Dating Guide for the Left-Wing 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.


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 and can be reached at: Read other articles by Paula, or visit Paula's website.

16 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on May 11th, 2009 at 10:28am #

    i cld take time to learn to improve my syntax, grammar, and typing but i don’t want to.
    my main and sole objective is to speak and write english that my wife can understand and not as orwell wld want me to.

    the question, to me, to a reader, wld be, Have you got the message? If not, one can ask me to paraphrase the original message.
    above all i avoid verbal brilliancies like a plague. I also try to use english as it had been spoken prior to norman’s invasion of england and adoption of french/latin/greek words.
    german, which was close to english just a millennium ago, had until recently very few foreing words, and even with minimal knowledge of german, i easily got the meaning.

    problem arises when people identify message received with the message sent. At times, the two may differ, be similar, or even exact.
    when perplexed, annoyed, or angered it is best to ask whether the message one gets is the message sent.
    i’ve often been mistaken and people often misunderstand my intent or lesson.
    this is what kids shld be taught. They shld be taught to delay their reactions for a few seconds; get hold of the questions, What do you mean? Or How do you know? Wld you rephrase it? tnx

  2. Tennessee-Chavizta said on May 11th, 2009 at 11:41am #

    i was thinking about the extreme conformism of Americans. And thats why americans are so happy with the 2-party capitalist-dictatorship. But if american average joes were less conformist with their own bodies, their own health, their shitty, exhaustive boring lifestyle, that the Oligarchical-Capitalist dictatorship provides. All americans would be overthrowing this oligarchical-capitalist system that only causes a life of boredom, and suffering:

    For example, most conformist americans are so conformist that they don’t realize that average americans need:

    Public, free, state-owned universities
    Public Walking-trails and Parks in *most* neighborhoods
    The independence of Puerto Rico
    12 dollars, Higher Minimum wage
    Low-cost fitness-centers (Gyms)
    Low-cost Utility services (as a result of nationalized state-owned utilities)
    Low-cost airline travelling (as a result of nationalized airlines)
    Legalization of all illegal citizens.
    A complete halt to US wars.
    Cut in deffense spending, and use remaining to pay the USA *external* debt
    Incorporation of USA with ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas)
    US gov. program of social-missions, like literacy missions, free eye-care missions, free dental-work missions perhaps with a Cuban trade system of doctors from Cuba, and food from USA to Cuba, etc.
    Letting Hugo Chavez invest in USA.
    Trade with Iran, Russia and China,
    A complete STOP of donations of Israel. Expelling the Israeli ambassador from USA
    Reformation of US constitution by a competitive constitutional assembly.
    Nationalization-program of key elements of US industries (No consesssions for millionaires)
    Community-Councils by the US government.
    Creating a socialist-state owned media like Telesur, in order to spread socialist knowledge to Americans.

    etc. etc. etc.

    etc. etc.

  3. Tennessee-Chavizta said on May 11th, 2009 at 11:47am #

    Paula: I don’t have a socialist-girlfriend. But i am into weight-training and a low-carbohydrate diet. I want to be better physiologically in order to find a good socialist girlfriend. It is hard though because in the USA society, there is just too much food, the USA itself is a country which is food-oriented, where tempting foods, like burgers, cakes, pizzas, desserts, are practically around every activity.

    Nice article of yours, i will tkae some tips

  4. rg the lg said on May 11th, 2009 at 6:34pm #

    The original article was worth reading … and the points aren’t all that off the wall. All writers would do well to at least think about them.

    But, I did like the list Tennessee-Chavista put together … I am on board with most of them.

    The best thing in the whole mess, thus far, is T-C’s call for a rewrite of the constitution. That alone would cause some very important changes.

    I don’t know about all-y’all, but I am calling our recently anointed emperor “BaWreck O’Bushma” because he seems such a pale copy of the originals …

    Now, here is a scary thought …

    READY …

    Obama-Palin in 2012!

    No joke … it does make sense in our insane nation.

    RG the LG

  5. john andrews said on May 11th, 2009 at 11:36pm #

    Nice piece Paula.

    To your list I would add:

    a) Martha Gelhorn’s ‘View From the Ground’
    b) ‘Tell me no Lies’ – edited by John Pilger

    The work contained in these three references ticks all the boxes you identified and one other – they’re written with humanity in mind – and just the right amount of rage.

    you’re also right in my view – it’s what you say that counts, not how you say it.

  6. Hue Longer said on May 12th, 2009 at 5:10am #

    I like boz slipping in the fact that other languages exist. What a bad date!

    Also, I think Orwell WOULD show up with an egg stained shirt but not give a fuck.

    If dating is like writing then my best date advice should apply here as well…Don’t bring candy and flowers because she’ll think you’re sweet. Bring flowers and wine because you’ll get laid.

  7. Brian Koontz said on May 12th, 2009 at 5:53am #

    Be careful what you wish for.

    Your article seems to be largely about how to seduce a reader, rather than how to inform him. My advice to all people is to not try to be anything at all. Don’t try to be a writer – try NOT to be a writer and if you’re a writer anyway then it’s meant to be.

