Great writing is subjective. But growing up, clarity and conciseness were characteristics my high school English teacher advocated. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that she presented my 10th grade English class with George Orwell’s rules on writing. These are rules that Orwell claims “one can rely on when instinct fails.”
- 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.
These rules were published in Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language. In this essay, he notes that these rules may appear fundamental, but still serve as a necessary reminder to curb your tendency to write “in the style now fashionable.”
Picture from here.
Rules found here.
Sometimes we find solace in unexpected places–and sometimes from surprising people.
One cold day in February I stumbled upon that week’s issue of The Village Voice –well, a few pages of it ripped out and left on a table in the corner bank. As I waited for my friend to withdraw some money, I began flipping through the loose pages and saw a picture of a familiar face. There was a small black-and-white photograph of Andrew W. K. glancing back at me. “ASK ANDREW W. K.” was stamped in red in the corner of the page.
I quickly skimmed through the questions that the readers had submitted and Andrew’s insightful and kind replies to their inquiries. He replied with a sincerity and a sense of humor, offering the perfect punch of optimism delivered in his friendly tone.
Perhaps it was his advice in that February 26 issue accounting the importance of dreams that got me hooked. He advises his readers that “a dream is precious and fragile. Keep it safe. Keep it secret. Keep it alive.” Or maybe it was his empathetic and encouraging words to a woman who was facing a midlife crisis. He wisely (and fittingly) urges her to “recommit [herself] more than ever to [her] passions and see them through with determination and joy. Celebrate the ups and downs in your life. When the going gets tough, the tough gets a party going.”
I appreciated his kindhearted and go-getter approach to life ever since that issue. His weekly columns serve to be a pocket of sweet sanctuary in midst of my bustling days.
While I love picking up paper copies, I also receive emails from The Village Voice. Every now and then, Andrew’s column shows up in the emails. Last week, I read another thought-provoking and reflective piece which reinstated my appreciation for his column. He writes in response to a discouraged reader:
Achieving the dream isn’t even as important as living the dream. And all it takes to live the dream is to live each day with as much untiring and unflinching excitement as you can…Most of all, just don’t quit. Stay strong, push yourself, and no matter what, don’t ever abandon your dream. It’s what makes you who you are.”
Tune in either the old-school way with print issues or online for more of Andrew’s positive outlook. He’ll be there for you to get you through whatever it is you’re tackling–whether it is overcoming a break-up, getting over your shyness, or learning how to be a man.
Email him your questions at: AskAWK@villagevoice.com
All quotes from The Village Voice.
Picture from here.