“Why I Write”

One of the things my mother stuffed my stocking with last Christmas was the book “Why I Write” by George Orwell. It’s part of the Penguin Books “Great Ideas” series. I found it to be a particularly painful read, but used it as my de facto subway book. I finally finished it on my trip back downtown from The Bronx today. The “book” is really a giant, rambling essay that Orwell penned while stuck underground during the German bombing of London in World War II. The first four chapters are his argument for socialism and the end of the capitalist system. Not really my cup of tea, but I kept on. It took me until the second-to-last page to find this gem where Orwell sets his ground rules for writing:

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

As a journalist, I find that I identify particularly well with rules one, two and three. I often catch myself in lofty sentences overflowing with punctuation and exquisite vocabulary. If I go back in and slash and burn, the outcome is always better.


Comments are closed.