Advertising

6 Tips to Learn Effective Writing from George Orwell

6 Tips to Learn Effective Writing from George Orwell
Advertising

Many people ask what it takes to become a good writer, when I think what they’re really wanting to ask is: what does it take to be an effective writer? The former can only be answered based on individual opinion, whereas the latter can’t be argued. Effective writing is concise and effortless. It says what needs to be said and nothing more, though for most writers this is a lot easier said than done. As they say, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

George Orwell, most famous for his novels Animal Farm and 1984, was also famous for his journalism and essays – particularly, the timelessness of his six rules for writers. Honestly, who better to learn from? His writing is friendly and welcoming. He always focused on simplicity and didn’t drown his readers with unnecessary words or jargon.

His tips have always been the key ingredient of my writing career: whenever I find myself over thinking my creative process, his tips are what I turn to in order to regain my focus.

Advertising

Here are 6 tips to learn effective writing from George Orwell:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

This first tip is so much harder than I thought it would be! Clichés are deeply embedded in our everyday conversations due to their casual nature – so much so, they become difficult to avoid because of how mindlessly we say them. (Guaranteed, I’m going to skim over this article as I’m revising it and will miss at least three.) During casual chats with friends and family, not such a big deal, but when you use them in your writing, one of two things usually happens:

  • Your reader will wonder why you didn’t take the time to find a more interesting way to tell your story, and might peg you as a beginner.
  • Your reader will shrug it off, but will have no emotional response to your writing whatsoever.

Epic. Fail.

Advertising

Always ask yourself as you’re writing: “How can I say this in a fresh way?”

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

I’m going to blame this widely made blooper on high school English class, where rigid essays with stiff prose scored you many As, but don’t translate at all into writing for the real world. As an avid reader, there’s nothing that distracts me more than having to stop, figure out how to pronounce a word, then bust out my dictionary to find out what it even means. Most people won’t do this – they’ll assume you’re pretentious and move on.

Always use words that can be understood by as wide an audience as possible.

Advertising

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

Less is more. Make every single word you’re using count toward your big picture. Use your delete key so much you rub the word right off. Any word that doesn’t belong dilutes your overall message, making for weak prose.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

An active voice means the subject is performing the verb. For example:

Active: Doug hit the tennis ball.
Passive: The tennis ball was hit.

Advertising

Using an active voice makes your writing sound more concrete, direct, and confident.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

This is one of my biggest challenges, especially when I’m working on health articles where disorders and terminology pop up as often as I need a coffee refill. It’s crucial to find equivalent wording a wide range of people can relate to and understand.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Make sure each piece you write is completed to its highest standard. This is often our biggest challenge, since how do we know if it’s the best it can be when we’re so close to the project? Plus, we’re always growing and changing and so are our writing skills – what we think is fabulous today could be hamster cage lining to us tomorrow. Here, I let my instincts be my guide. If I’ve done my absolute best, that’s all anyone can ask for. You have to let it go, take everything you’ve learned, and move onto your next writing project.

Advertising

Whether you’re writing fiction, non-fiction, or an e-mail to a friend, these rules apply to everywhere you use the English language. Always remember: efficient equals effective.

I highly recommend you read his entire essay to learn effective writing from George Orwell. It’s a must-read!

Whose writing style do you admire? How have they helped you form your own?

More by this author

Krissy Brady

A women's health & wellness writer with a short-term goal to leave women feeling a little more empowered and a little less verklempt.

25 Questions That Help You Understand Yourself and Your True Potential 9 Daily Habits That Will Change Your Life 7 Ways to Eliminate Your Excuses 20 Things to Do When You Feel Extremely Angry 11 Benefits of Almond Milk You Didn’t Know About

Trending in Productivity

1 5 Values of an Effective Leader 2 How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them 3 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) 4 30 Practical Ideas to Create Your Best Morning Routine 5 Is People Management the Right Career Path for You?

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
Advertising

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

Advertising

From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

Advertising

The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

Advertising

But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

Advertising

Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Advertising

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

Read Next