How To Write Like Hemingway: A Minimalist Writing Guide

9 minute read (2352 words)

Ernest Hemingway was a literary giant who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

Highly regarded to this day, he was known for his “minimalist” writing style—characterized by its simplicity, straightforwardness, and the use of short, simple sentences. His writing conveyed a lot of information with few words, creating short, punchy, and engaging stories.

In this digital age today, having everyone fighting for “attention” with their words—it’s now more important than ever to write well if you want any chance to be seen and have your work noticed.

But, sadly, even in 2022, good writing is scarce.

Huge blocks of text, lack of white space, and boring sentences with zero rhythm is all too common.

Let’s explore how writers can emulate Hemingway’s unique style.

Focus on simplicity

The key to Hemingway’s writing style was simplicity.

He chose his words carefully, using only those that were necessary to convey his meaning, and he preferred short, declarative sentences that were easy to understand.

This made his stories enjoyable to read with a poetic quality.

One example of Hemingway’s use of simplicity can be found in his short story “Hills Like White Elephants.”

An example excerpt:

‘What should we drink?’ the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.

‘It’s pretty hot,’ the man said.

‘Let’s drink beer.’

‘Dos cervezas,’ the man said into the curtain.

‘Big ones?’ a woman asked from the doorway.

‘Yes. Two big ones.’

In this passage, Hemingway uses simple dialogue and brief, declarative sentences to convey the conversation between the two characters. The language is straightforward and easy to understand, and the short sentences help to create a sense of immediacy and tension in the conversation.

Overall, Hemingway’s focus on simplicity in his writing helped him to convey complex ideas in a clear and concise way.

And it allowed him to create powerful stories that had a “lasting impact” on the reader.

Use short sentences

Another hallmark of Hemingway’s style was his use of short sentences. He rarely wrote more than one sentence on a single line in his manuscripts—each sentence stood alone as its own thought.

This approach gives readers a sense of immediacy; it keeps them engaged as they quickly move from one sentence to the next without getting bogged down in long-winded explanations or descriptions.

Short sentences also give writers more room to be creative; they allow writers to express their ideas in fewer words while still conveying all the information.

However, Hemingway’s use of short sentences was not without its challenges. Conveying complex ideas or providing detailed descriptions using only short sentences can be difficult, and writers must be careful to ensure that their message is not lost in the brevity of their language.

Despite these challenges, Hemingway’s use of short sentences played a key role in his overall writing style.

It contributed to the simplicity and clarity of his writing and helped to create a sense of immediacy and engagement for the reader.

Short sentences allowed Hemingway to be creative and expressive, conveying complex emotions and ideas in fewer words while still maintaining their impact.”

Punchy (conversational) dialogue

Hemingway was also known for his punchy dialogue—short conversations between two characters that got right to the point without wasting any time on unnecessary details or backstories.

This approach allowed him to quickly establish relationships between characters while still conveying important plot points in just a few lines of dialogue.

Hemingway’s dialogue often had a conversational tone that made it feel natural and realistic—as if you were actually listening in on two people talking instead of reading a script written by an author.

Let’s dive into some specifics.

15 tips to emulate Hemingway:

# 1. Embrace Brevity in Sentences

Hemingway had a knack. He wrote with short, powerful sentences. They left a mark. Readers felt them. They were impactful. This style made his narratives magnetic.

Benefits of short sentences:

  • Grabs attention instantly.
  • Keeps readers engaged.
  • Delivers your point efficiently.

Here’s how you can emulate this:

  • Tip #1: Trim excess words from your sentences.
  • Tip #2: Use punctuation wisely to create pauses.
  • Tip #3: Write as if you’re speaking to a friend, not lecturing.

Example: Instead of saying “The sun set, casting a golden hue over the horizon,” try “The sun set. Gold washed over the horizon.” This shorter version delivers a vivid image in fewer words.

#2. Vary Your Sentence Length

Hemingway was a master of rhythm.

He didn’t stick to just one sentence length. He mixed it up. Sometimes short. Sometimes long. This dance of words keeps readers hooked. It adds a beat to the story. Readers don’t get bored. They stay with you.

Benefits of varying sentence length:

  • Adds rhythm to your writing.
  • Engages the reader.
  • Breaks the monotony.

