What Hemingway Can Teach Us About Copywriting

I’ll never forget the first time I read The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I devoured it in a single afternoon and was completely blown away. I was about 22, a perfect age for reading it, and just 5 years younger than Hemingway was when he wrote the book. 

It was his first novel and already had his famous writing style, though he would continue refining it over the course of his life. It’s a style that you know when you see it. No frills, no fluff, just to the point, deep, impactful, and legendary writing. 

There are so many novelists that have a lot to teach the copywriter, but Hemingway is up there on the list. He almost reminds one of a copywriter by his style, and in fact, he did some ad writing and journalism as well as fiction. 

So let’s take a dive into what papa himself had to say about writing, and see how much gold there is for the copywriter. The best advertising tells a story, let’s learn from Hemingway.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

You’ve most likely heard this one, probably the most famous Hemingway quote out there. What is a true sentence? It’s something believable, something that one knows to be true, even if the story comes from within. 

This applies well to copywriting because if the story isn’t believable, readers either won’t buy or they won’t continue reading to find out what’s being sold. People have to trust in order to buy, they won’t trust you if even a fraction of doubt about what you say comes to their mind.

So when you sit down to write, or stand as hemingway liked to do when writing, be sure that from the first sentence to the last, its true. 

“If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”

This is copywriting 101, write simply and like you talk. Claude Hopkins, the author of Scientific Advertising was a firm believer in writing for the common people because those are the people buying your products 99% of the time.

This goes with the first quote about writing true sentences, writers tend to start loving their abilities too much when writing sales copy when simple casual words are what sell, not the big glamour words. Readers of marketing material shouldn’t need to grab a dictionary for you to convince them to buy a product you’re selling. The purpose is to be believable, not impressive. 

Hemingway cut out all the presentation and introduction in his writing because its unnatural, not just for a novel but for copywriting. Be true, write ad’s like you’re talking to the reader and then it will be effective, and Hemingway-approved.

“After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day.” 

You may not feel like you’ve made love after writing a sales page or a blog post, but the rule still applies, come back to your work at a later time. 

This is for every kind of writing and possibly every kind of creative effort. When you read it or look at your work right after creating it, you are to biased to see it for what it is. You have to take time away and experience other things and come back to it, you may be surprised how much this can improve your writing.

 “All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.”

This one may seem far-fetched for copywriting but think about it. Whether we want to believe it or not, fear and fear of dying are the main reason people make almost all decisions in life, including purchases. 

There is a reason the health and financial industries are as big as they are, people want to stay alive and healthy as long as possible, and they want to have money to live comfortably in that life. 

Therefore a great skill to have as a copywriter is confront those fears and give the customer a solution to their problem. Which if you continue far enough through any problem, it ends in death, dont keep it from your reader.

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Hemingway rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied, you’d be wise to follow suit. 

I’m not saying you have to rewrite everything 40 times to get it right, but headlines, subject lines, and important sentences need to be written many times until you get all your ideas out of your head, then come back to them and choose the best. You won’t find an A-list copywriter that doesn’t do this at least 90% of the time.

“It is all very well for you to write simply and the simpler the better. But do not start to think so damned simply. Know how complicated it is and then state it simply.”

This would fit perfectly into a copywriting book, but it came from Papa Hemingway himself. When writing ads or any kind of online content, you hear it all the time, write simply, it’s been said several times above. But it takes a truly great writer to take something hard to explain and explain it to the point it where it comes off as easy or simple. This is golden advice, his, not mine.

Follow Hemingway’s writing tips in your copy and you’ll be able to sell ANYTHING.

A bit of life advice, if you haven’t read Ernest Hemingway, go and do that. I recommend his short stories first, then either The Sun Also Rises or A Farewell to Arms.

© Copeland Digital 2023

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