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.
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 was not necessarily 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 blogger or copywriter 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.”