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Guillermo Cano (l) and Gabriel García Márquez (r). elespectador.com
Guillermo Cano (l) and Gabriel García Márquez (r). elespectador.com

Lessons from Cartagena, Colombia

I had the privilege of visiting the Foundation for Journalism Gabriel García Márquez left behind in this city. This triggered a memory on the craft of writing…

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Colombian Nobel Prize-winning writer Gabriel García Márquez used to say that the act of writing was “1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

The revered author of 100 Years of Solitude was simply speaking to the fact that the job of the wordsmith is no different from the job of the blacksmith. The only difference is the tools. The objective, the beauty of the final product, is essentially the same.

García Márquez, who today is considered one of the masters of literature across the world, was simply referring to a truth that other writers he admired and respected knew all along.

Ernest Hemingway, for example, taught him “the profession,” he said, not so much the inspiration or the style, which he said he picked up more often from Faulkner, or Kafka.

Hemingway, he used to say, taught him the tools of the trade because of his practical American writer approach.

García Márquez even confessed that he was a bad writer; he wasn’t the genius people thought he was, he added, but a handicapped one who through sheer will and everyday practice straightened out his arm and improved his capacity to write.

In an essay that he wrote in Argentina, he further confessed that he was simply a rough “costeño” (“corroncho,” in Colombian Spanish), who humbled himself to improve on his innate handicap.

It was only through this attitude that García Márquez, simply a journalist from the Colombian coast, became the celebrity journalist of “El Espectador” that went on to challenge through his writing the untouchable military junta then in power in Colombia.

He wrote Relato de un Náufrago, one of his best known books, initially as a series of articles in “El Espectador” that almost brought down a national government in Bogotá. His writing had become that powerful.

It would be another 15-30 years of practice that finally gave him finally the abilities to create that masterpiece entitled 100 Years of Solitude that made him famous all over the world.

He wasn’t Hemingway, but García Márquez is no doubt one of these rare ones who has left us with the well-known secrets of the trade.

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