I haven’t read George Orwell‘s six rules for writing since 2005, the year I started blogging and freelancing for Aol. Today Sarah Stanley reminded me of them, and I think they’re tops. Tops, I say!
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Numbers 2–5 have served me well in my career (i.e. concise language that everyday humans can understand). I’m guilty of number one, however. When on deadline adages accidentally spill sometimes.
I’m mixed about number six. Although admitedly the more noble thing to do, snark, harsh criticism, and emotional writing helped me find an audience early in my career. It’s cheap but it works. Maybe four out of six is good enough.
Although English is the third most spoken language after Mandarin and Spanish, it is the most spoken second language in the world. This is due to the power-brokers that speak it, its uniquely expressive vocabulary, and how it came to be, argues Bill Bryson in The Mother Tongue.
For being more like Bryson’s interesting read on domestic life and less like his masterpiece on science, I award it three stars out of five. These were my favorite passages:
- What most immediately sets English apart from other languages is the richness of its vocabulary. Altogether, about 200,000 English words are in common use, more than in German (184,000) and far more than in French (a mere 100,000). This richness and wealth of available synonyms means English speakers can often draw shades of distinction unavailable to non-English speakers. Continue reading…
credit wikimedia commons
I really enjoy writing these because the subjects have nothing to do with my day job, which keeps me on my toes. Hope you have as much fun reading them as I did writing them:
credit: blake snow
I adore the idea of “never giving up” in all its varieties. This is how I personally approach it. Here’s how Randy Pausch eloquently taught it.
“Brick walls are there for a reason,” said Randy Pausch in “Brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
Not you, reader. You want it badly.
This woman’s reply to what it’s like to never get married and live alone for 56 years breaks my heart:
Life was great and fun and exciting until I hit 40. I looked back on my life and realized the wonderful experiences I had, but something nagged at me.
By 50, I understood that life may have been richer if I had shared those experiences with someone. By 53, it became alarmingly clear to me, that I had no one to tell my stories to. And more importantly, I had no one to tell me their stories.
I had some health scares. I had to hire people to help me as I had no one in my life to help me. That was a huge wake up call. Going into middle to old age with no one by my side.
Sure, it is great to spend time alone and be at ease in your own skin. But after 56 years, I realize humans are “herd” animals. We want to share. We want to feel love. We want to feel like we are a part of something greater than our own thoughts.
For me, I have a very lonely life. I personally would not recommend it. Loneliness is unbearably painful at times.
If I had to do it again, I would not have chosen this lifestyle.
This is precisely why everyone should be extra kind to the lonely.
Les Films du Losange
Four disturbing but important stars out of five. My wife and I enjoyed, pondered, and discussed it very much.
What might happen if humans lived an entirely simulated life, doing everything online except for eating and sleeping?
Earnest Cline has a dystopian, geeky, and fist-pumping answer in Ready Player One, his best-selling novel which I read over the holidays.
The story takes place in 2044 and follows a teenage prodigy named Wade as he seeks hidden fame, power, and fortune bequeathed by the world’s richest man. “But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue,” reads the synopsis, “he is beset by rivals that will kill for the prize, forcing him to confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.”
Clever, huh? USA Today accurately described it as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” I’d add a little Brave New World, ’80s game geek culture, Tron, and “The Wreck-It-Ralph of books” for good measure—all good things.
For fellow nerds who appreciate those things, I award the book a tilted four and a half out of five stars. For everyone else, particularly those who share my desire to curb compulsion disorders, I give it four stars.
These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…
credit: lindsey snow
I get quite reflective and often sappy during the final weeks of the year. After reviewing the past 12 months, this is what I learned: Continue reading…
Credit: Derek Buck
Reporting for Paste Magazine…
photo: lindsey snow
My wife and I recently returned from the most adventurous vacation we’ve ever taken. I have a lot more to say on the subject, but I’ll start with the most important: food. A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? Continue reading…
I recently finished Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, which tells the unlikely true story of the titular captain saving all of his crew after his ship was crushed by Antarctic ice floes in 1914.
All told, the 28 men survived 18 months on sea, ice, and one inhospitable island, while enduring unthinkable cold, the worst weather ever, and the first terrestrial crossing of South Georgia. Even more amazingly, they largely did it with jovial spirits, which helped them persevere and ultimately conquer death.
As I said before, Lansing’s writing is so intensely riveting, I was literally gulping and gasping for air at times. If it weren’t for a somewhat halted plot in the second quarter, I would award the book five out of five stars. These are my favorite passages: Continue reading…
I only read six books this year. Eight if you count the 50 page summaries I read of How To Influence People and Millionaire Next Door, two popular business books.
