Let Hemingway improve your writing for ad agency new business

A great resource for content marketing, social media marketing and agency new business is Ernest Hemingway, one of my favorite authors.

Hemingway, is among the most famous American novelists, short-story writers and essayists, who won both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes.  No doubt he would have easily adapted to write for Web and word limiting platforms such as Twitter.

Hemingway  pioneered a new style of writing, simple clear, direct and unadorned. His style is very helpful for content marketing and writing for social media.

Content marketing is a means of achieving a position of  thought leader and lead generation. Creating relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined target audience – with the objective of generating agency new business.

Social media didn’t create content marketing, but it’s an incredible tool for getting it easily circulated to a large audience.

The two combined can greatly increase inbound lead generation and networking opportunities. But I’ve found that a lot of agency principal’s struggle with generating content and writing for the Web.

People read online differently than they do in print. Most people tend to have short attention spans and are constantly scanning rather than reading word-for-word. They are more comfortable and accustom writing for print. Hemingway can help.

Ernest Miller Hemingway was 18 years old when he walked into the newsroom of The Kansas City Star and began his writing career. He was given a copy of “The Star Copy Style'” sheet, a single, galley-sized page, which contained the 110 rules governing Star prose.

Hemingway would always remember the style sheet and its core admonition: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.”

At the core of the style sheet that greatly influenced Hemingway’s writings are these four simple rules for writing well:

  1. Use short sentences. Don’t waste time and words, get straight to the point. Perhaps his finest demonstration of short sentence skill was when he was challenged to tell an entire story in only 6 words: For sale: baby shoes, never used. Just write the truest sentence that you know.
  2. Use short opening first paragraphs.
  3. Use vigorous English. “Vigorous English is muscular, forceful, it comes from passion, focus and intention” – David Garfinkel
  4. Be positive, not negative. Say what something is rather than what it isn’t. For example, instead of saying “inexpensive,” say “economical.”

“Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing,” Hemingway said in 1940. “I’ve never forgotten them. No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides with them.”

I’ve printed out, read and re-read often the Kansas City Star Style Sheet.  I hope that it will be a helpful resource too you.

Here are some memorable Hemingway quotes on writing:

  • All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.
  • I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.
  • I never had to choose a subject – my subject rather chose me.
  • If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.
  • My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.
  • The shortest answer is doing the thing.
  • There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.
  • There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
  • Develop a built-in bullshit detector.

A quote from Hemingway that every agency should adhere to for new business, “Never mistake motion for action”.

Photos from my recent trip to Hemingway’s home in Key West.

About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.


  1. Michael Mesic says:

    Don’t depend on you spell check to catch errors like the ones in the Hemingway article. “Hemingway, one of the most famous American novelists, short-story writers and essayists, who one [sic] both the Noble [sic] and Pulitzer prizes.”

  2. Thanks for the heads up Michael. I’m my own worst editor and often writing from trains, planes and autos.

  3. Craig Lindberg says:

    Michael, now this is an intimidating blog to respond to considering the topic and context. And damn useful. I’ll put it to practice. It’s consistent with the advertising maxim I’ve applied for many years; ‘the less said, the more read’.

  4. Thanks Craig. Lets catch up soon.

  5. Well put. Nice photos. Another thing Hemingway was known for was rewriting. Don’t be afraid to edit and revise to make it simpler.

  6. Good point Mike. David Ogilvy said of himself that he was a lousy copywriter but a good editor.

  7. Erin Graham says:

    Reading Hemingway, I always felt as though I were temporarily suspending my own life and entering some boozy, elliptical, impulse-driven universe…I could see that rhetorical strategy’s appeal for content marketers.

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