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But what is good writing?

Again, there are a slew of books on the subject (I own many of them), but what is good writing?

For me, it is when the words and syntax enhance without obscuring the meaning of the text. Either the language is simple and non-obtrusive or, if highfalutin, adds humor or insight.

Here’s an example of great writing:

Bob Benchley first introduced me to Ballantine Ale. It has been a good companion ever since.

You have to work hard to deserve to drink it. But I would rather have a bottle of Ballantine Ale than any other drink after fighting a really big fish.

We keep it iced in the bait box with chunks of ice packed around it. And you ought to taste it on a hot day when you have worked a big marlin fast because there were sharks after him.

You are tired all the way through. The fish is landed untouched by sharks and you have a bottle of Ballantine cold in your hand and drink it cool, light and full-bodied, so it tastes good long after you have swallowed it. That’s the test of an ale with me: whether it tastes as good afterwards as when it’s going down. Ballantine does.

There are few words in the ad longer than two syllables. The message, however, could not be clearer: Ballantine Ale refreshes. It’s a great piece of advertising copy—especially coming from a first-time ad writer named Ernest Hemingway (it’s the only ad he ever wrote).

Ernest Hemingway Ballantine Ale advertisement

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