How to Write Like Ernest Hemingway

Table of Contents


Ernest Hemingway, the legendary author known for his concise and powerful prose, has left an indelible mark on the world of literature. His writing style, characterized by its simplicity and directness, continues to captivate readers and inspire aspiring writers. But what is it about Hemingway’s writing that makes it so alluring?

Hemingway’s writing style is more than just a collection of words on a page; it reflects his unique perspective on life and the human experience. His ability to convey complex emotions and ideas through simple, straightforward language has earned him a place among the greatest writers of the 20th century. From his early works like The Sun Also Rises to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway’s writing has stood the test of time and continues to resonate with readers worldwide.

However, Hemingway’s impact on literature goes beyond his works. His writing style has influenced countless other writers, from his contemporaries to modern-day authors. Many have tried to emulate his signature style, but few have captured what makes Hemingway’s writing so special.

So, what can aspiring writers learn from Hemingway’s approach to writing? This write-up delves into how to write like Ernest Hemingway while exploring the key techniques that made Hemingway’s writing legendary. We’ll examine his use of simple language, ability to create vivid characters and settings, and mastery of dialogue and subtext. By understanding and applying these techniques, you, too, can unleash your inner Hemingway and take your writing to the next level.

Whether you’re a seasoned writer looking to refine your craft or a novice just starting, this guide will provide the tools and inspiration you need to write like the literary legend himself.

Who Was Ernest Hemingway?

Ernest Hemingway was a significant figure in 20th-century American literature. He was known for his terse yet impactful writing style and robust, adventurous life, which deeply influenced his literary works.

Hemingway’s life experience is a rich canvas that includes his time as an ambulance driver during World War I, his residence in Paris in the 1920s among a group of expatriate writers and artists, his reporting on the Spanish Civil War, and his passion for big-game hunting, bullfighting, and deep-sea fishing.

These elements recurrently manifest in his storytelling, infusing his narratives with authenticity, a strong sense of place, and an acute understanding of human nature and endurance in adversity.

Born in 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois, Hemingway’s early life in a suburb of Chicago provided a conventional foundation that he would later contrast against the backdrop of his more adventurous pursuits. At the age of 18, he volunteered for the Red Cross as an ambulance driver on the Italian front during World War I, where he was severely wounded. His experiences and injuries in the war would later shape his first major novel, A Farewell to Arms, and inform the terse stoicism that characterizes much of his work.

After his recovery, Hemingway worked as a journalist, a profession that honed his distinctive style of writing, characterized by direct, declarative sentences and the omission of unnecessary words. This style became known as the “Iceberg Theory” or “Theory of Omission,” where the underlying meaning of a story is implied rather than explicitly stated. This style mirrored his belief that truth could be more effectively conveyed through subtext.

In the 1920s, Hemingway lived in Paris, where he became part of the “Lost Generation,” a term he popularized for those disillusioned by the destruction of World War I. His experiences here were distilled into The Sun Also Rises, a novel epitomizing the expatriate experience and post-war disenchantment.

With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway was driven to report from the frontlines, and the conflict became the backdrop for For Whom the Bell Tolls, which many consider his most ambitious novel. His first-hand engagement with the brutality and political complexity of war informed his ability to construct narratives that are both deeply personal and universal in their exploration of heroism, loss, and love.

Hemingway’s affinity for adventure and the outdoors also found its way into his literature. His interest in bullfighting led to Death in the Afternoon, an exploration of the ceremony and traditions of Spanish bullfighting. His exploits in big-game hunting shaped the narratives of The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Green Hills of Africa. At the same time, his love for deep-sea fishing became central to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novella, The Old Man and the Sea, which encapsulates themes of personal redemption, resilience, and the interplay between the human spirit and nature.

Despite personal struggles with illness, injuries, and depression, Hemingway’s capacity to translate his life into art remained undiminished until the very end. His personal life—with its four marriages, bouts with mental illness, and eventual suicide in 1961—concurrently speaks to the themes of love, war, heroism, and tragedy that permeate his body of work. The convergence of his lived experience with his fiction made his prose vitally compelling and left an indelible imprint on the landscape of modern American literature.

