George Orwell, Blogger

Perhaps it was too obvious until now. What, you mean .. publish the diaries of the great writers, thinkers and statesmen of the past? Just like that? For all to see?

And now it is obvious. They’re publishing George Orwell’s diaries, one entry at a time, as if he were a blogger today. Genius!

For a blogger, the first reason to read them is the sheer relief that comes from seeing that even the great Orwell occasionally posted entries that are, well, banal. See, it’s no shame.

The other reason, of course, is that he is still Orwell, the same Orwell who, among other things, penned Politics and the English Language, probably the most incisive essay ever written on language as such.

This is probably for another post, but suffice it to say now that our own style guide at The Economist begins with Orwell’s six cardinal rules for writing:

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

(Notice that the sixth rule is very British, meaning subtly ironic.)

And now: Could every custodian of every great person of the past who left behind diaries and letters please, pretty please, blog them? It would be a boon to mankind.

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11 thoughts on “George Orwell, Blogger

  1. I’m intrigued. How so? Jane McGonigal, who seems to be the doyen of ARGs, was trying to explain them to me, but I never quite got it.

  2. I’m quite sure that Jane has a far more complex idea of what ARG’s are, and my vantage has been as a spectator rather than a player. However, the controlled drip release of information and a group of followers trying to ‘solve’ or interpret the tidbits of information seem like common themes to me.

  3. Those are all good rules. I’d add another: take pains, don’t be surprised or discouraged if you need a lot of time. Carlos Williams says Hemingway was not usually able to write more than 600 words a morning—after several hours! Nothing in our culture prepares the young writer or artist to take that kind of time with his work. We all grow up admiring the kid who gets straight A’s and never opens a book. If you can’t paint a good picture right off or write a great story, you decide you have no talent. But expressing yourself in the clearest, the most forceful and attractive form, even after you’ve figured out what you really want to say, takes much trial and error. And that takes time.

  4. Good point. Some famous writer, perhaps Hemingway, was asked how his day had been. Oh, he said, I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out.
    (Is Carlos Baker’s biography of Hemingway worth reading? As you know, I’m casting around for interesting lives that illustrate one or both of Kipling’s impostors, triumph and disaster. I’ve been thinking about Hemingway lateley…)

  5. Baker’s biography is one of the best modern biographies I have read. It is well-written and well-researched. It’s hard to imagine that anyone will ever write a better one because Baker was so fascinated by the guy and such a good writer himself. If Hem is Dr. Johnson, Baker is Boswell.

  6. Well, it’s now on my next Amazon shipment! I love ringing endorsements such as this. Can’t wait. (I’ll add my own ringing endorsement of a biography: Truman

  7. ah, just gave link to “politics and the english language” to peter g. as better reference about writing than stephen king (IMHO)…

    also noticed in your older blogs that you do re-tell/reference other religious stories such as the The Bhagavad Gita which received no response, pity.

    probably too obvious until now, but people blog about what interests them most and what they are most informed about.

    • I’ll be posting a lot more about the Bhagavad Gita etc. One reason you’re seeing fewer comments on the old posts is that the blog was still new and had fewer readers. Not necessarily a reflection of interest in those stories…

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