Orwell’s Rules for Writers

By Bhalachandra Sahaj

George Orwell is among those writers whom I would fairly call an authority for me. I read his “1984” in my adolescence, and I remember being impressed (better to say astonished) by the power of this novel. It seemed to me that he was not the creator, but the inhabitant of the world he described, because the atmosphere of the book was so thick you could slice it, and so credible one could not possibly describe it without being a part of it.

When I started to write my first short stories and discovered they were not so brilliant as I thought they’d be, I remembered George Orwell and his convincing manner of writing. “How did he manage to write so frankly?” I asked myself, and in my search for the answer, I’ve found one of his essays called “Politics and the English Language.” In it, Orwell introduced six concise and simple rules he thought any writer should stick to.

I can’t say they improved my writing immediately and dramatically—there is a gap between knowing the rules and applying them in practice—but they helped my development as a writer. I wonder why I never wrote about them in this blog before? Anyways, here they are:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that 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.

To me, the most difficult rule to follow is the third one. I am wordy. At the same time, I know that almost any writing looks better when it is concise. So, writing to me is a constant struggle of writing lots of words and then cutting them.

The sixth rule, in my opinion, is for those who has mastered the first five ones. Writing by the rules guarantees you write decently; after you learn to use the rules perfectly, you can break them in such a way that it only makes your writing better.

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