Content Writing Tips from Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway. Now here’s a man who could write. I liked Oscar Wilde, but I really like Hemingway. From his brilliant word economy to his ability to drive at powerful emotions (without resorting to flowery language), Hemingway is genius.

Today’s content writers could stand to take several lessons out of the countless books, interviews, and manuscripts Hemingway left behind. But, the best first lesson from Hemingway is on the importance of brevity.

Hemingway’s Word Economy

Brevity is essential to content writing. In this industry, word economy counts for a lot more than it did on school reports. If you can say something in 300 words, don’t use 450. Your readers’ attention span only lasts so long – don’t push it!

There’s a legend that Hemingway was challenged to compose a story in ten words or less. Hemingway collected the bets, whipped out a napkin, and scrawled these six words:

For sale: baby shoes, never used.

The story has a beginning, middle, and end, and certainly says a lot!

Remember, there’s no golden word count figure for any type of content writing. But, if you want to weigh some pros and cons on the length of your copy, then check out this blog post from CEM Co-owner, Laura Hancock.

Top 3 Hemingway Quotes

On to the quotes! These aren’t necessarily my personal favorite Hemingway quotes, but there are some great lessons in here for content writers!

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

Nothing is more frustrating for a client than a content writer who doesn’t listen. When a client gives you project parameters, listen. And, listen carefully! It will save you time and money. When you don’t listen, you’re going to end up going through tons of re-writes, which isn’t fun for anybody.

When your client realizes that you actually pay attention to their instructions, they aren’t going to be taking their business elsewhere! Writers who listen are invaluable in the content writing industry.

“As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”

Perhaps this is a bit of Hemingway’s journalistic nature coming out. If you’re in the content writing business long enough… say, two weeks? … you’re going to get a client who’s voice, product, or sales technique just doesn’t align with your own perspective.

It’s inevitable. Unless you’re offering full-blown marketing/consulting services, it’s not your job to correct the client’s sales approach. It’s okay to gently advise an alternative approach, but you can’t really tell a client that what they’re doing is completely wrong.

So, remember: don’t judge; understand. It will keep your relations strong, and satisfy the client, which is what your job ultimately boils down to.

“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.”

Spot on, Ernest. Have you ever gotten half way down the page, and had to ask yourself, What am I writing about, again? If so, you are most certainly decorating.

Keep your prose clean and functional. Think of sentences as load-bearing walls, foundations, and protective roofs. Each element of your writing should have a very specific function. None of it should solely serve as flowery language.

That being said, attractive prose is a part of the architecture. Just make sure it isn’t superfluous. Keep the beautiful, funny, and otherwise “non-essential” parts of your prose relevant to your content’s “architecture.”

Have a favorite Hemingway quote of your own to share with your fellow content writers? If so, leave it in the comments below!

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Ben Richardson is a writer based in Nashville, TN. While he loves writing on a variety of subjects, he's our go-to on all things related to branding and the creative aspects of content marketing. Follow him on Twitter!

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