Embracing Hemingway’s Writing Style

Ernest Hemingway’s writing style is like a breath of fresh air in the often stuffy world of literature. His prose is simple, clear, and brief, yet it packs a powerful punch. Hemingway’s writing is stripped down to its essentials, leaving only the most important elements to convey meaning and emotion.

Characteristics of Hemingway’s Writing Style

Short, declarative sentences and straightforward language characterize Hemingway’s writing. He avoids flowery prose and instead opts for a more direct approach. This simplicity allows readers to focus on the story and the characters without getting bogged down in unnecessary details.

Another key aspect of Hemingway’s writing is his use of subtext. He often leaves things unsaid, allowing readers to fill in the gaps and draw conclusions. This technique creates a sense of depth and complexity in his writing, even though the language itself is simple.

Authenticity and Honesty

Hemingway believed that writing should be authentic and honest. He drew heavily from his life experiences, including his time as an ambulance driver in World War I and his adventures as a journalist and traveler. This authenticity gives his writing a sense of realness and immediacy that resonates with readers.

Hemingway also believed in honesty in his writing, even when it was uncomfortable or painful. He wrote about the darker aspects of human nature, including violence, betrayal, and despair. This honesty added depth and complexity to his characters and stories, making them feel more real and relatable.

Examples of Hemingway’s Works

To truly appreciate Hemingway’s writing style, it’s important to read his works for yourself. Some of his most famous novels include:

  • The Sun Also Rises
  • A Farewell to Arms
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • The Old Man and the Sea

Each of these works showcases Hemingway’s distinctive writing style and his ability to create compelling characters and stories with minimal prose. By reading these works, aspiring writers can better understand how to write like Hemingway and incorporate his techniques.

Understanding Hemingway’s Literary Techniques

Ernest Hemingway’s literary techniques are the foundation of his iconic writing style. By examining his use of short sentences, straightforward language, dialogue, subtext, and the influence of his life experiences, we can gain a deeper appreciation for his craftsmanship and learn to incorporate these elements into our writing.

The Power of Simplicity

One of the most striking features of Hemingway’s writing is his use of short, declarative sentences. He eschews flowery language and complex sentence structures in favor of clear, concise prose. This simplicity allows the reader to focus on the essence of the story without getting bogged down in unnecessary details. Hemingway’s straightforward language also contributes to the authenticity of his writing, as it mirrors how people often speak in real life.

Dialogue and Subtext

Hemingway was a master of dialogue, using it to reveal character, advance the plot, and create subtext. In his stories, characters often speak in short, clipped sentences that convey more than what is explicitly stated. By paying attention to what is left unsaid, readers can uncover the deeper emotions and motivations of the characters. This iceberg-writing technique, where most of the story’s meaning lies beneath the surface, is a hallmark of Hemingway’s style.

Writing from Experience

Hemingway’s writing is heavily influenced by his life experiences, particularly his time as an ambulance driver during World War I and his adventures as an expatriate in Paris and Spain. He often drew upon these experiences to create vivid, realistic settings and characters that resonated with readers. By infusing his writing with his worldview and the lessons he learned throughout his life, Hemingway imbued his stories with a sense of authenticity and emotional depth.

To write like Hemingway, we must embrace simplicity, master the art of dialogue and subtext, and draw upon our life experiences to create true stories. By studying his literary techniques and understanding how they contribute to his iconic style, we can incorporate these elements into our writing and develop our unique voices.

Practicing Hemingway’s Writing Techniques

Now that you’ve grasped the essence of Hemingway’s writing style and literary techniques, it’s time to put them into practice. Incorporating Hemingway’s approach into your writing can help you develop a more concise, impactful, and engaging voice. Here are some practical tips to get you started:

Embrace Simplicity

One of the hallmarks of Hemingway’s writing is his use of simple, straightforward language. Use clear, precise words to emulate this and avoid unnecessary adjectives or adverbs. Challenge yourself to convey your message using the fewest words possible without sacrificing meaning or impact.

