Ernest Hemingway was the noted American writer who was best known – next to his near-godlike talent for making the contents of a bottle of rum disappear – for his spartan use of the English language in crafting some of the most evocative prose of the 20th century. He was a consummate man’s man, a celebrated drinker, an adventurer, a romantic, and a true-as-blood lover of humanity.
I’ve long been a fan of his works for the way he tells such a rich story with such simple language. Given his direct writing style, he never failed to cut the bullshit and tell the rawest version of the story possible…as a man should do.
Here’s a pretty spot-on showing of Hemingway’s style, from Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris:
Given Hemingway’s notorious writing style and passionate demeanor, it should come as little surprise that his typewriter was a factory for timeless wisdom & witticisms for “no bullshit” living.
I’ve compiled some of Hemingway’s most poignant statements about raw & honest writing, talking, and connecting into “Hemingway’s Three Rules of Powerful Conversation” and how you can bring them front-and-center into your own life.
#1 – “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”
This one comes first because it’s the most important.
This is the Fundamental principle of real conversation and connection with others. Why? Because this has to occur before anyone else ever enters the picture.
This is a very personal mantra to me, as it reflects the source of this blog and everything that has and will ever come from Naked Charisma. I’m an optimistic guy, I believe that the good outweighs the bad in this world if you look hard enough, and I genuinely love people.
But, these were hard-won realizations.
This project was borne out of pain and struggle in my life, maybe the greatest source of suffering: my inability to communicate and connect with those around me, the loneliness and isolation borne from anxiety.
This was my story and I had to tell it to understand it. I had to understand it to change it.
No matter your success in life, you must tell your story.
The setbacks, the successes, the dark parts, and the questions. It all counts and should be talked about.
Fortune Favors The Bold
You must write and speak. You must do it with great urgency and fervor. Tell the story for your sake, to gain clarity and perspective on your life. Tell your story for the sake of the person who is listening, for they may be too damn scared to tell their own story.
The World doesn’t guarantee a tomorrow, it doesn’t give second chances, and it doesn’t give a damn who speaks first or talks out of line.
How to Tell Your Story like a Champ
One of my favorite bloggers, Mike Cernovich over at Danger & Play, wrote a great piece about putting your soul into your writing and telling the story that rends you, for the sake of others and your integrity. It’s a powerful article that – like Hemingway’s writing – has me do a gut check on the authenticity of everything I have been writing for Naked Charisma.
Here’s a little snippet of wisdom from that post, “An Open Letter About Your Website”:
“Have you cried while writing a post because you had to go deep into your heart and soul to find the words to express yourself?…Until you are prepared to leave a piece of your soul in each post, until you are ready to feel like you’re about to throw up after you hit publish, then you’re not ready for the big time.”
Telling your story is rarely easy because it can be scary to talk about. The telling, though, is the opening and the redemption. That’s what counts and that’s what makes magic.
If you’re having a hard time telling your story and you feel stuck, you’re staying comfortable and you’re still afraid.
And, I’m saying that because I Love You.
The Quick & Dirty Way to Tell Your Truth
Need a helpful nudge? Hemingway’s got you covered:
“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
You need to practice at telling your Truth. You’ll think you’re full of shit and you’ll want to hide from it, redact it, and spit-shine it. As far as I can tell, this takes a lifetime to do well.
When I’m particularly grief-stricken, sad, or needing to speak something ‘heavy’, I physically have a hard time speaking. My throat hurts badly and I can’t muster to get a single word out. This is not hyperbole – it honestly, physically hurts. That’s mental resistance manifesting physically.
You have to breath and try to speak until words come out. And, when that happens you will you know that you’ve spoken that one true sentence.
Start by speaking that one sentence that is truer than anything else than you know. Speak the words that scare you the hell out of you.
It gives you the air of being unflappable, honest, trustable, and having massive integrity. I’d rather hire, go into business with, date, or be friends with a person who was honest about their story, their dark side, their strengths, and their proclivity for being a badass any day. Look in Hemingway’s eyes and you’ll see that.
Keep at it and remember Hemingway’s next bit of advice…
#2 – “The first draft of anything is shit.”
Everyone who struggles with shyness and finds it hard to connect with others has one dirty little secret in common…
YOU ARE A NOTORIOUS PERFECTIONIST
You are so afraid to fail, fuck up, and make an asshole out of yourself that you never step forth and say “Hi!”. Not to mention creating a great interaction with the people in front of you.
The world is a chaotic place, rife with 7 billion conflicting ideas about love, money, politics, freedom, humor, and God. To mention just a few. You will be misunderstood, you will offend others, sometimes your jokes will fall flat, and other times the person you’re talking to will be the most boring, socially inept sap you’ve ever met.