Here’s how you can do this yourself:

  • Tip #1: Start with a short sentence. Then expand on the idea.
  • Tip #2: Use conjunctions to combine ideas, but don’t overdo it.
  • Tip #3: Read your work aloud. Listen for the flow.

Example: Instead of saying “He went to the store,” you can expand with “He walked to the store. The sun was setting. The streets were quiet.” This gives depth to a simple action and brings the reader into the scene.

#3. Embrace Active Verbs

Hemingway’s stories pulsed with energy.

His sentences surged with life. A big part of that? His choice of verbs. Active verbs. They propelled his narratives forward. Passive verbs can slow things down. They make writing feel distant. But active verbs? They make readers feel right there.

Benefits of using active verbs:

  • Injects energy into your writing.
  • Creates a sense of immediacy.
  • Grabs reader attention.

Here’s how you can master this technique:

  • Tip #1: Replace “to be” verbs with direct action verbs.
  • Tip #2: Remove unnecessary “was” and “were” from your sentences.
  • Tip #3: Revise sentences that start with “It was” or “There were.”

Example: Don’t write “The ball was kicked by him.” Instead, say “He kicked the ball.” It’s more direct. It’s punchier. Your readers will feel the kick.

#4. Show, Not Just Tell

Reveal through details.

Hemingway was a master of making scenes come alive. Instead of merely narrating events, he’d place the reader right in the middle of the action. He believed that concrete details, if chosen wisely, could say a lot more than a bunch of explanatory sentences. This technique draws readers in, making them active participants in the story.

Benefits of showing, not just telling:

  • Engages the reader actively.
  • Creates a vivid mental image.
  • Enhances emotional connection to the narrative.

Here’s how you can do this yourself:

  • Tip #1: Use sensory details; let readers hear, see, taste, touch, and smell the scene.
  • Tip #2: Be specific; instead of saying “he was angry,” describe his clenched fists, narrowed eyes, or raised voice.
  • Tip #3: Avoid lengthy explanations; trust your readers to understand through the details you provide.

Example: Don’t just write “She felt sad.” Describe her slumped shoulders, the way she gazed out the window for hours, or how her voice trembled when she spoke. These clues let the reader feel her sadness without being directly told.

#5. Eliminate the Excess

Embrace the power of simplicity.

Hemingway had a distinct style. He stripped his sentences of excess, focusing only on essential details. This minimalist approach makes messages stronger and more memorable. Plus, it respects the reader’s time. No need to wade through fluff when the core message stands out with clarity.

Benefits of trimming the fat:

  • Sharpens the writing focus.
  • Enhances reader engagement.
  • Amplifies the story’s essence.

Here’s how you can master this:

  • Tip #1: Remove redundant adjectives.
  • Tip #2: Question every adverb’s existence.
  • Tip #3: Prioritize substance over embellishments.

Example: Don’t just say “The sunset was very beautiful and pretty.” Instead, speak of the gold and purple hues blending, casting a warm glow on the horizon. Such specifics paint a clearer picture and resonate more deeply with the reader.

#6. Master Dialogue in Your Writing

Hemingway had a secret weapon. Dialogue.

He used it masterfully to move stories forward and peel back the layers of his characters. When you harness the power of dialogue, your writing gains depth. Characters come alive. Stories become gripping.

Benefits of using dialogue:

  • Brings characters to life.
  • Moves the plot forward seamlessly.
  • Adds layers to your story, making it more engaging.

Here’s how you can do this yourself:

  • Tip #1: Allow characters to speak naturally, like real people.
  • Tip #2: Use dialogue as a tool, not just filler. Every line should have purpose.
  • Tip #3: Listen to real-life conversations. Notice the pauses, the unsaid words, the tone.

Example: Instead of writing “John was angry at Mary,” let John say, “Why would you do that, Mary?” His voice might tremble, his hands shake. The reader will feel John’s anger without you spelling it out. This makes for a richer, more immersive story.

#7. Trust Your Readers

Hemingway had a unique approach.

He didn’t spoon-feed his audience. Instead, he trusted them to fill in the gaps. By resisting the urge to over-explain, writers can create a rich reading experience. It challenges the audience. Makes them engage. It also avoids slowing down the narrative with excessive details.

Benefits of trusting your readers:

  • Engages the audience actively.
  • Maintains a smooth narrative flow.
  • Enhances the mystery and depth of your writing.

