“In order to write about life first you must live it.”
So wrote Ernest Hemingway, the classic American author. If you are looking for the best Hemingway quotes, you’ve come to the right place.
Hemingway lived life, indeed. Born in Illinois in 1899, Hemingway came of age with the Lost Generation. He went to war, driving an ambulance in Italy during WWI, and surviving a serious injury. Following the war, he trained as a journalist and returned to Europe to report on the Spanish Civil War. During World War II, he worked as a war correspondent, landing on Omaha Beach at D-Day in 1944.
After World War II, Hemingway kept living adventurously, spending time in Cuba, the US, and Europe, and surviving two plane crashes in Africa. He married, four times. He was alternatively praised and dissected by literary critics, ultimately winning both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes for literature.
Hemingway even saw his own obituary, printed -mistakenly- following the African plane crashes. His literary style influenced and shaped modern American literature and was itself shaped by his early training as a journalist. As a result of his fame and talent, Hemingway is often quoted, and misquoted, too.
Here is a careful selection of 10 Hemingway quotes, plus a few extras for fun.
Best Hemingway Quotes on Books
1. “There is no friend as loyal as a book.”
Hemingway had many acquaintances and friends, yet writing and books were his passion. In 1934, in an Esquire magazine, “Old Newsman Writes: A Letter from Cuba,” he wrote:
2. “All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”
Hemingway understood the power of words in raising empathy. Today we use the term “experiential crossing” to describe the truth Hemingway is reflecting on in this quote. It’s not surprising that Hemingway also understood the encouraging power of words.
Best Hemingway Quotes on Writing
3. “You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
Interestingly enough, Hemingway was preaching to himself when he wrote these sentences. They are from his memoir, A Moveable Feast, but they’re an excellent reminder to all novelists and writers. Writing begins with a single sentence, and carries on from there. Hemingway’s writing career was marked with highs and lows. Once, after finishing a novel, he wrote concerning it:
4. “The best I can write ever for all of my life.”
Hemingway was 52 when he wrote this to his publisher. He had just written his short novel, The Old Man and the Sea. In his opinion, it was the best. The reading public and critics seemed to agree with him, and the story became a classic. The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. It won the Nobel prize the next year, in 1954. In another letter to an editor, Hemingway wrote,
5. “ . . . I will cut out a thousand words to make one word important.”
Hemingway was not unaware of his famed style as you can tell from this quote. The quote also gives a glimpse into his writing philosophy. Trained as a journalist, Hemingway took his training and applied it to literature. He is famous for his concise style and for shaping the course of modern American literature with his brevity. This conciseness is seen in the next quote.
6. “As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”
Hemingway understood that writing well requires an understanding of characters and setting and motivations. Some of his early works, particularly Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises, were a way he processed the horrors he experienced during World War One. To see another writer’s way of processing and understanding life, take a look at the 9 Best Harper Lee quotes.
Best Hemingway Quotes on Life, Death, War, and Cats
7. “In the first war I was hurt very badly; in the body, mind, and spirit, and also morally.”
As an ambulance driver during WWI, Hemingway experienced the horrors of war. He was severely wounded, and the effect of the war is seen especially in his early novels. He later reflected,
8. “When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you. . . . Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you. After being severely wounded two weeks before my nineteenth birthday I had a bad time until I figured out that nothing could happen to me that had not happened to all men before me. Whatever I had to do men had always done. If they had done it then I could do it too and the best thing was not to worry about it.”
Hemingway’s life was marked by pressing on, and living life to its fullest. One area of life that gave him pleasure were his cats.
9. “A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”
Hemingway had more than enough experience with cats. He once quipped,
10. “One cat just leads to another.”
His correspondence shows that he had a number of cats. (One article from The New Yorker in 1950 reports the Hemingway household contained, “fifty-two cats, sixteen dogs, a couple of hundred pigeons, and three cows.” Hemingway famously received a white, 6-toed (polydactyl) cat from an old sea captain, and its descendants still live at the Hemingway house in Key West.
“Time is the least thing we have of.” Hemingway once wrote a journalist. He was fifty and nearing the end of his life. It would end prematurely in 1961, but Hemingway left behind a legacy of words, wisdom, and classic American literature, including these 10 best Hemingway quotes that we can still learn from and appreciate today.