George Orwell

Writing tips: 17 rules on “how to write” from George Orwell and Henry Miller

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

17 brilliant rules on how to write from George Orwell and Henry Miller.  Both repay some study: Orwell on style, Miller on getting books finished.

I wrote a blog a while back called “how to write“.  It was one of my most popular blogs.

17 rules on how to write

Here are the 17 rules “how to write”, divided by the two authors.

George Orwell

George Orwell – style

The first list, by George Orwell, is good for style:

  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 a word out, 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.

Henry Miller – productivity

The excellent writer Owen Matthews brought to my attention a second list, by Henry Miller. It is good for productivity, ie getting on with writing:

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring’ [ie whatever you’re working on – Ed].
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book youare writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

You can find a million other set of rules on the Internet, but I think these two are a fine start.

P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please subscribe to my weekly newsletter (you can unsubscribe anytime you wish).  Or I would be delighted if you would like to friend me on Facebook.

P.P.S. If you would like to have a look, my most recent books are: Seven Hotel Stories, Blood Summit and Corona Crime.

 Blood Summit cover Corona Crime cover


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4 Responses

  1. I love Henry Miller’s “When you can’t create you can work.” The create part feels like magic– like something that may have happened once, but is unlikely to happen again. Every blog post feels like a miracle. Good lists!

  2. The Facebook Effect

    This comment shouldn’t be here since it relates to your Facebook post about people being reluctant to follow links that take them away from FB. But, on leaving the familiar FB territory I find myself having to search for a Comments box on a page that is (of course!) packed with lots of other interesting ideas and articles. This causes brain strain and not in a good way.

    We are all lazy. And many of your readers will be browsing on phones or pads where the jump from one application to another involves screens disappearing and new ones popping up. It’s a hassle to go back to the previous screen so why not just hit the ‘like’ button and move on?

    At least that’s partly what seems to be going on. I have zilch, nada, zero followers on my blog (mainly because it involves logging in and passwords etc and not because it isn’t utterly fascinating….) but quite a few friends who are more than happy to like or comment on a blog post when a link to it pops up on my – and their – FBpage.

    Maybe that’s what’s happening Leigh. Maybe we are all just happier in the comfort zones of our own FB page.

  3. I have always loved the Orwell rules. They embody their own advice, and the last one reminds us that the purpose of all writing is to communicate as best we can. I also commend the (somewhat longer!) guidance on this from Steven Pinker in The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

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