Or that writer, as the case may be. Reading George Orwell’s essay, “Why I Write,” I found his list of “motives” for writing to be strikingly true to everything I know about people who write.
“Sheer egoism” as bluntly as Orwell puts it, is one of the foremost reasons many people enjoy writing; the delicious possibility that others will read what you have written, declare you brilliant and put you down in the history books. None of us like to admit this one, of course. It isn’t delicate.
“Aesthetic enthusiasm” is as common as egoism, and nearly everyone who writes seems to love to make things pretty. I have writer friends who will stop dead on the side walk to contemplate the beauty of some old tree, perfectly aware of the cliche of it all. I identify the most with the second part of Orwell’s paragraph, the part about the pamphleteer who “may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc.” I want my sentences to look good, to sound lovely rolling off the tongue and reverberating in the brain, and picky little things like commas and margins accomplish all sorts of special effects if deployed correctly.
“Historical Impulse” is something I have encountered mostly in the company of my fellow political science majors. Something about the social sciences really brings out the chronicler in everyone. Truth is sometimes such a nebulous thing, and to have it all written down accurately for future generations of poli sci majors feels like securing certainty for someone at least.
“Political Purpose,” for me, is less a motive for just writing than way of life. I am part of an activist group on campus, and have spent numerous evenings posting fliers in hopes that they will, in some small way, “push the world in a certain direction.” As Orwell asserts, every piece of writing has some political agenda, something to sell. The other three motives for writing all come back to this desire for influence of this kind. Promoting oneself is futile unless you can effect change by your prominence, aesthetics are absolutely necessary for persuasion, and history is simply the objective canvas for politics’ normative doodling. In the end, as with most worthwhile pursuits, the motives for writing come down to persuasion.
Perhaps Orwell’s motives for writing rang so true for me because they are my own motives. However, I would argue that they are, if not universal, relatively common among writers who simply want to be remembered, to create beautiful works, to record the truth, and most importantly, to affect change.