Unfinished Business

“Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well.”

Ernest Hemingway uses these words to describe the writer Harry, the main character in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. As Harry lies dying, stranded in the remote African bush, he remembers many incidents from his life, good stories that he felt he should have written. Like many of Hemingway’s stories, this one explores what it means to be a human being, as well as a writer—and how tempting it is, when life is easy and secure, to let the great intentions and grand goals slide away. To procrastinate. To never quite get around to what you feel you should do, or could be doing. Harry rationalizes his failure to “write the good stories” by not knowing enough “to write them well.”

Waiting to “know enough” before you start writing means that you likely won’t write, or do much of anything else. Harry has lived through war, travel, hardship, and conflict on several continents, in precarious times and places, but his death comes from something small and simple: a scratch from a thorn that, left untreated, becomes infected. He dies alone, on a failed safari with a group of paid attendants and a wealthy wife he doesn’t love.

We will never “know enough” to begin telling the good stories. We simply have to begin from where we are, and put in the hard work to make the writing (or whatever) as good as we can.

Tempis fugit, carpe diem.

Published by sarahb47

Sarah Blanchard writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry from her home in western North Carolina.

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