Ernest Hemingway’s 5 secrets to good blogging

Though applicable to most writing, Papa’s guidelines are essential for bloggers. (Please pay special attention to No. 5.)


Ernest Hemingway would have kicked butt as a blogger.

No, really. I’ve been on a major Hemingway kick for the last several weeks, reading his short stories, his books and ideas on writing, and even a collection of stories he wrote when he was a cub reporter with the Kansas City Star, and I’m convinced he would become an A-List blogger within a matter of weeks.

Hemingway’s writing habits would have made him an ideal blogger. Here’s what I think his five secrets to good blogging would be.

1. Write and speak with authority. Hemingway knew he was a great writer. He was not humble about it. While I’m not suggesting you act cocky and arrogant, you do need to write with authority. Don’t waffle around with qualifying statements, such as, “I think it may be possible,” or, “If I had to make a choice, but only if I really had to make one.” It makes you sound like a ninny. Hemingway once said of his criticism of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender is the Night,” “Jesus, it’s marvelous to tell other people how to write, live, die, etc.” In other words, have the confidence to tell people how to do the thing you’re writing about without being an insufferable jerk about it.

2. Avoid adverbs. Adverbs are those things that tell how something was done. “He ran quickly.” “She laughed loudly.” Don’t use adverbs at all. You can’t run slowly; if you do, you’re jogging. You can’t laugh loudly, but you can bellylaugh or guffaw or snort; a soft laugh is a chuckle.

Don’t describe the verb, use a more descriptive one. So, don’t tell us something is “really cool” or “fairly unique.” For one thing, cool is cool, and unique is unique. For another, “unique” means “one of a kind, there is nothing like it in all the world.” You can’t be “fairly one of a kind.”

Though Hemingway was not a fan of adjectives, either, he and many other writers have spoken out against adverbs. You should quit using them as well.

3. Don’t write for “the reader.” In a letter to Arthur Mizener, Hemingway wrote: “I believe that basically you write for two people; yourself to try to make it absolutely perfect; or if not that, then wonderful. Then you write for who you love whether she can read or write or not and whether she is alive or dead.”

That means, don’t worry about what the critics and haters are going to say. Don’t anticipate what comments you might get, and how you can head them off at the pass. Don’t avoid controversial topics just because you think someone might disagree with you. Write for you, and make it awesome. Then, write it for just one person, keeping in mind whether it would please him/her.

4. Have a set writing schedule. I’m trying to adopt this idea myself now. Block out a time each day where you can write uninterrupted. Don’t take meetings, don’t answer email, don’t post on Twitter. Just write. Hemingway’s schedule was to get up early, get to the typewriter by 7 a.m., and write until lunchtime. Even when he was starting out and had to work odd jobs, he would only do them after lunch. He didn’t drink until he was done writing, and he would even get up when he was hung over. But no matter what, he was always writing at the same time every day.

5. Leave stuff out. Hemingway believed in the Iceberg Theory of writing. That is, while an iceberg may look massive, only 20 percent of it is sticking out of the water. There is so much more that lies beneath the surface. It’s that below-the-surface structure that makes the visible part so impressive. He would omit everything he could, including background information that was not relevant to the story.

He avoided entire scenes of action, leaving the reader to come up with his own idea of what happened. His greatest example of iceberg writing is his now-famous six-word novel, “For sale: Baby shoes. Never used.” All kinds of questions hang over that story, most notably, “why?” The answers we create in our own heads are the hidden part of the iceberg that Hemingway wanted us to understand.

Similarly, as bloggers, we need to leave things out. Don’t use descriptions of what you were thinking when you came up with a certain blog topic. Don’t do exposition. Explain why something is important, and what it means to us. If you want exposition and background, create a separate post and link to it—”if you’re curious as to why I thought of this, click here”—and then count the clicks. If no one clicked it, you didn’t need it.

Blogging is the new newspaper. Posts need to be short, punchy, and interesting right from the very beginning—all characteristics that marked a Hemingway story. Follow these Hemingway techniques to make your posts more interesting and dramatic.

Erik Deckers is the co-owner and vice president of creative services for Professional Blog Service. He co-authored “Branding Yourself: Using Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself” (2nd ed., Pearson, 2012) with Kyle Lacy, and “No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing” (Pearson, 2011) with Jason Falls. A version of this article first appeared on ProBlogService.com.

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