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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Writer on Writing: Orwell

In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell wrote what is essentially a selection of queries a writer should make before committing to their work. I should probably incorporate some of these. :P

I'm starting to use this blog as a chronicle of my life, more or less, and I think I will try to do a series of picking bits I love that writers have written about writing. I have so many anthologies on the craft. It's a wonderful thing.

I've been getting re-indoctrinated on the love children have for their passions, for art. It's rejuvenating writing for me. Not that I'm doing anything good with it yet, but I expect I'll have that creative frenzy I've been wanting to have, and soon.

Unfortunately, there's no photography in the future. I need to phone about the warranty tomorrow. The extended warranty people are rejecting the claim. I should ask what it will cost to repair, but I'm under the impression it's the single most expensive error that can occur with a camera. In short, I'm probably fucked. I already know what camera I'll buy when I can scrape some pennies together later on, towards summer. It's a... Panasonic. No, really. But it's a Leica lens, and throwing a Leica lens on a digital camera's a serious sign of commitment to the craft, so I'm overlooking the Panasonic thing. Besides, it's rated quite high. And under $400, and still 5 megapixels.

On with the Orwell thing:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.