I always knew there were two things to writing: writing and promoting. But like many who write, I thought if I did the first, the second would take care of itself. Not so – as I’m now discovering. So this blog will cover both aspects, from the point of view of someone learning how it all works. Which means I have no pretensions to offer advice of my own – whatever I know has been learnt from other people. So I’ll always acknowledge my sources, and I apologise in advance if what I say seems obvious to some. If that’s the case, so much the better – it simply means you’ve thought about it already.
The writing first – promoting will be for another post. And because this is a record of my personal journey, I’ll start with what I read years ago, and have tried to follow ever since: George Orwell’s rules for effective writing (from Politics and The English Language, 1946).
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Not everyone agrees, of course. Will Self thinks these rules have resulted in an ‘Orwellian language police’. But compare a text by Self with one by Orwell and make your choice. I know where I stand on the matter.
It’s not always easy to follow the rules, especially in the first draft. Rule (i), for example, refers to figures of speech we’re used to reading, and because we’re used to them, they come to us easily. It’s what linguists call the frequency effect – the more often a word, or combination of words, occurs in the language, the easier it is to access in our minds, both in comprehension and production. And then they become clichés, which no longer amaze the reader the way original word combinations do. Of course, in a novel, not all words can startle – that would be pretty tiring after a while. But in poetry, for example, yes – that ‘Wow!’ effect is part of what makes a great poem great.
But we’re not too worried anyway about the first draft. It’s just a way to get the ideas down. It’s on the second, third and nth drafts that I try to bear the rules in mind. And it’s not just fiction Orwell is talking about, but all written texts. Including blogs? In our 1984, they didn’t exist, and in his 1984, they wouldn’t have been allowed (except for propaganda). But although we don’t have the time to submit our posts to umpteen drafts, even a quick revision, applying those simple rules, can bring about some improvement.
So there you go – my first post on the nuts and bolts of writing. And now you know who you’re dealing with: a highfaluting, grandiloquent, Orwellian bobby on the beat 🙂
Finally, today’s blogging 101 assignment. Naturally I’m attracted to blogs that have similar aims and content, so here are a couple of links to ones I follow, the first having already self-published and the second thinking seriously about it. Two other blogs I like for their content, the first for its original perspective (an Indian in Doha), the second for its humorous, entertaining accounts of daily life. Which isn’t to say there’s not a lot more out there which is interesting and inspiring – there is! And I’ll get round to mentioning others I’ve come across, I promise 🙂