Here’s how you can do this yourself:

  • Tip #1: Remove redundant explanations.
  • Tip #2: Use dialogue to reveal character and plot without direct exposition.
  • Tip #3: Let actions and consequences hint at backstory.

Example: Instead of saying “She was sad because her cat ran away,” show her searching the neighborhood, calling out, with tear-filled eyes. This way, readers deduce her emotions and the reason behind them, without being told directly.

#8. Embrace Clarity in Language

Hemingway’s style was unmistakable.

He mastered the art of clear communication. By keeping it direct, he captivated readers. They could digest complex thoughts with ease. When you simplify, you make room for understanding. You cut out the noise. And the story shines through.

Why direct language works:

  • Readers grasp concepts faster.
  • Messages come across clearly.
  • The heart of the story remains undiluted.

Here’s how to adopt this approach:

  • Tip #1: Use words you’d speak in a casual conversation.
  • Tip #2: Short sentences can say a lot. Use them.
  • Tip #3: Don’t meander. Say it straight.

Example: Instead of writing “The sun began to set,” describe the orange and pink hues taking over the sky, the coolness that starts to replace the day’s warmth, and the shadowy outlines appearing. This paints a clearer picture of the setting sun and draws the reader into the scene.

#9 Use Direct Language

Hemingway had a knack for directness.

He turned layered notions into crisp, plain words. By keeping it direct, your readers grasp deep ideas without muddling through tangled words. This clean-cut style welcomes readers, keeping them free from wrestling with dense language or twisted sentences.

Benefits of using direct language:

  • Clearer communication.
  • Improved reader understanding.
  • Amplified effect of your content.

Here’s how you can adopt this technique:

  • Tip #1: Pick words you’d use in daily chat.
  • Tip #2: Trim long-winded sentences down to size.
  • Tip #3: Bypass roundabout ways; go straight to the point.

Example: Instead of saying “He felt out of place,” describe his shifting gaze, the tapping of his foot, and his hesitant voice. By showing these actions, you paint a clear picture of his discomfort, making the reading experience more relatable.

#10. Ruthlessly Trim the Excess

Hemingway knew the art of cutting.

If a word or sentence didn’t build the tale, it was gone. Do the same. Trim any fluff. Remove what doesn’t push the story forward. Keep it lean and mean.

Benefits of trimming the excess:

  • Creates a clean, focused narrative.
  • Keeps readers engaged.
  • Enhances the story’s impact.

Here’s how you can do this yourself:

  • Tip #1: Write first, then edit. Don’t hold back during the initial draft.
  • Tip #2: Read your work aloud. If it sounds off, tweak it.
  • Tip #3: Ask yourself: Does this sentence/word add value? If not, cut it.

Example: Instead of saying “She felt sad because of the gloomy weather,” trim it down. Say, “The gloomy weather saddened her.” By cutting out extra words, the emotion and reason come out clearer and stronger.

11. Read Hemingway’s work: The best way to learn how to write like Hemingway is to read his work. Pay attention to his use of language, sentence structure, and storytelling techniques, and try to incorporate those elements into your own writing.

12. Write about what you know: Hemingway often wrote about his own experiences, and this authenticity is one of the things that makes his writing so compelling. Write about what you know and draw on your own experiences to add depth and richness to your writing.

13. Write about big themes: Hemingway was interested in exploring big, universal themes in his writing, such as love, war, and the human condition. Try to write about themes that are important to you and that have the potential to resonate with a wide audience.

14. Experiment with point of view: Hemingway was a master of using different points of view to tell his stories. Experiment with using different points of view in your writing to see how it affects the way the story is told.

15. Keep writing: Hemingway believed in the importance of writing every day, and he often wrote for several hours a day. Keep writing and practicing, and you will improve your skills over time.

Write Every Day


Writing like Ernest Hemingway requires practice.

But it is far from impossible.

Following these tips will help you get started:

  • Don’t waste time on unnecessary details or backstories.
  • Create punchy dialogue that gets straight to the point.
  • Focus on simplicity in your language choices.
  • Use short sentences and focus on rhythm.

By following these guidelines and studying Hemingway’s works for inspiration, you too—with time and patience—can write like one of literature’s greatest authors.

Oh, and check out this cool little app to improve your writing.

It’s free.