I heard a trainee journalist talking about his first days on the job.

He was asked to report on a story.

He investigated it, the facts, the people involved, what happened exactly.

He diligently interviewed everyone and carefully crafted the final piece.

It had an intriguing opening, a coherent middle, and a logical end.

When he’d finished, he submitted it to the editor.

Before he’d even got back to his desk the phone was ringing.

It was the editor.

He said “Rewrite it with all the facts at the front”.

The young journalist said “But that would spoil the story”.

The editor said “Kid, we put out an entire newspaper every day, top to bottom.

New stories and updates are coming in all the time.

Everything keeps changing until we go to press.

We sometimes have to cut reports, we may have to cut your piece kid.

When we cut, we cut from the bottom, so make sure all the important stuff, like the facts, are up front”.

And the young journalist had to rewrite his copy.

Because that’s the difference between our media and a book.

A book may take months to write.

That’s okay because people can take weeks to read it, savouring each word.

Our media isn’t like that.

Our media has to compete for attention.

We can’t assume that every word will be pored over, like a book.

That’s what made Ernest Hemingway different as a writer.

Hemingway trained as a journalist.

Before he became a novelist, he worked on The Kansas City Star.

He learned the paper’s style, it became a guide for writing:

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

He learned to get the most from the least, to prune language.

Later in life Hemingway would call this style “The Iceberg Theory”.

By stating the bare minimum you let the reader’s imagination add the part unsaid, the part below the surface.

In writing classes at universities it’s now known as “The Theory of Omission”.

In 1928, The New York Times wrote of Hemingway’s first novel:

“No amount of analysis can convey the quality of ‘The Sun Also Rises’. It is a truly gripping story, told in lean, hard, athletic, narrative prose that puts more ‘literary’ English to shame”.

Hemingway’s style influenced an entire generation of writers.

In 1952 he won the Pulitzer Prize.

In 1954 he won the Nobel Prize.

The Transatlantic Review said Hemingway “actively trimmed the verbal ‘fat’ off his own style, and flexed his writer’s muscles in assaulting conventional taste”.


Hemingway put it differently, he said “Writing is architecture, not interior decoration.”