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What Can Ernest Hemingway Teach Us About Writing Text Messages With More Clarity?

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Are you struggling to write your 1st, or even 100th, text message? Let's see what the famous writer Ernest Hemingway can teach us about writing texts.

Many people that are required to write in any capacity for their business are quick to point out that they are “no Hemingway.” 

The irony is that Hemingway is known for being a “plain” writer who preferred to use straightforward language when crafting his novels and short stories. It’s an approach that–in theory–anyone should be able to replicate. 

Of course, emulating Hemingway’s style is easier said than done. When you boil it down, what people are trying to get at when they reference the author is the importance of clarity and conviction. 

With text marketing, you’re often faced with limited character space. So, writing clear text messages is critical, and you can learn some essential lessons from Hemingway’s approach. 

While you might not win The Nobel Prize in Literature, your text messages will be easier to read and more engaging. So, in the spirit of brevity, let’s dive right into what Hemingway can teach us about writing texts. 

1. Trim the Fat

“If I started to write elaborately…I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away…”

With a standard SMS, you have 160 characters. Using aimless, fuzzy words quickly eats into this available space. With this in mind, you should avoid the following where possible.

  • Adverbs: actually, currently, really, literally
  • Adjectives: very, real, simple
  • Other filler words: perhaps, pretty, now, that, in order, just, maybe

Untrimmed

Today 10:25 AM
We’re currently experimenting with a pretty simple way to collect employee feedback in order to improve our program. More information now here: http://txt.st/VB1x

Trimmed

Today 10:25 AM
We’re experimenting with a new way to collect employee feedback to improve our program. More information here: http://txt.st/VB1x

2. Use Simple Language

“I was learning something…writing simple true sentences is far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them.”

Beyond being economical with your word choice, it’s important to use simple and clear language. According to a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, you don’t sound smart when you use big words. 

While it can be attempting at times to choose flashy words, it’s more impressive when you can deliver a message clearly and directly. The key lesson here is to choose simple words over complicated ones. Here are a couple of examples where a more straightforward word works best.

  • Write next to instead of adjacent
  • Write start instead of initiate
  • Write use instead of utilize

Flowery Language

Today 10:25 AM
We’re inaugurating a new Coyo Taco location adjacent to City Hall and initiating a new chapter in our story. Utilize promo COYO2 for 10% off an online order: http://txt.st/VB1x

Simple Language

Today 10:25 AM
We’re opening a new Coyo Taco location next to City Hall and starting a new chapter in our story. Use promo COYO2 for 10% off an online order: http://txt.st/VB1x

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Revise

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit.”

Even the greats have to reread and often rewrite their work. So, don’t be afraid to do the same with your text messages. You can use tools like the–wait for it–the Hemingway Editor to make your writing bold and clear. There are other alternatives, like Grammarly. 

The point is that it’s okay to write a couple of drafts of a text message and then decide what version works best. Shorten, delete, and rewrite anything that complicates what you’re trying to communicate.

4. Know Who You’re Writing For

“I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about.”

We’re paraphrasing Hemingway a little here so bear with us. While creative writing students hear they need to “write what they know,” marketers are told to write for their audience. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. If you’re marketing a product, you likely know your audience. 

Let’s say you’re texting surfers about a new product launch, don’t be afraid to use common surfing jargon to help you connect with your buyers. 

Audience Specific Text

Today 10:25 AM
The Softech Bomber provides solid paddle power and float on small, mushy waves. The tail has enough pivot to make tight turns. Get it here: http://txt.st/VB1x

Generic Text

Today 10:25 AM
The Softech Bomber is a great surfboard for small waves. Its design means you can also use it for turns. Get it here: http://txt.st/VB1x

5. Use Vigorous English

“Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English.

The above is not a quote from Hemingway but from the Kansas City Star’s famous style sheet where Hemingway worked as a reporter in 1917. The advice still holds.

Generally, try to use the active voice whenever possible in your text messages. Passive voice sentences often use more words, can be vague, and can lead to a tangle of prepositional phrases. 

If you’re unsure of what we mean by this, here is an example of two text messages to give you an idea:

Active

Today 10:25 AM
Our team decided to launch our new mascara to our Text Club VIPs first. You can buy it here: http://txt.st/VB1x

Passive:

Today 10:25 AM
It was decided by our team to launch our new mascara to our Text Club VIPs first. You can buy it here: http://txt.st/VB1x

These 5 tips won’t transform you into a rum drinking, bearded, Nobel Laureate, overnight. However, they will help you write better text messages and get your audience to take more action. 

The next time you say, “I’m no Hemingway,” you can add, “But I write damn good texts.”

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