Hemingway’s 5 Tips for Writing Well

Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips
For Writing Well

by Brian Clark

Who better?

Many business people faced with the task of writing for marketing purposes are quick to say:

Hey, I’m no Hemingway!

But really, who better than Hemingway to emulate? Rather than embracing the flowery prose of the literati, he chose to eschew obfuscation at every turn and write simply and clearly.

So let’s see what Ernest can teach us about effective writing.

1. Use short sentences.

Hemingway was famous for a terse minimalist style of writing that dispensed with flowery adjectives and got straight to the point. In short, Hemingway wrote with simple genius.

Perhaps his finest demonstration of short sentence prowess was when he was challenged to tell an entire story in only 6 words:

For sale: baby shoes, never used.

2. Use short first paragraphs.

See opening.

3. Use vigorous English.

Here’s David Garfinkel’s take on this one:

It’s muscular, forceful. Vigorous English comes from passion, focus and intention. It’s the difference between putting in a good effort and TRYING to move a boulder… and actually sweating, grunting, straining your muscles to the point of exhaustion… and MOVING the freaking thing!

4. Be positive, not negative.

Since Hemingway wasn’t the cheeriest guy in the world, what does he mean by be positive? Basically, you should say what something is rather than what it isn’t.

This is what Michel Fortin calls using up words:

By stating what something isn’t can be counterproductive since it is still directing the mind, albeit in the opposite way. If I told you that dental work is painless for example, you’ll still focus on the word “pain” in “painless.”

• Instead of saying “inexpensive,” say “economical,”
• Instead of saying “this procedure is painless,” say “there’s little discomfort” or “it’s relatively comfortable,”
• And instead of saying “this software is error-free” or “foolproof,” say “this software is consistent” or “stable.”

5. Never have only 4 rules.

Actually, Hemingway did only have 4 rules for writing, and they were those he was given as a cub reporter at the Kansas City Star in 1917. But, as any web writer knows, having only 4 rules will never do.

So, in order to have 5, I had to dig a little deeper to get the most important of Hemingway’s writing tips of all:

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,” Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Source: Copyblogger


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ilovepr1540
    Dec 02, 2010 @ 03:14:54

    I have a few posts with tips and misswoodward told me to come check out your blog since we write about things that are clost to the same! I think that that is cool when it is posts like this that have to do with tips and things that are not required for blog grades!

    I know that I definitely try to follow the short sentences rule, it is very important and can make or break your blog.



  2. caseycorley
    Nov 22, 2010 @ 21:28:40

    I love how you incorporated Ernest Hemingway into this post. The five tips provided, if followed, will definitely help you to become a better writer. The main tip that I agree with is to be positive, not negative. When reading a blog post, the last thing you want to read about is how miserable someone is. When you write positive blog posts, people are more likely to read what you have written. Another tip you provided was to use short sentences. They are a lot easier on the eye and easier to read.



  3. misslowoodward
    Nov 18, 2010 @ 22:34:38

    I really enjoyed this article! It was very interesting! I really liked #4–> be positive, not negative. It is so true about that dental example they gave about the word “painless.” I find advertisements with the “negative” connotation of a word, all the time! You would be so surprised! But this rule is important as public relations practitioners too because if we are running a campaign, for example, and we are trying to stress that a solution to _x_ problem is to buy _x_ product, which is “inexpensive,” you hear that word “expense” and it makes you lose interest and contact with your audience. But by using words like “economical,” you add positive emphasis. Good job with this! I like your blog :o)



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