After reading Hemingway’s ‘A Day’s Wait’

The exercise on page 19 asks that, following the reading of Ernest Hemingway’s 1000 word short story ‘A Day’s Wait‘ (you can read it here) you “use the inspiration (…) to start a new piece.  Allow your ideas to grow via any motif in his stories (such as the shooting of the ducks in A Day’s Wait.)  You could also use any theme you note, for instance a story of a day’s sickness, or the relationship between father and son…(…) try to remain in the moment of illumination; don’t add irrelevances about general life.”

And although I didn’t really find the story inspirational as such – even though I read it three or four times – what it did was reveal to me  features of Hemingway’s writing that I’ve never adopted in my own (because we have different voices and we’re different people).  And so I found an ‘instance’ from my chequered history that involved MASSIVE amounts of emotion – on my part, at least – and set about writing it down in more of an anecdotal/report way rather than involving deep and lengthy descriptions on thoughts and feeling and utilising backstory – which is how I find I write generally – trying to stuff as much into a story as possible.

Once I’d hit 1000 words (I went beyond, but only by 40 words or so) I started to pare it back even more. I was already using ‘I said,’ ‘she said’ instead of more effusive descriptions of speech delivery (there’s a word for that but I can’t remember what it is) but I also wanted to cut out any extraneous flowery stuff.  The result is spare, succinct and devoid of too much tension or drama, even though the actual situation would usually warrant plenty of both.

I’m pleased with the result and I’m glad I gave it a bash, but I’m not sure the voice is really ‘me’.  This is the opening paragraph and I’ve linked to the rest if you want to read on.

My Husband’s Lover

She was the last person I expected to be there.  She stood on the mat outside our front door and lifted her scrubbed-clean face to me in greeting, looking nothing like the archetypal home-wrecker.  Her glossy copper hair shone healthily in the midday sun and I stood back to let her in, catching a familiar musky scent as she passed me.

Here’s the rest: My Husband’s Lover


  1. Debs – this is an interesting post. Hemingway is one of my favourite authors, although perhaps not to everyone’s taste.

    I like your story. I don’t know why you think it’s short of tension and drama as I felt it had lots of both. You have done a good job on cutting out the ‘extraneous and flowery stuff’ and I think the story is better for that, even if it’s not your normal voice. Your speech tagging is good and ‘said’ is used in the right places. I have been in similar situations to those in the story and can vouch for the emotions involved; you capture these nicely. You imply it’s autobiographical; if so it’s brave to write about it on your blog.

    I look forward to more stories.

    Your are progressing through the OCA modules at a cracking pace. I’ve allowed 18 months for the Life Writing as it’s unlikely I’ll do any more OCA modules. I’ll concentrate on my memoir instead; I’ve produced some chapters during the course.

    Regards, John

    1. John, thanks so much for reading and commenting – it’s appreciated and I’m very glad you enjoyed the piece. Yes, autobiographical 😦 – I’m beginning to think that my whole life has been a subtle (sometimes not quite so subtle) way of feeding me material and now I can safely distance myself from thede instances to ‘report’ on them – this exercise was a weirdly cathartric experience and I’m glad I got it down and out of my head.
      I’m not sure I like Hemingway yet – I’ve ordered one of his collections (1987 which includes ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ which is recommended in the course notes) but after having read this one (‘A Day’s Wait’) so many times, I can at least safely say that I understand his appeal even if I never become a huge fan.

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