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6 Tips to Learn Effective Writing from George Orwell

6 Tips to Learn Effective Writing from George Orwell

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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?

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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.

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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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