You can’t go wrong with anything Ernest Hemingway wrote. If I had to pick a favorite, though, I believe A Farewell to Arms is his crowning achievement.
Hemingway rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times. Yeah. Thirty-nine times. All the different handwritten and typed variations were recently on display at the Kennedy Presidential Library in Massachusetts. Hemingway wanted to get every word precisely right. The result? A masterpiece.
Hemingway was a perfectionist. He wasn’t just writing a novel; he was writing a novel for the ages. He was writing a novel designed to outlive him – and ultimately be remembered as one of the greatest novels of all time.
Francis Ford Coppola is also a perfectionist. When writing his screenplay adaptation of
The Godfather, Coppola cut the pages out of Mario Puzo’s novel and pasted them onto loose leaf paper in a massive three-ring binder. He wrote notes and stage directions all over those pages, used multi-colored divider tabs to separate the scenes, stuck reinforcements over the holes in the loose leaf sheets, and shlepped the giant binder all around New York with him throughout the entire, grueling production.
During filming, Coppola often worked directly from this binder rather than his own screenplay.
Coppola wasn’t content with just making a movie – or an adaptation of a popular novel. He was more interested in crafting an epic. He was creating a movie that would be remembered as one of the greatest movies of all time.
I worked with the maestro in 2015. I was astonished – along with the rest of our cast – by his energy, focus, precision, and painstaking attention to all the tiny details in the art of filmmaking.
Very few people in life have the discipline, tenacity, and work ethic of a Hemingway or Coppola. That’s why they have so few peers in literature and film.
Follow their lead whenever you can. When working on your own projects, don’t rush the process. Resist the temptation to do things quickly. Try instead to do them masterfully.
John D. Rockefeller said it best: “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great."
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