, I like that “unconscious reflection” time too. I know it’s real, I’ve experienced it. So, we can relax and recognize we are currently processing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s