Write Short Sentences

Hemingway was known for his short, punchy sentences. Experiment with breaking down longer sentences into shorter, more digestible ones. This technique can help create a sense of rhythm and urgency in your writing, keeping readers engaged and eager to read on.

Practice Dialogue

Dialogue is crucial in Hemingway’s works, often revealing subtext and underlying emotions. To hone your dialogue skills, try writing conversations between characters without using dialogue tags (e.g., “he said,” “she exclaimed”). Instead, rely on actions and context to convey who speaks and how they feel.

Draw from Life Experiences

Hemingway often drew inspiration from his life experiences, infusing his writing with authenticity and realism. To apply this technique, consider writing about events or emotions you have encountered. Use sensory details to create vivid scenes that transport readers into the moment.

Experiment with Narrative Structures

While Hemingway is known for straightforward storytelling, he experimented with different narrative structures. Try writing a story using a non-linear timeline, or explore the use of flashbacks and foreshadowing to create suspense and depth in your writing.

Remember, practice and persistence are the keys to mastering Hemingway’s writing techniques. Don’t be afraid to experiment, make mistakes, and refine your craft over time. As you continue to write and incorporate these techniques, you’ll develop your unique voice while paying homage to one of the greatest literary icons ever.

Embodying Hemingway’s Spirit in Your Writing

While studying and learning from Hemingway’s writing style is essential, developing your unique voice is equally crucial. Hemingway’s works are a guiding light, illuminating the path to powerful, impactful writing. However, your journey as a writer should be one of self-discovery, where you find the perfect balance between emulating your literary heroes and carving out your distinct style.

To embody Hemingway’s spirit in your writing, start by infusing your stories with adventure, courage, and vulnerability. Hemingway’s life was a tapestry woven with daring exploits and profound emotions. He drew from his experiences as an ambulance driver in World War I, a Spanish Civil War journalist, and an avid adventurer who loved hunting, fishing, and bullfighting. You can create works that resonate with authenticity and depth by channeling your life experiences and passions into your writing.

Courage is another essential aspect of Hemingway’s spirit. He fearlessly tackled complex themes and emotions, from love and loss to the human condition’s harsh realities. As you develop your writing voice, don’t shy away from exploring the darker corners of the human experience. Embrace vulnerability and be willing to bare your soul on the page. Hemingway once said:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Let your words flow from a place of raw, unapologetic honesty.

Remember that originality is key as you embark on this journey of embodying Hemingway’s spirit. While it’s tempting to mimic Hemingway’s style down to the last comma, your ultimate goal should be to find your unique voice. Experiment with techniques, narrative structures, and themes until you discover what separates your writing. Hemingway’s influence should be a springboard for your creativity, not a restrictive template.

Ultimately, the secret to writing like Hemingway lies in staying true to yourself while drawing inspiration from his legendary work. Embrace the spirit of adventure, courage, and vulnerability that permeates his writing, but do so in a way that feels authentic to your own experiences and voice. As you navigate the balance between emulation and originality, remember that the greatest writers dare to be unapologetically themselves on the page.


As we conclude our journey into the captivating world of Ernest Hemingway’s writing, let’s reflect on the key takeaways that can help you unleash your inner literary legend. Throughout this guide, we’ve explored the essence of Hemingway’s style, characterized by simplicity, clarity, and brevity. By embracing these qualities in your writing, you can create powerful, engaging prose that resonates with readers.

Remember, the path to writing like Ernest Hemingway is not about imitation but finding inspiration in his techniques and adapting them to your unique voice. Experiment with short sentences, straightforward language, and authentic dialogue to create a sense of immediacy and honesty in your writing. Draw from your life experiences and worldview to infuse your work with the same depth and vulnerability that Hemingway achieved.

As you embark on your writing journey, remember that the key to success lies in continuous practice and self-expression. Don’t be afraid to explore different narrative structures, experiment with various styles, and find your balance between emulation and originality. Writing is a craft that requires dedication, courage, and a willingness to learn from the masters who came before us.

Leave a comment