It seems like every day I get an email from Seth Godin. Not from him personally but, as one of his subscribers, I benefit from his wisdom on marketing and comments on the way we try to convince each other to buy stuff. Today there was one on writing and since writing is a passion of mine, I thought it worth sharing.
The post is titled, Writing Naked (Nakeder than Orwell) and is a take on George Orwell’s rules of writing.
Here are Orwell’s rules, edited:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. You don’t need cliches.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do. Avoid long words.
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. Write in the now.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. When in doubt, say it clearly.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. Better to be interesting than to follow these rules.
The reason business writing is horrible is that people are afraid.
Afraid to say what they mean, because they might be criticized for it.
Afraid to be misunderstood, to be accused of saying what they didn’t mean, because they might be criticized for it.
Orwell was on the right track. Just say it. Say it clearly. Say it now. Say it without fear of being criticized and say it without being boring.
If the goal is no feedback, then say nothing. Don’t write the memo.
If the goal is to communicate, then say what you mean.
My best tip is this: buy a cheap digital recorder. Say what you want to say, as if the person you seek to persuade is standing there, listening. Then type that up. Simplify. Send.
A writer I have always admired is Ernest Hemingway. I don’t necessarily like his stories. Too much bravado much like his life story that he exaggerated more so than most writers. What I like about him is that Hemingway is a master word smith who uses few words to make powerful statements. He was always trying for the “one good sentence” that means so much more than the words used. It’s really the essence of writing. Not about the adjectives but about the meaning. It is a great frustration of mine that the English curriculum is taught in a mechanical, dispassionate, mode where the bits and pieces of the language are examined apart from a focal point that brings it all together. A true humanities course seeks higher wisdom first and practices perfection in parts in light of meaning.
Hemingway’s shortest story ever written demonstrates the power of few words