5 Writing Tips Inspired by Ernest Hemingway

A few summers ago my daughter read A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway’s World War I novel. She liked it for the most part, which I consider a compliment to the old master since he has to compete with J.K. Rowling and other modern authors who hold sway with the Instagram generation.

I intercepted “Farewell” from my daughter’s book stack because I like to reread Hemingway’s spare prose from time to time. It’s solid instruction for copywriting–or any writing, for that matter. For example, if you ever write dialog or quoted material, Hemingway is worth studying.

In addition, revisiting Hemingway reminded me of his tips I ran across at Copyblogger.com. I share them below because they’re durable little gems that apply to any medium or format.

1. Use short sentences.
Author Larry McMurtry 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, are a key to vigorous writing. Infuse copy with strong noun-verb combinations that carry the reader along.

4. Be positive.

Hemingway’s tip to “be positive” refers to word choice, not tone or perspective. For example, instead of saying “he did not win,” say “he lost.” Instead of saying “his writing was not clear” say “his writing was vague.”

It’s more powerful to tell readers what something is than to tell them what it is not and asking them to choose from the remaining possibilities.

5. Break a rule.
Sometimes breaking a rule is the right call. Hemingway was certainly a man and writer who went his own way.

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4 Writing Tips from Ernest Hemingway

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.

Continue reading “4 Writing Tips from Ernest Hemingway”

Facing the White Bull

Does the blank screen or page ever paralyze you? Would you rather edit a piece than write a first draft?

If you’re like many human beings, the answers are yes and yes.

Ernest Hemingway called the blank page the white bull. I like that. One time when asked why I get out of bed in the morning and go to work, I said, “For the thrill of facing the white bull.”

The white bull isn’t for all thrill seekers, though.

“This bull has probably intimidated people for centuries,” wrote a fellow copywriter, “ever since early man stared at a blank stone tablet with chisel at the ready, scratching his prominent forehead.”

So how do you defeat the white bull? What’s the secret?

Continue reading “Facing the White Bull”