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Friday, July 29, 2011


I'm not sure where I got these so sorry, but I can't cite the source. I saved them since Movable Feast is one of my favorite books.

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.”


  1. Hi Lynn,

    My favorite Hemingway quote comes from a documentary where an author is remembering a dinner or conference where Hemingway was asked to advise writers on writing. Hemingway stepped to the podium, leaned into the mike, said "Go home and write" then sat down.

  2. Fun information, but sometimes he was a bit sparse. That doesn't fly in romance, unless it is an intense or suspenceful scene.

    Did love A Moveable Feast, A Farewell to Arms, and of course, the Old Man and the Sea.

    thanks for a good blog.

  3. By the way, I loved the guy who portrayed Hemingway in Midnight in Paris, the recent Woody Allen movie.

  4. I love your point but not in total agreement - I write as sparse as I can and so far it works pretty good in romantic suspense - my idol is Tami Hoag (Dark Horse and Alibi Man). Generally I am not a Hemingway fan (except Movable Feast). Like many, I had to read Old Man and the Sea in high school and ugh!

  5. Oh, I agree, Lynn. I rarely have to cut words, I'm usually adding because I've been too sparse in my writing. I love the quote Michal posted, because there is no better advice you can give a writer, other than submit, maybe.

  6. Thanks for refreshing my Hemingway moments. Listening to the exchanges between Hemingway and the other authors reminded me of my favorite classes in college. Yes, "Old Man and the Sea" is a slog, but the images the genius created are still in my head. For example, "The earth moved..." Mmm!

  7. I think you should always have 7 rules. Ask any marketeer about the law of 7's and 9's....


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