The Hemingway Challenge: A Novel Exercise to Improve Communications

May 1, 2013

by Dan Fredricks

Dan FredricksIn the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway was reportedly challenged by a colleague to write a complete story, with a beginning, middle, and end, using only six words. Hemingway won the wager by writing, “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” Legend has it that he regarded this simple story as one of his best works.

On its own, the Hemingway Challenge is an entertain­ing, thought-provoking puzzle. Within the context of marketing communications, it is a dynamic exercise to create more powerful and effective writing.

When first introduced to the Challenge, I found it a fascinating exercise in writing simple “short” stories. Months later, when having trouble starting a writing project, I used it to jump-start my thinking process. To my pleasant surprise it worked wonderfully, and I’ve used it since on many more projects.

The following six communications concepts illustrate the relevance of the Hemingway Challenge for health care marketers today. These universal concepts will help you craft more effective communications.

1. Stories

Successful marketers have long considered storytelling a vital element in creating their communications. To them it was obvious – stories work.


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