Write Like Hemingway?


Full Disclosure:  Hemingway is my favorite writer.  He has been since I read him in high school.  And I’d be lying if I said it was just because of his writing, though it is good.  The best, in fact.  There is no question that a man’s man, an adventurer and sportsman who drank too much and loved too much has  strong appeal to a high school boy, himself trying to be a man’s man.  Let us just say some thirty years on that the draw of Hemingway is the writing, and that the swashbuckling aura  is a cool bonus.

I never really thought much about why I loved Hemingway, and I certainly never thought about what about his technique appealed to me.  I remember reading The Old Man And The Sea  in high school;   the book stood out for an unknown reason -a reason I recognize now as utter simplicity.  It cut through the Faulkners and the Melvilles and the Thoreaus.  The directness of voice grabbed me.  While he hardly lived that way, Hemingway wrote in very straight lines.

I am finishing a read of The Complete Short Stories , and i find I am  digging a little more now, asking what specifically I love about the writing.   I’ve already given away the general answer, but when surfing the internet this weekend putting off this year’s tax return, I came across a way of explaining it, capturing it even.

Behold The Hemingway App, created by Adam and Ben Long, and  designed to help turn any writer more Hemingway-like.  You simply copy and paste your prose into the app, and a virtual Papa grades your work:


While it may not be  a complete list, this cool little  app whispers five basic rules of Hemingway’s writing in the grading bar on the right:

  1.   Write stuff easy to read.
  2.    See rule number 1.
  3.    Edit looking for simpler alternatives.
  4.    Kill the adverbs.
  5.    Avoid use of passive voice.

Not a bad writers’ guide – like Hemingway’s style, it is simple.

A note of warning:  do not ever confuse  simple with easy.  Hemingway hated to talk about the craft of writing, but he did offer this much:  “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”   Easy reading is not the dividend of easy writing, it is the dividend of writing simply, which is hard.





Writing: Life & Death


How do salmon know to head upstream to spawn before they die?  What innate sense compels them to know they must do something before it is too late, and before the chance is to be lost forever?  It is the same innate sense which pushes writers to write.  We fear our impermanence, and we write to  live beyond the confines of the brackets of birth and death.  We write to shout into the silent yawn of eternity.

The results of the effort are ambiguous at best.  Very few writers offer works which endure generations, much less scores of generations.   And, unfortunately, the work of even the greats will be lost to our extinction.  So why do it?

Perhaps the point is not in the result, but in the act of writing itself.  Futile though it may ultimately be,  as we put words to page we suspend what we know, and rise on the strength of what we hope to achieve – the immortality of our ideas.   Could it be, then, that the effort, and not the result, is the aim of the well written life?