The Purpose of Writing

The purpose of writing has always been for the writer to convey a message to the reader, but I think this escapes many writers today. The majority of writing is not focused on what it says rather how it says it. Many political writers will spice up their writing with sophisticated language and complex terminology to attract the higher educated crowd.

The most obvious problem with this is that you’d be ignoring the main audience of the piece, which happens to be the largest demographic. If the average person reads a piece with a needlessly large and obscure vocabulary then he may conclude that the writing serves no purpose for him, then he will shy away from all writing like it. If you write for the every day person not only will you have a larger audience, what you write will be more effective.

Orwell said it better than I ever could in his essay Politics in the English Language. He analyzes many things about political writing, such as how writers will purposefully blur their meaning for a political purpose. For instance Orwell says:

“Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements

A powerful passage. The essay goes on with more detailed examples. The first thing any reader needs to understand political writing is to educate themselves on rhetoric and the devices writers use. By doing this you can defend yourself from false and overtly biased statements in the media. We can see in the quote that effectiveness is not a substitute for honesty. The phrases writers use may be easy to understand but they don’t serve the best interest of the people if their meaning is hidden.

Obviously if a person has to sugar coat their meaning they are afraid of the reaction. So what would writing look like if it was as candid as possible? Take for instance the famous gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.  In 1972 he was hired by Rolling Stone to cover the presidential campaign of George McGovern, and in the process he revolutionized the way political writing was done. He was a brutally honest writer, never even attempting to conceal his meaning. Here’s a quote of his about Nixon’s funeral:

“If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.”

Of course that quote is nothing but name calling, but Thompson makes many great points about it. There is nothing dry about his writing, it’s candid as all hell and gets the point across. A modern political writer may say “Nixon was a heartless autocrat that left an enervating stain on the country that can never be cleansed. His legacy will be one of deceit and crookedness that reminds the people of a darker time in our nation’s history.” Both quotes say pretty much the same thing but the first one was much more entertaining and can be more easily consumed.

The simpleness of writing applies to all of it’s forms. If a book is so full of pretensions and complications that it is difficult to read then why read it? The author failed in the purpose to smoothly convey their message to all people. Instead they are keeping the knowledge for the highly educated and serves no purpose for the common man. Orwell mastered this art. It also has historical background. Take Common Sense by Thomas Paine. Part of the influence of this pamphlet is that it was easy for the common man to read and therefore the ideas spread more easily than the other pamphlets of the day. In fact Washington had it read to every man in his army, which considering the condition of the day is significant. Paine’s writing was honest and to the point. This document encouraged the Americas to rebel against England and succeeded, something a more frivolous document couldn’t have done.

So when writing Orwell gives a list of things that every writer should consider about each sentence:

1. What am I trying to say?

2. What words will express it?

3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?

4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

1. Could I put it more shortly?

2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

These are things every writer should keep in mind when writing a piece. Purposefully making your writing sound sophisticated does nothing except guarantee most people won’t read it. There is nothing wrong with sounding simplistic. People forget that education is not only meant for the higher classes, but that ideas are meant for all people of the earth. The point is not to shy people away from your message but to spread it. More messages should be written as so. Honesty and clearness are the true traits of effective writing.

Advertisements

56 thoughts on “The Purpose of Writing

  1. I applaud this piece of writing. You are right about the long winded /full of pretentious words pieces of writing, that put people off reading. Whilst I like to gain a new word here and there I hate passages filled with big words just as a show of intellect, rather than just getting the point across to the reader

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I feel like I’ve been taught (or maybe I misinterpreted) that writing is better and better received when it sounds elegant. I do like using long, elegant words and lesser-used synonyms to not sound so repetitive, but I think this article just convinced me to change my style or tweak it. After all, if I need a synonym to not sound repetitive, then I’m being repetitive anyways; if I’m using words I find pretty for fun, all I’m doing is indulging myself, not helping the message get through.

