5 Simple Tips on How to Write Like Ernest Hemingway

How to write like Ernest Hemingway

Jessica Swanson


You may not have heard of all the Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, but you’ve certainly heard of good ol’ Ernest Hemingway.

You probably know him best for his novel, The Old Man and the Sea which just happened to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953. Not too shabby.

Whether you’ve read this stellar work of fiction or not, many critics claim Hemingway to be the best writer of all times. They place him right along the likes of Faulkner and Melville.

What makes Hemingway so great, anyway?

Hemingway wrote in a simple, direct, and very natural style. He rarely used abstract nouns or adjectives and avoided flowery language at all costs.

He was all about minimalism before it was even cool.

And here’s an interesting tidbit. Most of Hemingway’s writing is written at the fourth-grade reading level. Yep, you read that correctly. Hemingway wrote at the fourth-grade level.

It’s not that he couldn’t write using scholarly language, he simply chose not to.

Here’s what he had to say about Faulkner, his fellow contemporary, “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? There are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

So, if you want to simplify your writing, there is no better writer to emulate than Hemingway.

Here are 5 ways to help you learn how to write like Hemingway.

1. Write Shorter Sentences

For the most part, short sentences are easier to digest and help us move quickly through a page of text.

Obviously, you don’t want to get carried away with this advice. There are times when you need longer sentences to fully express your ideas.

Ultimately, the best writers alternate between short and long sentences. It makes the writing flow better.

2. Eliminate Excess Adverbs

Stephen King once said, “The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.”

He goes on to say that adverbs are much like dandelions. A few here and there are fine, but if you’re not diligent, they’ll soon cover your entire lawn.

There are times that adverbs are useful and necessary in a sentence. The goal is to eliminate them when they are not essential to the meaning of your sentence. And that’s more often than you might realize.

Ernest Hemingway avoided those pesky, little “ly” adverbs. He felt they were indicators of a careless and lazy writer.

And, I wholeheartedly and thoroughly agree. Adverbs are words that completely, totally, and entirely just fill up space.

Okay. Let’s rewrite that adverb-heavy sentence.

I agree. For the most part, adverbs are words that just fill up space.

Now isn’t that better!

3. Get to the Point

Don’t beat around the bush. And don’t let your writing wander and meander. Figure out what point you want to make, and then get to work making it.

There is nowhere this is more important than when you’re writing on the Internet. People have very short attention spans. 8 seconds to be exact – which is shorter than the attention span of a goldfish. Whoa.

So, don’t waste those precious 8 seconds by hemming and hawing. When your readers have digested your content, they should know exactly what you wanted them to know and why it’s important that they know it.

4. Use Active Voice

When you use the active voice, the subject is performing the action. An example is, “Jane loves Ernest Hemingway.”

The passive voice is the exact opposite. In this situation, the subject is being acted upon by the verb. An example is, “Ernest Hemingway is loved by Jane.” You can instantly recognize the awkwardness of that sentence.

Although passive voice isn’t technically incorrect, it usually makes your sentences vague and wordy. Therefore, if you want to write like Hemingway, avoid passive voice whenever possible.

5. Kill the Filler Words

Filler words are words that just fill up space and don’t add meaning to your sentence. You know it’s a filler word if you remove it and it doesn’t change the context.

As Dr. Suess wisely suggested, “The writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”

Here is a list of sentences containing filler words. You’ll notice that the filler words don’t add anything of substance to the sentences. When the filler words are removed, the sentences are more concise and to the point.

  • I really like Mike.
  • I am pretty hopeless when it comes to writing.
  • She is sort of a nice girl.
  • He is allegedly going to ask Tina to prom.
  • Writing is a lot of hard work.

So, after reading this list of 5 ways you can write like Hemingway, you’re convinced that you want to write shorter sentences, eliminate adverbs and filler words, get to the point, and use active voice.

But, it seems a bit overwhelming to say the least.

Well, don’t you worry.

There’s an App for That

Yep. If you’re serious about writing like Hemingway, there’s an app for that.

It’s called the Hemingway App and its entire purpose is to ensure that your writing is bold and clear. (Wouldn’t Hemingway would be proud?)

Hemingway App

The Hemingway App uses a formula called the Automated Readability Index.

The Automated Readability Index scores your writing by reading level, so if your piece receives a score of “7”, you write at a 7th-grade level.

According to The Hemingway App, most people read at a 10th-grade level, so try to aim for a readability score of 10 or lower when writing content.

Once you paste your content into the app, the editor flags:

Adverbs. You should eliminate adverbs as much as possible. Remember, they often don’t add anything to your writing.

Passive Voice. You want to eliminate passive voice to make your writing more energetic and robust.

Difficult text. Your goal is to use simpler words, phrases, and sentences throughout your text.

What now?

Although you may never end up writing a Pulitzer winning piece of literature, there are still ways in which you can learn to write like Hemingway. (Or at least, imitate his style.)

In fact, “Hemingway style” is now widely recognized as the type of writing that is fresh, natural, simple, direct, and clear.

It may take some time and it will definitely take a few edits to get the hang of it. It’s all about practice.

And when it comes to writing, practice makes perfect!