Tuesday 20 April 2010

Write like you mean it?

Brian Clark verses Ernest Hemingway? In the ring? Testosterone permeating the pre-match build up? They'd be well-matched. Maybe, not in the toe-to-toe, eye-to-eye, no holds barred, gladiatorial contest. They are evenly matched, if stylistically different, when they offer advice about how to write well:

Brian has distilled it, from sheaf to sheet of paper:

1.      Write.
2.      Write more.
3.      Write even more.
4.      Write even more than that.
5.      Write when you don’t want to.
6.      Write when you do.
7.      Write when you have something to say.
8.      Write when you don’t.
9.      Write every day.
10.  Keep writing.

Ernest Hemingway – really believed short and positive was the way to go:

1. Use short sentences
2. Use short first paragraphs.
3. Use vigorous English.
4. Be positive, not negative.

I like these sage pieces of advice, together they sum up what, when and how I want to write.

Which set of rules would you pin up over your work space to inspire you while you write?


  1. I am a huge fan of Hemingway's rules. I find number four interesting; most people in today would take that to mean "have a positive outlook" or believe in yourself.

    I take it far more literally. When writing, say what something is, not what it isn't.

    This is where Hemingway's writing gets it's punch.(pun intended)

    The writing is very declarative and direct. Few readers are able to misunderstand what He writes.

    Even though a lot of his stuff can be rather dry and often times bland, I see his style never loses sight of who matters - the reader.

    Writers often crack a dopey grin as they stroke their egos with the hundred-word count sentences constructed from over thirty words not used in everyday english, that force readers to reach for their dictionaries to even figure out what the hell the writer is going on about.

    But, I guess thats why they are not Hemingway.

  2. Brian, all the way. Don't get me wrong I admire Hemingway, but Brian's list is speaking to my soul!!

  3. I love those rules. I also love the Twain quote "I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn't have the time". I like to focus on that one when revisions seem like they take forever.

  4. Hevindester - I do love the Be Positive directive: from the sentence level back to the selection of words bold and positive is definitely good.
    Crystal - Brian's list is very emotive, he gets to the heart of the writer.

  5. Hi Jemi - I love the Twain quote, it makes me think about the all the times I have let go and written streams of thought. Only to go back later and edit it back to half the emotive content it began with.

  6. Hey Brian's list is what I want to do!

    However, who would be game to argue with Hemingway?


    Publish or Perish

  7. It is a bit stunning how simple it is, isn't it? What a wonderful post--perfectly distills the job of the writer and it does a great job of demystifying it too. Thanks for reminding us!

  8. I need to put up something by my computer that says, "don't think, just write". LOL

  9. I have the hardest time writing sometimes. I mostly write prose and poetry but when I'm trying to write a story or a blog post I get so caught up in perfection. I think these rules will come in handy.

  10. Hemingway was a genius. We are geniuses. If. If we listen. Not to him. But to ourselves. Our hearts. Our instincts. Our dreams.

    Thanks for the lovely post. Be true to your dream, Roland

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  12. Hi Al - Hemingway is hard to argue with, he didn't give us a lot to fight against.

    Samuel, thanks for your kind words. It's funny because distillation is one skill I would have said had passed me by altogether!

    Hi Jennifer - sometimes it is like that: you just have to write, anything is better than nothing. I've been know to highlight chunks of text to remind me I must go back to look at it another time (or several)!

    Welcome Alexis, thanks for stopping by and Following. I write poetry too. Hemingway offers very useful tips without spending ages reading the latest "How-to-write" book.
    My Twitter haikus encapsulate writing in a microcosm - time and syllable stress, trying to make images out of the fewest number words.

    Hi Ronald, your thoughts were a timely reminder that: we need to have determination, to hone the craft of writing until it is scalpel-sharp and to follow our dreams. I think we also need to be lucky, beyond words, too.

    Simone de Beauvoir: "One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius." But... like... ? ;) Nah!