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
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
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.
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.