Orwell on Writing

Whenever I want to remember what writing is all about (which is often, as my days are filled with endless rounds of editing), I turn to two essays by George Orwell. The first is rather transparently titled, "Why I Write," and mixes Orwell's account of his own affair with words and ideas with an accurate appraisal of why people chose this career. Their motivations, he states, are: 1) Sheer egoism, 2) Aesthetic enthusiasm, 3) Historical impulse, and 4) Political purpose. What instrument do you and I play in this media quartet? The second essay, "Politics and the English Language," is a more difficult read, but also a more useful tool for writers interested in both style and substance. In this essay Orwell mixes advice such as "Never use a long word where a short one will do," together with the warning that "political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible." He loves words but also places them at arm's length because of their power. In the 57 years since his death Orwell has been claimed by both conservatives and liberals--but he can always, and should always, be claimed by writers who love their craft.