BONUS: Who taught Hemingway to write?

Jerry Bellune

Mar 1, 2023

I wondered about his editor’s thinking that this was the kind of prose the American public is eager to read.

I recently tried reading a novel by a controversial novelist.

I’ll not identify him, but you might be able to figure out who he is from the question in this column’s subject line.

He wasn't born or educated in this country. That could explain some of the problems I found in his prose.

I am puzzled that he is celebrated by fans, won numerous awards for his writing and is vilified in some quarters by critics who admit they have not read any of his books. They just disagree with him because friends told them they should.

I found his writing heavy going.

His novel’s opening sentence contained 69 words, six commas and one period.

Not to be outdone, his second sentence contained 170 words, 31 commas, a semi-colon and, thankfully, a period.

He must not realize that his computer can produce an inexhaustible number of periods besides other punctuation.

His writing was sprinkled with vague references to people I’ve never heard of and foreign words in several languages he must believe his ideal reader can translate.

I can only imagine that his editor must share that belief.

I stuck with him through the 18-page first chapter, but that was it.

I wondered about his editor’s thinking that this was the kind of prose the American public is eager to read.

Few newspapers or magazines you and I read would publish writing like this, much less pay for the privilege.

Because I am addicted to reading several newspapers a day, I read a short essay in one praising the Kansas City Star for teaching Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway to write. We might agree that was one newspaper’s gift to literature.

The Star’s cub reporters were given 110 rules. That's right. 110.

In his later novels and reporting, Hemingway emphasized five of them:

  • Use short sentences.
  • Use short paragraphs.
  • Use vigorous English.
  • Be positive, not negative.
  • Eliminate every superfluous word.

That’s it. That’s how Hemingway wrote.

As editors, that's how we may wish all reporters wrote.

Respect those rules and you, too, might one day win a Nobel Prize.

To help your reporters, have them read a copy of The Art of Compelling Writing. It is available at

Jerry Bellune is a writing coach and author of “The Art of Compelling Writing, Volume 1.” If our reporters wrote better, it would make editing easier. It would make our news and feature articles sing. But we lack the time to coach them. Here’s a secret. You can help them with copies of writing coach Jerry Bellune’s The Art of Compelling Writing; $9.99 at