Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well

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Image of Ernest Hemingway Writing

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 worn.

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

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The 5 Best Punctuation Marks in Literature

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The muse gets all the press, but here’s a fact: Good writing involves obsessing over punctuation marks. It’s 1 a.m., you’ve got a 5,000-word piece due the next day, and for the last twenty minutes you’ve been deliberating about the use of a semicolon versus a period in a single sentence. (But should it be two sentences? Twenty-five minutes, thirty minutes … ) As a rule, the effect of all that obsession is subtle, a kind of pixel-by-pixel accretion of style. Once in a while, though, a bit of punctuation pops its head up over the prose, and over the prosaic, and becomes a part of a tiny but interesting canon: famous punctuation marks in literature.

I was reminded of the existence of this canon last month, while rereadingMiddlemarch, which contains what might be the most celebrated use of an em-dash in the history of…

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Six Tips on Writing from John Steinbeck

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On the value of unconscious association, or why the best advice is no advice.

… six tips on writing, culled from his altogether excellent interview it the Fall 1975 issue ofThe Paris Review.

  1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

  2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

  3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike…

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