You have little-to-no control over any of this. At all. Facts is facts, as they say.
For years, I was of the opinion that because I was learning to improve my communication skills, I would be able to almost inspire the other person to enjoy my company and find me oh-so-fascinating!
Sure, as you learn and grow, you’ll become more socially affable. Men will find you more intriguing, women will find you more charming, audiences will be more engaged, and networking events will be more fluid and fruitful. That much is totally true. 100%.
But, you’re not always gonna be a winner. You’re not always gonna be the goddamn Prom King. Especially in the beginning.
Start Getting Conversational Results With Less Stress
Open your mouth, speak the first true thing you know, and move from there. Give up the quest for total perfection. It’s really that easy.
You’re missing out on all the fun the rest of us are having.
#3 – “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
There’s a widely believed notion that the most charismatic of us are the ones most endowed with the gift of gab. Tremendous talkers, always on the ready with well-timed witty repartee and fascinating stories of adventure, wealth, and conquest.
This is not entirely untrue, to be sure.
Everyone loves to talk to the guy with all of the great stories, like the time he outran the cops through three states or the time he got lost in the jungles of Borneo, only to be taken in and declared King by the local tribespeople. They’re tremendous stories – who doesn’t love to hear those?
But, let’s be honest. This guy loves to be the center of attention, makes the conversation all about him, and never asks about you. All told, it’s pretty damn obnoxious. You know exactly who I’m talking about.
Basically, we think we have to be “The Most Interesting Man in the World”. And, even though Ernest Hemingway does bare a striking resemblance to him, one of the unspoken keys of engaging, charismatic conversation is…
To Be Interesting To A Person, Be Interested In That Person
I didn’t write this because it’s counterintuitive, edgy, and controversial. Hell no.
I wrote it because it’s the bona fide fucking truth. Ask yourself this:
“What’s my favorite thing to talk about?”
You, your experiences, your stories, your passions, your big plans for the future. Isn’t that what you’re trying to talk about the whole time you’re having a conversation, anyways?
Of course it is.
If you’re like most of us, you make the conversation all about you…and, when the other person gets a chance to speak, you play a game of “Me Too!”, cajoling the conversation back to your life and your stories.
It’s innocent enough and probably in good intentions. You want to build rapport and relate to the other person. But, when this is done, you’re subtly telling them that the rest of their story isn’t important enough for them to flesh out and share with you.
Getting Curious About Other People
I’ve always been a sucker for the French writer Voltaire, especially his ability to pen a punchy quote such as this one: “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”
That’s really the short answer, right there: Learn to be curious about the other people in the conversation.
What makes you a captivating conversationalist is really less about what you say and more about what you allow the other people to unveil for you.
Their wild stories, their passions, their motivations – these will all be enthusiastically shared with you if you allow them to, if you simply ask.
What would your interactions and relationships look like if you moved to this perspective of having a genuine interest and curiosity about others? What kind of questions would you ask? What kind of relationships would unfold out of these interactions?
This means you spend less time thinking “What do I say next?” and more time saying “That’s fascinating, my friend. Regale me, tell me more!”.
Conversation is less of a journey from Point A to Point B…and more of a waltz, rhumba, or tango somewhere between the two Points.
This is no time to be an ass-kissing sycophant, lavishing them with glib compliments and transparent charm. It’s also no time to ask rapid-fire questions with no soul like you are an FBI interrogator. That’s obnoxious.
Instead, try these things on for size:
- Step back and give them the limelight.
- Remember how great it feels when people lavish attention and curiosity on you…then do that to them.
- Use open-ended questions that ask about their unique experience.
- Actually be engaged, present, and truly listen to them!
Afterword – Cocktail Hour
OK, guys – that was some pretty heavy shit. I know, I know. Let’s take the edge off a little bit with a cocktail.
Though I don’t drink 1/10th as much as Hemingway did, I’m still a firm believer in the healing powers of a great cocktail or two. Much like his oft-quoted advice of “Write drunk; edit sober”, I think a few good drinks are good for the soul and loosen you up for good conversation. After all, there’s a great reason why first dates are often getting a drink together and we call booze a “social lubricant”.
Because Papa and I share a deep love of rum, here’s my favorite cocktail recipe and his namesake, the Hemingway Daiquiri. Happy Drinking, kids!
The Hemingway Daiquiri
2 oz. white rum (I’m partial to Flor de Caña Extra Dry 4 Year)
3/4 oz. fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
1 barspoon Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1 barspoon simple syrup
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all of the above ingredients and shake well for about 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a lime wheel.