I know why I write, but do you know why you write? George Orwell, in his essay “Why I Write” discusses his early background life and talks about his father and his teenage years. He then goes on to tell us how he transitioned into a literary writer and how he’s wanted to be a writer from a very young age. And he proposed four great motives for writing, which exist in different degrees in all of us.
(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
I think this is true. There’s a part of all of us that wants to be known, wants to get our names out there, our ideas and opinions and share them with everyone who will listen. We so desperately want to be heard because no-one in our immediate surroundings will listen. We don’t want to be forgotten. Orwell was right when he said that we are lying to ourselves if we pretend this isn’t a motive. When we receive comments and likes, we feel quite happy because it means that people have interacted with our work and somehow what we have written has resonated with them. It gives us a sense of pride over what we do and boosts our ego a little bit, and also, it motivates us to write even more. When people interact with our work, we feel clever because we know that someone has read our post or our story and thought “she/he knows what they are writing about”, they must be knowledgeable on the subject.
(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in 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. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.
We all have our own stories, angles and voices, and that comes out in what we write. I love the feeling when I’ve finished a post and it looks good, though. I’m happy with what I’ve written and the post is in god form. I live for the moment when I finish a post and can say to myself “that’s a good post” and sometimes “it looks so pretty” because it appeals to all my senses. You know? When you see words on a page and they just aesthetically please you. I’m sure we all get that feeling occasionally. George Orwell says we do anyway. I love words, and I especially love when they are so expertly and perfectly crafted together that when you read it, it flows through your mind with such ease and no effort at all. The words, the sentences and the paragraphs just work so well together. It’s kind of calming.
(iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I write for this purpose a lot. I write about things that have happened, or how things should happen as well as other things. I love looking back at my old blog posts to see how far I’ve come, and how much I’ve changed. It’s really quite interesting, and I want other people, not just me, to see how much I’ve changed with increased knowledge and understanding of something. A lot can change in a year, 5 years, 10 years… I want people to know the real me, and that’s why I write, because I can keep track of myself and my personal development, and maybe some people relate to my story or they don’t. Maybe they see a little bit of themselves in what I write. I know I certainly see myself in what others write when they are in the same situation. You see, everyone is similar, yet they are completely unique.
(iv) Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.
People write from their own experiences. We are all told to write what we know so that’s what we do. We learn things from our experiences and our mistakes and we put these lessons into our writing, sometimes explicitly and sometimes there’s an underlying concept because we want to share what we learn with everyone else so that they don’t make the same mistakes we did. It gives everyone else a head start. And we learn from each other whilst we read. By writing, we can change the world one person at a time, and ‘push the world in a certain direction’; a better direction. In our writings, we write what we know, and with that comes our opinions, beliefs and attitudes, nothing we write is free from our own biases. We can try to write without political bias, but it’s hard and it’s not always possible. What you read has come straight from the writer’s mind.
To read his full essay, click here.