How to write like Hemingway

The elevator doors close.

I look left, and see a familiar face. The way his stoic face breaks into a smile tells me I’m familiar to him too. We exchange pleasantries, and talk about the great past time of adulthood: work.

The elevator goes down. My eyes try to maintain eye contact, but keeps going to his hands instead. Rather, that thing in his hands. That thing I only ever see in bookstores. On the reference shelf, which nobody cares for because the Internet exists.

Ding! Ground floor. The doors open.

If I don’t ask now, I might never know…

We’re just about to part our ways.

I break down.

“Dangit, Ben*. WHY ARE YOU CARRYING GRAMMAR BOOK?”

51bgxhyul5l-_sx331_bo1204203200_
We both work in IT. Code abides by its own grammar rules. So why this?

He tells me of how he wants to communicate better.

He tells me of how his projects** have a lot of stakeholders, and that a small miscommunication can cost him hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

He tells me how he needs to tell those stakeholders so many things, but he’s limited to the compact tool that is email.

He tells me his boss still isn’t convinced, won’t fork up any training budget, so he had resorted to self-studying.

Cue book.

No no no no no.

Grammar is one thing, communicating another. You can be a great communicator even with poor grammar.

Unfortunately, the reverse holds true as well. A pet peeve of mine: Lengthy well-written emails that don’t really say anything. Ugh.

But I know this isn’t what he wants to hear. So I don’t tell him of the internal monologue, and instead tell him of a quick fix:

The Hemingway App.

I try to tell him how it works. Of its wonderful features. Of how I use it every time my emails get lengthy.

I try, but he and I both know the time is ticking.

He glances at his watch, apologizes that he has to go, and promises he’ll check it out later.

I don’t know if he ever did. I still had a lot to say before he left.

So instead, I’m going to write here all the wonderful things about the Hemingway App (HA from now on) I meant to tell Ben.

Like how if Microsoft Word has spellcheck, HA has readability check.

Of how HA has one goal: To make your writing as clear and concise as possible.

Of how it does this by basing it’s algorithm off Hemingway’s own writing tips. Of the premise that longer sentences, the use of passive voice, and even adverbs, add unnecessary complexity to writing.

That according to Hemingway, simple is better.

And that I wanted to refer his boss to this:

Hire good writers

If you are trying to decide between a few people to fill a position, always hire the better writer. It doesn’t matter if that person is a designer, programmer, marketer, salesperson, or whatever, the writing skills will pay off. Effective, concise writing and editing leads to effective, concise code, design, emails, instant messages, and more.

That’s because being a good writer is about more than words. Good writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. They think clearly. And those are the qualities you need.

Wordsmiths, 37signals.com

Of how if he wanted to communicate better, then he should just K.I.S.S.

*His name is not really Ben.

**Not-Ben and I both make a living as IT project managers. This does not mean we can fix your laptop.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s