Writing Advice

Le Printemps, Jean-François Millet (1814 - 1875)

Le Printemps, Jean-François Millet (1814 - 1875)

A living document containing advice on writing

Politics and the English Language

George Orwell

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never us a long word where a short one will do.
  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.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Stephen King

  1. Get to the point.
  2. Write a draft. Then let it rest.
  3. Cut down your text.
  4. Be relatable and honest.
  5. Don’t care too much what others may think.
  6. Read a lot.
  7. Write a lot.

The Age of the Essay

Paul Graham

An essay begins with a question. You notice a door that’s ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what’s inside.

Surprise the reader by telling them something they always knew deep inside but didn’t bother to do the work to make it conscious.

Collect surprises. It’s a trainable skill. The more anomalies you’ve seen, the more easily you’ll notice new ones.

Pay attention to things you’re not supposed to. If you’re curious about something, trust your instincts. Don’t believe what you’re supposed to.

Expressing ideas helps to form them. In a real essay you’re thinking out loud.

Writing something that other people will read forces you to think well.

Don’t plan. From paragraph to paragraph let the ideas take their course. Real thought is full of false starts. An essay is a cleaned-up train of thought.

Of all the places to go next, choose the most interesting.

Aim for maximum surprise – things you didn’t know that contradict things you thought you knew. What surprises you?

Ask ‘why’ about things that feel off. That’s where fruitful material is.

Read it out loud and fix everything that doesn’t sound like conversation.

Ask reviewers for two things: which parts bore them, and which seem unconvincing.

Cut the boring bits.

Make unconvincing bits more clear, or change what you’re saying if you’re wrong.

Bertrand Russell's Writing Rules

  1. A style is not good unless it is an intimate and almost involuntary expression of the personality of the writer, and then only if the writer’s personality is worth expressing.
  2. There are some simple maxims-not perhaps quite so simple as those which my brother-in-law Logan Pearsall Smith offered me-which I think might be commanded to writers of expository prose. First: never use a long word if a short word will do. Second: if you want to make a statement with a great many qualifications, put some of the qualifications in separate sentences. Third: do not let the beginning of your sentence lead the reader to an expectation which is contradicted by the end.
  3. Your writing is never as good as you hoped; but never as bad as you feared.