I’ve been in love with Ernest Hemingway’s books since I was about 19 years old. The gripping, powerful and terse style was much better than anything I’ve ever read. Hemingway often cited his first job in journalism, still as a teenager, at the Kansas City Star, and the Star’s Style Guide, as the roots of his short and to-the-point style:
Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.
This was one of the rules in the Guide.
Eliminate every superfluous word.
Hemingway would relentlessly edit himself, removing every unneeded paragraph, then sentence, then word, until only the essential words remained on the paper. When stuck, stumbling to find the next thing to write, he used his own advice:
But sometimes when I was started on a new story and
I could not get going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze
the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch
the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over
the roofs of Paris and think,
“Do not worry. You have always
written before and you will write now. All you
have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you
know.” (A Moveable Feast)
That “One True Sentence”, bare-bones style of writing gained him great success and widespread imitation. He was the most influential writer of the 20th century.
I love Hemingway’s books, as much for their content as I do for this no-bullshit, only-say-what’s-needed form.
In the 1920s, following a bet, Hemingway wrote a six-word story:
For sale: baby shoes, never used.
At 33 characters, it could fit nicely in a tweet.
Fast forward a century
And it seems as if our whole culture, self expression and communication are being condensed into a standard 140 character long form – Twitter.
In his grave, Hemingway probably isn’t turning. He’s smiling ear-to-ear.
The Tweet is becoming the only form of both expression and consumption of an idea.
Everyone going through the learning curve of authoring her first few tens of tweets, experiences first hand this slightly painful yet rewarding process:
Stare at a tweet that’s too long. Take out some words, then replace a few others by fewer or shorter ones, until only the must-have letters delivering the thought remain.
Hemingway would have been delighted.
p.s. It seems only fitting that Mariel Hemingway, the actress turned Playboy model turned organic food guru is so popular on twitter. She is, after all, the great writer’s granddaughter.