My favourite book about writing is Write Like Hemingway. Its author, Dr. R. Andrew Wilson, shares his love for the great American fiction writer by unpacking all that is elegant, lean and learnable from American author, Ernest Hemingway’s books.
Hemingway was the master of the concise sentence. He understood the power of brevity. The stronger your point, the fewer words you need to make it. Hemingway changed journalism and fiction with his succinct writing style.
When you shorten your sentences, the meaning or the lack of meaning becomes clear. If your point is confusing, shortening your sentence makes it obvious. It’s also great for building pace or rhythm in your writing—an overlooked quality. Not that every sentence you write should be a short one; you would end up sounding like a telegram.
As a writer, harness the rhythm of words and change the pace for your readers. You might say, ‘I can’t do that. I’ve tried to shorten my sentences and I can’t triple the number of full stops or anything like that.’ Yes. You. Can. Keep at it. Restructure your sentences. They will be easier to understand if you shorten them.
There are no exceptions to this rule. If everyone did this, the world of words would be like the Kyoto Botanical Gardens in the cherry blossom season—stunning.
When you do this, work fresh. This is a demanding task. Work in sprints—25 minutes of sentence shortening, then a five-minute break. Get up, walk around, do a little dance, then sit back down and do another sprint. Remember, vary the pace. Don’t make every sentence short. Let some flow happen. You’ll develop a nice pace in your writing.
You might wonder whether it’s worth the effort. Yes. It. Is. This step and Step Seven—starting at the exciting bit—are the two most powerful in the Seven-Step Review that is part of my Brain to Book in 90 Days program.
I wrote a lot of short sentences in this post. What’s your favourite?