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GOAT Series: Orwells 5 Go-To Writing Rules

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

Orwell talked extensively about the trending regression of english writing into vague, buzzword-filled, political garbage (CC any major news outlet)

To avoid falling into that trap, here are his 5 fallback rules of writing, in his own words, from his piece, Why I write, along with a quick interpretation.

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

Don't get it twisted, my dude Orwell loved a good analogy. The point is it had to be a GOOD analogy. He hated recycled cliches, and believed the more a phrase is used, the less impact it has. Of course, it's easy to rely on the dominant, readily available phrases of the time, and hard to come up with good new ones.

But then, good writing is hard, and this rule makes a lot of sense.

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

Concise & powerful. Again, don't take this to mean he hated description.

Orwell believed the main purpose of any dedicated writing is to share ideas & unnecessarily long words just get in the way.

We all know people who think using big words makes them smart. Nah. Orwell would say it makes them impossible to understand, and most will end up simply tuning you out.

Likewise, if the reader has to look up the definition to every 3rd word thats written, they'll probably just stop reading.

There may be no better example of this than Animal Farm. Countless powerful ideas, conveyed with childlike simplicity in 100 pages. The book is readable for anyone from children to college professors, and everyone will walk away with something different. A sure sign of a good book.

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

Seeing the similarities between these rules? Simple, concise writing stemming from a strong foundation of important ideas. Making the complex simple and understandable to anyone, while leaving the door open to interpretation. That's what makes good writing to Orwell. Compare his work to some 'high level' university writing. What will likely happen is you'll get bored with the university style writing & retain little of the information. It will start to seem like to work to read, and even if there are important ideas at the foundation, they'll collect dust on a shelf somewhere.

4. Never use a foreign phrase, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday equivalent

This applies especially in modern times. Empty jargon is everywhere. Look at most 'work emails' from corporate or turn on any news station and you'll be ambushed by emotional filler. Incomprehensible words that sound nice & official on the surface, but are actually meaningless. The illusion of information.

5. Break any of these rules before saying anything outright barbarous.

The all encompassing 'everything in moderation'. Sometimes rules need to be broken, and it's impossible to stay true to these all the time. These are just his foundations to fall back on.


To see this advice in action, just snag some of Georgy's material. I highly recommend Coming Up For Air, his under-radar masterpiece.

Animal Farm & 1984 are first ballot HoF

These rules are found on the last page of his essay, Why I Write Or, try out a few of these techniques for yourself in a forum post & let us know what you think.


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