"Never use a metaphor ... that you are used to seeing in print"
I shall have to add this collection of essays to my Amazon.com wish list. Here is Lawrence Wright discussing George Orwell's guide to writing, via NPR:
Orwell optimistically sets forward six simple rules to improve the state of the English language: guidelines that anyone, not just professional writers, can follow.
But I'm not going to tell you what they are. You'll have to re-read the essay yourself. I'm only going to speak about Rule No. 1, which is never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.
For me, that's the hardest rule and no doubt the reason that it's No. 1. Cliches, like cockroaches in the cupboard, quickly infest a careless mind. I constantly struggle with the prefabricated phrases that substitute for simple, clear prose. We are still plagued by toe the line, stand shoulder to shoulder with, no axe to grind -- meaningless images that every reader subconsciously acknowledges represent the opposite of real thought -- but it is dismaying to read that two exhausted metaphors, leave no stone unturned and explore every avenue, had been jeered out of common usage in Orwell's day by journalists who took the trouble to dismiss them.
"Political language," Orwell reminds us, "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits."
Orwell wasn't interested in decorative writing, but his straightforward, declarative style has a snap in it that few other writers have ever approached. In a time when politics and the English language once again seem to be at odds, perhaps his essay can make us remember that clarity is the remedy.