A Lesson From Hemingway on Writing

Hemingway posing for a dust jacket photo by Ll...
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When you think about Hemingway’s writing style, certain things come to mind. Spartan prose, free of excess modifiers. Short, choppy sentences. A distinct masculine bent.

For me, Hemingway is about honesty. One idea that has influenced my writing more than any other is this one from Papa himself:

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Now what he meant by “true” is open to interpretation. Factually accurate is one obvious possibility, I suppose. But to me it’s always meant prose that is authentic, unpretentious, BS-free and devoid of cliche and artifice. Writing that you can truly stand behind, and not be ashamed of.

Writers too often resort to cheap parlor tricks—phrasing that’s a little too clever for its own good and distracts from the purpose of the communication. Or they fall back on lazy habits and tics that have worked for them before. Or they fill their writing with cheap bluster—all ego and self-puffery.

To keep myself in check I try to keep in mind the people closest to me, who know me best. Strangers are easy to fool, but our loved ones can see right through us. Write for them and you’re more likely to stay true, to yourself and your audience.

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