Should copywriters learn from Hemingway?
After all, what an old journalist and fiction writer, from the 1960s, can teach copywriters like us about selling?
But Hemingway was also a storyteller, renowned as one of the great writers of literature. He won the Pulitzer Prize, in 1953, for his novel “ The Old Man and the sea”. And in 1954, he bagged the noble prize too, “for his mastery of the art of narrative”.
Hemingway had two skills which are essential in the world of freelance copywriting.
This Nobel Laureate used to write in such a simple language that even 10 years old can enjoy his writing. That too! without dumbing down his text. The ability to share profound wisdom in the simplest language is a skill worth learning, especially if you want to be a copywriter. And, Hemingway was the master of this art.
Simple language makes your content more accessible.
But how does he write so simply? And how can we use his style in our writing?
Let’s have a look at what data says…
There is a tool named Flesch-Kincaid score, made by Rudolf Flesch, to measure the readability of a text.
The readability score evaluates the text on the basis of the average sentence length and number of syllables per word. The more precise the sentences and words, the lower the readability score. A score of 7, for example, means the text is readable to 7th graders and above — students of 11–12 years old.
The Flesh-Kincaid score of “The Old Man and the Sea” is a whopping low of 3.9!!!. The readability score of “The Sun Also Rises”, his other novel, was found to be 4.2.
Let this sink in… The novels of Nobel Prize-winning author can be read by 4th graders.
1. Trim Your Sentences
There are a lot of apps in the market, which can easily spot your long sentences and help you to make your writing more precise and clean. Try Hemingway App
But don’t it carry to extremes.
Hemingway used to write long sentences, as well:
He looked at the sky and saw the white cumulus built like friendly piles of ice cream and high above were the thin feathers of the cirrus against the high September sky.
Don’t be afraid of long sentences. As too many short sentences will the kill the rhythm of the writing. It makes your text sounds like a stuck recorder, thud irritating to read. So mix it up with short and long sentences. Read it aloud and maintain the goddamn flow.
You are killing me, fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who.
2. Watch Those Adverbs — Use them to Change the meaning of Verbs (Not to intensify)
Read these sentences and note the role of bolded words
“I’m an artist,” he said easily.
“I need some pizza now,” he said crustily.
“I dropped my toothpaste,” he said, crestfallen.
The blast completely destroyed the church office.
Hemingway rarely uses the adverbs in his writings. 80 -ly adverbs per 10,000 words to be precise, according to a statistician named Ben Blatt. That’s much less than any other writer.
At their best, adverbs spice up a verb or adjective. At their worst, they express a meaning already contained in it. The elimination of adverbs shortens the sentence, sharpens the point, and creates elbow room for the verb. Feel free to disagree. But first, read the above sentences without bolded words.
What’s more, Blatt’s research also shows that the great writers, in general, use fewer adverbs. Still, it is a not strict rule, and exceptions exist. Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis, for example, uses a normal of 142 — ly qualifiers per 10,000 words.
Do you want to remove the adverbs from your writing?
Again I will recommend the Hemmingway App. Just upload your content to it, and it will categorize the words of the whole text. Then, you can choose to decide which adverbs to keep and which of them to change or delete.
Reading aloud the sentences with and without a particular adverb will help you to decide whether to keep it or not.
Now I don’t expect that by writing small and removing some adverbs will make me the next Hemmingway. There a lot of things to be learned from him.
Like making each sentence about one tiny idea. Then, building the next sentence on that idea. He unfolds his story in tiny, logical steps.
“I wish I had a stone for the knife,” the old man said after he had checked the lashing on the oar butt. “I should have brought a stone.” You should have brought many things, he thought. But you did not bring them, old man. Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.
Over To You
Clear writing is the result of clear thinking, as the famous writer William Zinsser puts it.
Writing is about being articulate. It is not a matter of style only. It is about realizations, learning, and experience. And it is about sharing that wisdom.