This comes to you from Tim Radford, freelance journalist and former editor at The Guardian, who penned these 25 commandments last week. They’ve been making the rounds among us journalism folk and though I tend to delete those mass “inspirational” emails, this one kind of stuck.
1. When you sit down to write, there is only one important person in your life. This is someone you will never meet, called a reader.
2. You are not writing to impress the scientist you have just interviewed, nor the professor who got you through your degree, nor the editor who foolishly turned you down, or the rather dishy person you just met at a party and told you were a writer. Or even your mother. You are writing to impress someone hanging from a strap in the tube between Parson’s Green and Putney, who will stop reading in a fifth of a second, given a chance.
3. So the first sentence you write will be the most important sentence in your life, and so will the second, and the third. This is because, although you – an employee, an apostle or an apologist – may feel obliged to write, nobody has ever felt obliged to read.
4. Journalism is important. It must never, however, be full of its own self-importance. Nothing sends a reader scurrying to the crossword, or the racing column, faster than pomposity. Therefore simple words, clear ideas and short sentences are vital in all storytelling. So is a sense of irreverence.
5. Here is a thing to carve in pokerwork and hang over your typewriter. “No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand.”
Since I’m no stranger to the need for unique visitors, you’ll have to check out the story at The Guardian for the rest. I ain’t no Internet pirate!