What a 20th century master can teach us about how to write in the online age.

Ernest Hemingway died almost 55 years ago. But his writing philosophy and techniques have never been more relevant.

Here are seven things he can teach us about writing in the digital age.

1. Keep your writing simple

In primary school we’re taught to write using as many describing words (adjectives and adverbs) as we can. Most people keep this technique up all their lives.

But Hemingway showed that the most powerful writing was simple. He wrote with verbs and nouns.

Online readers reward clear, succinct writing with more views, more clicks and more shares. But most online writing remains verbose.

Make yours simple and it will stand out too.

2. Use short sentences

It’s more difficult than ever to hold a reader’s attention. So don’t sabotage your writing by making it hard to follow. After all, long sentences are hard to understand; short sentences are easy.

Hemingway learned his craft on newspapers, where clarity mattered and the skill was to impart information to a reader even when they were just ‘skimming’.

That same skill is even more important for any online writing.

3. Leave stuff out

Hemingway’s writing was proof that what you don’t say often matters as much as what you do.

When you write for a blog or a website don’t spell everything out. It will get boring.

4. Treat the reader with respect

Hemingway believed that the most powerful tool a writer had at their disposal was inference. Your reader is intelligent enough to form their own view. Recount the facts and let them join the dots.

How often do you visit a company’s web site only to be told how good they are a hundred different ways?

‘Show don’t tell’ – a writing adage Hemingway lived by – has never been more important than right now.

5. Edit your writing

‘The first draft of anything is shit,’ Hemingway said.

In other words, editing is the single most important part of the writing process.

Writing folklore says he wrote the final page of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ 39 times before he was satisfied with it.

Give your work several edits before you post it. Better still, get someone else to edit it if you can.

Hemingway also said, ‘Write drunk; edit sober’. We’ll let that one slip for now.

6. Make it a habit

Hemingway believed good writing came from habit. He started his work every day at sunrise and was done by midday. He also claimed not to think about his writing at all outside of those times, reasoning that this was when his creative mind was free to turn things over.

With this process in place he knew: ‘The juice will come’.

If you’re struggling with writer’s block or just struggling to write as much as you’d like, make writing a routine.

7. Concentrate

Writing is hard work. No one can write when they’re distracted.

If you want to write well, shut yourself away from distractions and concentrate.

The telephone and visitors are the work destroyers,’ Hemingway told the Paris Review.

Today it’s social media and email.

Even though you’re writing for online don’t ever let the online world take life away from your writing.

Contact us today to find out how we can help your business engage audiences online. 

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