Dating Guide for the Left-Wing Writer

May 13, 2009 at 12:34 pm (Uncategorized)

A participant on a discussion list about the world economy, posted this piece at the Dissident Voice  newsletter. Very good. I do agree with Dan L (mentioned below). Orwell had some odd political positions, but he was one hell of a writer.

 

Writing, as Virginia Woolf said, is like sex. You may try your hand at it, but to do it well takes flair. These days, however, left-wing authors get pitiful results. Let’s face it — the communist, the socialist, the anarchist and the plain radical aren’t the hottest material around, partly because they’ve messed up too many times, and partly because of the Che Guevara t-shirts.

In desperation I’ve put together this brief guide — just follow three basic steps to win back your reputation in style.

Step 1: Look for a Serious Relationship

You’re a mature and serious author, not a serial dater, so don’t be so self-centered that you forget why you write. Write only about things you really care about. If you do, you’ll want to say something true and valuable about them; if you don’t, you’ll turn everybody off.

Sorry, but you can’t cover up a poor performance by going on and on — a text that is long as well as dull is unbearable. Gary Provost said it — ‘writing gets more interesting as it acquires precision, not length.’

If your commitment slacks, you need to work harder. Do your research. The more you know about your topic, the more irresistible you’ll find it.

Step 2: Hold the Other Person Your Equal

Think of writing as a love triangle between author, topic and reader. This ménage will only work if you grant the reader the same dignity you owe the topic and yourself.

Be clear and direct, but don’t dumb yourself down. Share your insights, but don’t try to impress or intimidate. Avoid jargon. ‘The great enemy of clear language is insincerity,’ said George Orwell, so don’t cheat. When in doubt follow the Writer’s Golden Rule as laid down by Joseph Williams: ‘Write to others as you would have others write to you.’

Step 3: Prepare for Your Big Night Out

Now that you have respect for topic and reader, it’s time to groom your writing skills.

You wouldn’t show up on a date in an egg-stained sweater; then don’t neglect to check your facts, spelling, grammar and punctuation. Find a decent outline and polish every detail. Have you cleaned your nails and smoothed your transitions? Are you using too much make-up or not enough verbs? How enticing is your lead? How satisfying your ending?

If this final step terrifies you, do seek professional help – study the best in the trade, join a class and read as many how-to books as you can. Be humble enough to realize your job is not only to seduce but also to learn, and you’ll quickly gain confidence as well as wisdom.

I asked Dan Lazare, a writer with thirty-five years’ experience, how he does it. ‘It’s easy,’ he said. ‘I love good literature of all kinds. I do my best to emulate the clear, simple prose of people like Orwell. Yes, politically he’s all over the place, but as a stylist he’s top notch. I’ve a four-volume collection of his essays, letters and journalism that I’ve read cover to cover…’

Plus, you couldn’t picture Orwell in one of those t-shirts.

FOR YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE

Fryxell, David A. Structure and Flow. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1996.

Orwell, George. George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters. Edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus. Boston: DR Godine, 2000.

Provost, Gary. Make Every Word Count: A Guide to Writing that Works – for Fiction and Nonfiction. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1980.

Strunk, William. The Elements of Style: With Revisions, an Introduction, and a Chapter on Writing by E.B. White. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999.

Ueland, Brenda. If You Want to Write. Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 1987.

Williams, Joseph M. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. New York: Longman, 2000.

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.

Paula Cerni is an independent writer. 

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