a common reader

Scrupulous writer

· 9 July 2014 |  by Maarten
· Published in: English texts · FOCUS · miscellanea
· Tagged with:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
— George Orwell, Politics and the English Language1

I love these lines. Imagine if all content that crossed our eyes had been produced by a truly scrupulous writer. We’d only ever read clear, relevant and well expressed thoughts. What bliss!

As it is, ever more content is competing for our attention: contributions on Twitter, news websites, YouTube, etcetera. Like scribblings in a public toilet, these little publications are usually mundane, irrelevant or purposeless, if not outright stupid, false, inconsistent or distasteful.2 Even highly selective readers only stand to lose from such competition; the result is a massive waste of time and energy. If only more writers tried to be scrupulous!

I also fear these lines. Imagine if too many scruples would discourage people with good ideas from writing them down. What a loss!

Writing is a craft3: it has to be honed. But practice takes time; only naturally gifted authors, like Orwell, may be able to combine it with a very scrupulous attitude toward their writing. I prefer writing some content of which I’m aware that it doesn’t live up to Orwell’s high standards over not writing at all out of conscientiousness. I hope other naturally scrupulous people with an urge to express their thoughts will do the same.


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  1. I highly recommend this short essay. You can find it online or in a collection such as Why I Write.

  2. Some public toilet texts are funny though:
    For rules of Toilet tennis, see other wall.
    For rules of Toilet tennis, see other wall.

  3. Read Janantoon’s excellent review (in Dutch) of The Craftsman by Richard Sennett.