Before you write anything, ask yourself these questions

Says George Orwell:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

More here.

See also: George Orwell at Encyclopedia Britannica.

 

Advertisements

Want to improve your writing? Read a lot. And slowly.

Learning to write sound, interesting, sometimes elegant prose is the work of a lifetime. The only way I know to do it is to read a vast deal of the best writing available, prose and poetry, with keen attention, and find a way to make use of this reading in one’s own writing.

The first step is to become a slow reader. No good writer is a fast reader, at least not of work with the standing of literature.

Writers perforce read differently from everyone else. Most people ask three questions of what they read: (1) What is being said? (2) Does it interest me? (3) Is it well constructed?

Writers also ask these questions, but two others along with them: (4) How did the author achieve the effects he has? And (5) What can I steal, properly camouflaged of course, from the best of what I am reading for my own writing? This can slow things down a good bit.

More here.

On writing – from one of the best

Q: What is the best training for writing? Courses in writing? Or what?

William Faulkner: Read, read, read! Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad; see how they do it. When a carpenter learns his trade, he does so by observing. Read! You’ll absorb it. Write. If it is good you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.

via This Recording.

A preoccupation is a hell of a useful thing for a mind

When I have a piece of writing in mind, what I have, in fact, is a mental bucket: an attractor for and generator of thought. It’s like a thematic gravity well, a magnet for what would otherwise be a mess of iron filings. I’ll read books differently and listen differently in conversations. In particular I’ll remember everything better; everything will mean more to me. That’s because everything I perceive will unconsciously engage on its way in with the substance of my preoccupation. A preoccupation, in that sense, is a hell of a useful thing for a mind.

via James Somers.

Saying “Thank you” in the workplace

Andrew Hill at FT:

A thank-you is not:

● A way of improving skills. Thanking an incompetent staff member for work only just up to standard may persuade him to work harder, but not better. That’s what training is for.

● An alternative to money or promotion. Cash is certainly a poor substitute for gratitude, but the reverse is also true. Profuse thanks may work once in lieu of a bonus. By the third or fourth year, the motivational effect of the thank-you letter tends to wear off.

● An apology. “Thank you for offering to cover for Joan after I forgot she had asked for time off”: wrong. “I’m sorry for leaving you in the lurch on Joan’s day off – but thanks for covering”: right.

● An order, as in the hollow pre-gratitude of memos that begin: “Thanks in advance for coming in over the holiday period to complete the project.”

As other studies have shown, people tend to give far more weight to negative communications than to positive ones. That suggests employers need to dispense proportionately more gratitude to offset the harsher news they often have to transmit.

Por la mañana todo es posible

Yo trabajo por la mañana, cuando el soporte biológico del escritor mejor funciona. Al lado de una ventana que da a un patio interior que se llena de luz y por el que oigo cantar a las vecinas, a los pájaros, incluso al perro.

Porque por la mañana todo es posible. Es cuando encuentras la clave de todos los problemas técnicos que de noche te han parecido insolubles.

via Javier Tomeo.

On finding your voice

When I was a young man, an adolescent, and I hungered for a voice, I studied the English poets and I knew their work well, and I copied their styles, but I could not find a voice. It was only when I read, even in translation, the works of Lorca

that I understood that there was a voice. It is not that I copied his voice; I would not dare. But he gave me permission to find a voice, to locate a voice, that is to locate a self, a self that that is not fixed, a self that struggles for its own existence.

As I grew older, I understood that instructions came with this voice. What were these instructions? The instructions were never to lament casually. And if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.

via Leonard Cohen’s Prince of Asturias Awards Speech.