Hemingway’s Rules

Hemingway died in 1961. Nearly fifty years ago. His work is still required in most colleges and high schools.

I hated his work when I first read The Old Man and the Sea. Don’t remember when I was forced to read it. Then I grew up and read more and realized how great he was. 

A Moveable Feast was the tipping point. I followed it with A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises. 

Hemingway got his start at the Kansas City Star as a newspaper reporter and learned these four rules:

  1. Use short sentences.
  2. Use short first paragraphs
  3. Use vigorous English
  4. Be positive, not negative

Pretend you have to pay to be published. Be accurate, bold, and concise. Pare it down and then do it again.

One of my test readers told me to delete “had” from my work. I scrubbed every page. The manuscript ended up 1100 words shorter without losing meaning. Same with “that.”

Copywrite coach David Garfinkel says that vigorous English “comes from passion, focus, and intention.” Know what you’re talking about. Check your facts. Do the math. Make your world consistent and live by its rules.

Use phrasing that focuses on what is. Avoid what isn’t. “Wilbur wasn’t a jerk.” Now your readers are thinking about jerks and may associate jerkishness with Wilbur. “Wilbur was humane.”

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” – Ernest Hemingway

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