Writing

A shortcut to better writing

Oops, sorry — there should have been a question mark in the title.

A shortcut to better writing?
Is there such a thing?

Some say the secret to better writing is to write as simply as possible, stripping away all adverbs, qualifiers, ten-dollar words, and rhetorical flourishes.

Write like Ernest Hemingway, in other words.

Take a look at this mess of purple prose by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, considered by many to be one of the worst pieces of writing in the English language:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. Through one of the obscurest quarters of London, and among haunts little loved by the gentlemen of the police, a man, evidently of the lowest orders, was wending his solitary way. He stopped twice or thrice at different shops and houses of a description correspondent with the appearance of the quartier in which they were situated, and tended inquiry for some article or another which did not seem easily to be met with.

Is there a shortcut that could help you transform it into something Hemingway might have written?

If you use Hemingway’s namesake app, the Hemingway Editor, you’ll be outta luck. If you plug Bulwer-Lytton’s text into the editor, you’ll get the unhelpful advice that, of the 131 words in the paragraph, Hemingway Editor likes exactly zero.

Hemingway EditorIn other words, the app wants you to cut everything and start over from scratch. This is not the sort of advice you want when you’re facing either writer’s block or a deadline. Instead of taking a shortcut, you’d be better off simply learning to write like Hemingway in the first place.

Here’s the new version of the “dark and stormy night” rat’s nest, rewritten in Hemingway’s style:

It was night and it was dark and rain was falling on the streets of Paris. The rain fell hard and the wind blew along the rooftops and the yellow flames in the street lamps flickered.

Nick Adams walked down the Rue des Criminels. He walked alone. He went into the bar in the Hotel de Chien for a glass of fine de Bordeaux but there was none tonight because the supply lines had been cut by the Germans. He walked to the Rue de St. Martin to buy a newspaper. The evening edition was sold out. He asked for the bullfight reports from Barcelona and paid the old woman two francs for the papers and went back out into the rain.

All you have to do is spend a few minutes learning how to write like Hemingway. It’s a lot easier than you think. Start with five basic steps, which you can read about at howtowritelike.com. One of the steps involves booze — definitely more fun than any writing app!

the delve

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