Tag Archives: George Orwell

Do You Believe You Can Improve Human Nature Before You’ve Changed The System? And Vice Versa.

“Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing…Consequently two viewpoints are always tenable. The one, how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time.”

–George Orwell, “Charles Dickens” in A Collection of Essays

This is one of my favorite essays by George Orwell, and that’s saying a lot.

I think about this quotation often, because I spend most of my time thinking about individual change. How steps can each of us take, in our own lives, to become happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative?

Which is not to say that I don’t think that the system should change — just that, for whatever reason, it’s the second question that interests me more.

How about you?

Once Again: 6 Tips for Writing from George Orwell.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday (again): 6 rules for writing from George Orwell.

Last week, I posted six rules for writing from George Orwell, but that post was swallowed up by the internet. I was quite pleased by the number of people who wrote to ask where the list had gone, so I’ve decided to re-post it.

I loved rules for writing: for instance, here are rules from Mindy Kaling, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry Miller, and Flannery O’Connor.

In one of his most famous essays, “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell writes that “the following rules will cover most cases”:

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

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

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

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

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. (I’m charmed by his example: use “snapdragon,” not “antirrhinum.” Snapdragon is so much nicer.)

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

I find these rules to be enormously helpful. It’s so easy to use tired, shopworn figures of speech. I love using long, fancy words but have learned–mostly from writing my biography of Winston Churchill–that short, strong words work better. I am ever-vigilant against the passive and against jargon, both of which are so insidious.

However, I have to be cautious with #3. I love to cut so much that I have to be careful not to cut too much. My writing tends to become very dense, so I have to keep some cushion. Sometimes, words that seem superfluous are actually essential, for the overall effect.

One thing that makes me very happy is to have a complicated idea and to feel that I’ve expressed myself clearly. I remember writing the ending to Happier at Home. I wrote the entire book to build to that ending–“now is now”–and what I had to say was very abstract, and yet, I felt satisfied that I managed to say what I wanted to say. One of the happiest experiences I’ve had as a writer was when I typed the final lines,  “Now is now. Here is my treasure.”

How about you? Do you use these rules–or any others?

If you’re reading this post through the daily email, click here to join the conversation. And if you’d like to get the daily blog post by email, sign up here.

“There Are In Fact Very Few Activities Which Cannot Be Classed Either As Work Or Play.”

“But what is work and what is not work? Is it work to dig, to carpenter, to plant trees, to fell trees, to ride, to fish, to hunt, to feed chickens, to play the piano, to take photographs, to build a house, to cook, to sew, to trim hats, to mend motor bicycles? All of these things are work to somebody, and all of them are play to somebody. There are in fact very few activities which cannot be classed either as work or play according as you choose to regard them.”
— George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier