What Copywriters Can Learn from Hemingway


Ernest Hemingway was a journalist before he published The Sun Also Rises, and the influence that his newspaper days had on his writing is clear. Of his first novel, the New York Times said: “It is a truly gripping story, told in a lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame.”

Hemingway would have been a great copywriter. When he wrote about food, you could taste it. When he described a fishing trip, you smelled the salt air. His Iceberg Theory has great application for copywriters:

“If a writer knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

In other words, don’t tell your audience everything, just what’s most important – to them. And be sure you are “writing truly enough,” i.e., your promise connects on an emotional level and is informed by a customer benefit that is real.

Which brings us to another, pithier Hemingway quote:

“Develop a built-in bullshit detector.”

After all, if you don’t believe what you are writing, why should anyone else?

Have any other quotes from Hemingway (or other authors) that might guide us in our copywriting? Let me know what you think.

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