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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 July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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