As we mentioned in a previous post, the American magazine The New Republic is celebrating its 100th birthday by republishing stories, reviews and essays from its archives, one a day for 100 days.
We’re sharing a few of our favourites, today continuing this week’s Orwell theme, but you can read all of them here.
George Orwell’s Guide to Writing Well
Orwell’s guide to writing well was originally published in The New Republic on June 17th, 1946. Seeing the English language in decline, he disagreed with the common belief that language grows naturally and therefore cannot be shaped or influenced.
He believed the decline was reversible:
Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.
Orwell highlighted two qualities often common to bad writing, staleness of imagery and lack of precision. These then produce writing that is indifferent, and vague for both the writer and reader.
On the other hand, a scrupulous writer, according to Orwell, will ask himself questions such as
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? Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything which is avoidably ugly?
Read more of Orwell’s advice here.
What qualities define bad writing for you?