George Orwell on Writing

“If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.” – George Orwell, 1946

I recently came across this gem of an essay by George Orwell. It’s on writing and political discourse. You can Read the essay HERE!

Granted, this essay is specifically speaking of political language and he points out that he wasn’t talking about the merits of the literary use of language. However, I think there are some solid advice that a writer in most any setting can gladly follow and learn from. Here are a few of his highlights (the NOTES are my thoughts):

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.  (NOTE: This will force us to keep our language fresh!)

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do. (NOTE: As my former professor used to say: KISS – Keep it simple, stupid. It’s not always necessary to sound so pretentious.)

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. (NOTE: Why be unnecessarily wordy? Words should be purposeful, not painful.)

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active. (NOTE: OK.)

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. (NOTE: OK, I’ll remember that.)

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (NOTE: I must remember this one, too.)

Don’t you agree that these simple rules will help anyone’s writing?

In closing, I’d like to go back to the opening quote:  “If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.”

I agree that simplified English can in fact do this. I once had a proofreader, very talented one, who was still too close to their AP English classes to be able to understand how I broke the orthodoxy of English. She would often say, “That’s now what my teacher says”, etc … Writers are meant to be free from constraints and conventions, to express simple truths with simple, straight forward ways which can be profoundly easy to understand yet challenging to ponder.

George Orwell says the way to go is to simplify. I agree.

Novel Three: The End Game

It’s hard for me to believe that I’m finally at this point with my third novel. What point? The end game.

Yes, that’s right, I’m using February to go over the manuscript one last time before I send it on to my editor for proofreading.

Novel title: The Reach of the Banyan Tree

Tentative Release Date: July 2014

I wrote this novel last summer over a five week period. After I finished, I just set it aside for about six months and hardly gave it a second thought. I did send it out to some of my beta readers and got some good feedback. Still have a few copies out there that I’m waiting to hear from.

This past week, I’ve been using some of the feedback one of my readers gave me in order to expand and re-write a few sections. My reader was absolutely right – now it is better, and I am so grateful for her insight.

Now I will be doing a thorough read-through, looking to improve phrasing, provide clarity where needed, and make sure everything is in top-notch shape for my editor.

I expect to have the finished product by some point in April, and then I’ll ramp up the pre-release juices, getting ready for, hopefully, a big summer.

I’m really excited about this novel. It’s the novel that I first tried to write about a dozen years ago, and I failed miserably. I wrote about a page and a half before abandoning it.

Well, now it is almost here.

My designer has the book cover just about ready to go, and it’s fantastic!

I can’t wait for this year-long process to be over, so I can eventually get this work into the hands of readers.

It’s been a great journey thus far.

Time to start reading chapter 1 again.

56,000 Moving Parts – Try Fixing That!

As far as I can tell, cars have on average about 14,000 moving parts. Complicated to fix? Yes, I think so. And my car knows a thing or two about having its parts moved around on a frequent basis.

Well, my new novel, The Recluse Storyteller, has 56,000 moving parts. As I’m in the final stages of editing and proofreading, I have become more appreciative of a good mechanic who knows how to diagnose a problem and twist parts around to make them flow smoothing and functionally. Oh, if my mechanic could do the same for the words of my novel!

I’m swimming in commas and em-dashes and en-dashes and strangely worded sentences that makes me wonder what I was doing when I wrote that.

I’m manipulating 56,000 parts with the hopes of getting the exact, perfect combination and arrangement to make readers “gasp” in joy when they read.

OK, I’ll settle for them just not throwing their Kindle against the wall!

A novel is a well-oiled machine. When everything is working perfectly, it flows, and pages whip by like the breeze in a Burmese cyclone. 

So I’m playing mechanic, arranging the parts into, hopefully, a smooth and functional, readable machine. 

Gotta love editing!

Proofreaders … ahh … well, hang on. A little snag.

Remember that cheeky post from the other day, gloating that I was done with revisions and ready to send to my proofreaders.

Well, no, that isn’t happening. Not yet.

Remember that other post I had about the curse of reading my own writing. As I started doing one final read-through before handing it to the proofreaders, I realized that I still had work to do.

So The Recluse Storyteller is getting yet another face-lift. It will be a gentle one without a lot of scar tissue, but I realized that it is absolutely an essential make-over because it is making the story that much better.

When you get to the point in editing where all you worry about are the darn commas, then perhaps you are ready for your proofreader.

But I caught a few snags that didn’t sit right with me and I refuse to push aside nagging snags no matter how badly I want to get the book finished. If I can improve it, I will.

And I am. This makes me happy.

I found some additional wonderful ways to tie the various stories of the storyteller together which add layers of meaning, complexity, and connections that will, hopefully, intrigue the readers even more.

I’m so excited about this book and it is STILL ON SCHEDULE. I built in extra editing time just for occasions such as this.

So at the moment, I’m half way through the manuscript for the umpteenth time. Once finished, I’ll give it a quick perusal and send to my proofreaders, hopefully, by the weekend.

Two months and one week until its release.


The Curse of Reading One’s Own Writing

Will there ever come a day when I can just sit down and read my own writing? Period.

What I mean is, will there ever come a day when I can sit down and read my own writing without wanting to tweak the text?

Now I’m planning on re-reading The Recluse Storyteller just for effect. Maybe even out loud, just to hear it and enjoy it.

But I have a feeling it won’t work out that way.

I suppose it is nearly impossible for an author to approximate the experience that a reader would have upon first read.

Because when I re-read my writings, it usually goes something like this?

“Oh, why did I say it that way?”

“Does that really make sense? Let me re-word.”

“Does that detail totally match what I said earlier?”

“Comma. Yes or no?”

“Does anyone really care about split-infinitives?”

“Oh, an extra space.”

“This author doesn’t know what he is talking about.”

But, alas, what’s a writer to do? Never content.

With only one goal: striving for perfection, settling for excellence.


Observations on Revising

One strange observation I have had as I am doing a second read-through revision on my third novel is that all of my writing is not created equally.

It appears that sometimes I have the muse hanging directly over me, spoon-feeding me the words to say, while other times I feel like I’m just trying to pass my 12th grade grammar class.

Uneven, might be the right word.

So this means one thing: all writing sessions are not the same.

Some days the words flow flawlessly off the keys, coherent, relevant, interesting, and insightful. The grammar is impeccable and the word choice dead-on.

Then with other writing samples I scratch my head trying to figure out what in the world I was thinking when I wrote that. Wrong words, misspellings, missing words, repetition of words, unimaginative structures, blah, blah, blah …

What makes the difference?

Perhaps on some days I’m just more cognitively aware of things?

Perhaps on some days a certain part of the story is more interesting and I’m more engaged?

Perhaps on some days everything just ‘clicks’ for no particular reason?

It’s impossible to know.

I guess this is part of the ups-and-downs of being a writer. Some days it’s remarkably easy, and other days require massive revisions and re-writes.

But I’ve realized, the more that I can identify my own bad writing, the better it will ultimately make me. And that is exactly what I’m striving for. Not perfection – which is unattainable – but excellence.

Here’s to revision #3!