    Thanks for bringing all this up to the front of my head. I have a lot to think over now and maybe some bad habits to change.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is why guys like Trump get so much interest. He’s an in-your-face blunt force trauma against political vagueness (although he’s still a bit vague in his own way, he nonetheless says what many folks do indeed think inside their own homes). This is also why one of the jobs of the Vice President is to get away with saying things the President can’t say because of the political baggage. In the world of politics it’s nice to listen to a renegade with a bit of clout. I think fortunately for us all, the average voter sobers up a bit inside the voting booth and will end up voting for their best liar. Why? Radical and provocative ideas and language tend to make us all wonder how this guy might upset the status quo if he IS elected. Somehow political liars are a bit more predictable than rich loose cannons.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think people like when others upset the status quo. Of course not every candidate will do this and many times it’s better to play it safe. Every so often there is an underdog that people can root for, even if they don’t always win.

      Like

  4. I am inspired to break out my copy of Strunk and White. I agree, complex writing alone does not add force to rhetoric, but it does have its place. Poets and literary writers use obscure words for aesthetic reasons. Philosophers are constantly inventing jargon not because they want to sound fancy, but because sometimes they need the precision. We should not use high language to sound sophisticated, but neither should we dumb down complex ideas. No matter the type of writing or the words called for, we should be, as you said, clear and honest.

    Like

    • I completely agree, and thank you for commenting. Poets and many writers will use words and phrases to give their writing a certain tone. For instance a poet will carefully select each word and the final product is a beautiful arrangement that sounds almost like music. To get the exact meaning they want many times they’ll use obscure words. I don’t have a problem with this because it’s to achieve that flow the piece requires. I just don’t think it has any place in political writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I definitely agree with honest writing as far as politics and the news are concerned. I do have a problem with news agencies that insert their bias and subjectivity into history or current events. If I were to read a newspaper describing Nixon (mind you, I do not admire this person in the least) in the way Thompson does (calling him queer and screwing around), I would understand their viewpoint but not consider it as newsworthy in anyway. Political satire is wonderful and I thoroughly enjoy it, but it does belong in a category of its own. I enjoy your blog and am impressed in your eloquence and intelligence; especially for one so young.

    Like

  6. People write for different reasons – sometimes you want to be read, sometimes you want to be understood, sometimes you want to tell a story, sometimes you just want to write. Keeping your reader in mind might be a good practise but I think it is more important to keep pretentiousness from creeping into your structure and words.

    This is a good piece. And in our current times when all you see are people throwing around fancy terms without understanding them, there is much want of honest-blunt-simple political writing.

    I think language should be kept as simple as can be, politics and otherwise, I wrote a piece a while back Why I believe in simple story telling . If you have the time, take a look.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I believe any piece one writes should be straight from the heart. An outstanding article would be one which would inspire, move the reader or simply get the reader thinking. Every writing has its audience, hence the writer should focus on the content and write it in the way he(she) can. The intention behind the writing is more important than the piece itself.

    I appreciate this post and enjoyed reading it.

    Shine on!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Each profession has its share of jargon or lingo meant to exclude like medicine and law; writing is no exception. But not all that mystifies the masses should be avoided. Some words are rich with nuance and texture so much so that they cannot be compromised for a more popular word without losing much of their luster or complexity.
    And then there is poetry where the love and feel of words is the thing–no bars held.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m going to take a moment and play devil’s advocate.

    Isn’t it possible that the reason most do not limit their vocabulary to have their piece be more inclusive is because the average (I’m an American so I will say) American does not bother reading the news?

    That is not to say I do not agree entirely. It seems the most popular news outlets have the elitist editors.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I really liked this, especially the first two paragraphs. I would like to ‘reblog’ this at some point in the future. I don’t really know what reblog is but people seem to do it on this platform mostly in order to stroke each others egos and get more readers to their own blog. I don’t want to do it for that reason so when I ‘reblog’ at an appropriate time I will cut and paste the text and attribute you as the author.

    I can’t do it at the moment because I’m in the middle of a series of blogs on myth.

    Like

  11. William Wordsworth said: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” I think the purpose is there within the heart. Political or not, a writer writes with a purpose, and it defines and gives us a glimpse into his or her heart. There must be passion behind the purpose. Thanks for your post and for stopping by AngelPavillion.com

    Like

  12. Thank you for writing this. I have found the best way of writing a meaningful poem is to simply write it, don’t over think or put in fancy words – so seeing that others think the same has made me very happy. You are an wonderful writer and I enjoy all of your work.

    Like

  13. i have to applaud this declaration of responsibility. I spent the first twenty years of my mature intellectual life watching my father coin obscure terminology in the name of technical precision. In the end, I was perhaps the only person in the world that understood him.

