Write like a virtual Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway worked at the Kansas City Star for only six months, but the newspaper’s style guide forever shaped his writing:

Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.”

Still, A Moveable Feast didn’t impress me when I read it in high school. The writing seemed simple, almost childlike. “This is literature?” I wondered. But the economy of Hemingway’s writing struck me when I reread it a few months ago. “This is literature,” I decided.

I’ve spent most of my life wrestling with words — and I’ve lost most of the matches. There are so many ways a writer can go wrong. By getting it wrong, though, I’ve come to appreciate the ways Hemingway got it right.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t argue with Hemingway’s directness. He says what he means, and he doesn’t waste your time. There’s something appealing and even admirable about that in our age of gimmicks and spin.

That’s why I scoffed at the Hemingway app. “What a crass, commercial rip-off” I thought, when a friend told me about it. But I changed my tune after I tried it.

Hemingway app shot

Why don’t you give it a try, too, and tell me what you think? I bet you’ll be as surprised as I was.*

For further reading, I also recommend Wikipedia’s Hemingway bio. I had no idea that “… in 1954, while in Africa, Hemingway was almost fatally injured in two successive plane crashes.” He also fought in World War I, saw the Allies land at Normandy, and was present for the liberation of Paris from the Nazis in 1944.

Oh, and he won the Nobel Prize for literature.

* I am not affiliated with the Hemingway app, nor do I have a financial interest in it. I just think it’s a cool and effective tool for writers.


  1. I just used it! I loved it! You get so used to writing a certain way that it was good to have someone tell me I was using too many passives or adverbs etc. I can see it being helpful. As a writer, it’s easy to get tangled up in the words.

    • I’m glad you liked it! Every writer needs an editor — and at least this one doesn’t scribble in the margins. 🙂 So nice to see you; thanks for stopping by.

    • Driving to Moldova, eh? Sounds like fodder for a wonderful short story … or maybe the title for Melody’s next documentary. Safe travels, Mark. May the roads be free of potholes and wild dogs.

  2. I tried running a few paragraphs (256 words) through the app. and here are the results:-
    3 of 24 sentences are hard to read.
    3 of 24 sentences are very hard to read.
    0 phrases have simpler alternatives.
    9 adverbs. Aim for 3 or fewer.
    1 use of passive voice. Aim for 5 or fewer

    By the way, the text I used was the first page of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

    I don’t feel so bad now.

      • Oh my goodness, Keith. Your creativity and wit never cease to amaze me! I laughed out loud when I saw your first comment, because, well … Ulysses. But I felt oddly comforted when your second comment just popped up: It seems even *Hemingway* was no Hemingway! Well. I guess the lesson is that it’s OK to use adverbs and complex sentence structures, so long as you’re doing it on purpose? Or something like that. Thanks for starting my day off with a laugh, and with such great food for thought.

    • I too didn’t know about the plane crashes, but, then, he had a very full and daring life. I’ve read most of Hemingway’s works and have to admit I prefer his earlier short stories. We know that short stories should be complete in 700 words or less and help us to ‘be there’ along with the author. That is what his short stories did for me. They were excellent. As for his so-called Nobel literature, too verbose for me! Wish we had such an app. when I was in school.

      • I suspect we don’t know half the things Hemingway did, Janina! I’m curious about your 700-word rule for short stories, though. My education must be quite incomplete, because I didn’t know about this guideline. In any case, thank you for stopping by — and especially for taking the time to comment.

        • Re Hemingway’s life: I guess like with all people, we really don’t know each other until it’s all over! LOL.

          Re the 700-word rule: I’m not sure it’s a rule as such; probably I’ve commandeered it as many short story writing competitions here want 700 words or less. It certainly focuses the mind to get a beginning, middle and end in such a short frame.

          • Thank you for elucidating on that 700-word rule, Janina; I’ll keep it in mind if I ever muster the courage to enter a contest! As for your opening comment: LOL, indeed. It seems we can’t really understand life — or each other — except in hindsight.

  3. I had a professor in grad school say to me after the first week– you like Hemmingway, don’t you? For my class, you will hate Hemmingway’s style or you will fail. AAAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!

    • Now *there* is an open-minded approach, eh? Yikes.
      Of course, now I’m dying to know: Did you continue to like Hemingway? Or did you develop a sudden distaste for him, for the sake of your GPA? 😀

      • Ha! He had the Bedford Handbook listed on his suggested book list in his syllabus. So the Bedford Handbook and I got very cozy that semester! If he ever docked me for style differences, I made sure that what I’d written could be backed up in a resource he had recommended. I won every argument…. And a 4.0!

  4. All I can say about Hemmingway is that I wish I could still write that well after pickling myself in vodka. Maybe we should all move to Key West, get drunk, and then write the great American novel? Who’s in?

    • Aw, Rochelle … I think your writing would fare very well indeed! Though I can understand your trepidation. Criticism can be intimidating, can’t it? Even when it’s just a website you’ll never see again. 🙂

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