“Why I Write” – A Response to Orwell and Didion

What first strikes me about both pieces is how Orwell and Didion write so unabashedly about the egoism that has fueled their lives’ work. I admire these statements, mainly because I have yet to sum up the courage to admit the same to myself. It’s that need to permanently record your viewpoints, unsatisfied with merely thinking about them and with the hopes that they will be projected onto others, that keeps them writing. Furthermore, neither Orwell nor Didion liken that “need” to something inspiring or uplifting, but rather refer to it, respectively, as a “demon” and “secret bully.” These phrases suggest that the internal urge to write may, deep down, stem from somewhere intrinsically dark, and often we may not know it. I’ve always thought that I like to write because I thrive on creative expression and enjoy sharing my thoughts with the world. But perhaps, like Orwell and Didion allude to, this outward, surface-level “need” is just a disguised form of ultimately uncontrollable egoism. I don’t think I fully agree, but I think whatever propels my writing, it involves an honest search for what makes me put my thoughts to paper.

The purely aesthetic aspect of writing that both authors mention really resonates with me as well. When Didion speaks about being captivated by the physical world: sights she saw, “shimmering” images that stuck with her, it’s the pure imagery that shapes her writing, the desire to write something down because it evokes beauty, or even just because it sounds good. Reading this, I thought of some of the best moments I’ve had writing, and how often they arise from a vivid memory to which I can return, see, smell, and touch. I relate to Orwell’s recollection of his teenage writing, overflowing with flowering language and lush descriptions, and how, although that style became tiresome, it was a necessary phase of experimentation to become acquainted with the beauty of language.

Finally, I appreciated the last motive for writing that Orwell mentions, that of political purpose. He is careful to clarify that his use of the word “political” is in the broadest sense, essentially meaning to somehow alter the way people think. I think this point is a key not only to understanding the reasons why we write, but also to figuring out the ways in which we can write better. Orwell remarks, “I will only say that of late years I have tried to write less picturesquely and more exactly.” I firmly believe that identifying some shred of this political purpose, no matter is how obvious or obscured, is the first step in the direction of Orwell’s goal.

One thought to ““Why I Write” – A Response to Orwell and Didion”

  1. I thought it was really insightful that you drew a parallel between Didion and Orwell’s pieces with respect to egoism and feeling an inherently personal obligation to write. Also, good call on connecting the terms “secret bully” and “demon,” which describe both authors’ feelings of being burdened. Nice!

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