I recently discovered I have George Orwell’s essay Why I Write on my bookshelf. I bought it as part of the Penguin Great Idea’s Series, at least 6 years ago, alongside other gems I still haven’t read, such as Friederich Nietzsche’ Why I am So Wise, and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. I’ve always known they were there – I see them almost every day after all, but somehow I managed to overlook them – to forget about them. And so I now have more books to add to my list of books to read – and as they are on my shelf I really have no excuse for not reading them. But on to George’s essay…
In Why I Write, Orwell is not writing solely about his own motivations, but the motivations of all authors. He says:
“Putting aside the need to earn a living… there are four great motives for writing… They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time…”
Egoism – “The desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death”.
Aesethetic Enthusiasm – “Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story”.
Historical Impulse – “Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity”.
Political Purpose – “Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.”
Clearly for Orwell Political Purpose was a big motivation in his writing, a glance at Animal Farm is enough to see this, though he says had he lived in another, more peaceful time his political motivations would have been almost nil, but the world he lived in shaped his writing.
So why do I write? In an attempt to look at my motives honestly, I don’t think my main reason for writing is included in his list. I write because their are words in my head that I have to get down on paper. Words that need to be made physically real through the act of writing. For even when I am not writing fiction I write in other ways: diaries, letters, blog posts! I do love it when words flow, when they fit together to create rhyme and rhythm, when they create images in the mind that with different words would not be as clear. So Aesthetic Enthuisiasm is definitely a secondary reason for writing. And of course egosim is part of my writing too – for otherwise I would be content to allow my writing to remain hidden away on my own bookshelves, and I would not be concerned with getting my work out there onto the bookshelves of others.
As for the remaining reasons – they have influenced me in the past. Certainly when I write historical fiction I have a desire to find a historical truth, or as close to such a thing as can be found. And I have written a story or two (in my early years at uni) that contained thinly veiled political statements, which I cringed over as I reread them, years later (and to be honest, I think I destroyed those ones).
So now I ask the question. Why do YOU write? Do you think Orwell has it covered, or are there other reasons you are compelled to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and fill the page with words?
2 thoughts on “Why I Write”
I’ve tried to answer this question many times, and even devoted a somewhat romantic blog post to the subject – Yet I’ve never been able put my finger on an answer I really think covers everything. The best i have come up with is the tautology ‘I write, because I write.’
I love Orwell, and I remember reading this essay when I was just starting out as a ‘writer’ (I have always written, But only a few years ago did I begin to consider myself a writer) – I strongly identified with it then, and I still do now. I can see large elements of all four of Orwell’s motivations in myself, but it doesn’t satisfy everything. (With reference to the Ego motivation, I sometimes say ‘I write, Therefore I am’ as if writing is may way of proving — and justifying — my very existence.)
Oh well, I’m studying a degree in Psychology – Perhaps after a few years of that, I’ll be able to give you an answer.
Thankyou for your comment Ben! 🙂 It’s so hard to pinpoint isn’t it – why we feel compelled to write. I too have always written, and always wanted to be a writer, but like you I have only allowed myself the title recently.
Good luck with your degree!! Let us know if you find an answer!! 🙂