Writing Songs With – Ernest Hemingway

Here’s a tip I adapted from Brian Clark of Copyblogger in Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips For Writing Well

Don’t Be Negative!

Since Hemingway wasn’t the cheeriest guy in the world, what does he mean by be positive? Basically, you should say what something is rather than what it isn’t.
This is what Michel Fortin calls using ‘up‘ words:

Stating what something isn’t can be counterproductive since it is still directing the mind, albeit in the opposite way. If I told you that dental work is painless for example, you’ll still focus on the word “pain” in “painless.” Instead of saying “inexpensive,” say “economical,”

In I Got Lost I had a line that said

That dream became so fragile
It wasn’t safe to hold

this was supposed to be my big crescendo line into the chorus but it felt like a damp squib. After some scratching around I remembered Hemingway’s rule I tried to focus on what the ‘dream’ was rather than what it wasn’t and came up with

That dream became so fragile
And much too sharp to hold

which has a much more visceral feel than the ‘safe’ option (and for a bonus the C natural moves up to a C sharp! immediately after). I wish I could say that was deliberate.

If your song is lacking punch, look through the lyrics and try to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive and e-lim-i-nate the negative

About mattblick

Songwriter & Musical Educator from Nottingham, UK. New album Fifty Five Stories Down is out now. Blogging through the entire Beatles catalogue at Beatles Songwriting Academy.
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One Response to Writing Songs With – Ernest Hemingway

  1. Pingback: I Got Lost | Everyday Songwriter

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