Last summer I borrowed A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway’s World War I novel, at the town library.
I’d read “Farewell” before but like to reread Hemingway’s spare prose from time to time because I think it’s great instruction for copywriting. Also, if you ever write dialog or quoted material, Hemingway is a master worth studying.
Not long after I ran across Hemingway tips at Copyblogger.com and share them below because they’re durable little writing gems that apply to any medium or format.
1. Use short sentences.
Author Larry McMurty once wrote this about the first sentence (although it’s sound advice for any sentence): “Hold the philosophy, hold the adjectives, just give us a plain subject and verb and perhaps a wholesome, nonfattening adverb or two.”
2. Use short paragraphs.
I think Hemingway actually suggested short first paragraphs, but apply this tip to all paragraphs, especially if persuasion is your communication goal.
3. Use vigorous English.
Word choice and, specifically, verb choice, is a key to vigorous writing. Infuse copy with strong noun-verb combinations that carry the reader along.
4. Be positive.
Yes, keeping it positive is standard operating procedure in the marketing world. The “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” proverb applies.
Finally, from one of those chain emails, here’s the Hemingway-inspired punch line to the old joke, “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
“To die in the rain, alone.”
Not a positive ending, I know, but I’ve always rebelled a little bit against No. 4. Also, sometimes breaking a rule is the right call.
2 thoughts on “4 Writing Tips from Ernest Hemingway”
Darn. Now that I’ve read this incredibly powerful advice, I have no rational excuse for posting sloppy, negative language and endless run-on sentences just to fill up a few inches of electronic paper with links to other people’s messages that somebody else cares about, but not me. I have been operating on the well-accepted notion that nature abhors a vacuum, including a tempting electronic vacuum, and that it was my job to assist nature, what with me being a minor god and all. Whatever.
I can accept a lonely, rain-soaked death, I suppose. But must I finish on the wrong side of the road?
Jim: Hee, hee. At least your first sentence wasn’t a run-on. (Darn.)