Ernest Hemingway For Copywriters ↘

Ernest Hemingway for Copywriters
Raven Brajdic

“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.” – Ernest Hemingway

Writer’s Block, Hemingway & Cures That Aren’t Whiskey

Every month, Big Vision hosts a meetup for copywriters. It’s a time where you can talk about sentence structure, brainstorming strategies and brand authenticity without the listener wanting to back away slowly.

We often have a lecture, panel discussion, and/or workshop, and during our last meetup we held a few roundtable discussions about branding, copywriting, and the industry.

Our content team acted as moderators while guests talked. Though admittedly, our team likes to talk too. A great conversation that came up during the second round was writer’s block. The bane of all who like to play around with words. Almost like the bad boyfriend that just won’t go away.

Personally, when I don’t have the words, I turn to others that I know do. I love reading author interviews and profiles whenever I’m feeling stuck. Sometimes it’s a perfect piece of advice. Other times, it’s a funny reminder that writer’s block happens to most of us — even my favorite writer, Ernest Hemingway.

Here’s Where Hemingway Finally Comes In

“On the Star you were forced to learn to write a simple declarative sentence. This is useful to anyone. Newspaper work will not harm a young writer and could help him if he gets out of it in time.”  – Ernest Hemingway, 1958 interview with George Plipton, The Paris Review

Before Ernest Hemingway became a novelist, he was a journalist. His brevity of his style and the ability to apply detail, capture dialogue and explain character were elements he learned on the job. It beautifully influenced his fiction work, and gave us books like A Farewell to Arms, The Old Man & The Sea, and my favorite, The Sun Also Rises.

He’s also brilliant in interviews and says some things that inspire me to get back to writing. One of my favorite interviews of his to read is this one from The Paris Review.

As a copywriter myself, here are some favorites that have helped me see things from a new perspective when writer’s block strikes.

Ernest Hemingway For Copywriters

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

When it comes to branding, think truly about the audience you’re trying to reach. When creating a persona, think of what that person’s daily life would be like. Even if it doesn’t make it to the final draft, it helps when creating a persona to be as genuine as possible. Could you imagine meeting this person in real life? 

Borrowing from Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory of writing: Even if it doesn’t make the brandbook, what do you know about this person’s life that can influence what you’re writing? 

“Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”

As the saying goes, murder your darlings. For many writers, you’ll often have to let go of a paragraph that you’re fond of. Look critically at your writing to make sure you’re staying true to your brand’s voice. Editing is the most important part of the writing process. Look for redundancies, filler writing, and sentences that make you cringe. Once you have what you think is your final draft, cast a critical eye over it again. And again. Okay, now you’re done.

“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”

Don’t try to be fancy or fluffy right away. Instead, just get it all out on paper. Say what needs to be said first—you can go back and elaborate later. 

First, forget the idea that your first draft needs to resemble anything beyond a manic sounding board. Just start writing. You don’t need to start with your introduction—in fact, don’t even try. Unless you have something brilliant in your head, just start getting ideas down. It’s okay if you don’t write the first opening sentence on your first try. 

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to jot down as many options as possible. Don’t even consider whether it’s good or not. Made you cringe? Jot it down. Have two or three words that might vaguely sound good together? Write that down too. Once all of your options are visible, you can start to easily pick out words and phrases with your eyes. You might also notice a pattern in your writing—maybe you’re only focusing on concise wit when you should be considering something longer. 

“Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up.”

You don’t need to write at a desk. In fact, my favorite place to write is in bed, preferably early in the morning when everything is still and dark, and soft light is leaking through the curtains. 

If you’re confined to your desk, try leaving it. Yes, even if you have a double monitor and have gotten spoiled by the luxury. Go to a couch, stand up and ditch your office chair, or head outdoors if you’re able. Sometimes all you need is a fresh perspective. 

Want to attend our next copywriter’s meetup? Follow us on Facebook and Meetup to sign up for the next one—they normally take place on the third Thursday of the month.

Can’t find the words for what to write about your brand? Fortunately, there are some writers here who most definitely don’t ever get writer’s block (great work of fiction, eh?) and would love to help. Drop us a line—and no need to worry about those Oxford commas.