Hemingway and the Art of Being Concise

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For sale: Baby Shoes, never worn.

Six words, one very full story.

As the legend goes, famed author Ernest Hemingway won a bet with those six words. While lunching with friends at the Algonquin, he wagered ten dollars to everyone sitting at the table (and probably a bartender and a few waitresses) that he could craft an entire story in just six words.

And then he did—on a cocktail napkin.

Six words. That’s all it took to make an impact. Hemingway proved that you can get right to the point, without missing it.

He’d probably punch me for saying it, but he would have been one hell of an ad man.

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There’s a lot of similarity between that storied literary tale and advertising; beyond scribbling something on a cocktail napkin, a concise message must tell a whole story, and it’s worth far more than a few ten dollar bills over lunch.

It’s the difference between making your point, or blending in with the rest of the white noise.

The average focus-attention span for a human is 7 seconds, and it decreases annually—that’s two seconds shorter than a goldfish. Divide that time in half while in motion.

That isn’t a lot of time to make an impact.

You don’t have time to explain every detail, but if done correctly, it’s enough to stimulate the desire to know more.

How does one say so much with so few words?

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It’s a matter of selecting the words carefully, and with both sides of the brain—and what is left between those words, is the true craft of writing.

Be it humor or wit, a touching moment, the beginning of a mystery or a desire to grab a person by the shoulders and scream, “LOOK AT THIS,” the only way to say more is to get their attention in the first place.

In about six words or less.

Hemingway proved it can be done. Now it’s up to us to continue doing it correctly.

What will your six words be?

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