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The Power of Brevity And Deletion

The Power of Brevity And Deletion

Hemingway, it's said, was sitting around a table with a gathering of friends, when he wagered a bet. I can write a complete story, he said, in six words.

Money fell onto the table.

Then Papa shared:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

To this day, nobody knows if it ever actually happened, though the tale of the wager and the 6-word story has become the stuff of legend in the world of writing.

In those six words lies an entire story, rich enough to bring some to tears.

Hemingway was hailed for his efficiency with words.

Nothing was extraneous.

Every syllable had import.

A reason to be.

As a blogger, a writer and an author deep into my next 60,000 word book, I keep revisiting the power of the six-word story.

What makes it so gorgeous is not only what's packed into those six words, but what's not.

It's not just about brevity or linguistic efficiency.

The words deliver just enough of the framework to hint at a story, while providing gaps around the very facts that, once filled in by your own experience, make the story come alive.

The nuance comes not so much from the words, but from how they elicit your participation in the story.

That's what makes it so powerful. What makes it feel like it was written just for you.

Because you, in fact, wrote much of it, without even knowing it.


It's not just about efficiency, it's about space, participation and relevance.

So, I'm curious, how might we integrate the lessons of Hemingway's particular approach to the six word story into our own storytelling?

As bloggers, writers, communicators, marketers, personal brands, raconteurs, sales people, entrepreneurs and creators, what might happen if we focused not on fleshing out the conversation with our own observations, but on:

(1) Writing less and

(2) Deleting key facts in an effort to allow our readers, viewers, listeners and customers to unintentionally fill them in a way that makes our message feel singly relevant to them?

This very strategy was, in fact, taught to me as a powerful way to make headlines and marketing copy feel like they've gotten into a reader's head, made a beeline past knee-jerk defenses and hit home.

Writing this way takes work, but when you nail it, the impact can be extraordinary.


Jonathan Fields is the author of Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love. He writes and speaks on meaningful work, being a lifestyle entrepreneur and creativity at and is a twitter heavy-user at @jonathanfields

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