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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Ernest Hemingway on Writing and Having Had an Unhappy Childhood


I recently saw on Twitter that Ernest Hemingway said that an unhappy childhood is great training for a writer.

See AdviceToWriters.

I've been thinking about what this statement might mean.

Children are born learners; from both their experiences and formal education, they gradually, over a fairly long period of time, develop into who they will be as adults. I think that for the most part our experiences in childhood come to us uninvited. Whether a person has a happy childhood is out of his control; he has no control over the family and environment he was born into and whether it is poor, rich, abusive, or kind. Most families are comprised of a mixture of those things. I do agree with Hemingway in that an unhappy childhood is great training for a writer, especially for a literary one. It's also great training for criminals and psychopaths and generally unhappy adults in all walks of life.

Of course, 'happiness' is a difficult concept to define. Philosophers have given it various definitions. But, for this statement, I think that what we're talking about is, besides having the basics of food, clothing, and shelter, we have both the absence of abuse and the presence of  loving kindness toward us in childhood, the combination of which tips the balance of experience in childhood, maybe in adulthood too, in favor of a feeling of well being and happiness.

To some degree, whether your childhood was happy or unhappy is a matter of perspective. We can certainly have selective memory. Also, people with similar childhood experiences can have different opinions about their childhood, some saying it was happy and others saying it was unhappy.

There's always the possibility that Hemingway was being facetious. Nevertheless, this statement of his begs the question: which is better  for a person wanting to be a writer, to be most anything for that matter, to have had, an unhappy childhood or a happy one?

Which kind of childhood did you have, happy or unhappy?

If you had an unhappy childhood, have you managed to overcome the pain and find happiness?

Which would you rather have if you could do it over again?

Which would you rather your own child or children have?
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