Monthly Archives: July 2010

Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips For Writing Well

1. Use short sentences.
Hemingway was famous for a terse minimalist style of writing that dispensed with flowery adjectives and got straight to the point. In short, Hemingway wrote with simple genius.
Perhaps his finest demonstration of short sentence prowess was when he was challenged to tell an entire story in only 6 words:
For sale: baby shoes, never used.

2. Use short first paragraphs.
See opening.

3. Use vigorous English.
Here’s David Garfinkel’s take on this one:
It’s muscular, forceful. Vigorous English comes from passion, focus and intention. It’s the difference between putting in a good effort and TRYING to move a boulder… and actually sweating, grunting, straining your muscles to the point of exhaustion… and MOVING the freaking thing!

4. Be positive, not negative.
Since Hemingway wasn’t the cheeriest guy in the world, what does he mean by be positive? Basically, you should say what something is rather than what it isn’t.
This is what Michel Fortin calls using up words:
By stating what something isn’t can be counterproductive since it is still directing the mind, albeit in the opposite way. If I told you that dental work is painless for example, you’ll still focus on the word “pain” in “painless.”
• Instead of saying “inexpensive,” say “economical.”
• Instead of saying “this procedure is painless,” say “there’s little discomfort” or “it’s relatively comfortable.”
• And instead of saying “this software is error-free” or “foolproof,” say “this software is consistent” or “stable.”

5. Never have only 4 rules.
Actually, Hemingway did only have 4 rules for writing, and they were those he was given as a cub reporter at the Kansas City Star in 1917. But, as any web writer knows, having only 4 rules will never do.
So, in order to have 5, I had to dig a little deeper to get the most important of Hemingway’s writing tips of all:
“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,” Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

-Brian Clark, CoppyBlogger

Robertson Davies

Excerpts from Tempest-Tost

‘Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. But there are others who will lie and scheme and steal to get books as wildly and unconscionably as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug. They may not want the books to read immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, to range on their shelves, to have at command. They want books as a Turk is thought to want concubines–not to be hastily deflowered, but to be kept at their master’s call, and enjoyed more often in thought than in reality.’

‘Pass the Buck. It’s the secret of life. You can’t fight every battle and dry every tear. Whenever you’re dealing with something that you don’t really care about, pass the buck.’

Metaphors

I’ve been drawn to the good, the bad and the ugly of metaphors lately. I admit, I am jealous of those that can write amazing metaphors. In a writing excercise at school, I sat, staring into space for fifteen minutes, unable to come up with a single metaphor from scratch. So, if the odd decent one comes through my pen I am happy.

I read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. There were often three, four, sometimes five lengthy metaphors on one page. I thought, give me a break, does everything have to sound, look, smell, feel, or taste like something else? Can’t some things just be? I did finish the book.

There are metaphors that stand out, not because they are good, but because they sound like the writer was trying to be clever. A good metaphor is seamless. I read Danielle Egan’s short story “Strange Attractors”. I shook my head and stopped reading at this one. ‘You clear your throat and I picture fossils of tiny seahorses dislodged and swallowed.’

Good metaphors stay with you. Anu Jindal’s short “Saul and Millie are Sisters” has this gem. ‘She could hear voices from the kitchen, though they were muffled by the walls: the bugle call of her mother, the low bassoon of her father, and her grandmother’s french horn.’

I worry I will become a writer that has difficulty reading fiction as I am too busy picking away at the construction to enjoy the story.