    A writer is simply someone who uses written words to translate meaning from his mind to that of others. If one thinks of himself as a *writer* he’ll lose the ability to do what he really wants to do (translate meaning) in other ways – such as through speaking, through painting, etc. It’s a nasty trap to come to believe that the importance is the words, rather than the reality which forms in the mind. The result of falling for such a trap is becoming a wordsmith hack.

    This philosophy extends to other areas of life as well. Try *not* to go on a date and if you go on a date anyway then it will probably be for the right reasons.

  8. kalidas said on May 12th, 2009 at 7:36am #

    “Dating Guide for the Left-Wing Writer”

    How about just wearing a white T with a big ole yellow plastic banana on it?

  9. NYCartist said on May 12th, 2009 at 10:29am #

    I enjoyed the article. Smiled, too. Who is it who recently said to Amy Goodman, in an interview on DemocracyNow (I think), “I write because I am a reader.”. (I’m an older woman in long time 2nd relationship.)

  10. NYCartist said on May 12th, 2009 at 10:30am #

    Correction: I forgot the ? after quote ending “…reader.”?

  11. bozh said on May 12th, 2009 at 11:05am #

    i assume that long, long time ago; let’s say, 50T yrs ago, each word used had a full symbolic value.
    in other words, when a hunter said that he saw yesterday some deer in forest, there were at that time deer in the forest.
    so the hunters went to the same forest; saying , Let’s catch one and we ALL will eat; they saw deer; slew one and all the clan members ate.

    the people knew nothing about democracy, capitalism, socialism, economy, free speech, markets, etc., but they knew each person cld trust each other person and also the group.
    each person knew he’d never be homeless or if left or born lame or brain injured, s/he’d be looked after just like any other member of the clan.
    how did we lose near total utopia? how/when did we slide into fascism?
    did it all start with shamanism and just one or two psychotic individuals who, having seen how trusting people were, began to usurp our greatest wealth: Trust?

    today few words used by clero-political class have much if any symbolic value; resulting in massive degradatiom of life for most of us.
    bozhidar balkas. tnx
    there was no competition in order to win and beat the other person; what little competition there had been, it was practised for fun or to sharpen survival skills.
    our greatest wealth was food and TRUST. Followed by peace, reliability, contenment, interdependence.
    had people of that day they wld give birth to presently ruthless competitors with schhols designed that some children wld alway b eleft behind and oppresed, they wld have probably commited mass suicide rather than to survive and produce such dishonest people that we have now in all countries.

  12. Don Hawkins said on May 12th, 2009 at 2:52pm #

    What we see is people in well pressed clothes telling us everything is Ok sort of and just keep doing what we tell you. I will say it again these people for the most part in there well pressed clothes are nut’s have you noticed. Nonsense is there game and it seems to be working. Those of us who still care and would like to see a future for our kid’s and the human race have we won our first battle yet? Not really we haven’t even stated the battle yet. Think of this as kind of a war and how can we get a few million to start one voice calm at peace DC. That’s to start. A few words that have been written before and needed now more than ever. That’s ever a long long time.

  13. Eddie said on May 12th, 2009 at 3:37pm #

    Cosmo cute? Don’t think it would even make it to Cosmo. Here’s a thought, write an article on something that matters and stop trying to show your flourishes.
    There’s a trial in Kentucky. Actually the trial’s over. Steven D. Green was convicted of raping the 14 year old girl Abeer, killing her, killing her parents and killing her sister. The sentencing is going on right now. The defense claimed during the trial that the ‘context’ of the Iraq war needed to be remembered.
    It’s not as easy to write about as doing bad Cosmo pieces (which could be seen as gender stereotyped: “Look, here comes a woman to tell us about dating”) but it might actually make a difference.
    By the way I remember when Lip tried to get on their high horse and attack Indymedia. Indymedia’s still around.
    Thankfully dead.
    I’m not looking for sparkling conversation, Paula, I’m looking to read about things that matter and the way I see it, you wasted my time with your nonsense about writing is like dating (and maybe sex?) . Real issues out there and it’s really elitist of you to even offer this shit.
    P.S. If I didn’t use the right word, I’ll weep forever and a day. English is my second language, no joke. In Paula’s world, English is the only language. Another reason to object to this article.

  14. Dating Guide for the Left-Wing Writer « Notes from Underground said on May 13th, 2009 at 5:34am #

    […] on the Meltdown III list (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 […]

  15. dating guide said on June 9th, 2009 at 1:26pm #

    It’s a nasty trap to come to believe that the importance is the words, rather than the reality which forms in the mind. The result of falling for such a trap is becoming a wordsmith hack.

  16. bozh said on June 9th, 2009 at 4:26pm #

    dating guide, yes
    yes to magic of words that victimizes us time and time again.
    obama is just a better magician than, let’s say, bush. Obama is more liked than bush because of his skin collor with which muslims, blacks, latinos et al feel at home with or that he is one of them.
    meanwhile, such people do not remember or know US historical record on which solely one can rely for predictions or correct expectations:
    worse things are coming around; especially for palestinians, iraqis, afghanis, and pakistani.
    that are my expectations. tnx