“And the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”
These days it’s almost cliché to say so…
But, as a copywriter, I find the writing of Ernest Hemingway such a useful resource.
If you’re not regularly reading his work, you should be. You’ll learn far more about good copy reading The Old Man and the Sea than boring yourself through most of the junk copywriting books out there.
Indeed, more often that not, when it comes to taking advice from Hemingway’s writing, people focus on the simplicity of the syntax. Advice is taken on a technical level: keep your language plain, your sentences short.
But sat here reading in a small café in London (The Roastery on Wandsworth Road – not a bad cup of coffee for those interested in such things), I came across a passage that touches on something I often try to teach to new copywriters.
It’s something less technical. Less tangible, even.
And that makes it very difficult to talk about.
It’s a gut feeling thing.
Some people ‘just get it’. For others, it takes a little longer to click.
Have a read yourself and see if you can see what I’m getting at…
“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”
The extract is taken from his novel about bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon – an excellent book, which I highly recommend.
And the sentiment behind this passage is an important one…
You see, as a copywriter, if you’ve done enough research and truly understand the product or service and write about it in an authentic way, the reader will naturally sense your belief in the product or service.
I can’t honestly say; I prefer to call it the magic of good copy.
Wishy-washy, I know. But seriously. It’s not something I think you can – or should – attempt to tie down.
You know when someone seems to be leading you down a garden path and something in their tone, or in the words they’re using, or something in their eyes, their smile… whatever it is, it doesn’t quite sit right?
It’s like that, but in writing.
As I say, it’s really a question of authenticity, just as Hemingway is suggesting in that extract.
And don’t get me wrong – the very best copywriters in the world are pretty good at faking authenticity and will have had to at some point in their career.
But I dare say if you asked a copywriter to explain how they made their most successful promotion sound so authentic… it’ll be because they truly believed it themselves.
That’s the rub, you see…
There is no ‘trick’ behind writing successful copy…
As Hemingway says: you just need to write truly enough.
Of course, on the flip side, if you’re lazy and are tempted to skirt over details that you haven’t bothered to investigate, it will be equally clear to the reader. They’ll spot the “hollow places” in your copy. In direct response sales letters, we call those hollow places ‘unanswered objections’.
So, don’t skimp on your research.
Without doubt the easiest route to successful copy is to dig deep into the product or service itself…
Or, to borrow from Hemingway’s metaphor: find the bottom of the iceberg. Understand it and admire it and then, when it comes to showing people how impressive the top of the iceberg is, you’ll be able to give them a feeling of what’s below without stating it and, if you write truly enough, your reader will feel as strongly towards it as you do.
In other words…
They’ll want to buy.