Sixty second writing tips: it’s what you don’t write that counts

A lot of people hope to write like Ernest Hemingway.  Cool.

Deco. Jazz. Hemingway, They all go together.
Deco. Jazz. Hemingway, They all go together. (I took this photo in 2012, though…)

The issue is how. He didn’t just do it by short sentences and by stripping out adjectives and adverbs. If you read his stuff, you’ll also find long sentences, and for good reason.

The real secret was what he left out. He knew what was needed to make the reader work – to provoke imagination, to draw the reader. Not through words. Through the right omissions

To me his writing is to literature what jazz is to music – its strength comes from the gaps. And it is no coincidence that both Hemingway and jazz flourished in the early twentieth century.

Just as jazz gave us the music of art deco, so Hemingway gave us its literature. And we can, I think, learn from that today.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

4 thoughts on “Sixty second writing tips: it’s what you don’t write that counts

  1. I very deliberately ask myself what details are relevant when writing a scene. If a character is driving a car, I don’t need to tell my readers that it’s a 2009 Ford Festiva–I’m a writer, not a car salesman. I need the car to get my characters from one place to another, and if you need to know that there’s a body in the trunk, I’ll mention the trunk. Otherwise, it’s a car, and that’s all we need to know.


    1. That’s exactly it. The criteria is what advances the story and the emotional journey of the reader.

      I have trouble reading stuff with brand names strewn through it …it’s not as if writers are sponsored by the manufacturers to place products.


  2. Marvelous post, Matthew and one that should be at every writer’s elbow. Constantly, I struggle with what stays and what goes. For me, it is true that some sentences will never be finished because I cannot get the proper arrangement but then, that is also what keeps me writing. As I keep saying, I just love this series.


    1. Thank you! And very much appreciated. I think the final shape of writing – for it is a shape, not merely words – does emerge in the end. Words, as I’ve said before, are a flawed way of approximating the concept. And I think the act of trying to get there – of pushing for more – is what makes quality writing’ readers pick up on the spark of that push.


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