    My own choice was rather different: it was to go about consciously attempting to reclaim terms of common usage. That leads to observations such as “When most people say ‘I love you’, it means ‘I feel good when I’m around you – let me tender this token to bind you to me.'”

    Ultimately it is power that motivates most people, and those that play the game most effectively are really concerned with what they are allowed to do. Looking at the hypocrisy of the political elite, this enlightened me: “A man will change his beliefs before he will change his behaviors.” The professional politician is always testing the rhetorical waters for votes. So the challenge is to empower their victims to see through their rhetorical flourish.

    Welcome to the Sisyphean struggle! I hope that many gather themselves around you!

    Like

    • It does serve a purpose to every once and a while coin a phrase for the purpose of your message, but if it gets to the point that you’re using only your own terminology and jargon then the writing might be self-absorbed.

      And I completely agree that politicians change their beliefs for the strategic purposes. I’ve been playing around with the idea of having a few articles that analyze the rhetorical strategies in different candidates speeches. Like I would take a speech from either Hillary Clinton or Bush or somebody and highlight the different areas they obscure their message or are purposefully vague to mislead people. I’ll be honest when I say I’ve been putting it off so if you like you can always use the idea if it interests you. I think people really would benefit to see how politicians carefully word their statements, and how almost formulaic they are.

      Like

  14. This is beautifully expressed. I agree that it’s the average demographic that we would do well to target. I use abscise and elegant words in some of my poetry, and my articles are eloquent yet cozy. Thank you of your time and words.

    Like

  15. This made me understand better the power of writing. It just simply tells about who the readers are and the clarity of the message it conveys to the masses. I would love to read more of your blogs! Thank you for following my site, too!

    Like

  16. Perhaps I can rephrase the rules you offer. Make your point by saying what you mean concisely. But I must add that writing is telling a story. That is what Orwell did well. And it is what Hunter S Thompson couldn’t do well at all. I find Thompson extremely boring and juvenile. His suppose brutal honesty is little more that brutal insult that appeals to the young and ignorant. Reading Thompson is like watching the Three Stooges. They were funny when I was a child but as I grew older I realized just how unfunny they became. Good luck with you writing.

    Like

  17. too many abstractions, I always say,
    Write, equal a lot of hot air

    but it’s also the duty of any responsible
    writer, unless s/he is merely a journalist,
    to be grammatically impeccable, even
    admirable, else meaning is by the very
    act of altering that foundation, changing
    the meaning, a flaw I find, shockingly,
    ubiquitous

    esoteric words, meanwhile, if you can
    introduce them, in a congenial manner,
    not pedantic, can only be beneficial to
    readers

    cheers

    Richard

    Like

  18. Great piece. The first part where you used the Orwell quote reminds me of a bit by George Carlin when he walks the audience through how the medical condition “shell shock” turned into “post traumatic stress disorder”, and how convoluted language often is used by politicians to make things sound softer. If you haven’t seen a lot of George Carlin’s stand up it has a lot to do with how we use and perceive words, and it’s hilarious.

    Like

  19. Great article. I do struggle to try to be clear, direct and truthful on Counterbite.wordpress.com. I saw much that was helpful in this article and will keep it near by in the future.

    Like

  20. First – Thanks for liking my post, “First One Out of the Gate.”
    Second – This is the first thing I’ve read of yours and I can already tell it won’t be the last! Practicing what you preach can be hard – but you’ve nailed it.
    I look forward to more. Watch out! I’ll be following you…or, at least your posts.

    Like

  21. Thanks for visiting ACT Made Lyrical. Now I have followed you home. I have started blogging again after a year’s break and am so glad I have. I never stopped writing, but I did stop sharing, and your article reminds us that the focus of our writing is our reader. Orwell’s advice is timely for me. Thanks for sharing it.

    Regards from the UK

    Corinne

    Like

  22. I enjoyed reading this piece and would like to re blog it. I am currently studying 20th century literature at acu. We are up to George Orwell and his essay on political writing. This post is most relevant to our studies. Also you may enjoy my two posts which I am currently working on. Please look in the menu for 20th century literature in the next few days for these.
    Dave

    Like

  23. […] “Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements” {The Purpose of Writing} […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s