04w40:1 Good Writing

by timothy. 0 Comments

Good Reads Mailing List | 2004 week 40 number 1 (good writing)

Of course, the answer to the question, ‘what makes a good read?’ is good writing. And I’ve been told that I’m a good writer, perhaps because somewhere along the way, after reading so much, I picked up a certain confidence through imitation. But I’m also quite conscious of the lessons imparted by Orwell in his 1946 essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’. Reading it within the context of today’s politics makes it seem ahead of its time, surrounded as we are by the flaccid rhetoric of the Bush Administration who tend to oversimplify and obfuscate the complicated truths they so effortlessly deny. At the time that it was written, for anything to make it into print or radio it had to survive the whims of editors, or in the case of political speeches like those of Churchill, still fresh, the taste of voters. It seems important then to revisit this classic essay because while most of us aren’t published in the ‘legacy media’ (as the triumvirate of print, radio, and television are becoming known) we are writing all the time. Email especially is a form of instantaneous publishing (this itself being a great example) most of us deal with everyday, after which comes the blog, that ‘revolution’ people have been freaking out about all year. And as Orwell wrote, better writing means clearer thinking, “and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration”. – Timothy


Politics and the English Language | George Orwell
“Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.”

Writing Classic Prose | Denis Dutton
“As they explain it, the classic style involves an attitude on the part of the writer toward three key elements: reader, presentation, and truth. First the reader: in the classic style the reader is an equal in a conversation. As a competent, intelligent person, it’s assumed that the reader could take up the other side of the exchange at any moment. While the writer may have access to information the reader does not possess -— indeed, that probably occasions the writing–there is no special authority the classic writer has over the reader. The reader and the classic writer are intellectually symmetrical, with equal competence to assess the relevant understandings of the world presupposed or discussed in classic prose.”

The Age of the Essay | Paul Graham
“The other big difference between a real essay and the things they make you write in school is that a real essay doesn’t take a position and then defend it. […] Good writing should be convincing, certainly, but it should be convincing because you got the right answers, not because you did a good job of arguing. [ …] To understand what a real essay is, we have to reach back into history again, though this time not so far. To Michel de Montaigne, who in 1580 published a book of what he called ‘essais.’ He was doing something quite different from what lawyers do, and the difference is embodied in the name. Essayer is the French verb meaning ‘to try’ and an essai is an attempt. An essay is something you write to try to figure something out.”

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emailed by Timothy on Monday 27 September 2004 @ 4:42 PM

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