No, this isn’t going to be another narcissistic blog post about writing blog posts (wouldn’t the world explode?) – instead it will be about the book that I read today: “Why I Write“, by George Orwell1.
I bought the book back in January, as part of my “Large Book Order” (I’ll soon be making another one2) but I’ve only today found the time to read it. I’ve not been reading books or blogging much lately, but now that school’s finished and the weather’s good, I’ll be seeing more of those books and that darned intarwebs.
A little note about the weather. I live in Scotland, and although I think the weather isn’t as bad as its reputation would suggest, it’s really quite pathetic. Today the Sun was out all day3. True, the Sun is at its hottest in late June, but look how far North we are – on a level with Sweden and Canada! The air temperature was barely above 20C – that is about as good as it gets, and we only get this treat a couple of times per year. It pales in comparison to France or even the south of England, yet even this room-temp air seemed to much for the folks here – even my brother turned super-moany4. I live in a town of whimps.
Back on topic – today I got up early (10:30am), ate, shaved, showered, got the deck chair out and started to read this book. I have only read the two most read books written by George Orwell – “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, as well as a few of his short stories. One of those short stories was included in this book – “A Hanging” – but I’d had enough of that back in Higher English when my teacher attempted her Burmese accent. Hilarity ensued.
What’s puzzling me is that in writing this review of “Why I Write”, I can’t think of why I am writing this. I don’t even have anything to say about it, other than that I am glad to have read it. Yes, I know how pretentious that sounds. George Orwell is one of my favourite writers, and in this book he presents some of his ideas outside of a fiction form. He wrote the majority of it about a year into the Second World War, and I found it fascinating to get into the head of someone at that very time. They didn’t know who was going to win the war – they didn’t even know how much of a murderous bastard that that Adolf Hitler would turn out to be. His predictions in the book were not always right, but the issues that he raises and discusses were really interesting. The book is only 120 small pages long, yet I spent the whole day reading it, interspersed with stops to think. I’m glad I wasn’t alive at that time, but it’s also saddening to see what has happened to the world after defeating fascism; what seems like the slow erosion of our liberties and our failure to take advantage after the war to make civilisation so much better. Instead we’re left with the cumulation of 60 years of twattery: a severe recession, and a larger wealth gap than ever before. I urge you to read this book if you have enough time.
The final 20 pages of the book are more about writing than the previous 100 pages which strayed into Orwell’s politics. They conclude with these tips which I am going to strive to follow (which I have found on another website):
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
- Could I put it more shortly?
- 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:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous
I’m not a good writer, but I’d like to become one. I would read through this blog post and try to apply each of these tips to my prose, but after a day in the Sun I couldn’t bear it. Maybe I will next time.
C’est la vie.
- Damn, I should really get some of that Amazon-affiliation-link-money-stuff going on [↩]
- I won some prizes at school so I have £60 to spend at Waterstones. Nice. [↩]
- Even though it seemed like every single cloud in the sky happened to pass *right* between the Sun and my garden. Bastard condensed water droplets! [↩]
- I’m starting to think that this whole idea of a Holiday in Nice this year with him might not be the best of ideas [↩]