Regardless, the total was less than half of what I normally devour in a year — a little over one a month. No matter. I’d like to think I’m doing this instead.
Still, I’d like to read more next year. So before starting The Space Merchants, The Power Broker, and a dozen more samples I have downloaded to my Kindle, these are the books I enjoyed most in 2015: Continue reading…
credit: dungeons and dragons
Growing old is a weird as you imagined it. Not that any young readers ever think about getting old. As a tenderfoot, I certainly didn’t. Yolo!
In any case, onset aging baffles me. The body can’t move like it used to. The brain increasingly forgets things. And it’s perplexing to watch younger generations do things in ways you and your contemporaries can’t relate.
Take Let’s Play videos, for instance—one of the most popular and fastest growing types of television. Also called playthroughs, they work like this: Continue reading…
photo: blake snow
Got the pictured from Clever Doormats last week and absolutely adore it. Like it so much, my wife and I are upgrading it to the front door welcome mat after the holidays. Clever.
Tags: published works, feature stories, tech writing, branded journalism, travel columns
Since 2005, I’ve written hundreds of feature stories and special reports and thousands of news articles for half of the top 20 U.S. media and a lot more in the top 100. In that time, I’ve also published tens of thousands of paid blog posts for fancy tech publications.
Like my favorite personal posts, picking my favorite published works is difficult. But here are some that come to mind.
If you’re a business interested in retaining me for branded journalism, please email.
By subject, syndication, etc
I’ve been an avid listener of classical music for twenty years. I’ve listened to greatest hits, lesser-known recommendations, countless composers, all three periods, one-hit wonders, atonal crap, catchy melodies, and everything in between.
While I wouldn’t call my exposure exhaustive, I will say it has been thorough. And while other composers achieved greatness in their own way, none of them come close to the prolific genius of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. It’s not even close.
This is one of those pieces that separates the cliche-but-deserving trifecta from their contemporaries. I absolutely adore it, because it sounds like two people discussing a serious issue without ever fully arguing it.
Take these. If you’re interested in journalism, the art of war, Star Wars, business, and/or are “white,” I think you’ll enjoy them:
- Access denied. In light of waning press access because celebrities, politicians, newsmakers, and producers now take their scoops and audiences directly to social media (instead of publications), we must “build a new independent media on a bedrock of explaining and celebration and condemnation,” writes John Herrman. Explainers, for instance, “assert authority without invoking expertise; they mimic the language of their audience; they offer closure and satisfaction in an endless stream.”
- Why it’s hard to win the war on terrorism. “War is so much easier when both sides are wearing uniforms,” writes Richard White.
- The first-world problem of being white. “What my son was expressing — that he wants the comfort of what he has but that he is uncomfortable with how he came to have it — is one conundrum of whiteness,” writes Eula Biss.
- Sneaky ways businesses trick consumers. Why that restaurant you used to love is no longer good among other things by Daniele Kline (i.e. cheaper ingredients slowly make their way into popular products).
- Star Wars strikes back. By Brian Hiatt. “The phrase that I used in front of, like, 5,000 Star Wars fans pumped to the gills, ready to see the trailer, was ‘It’s only a movie,'” Hamil says. “I was trying to appeal to the rational, sane people who know movies don’t really change your life, and if you really think we can make you feel like you’re 10 years old at 38, you know what’s gonna happen. So just don’t think that and you’ll be fine!”
Because gratitude is scientifically proven to boost our happiness, the good people at Highbrow explain how to write a gratitude letter:
Close your eyes and think of someone who did something important for you that changed your life in a good direction but who you never properly thanked. It could be that you’re really grateful to a teacher who inspired your love of acting and who persuaded you to try for drama school when everyone else was dead set against it. Maybe you’d like to thank your boss or a colleague for helping you with a particularly tricky project at work. Or perhaps you choose to write a friend who helped you through a tough time… Describe specifically what they did and what influence it had on you. Let them know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did.
Here’s where my travel column went last month:
Twentieth Century Fox
When I was nine years old, I saw Big starring Tom Hanks. It’s a movie about a boy doing young-at-heart things in a grown-up’s body. That and being employed to have an opinion on (i.e. review) toys.
At the time, I thought it was the coolest movie ever made. I still think it’s pretty darn cool.
In reality, my work as a writer over the last decade is not unlike protagonist Josh Baskin’s. I get paid to have an opinion and ask a bunch of questions. I tinker with ideas, learn from those who are smarter than me, and slay the dragon of misinformation with research as my shield and a keyboard as my sword. Continue reading…