A Precursor to an Answer

In preparation for answering a broad question– Why Do I Write?– we have turned to a variety of others that have answered the question before us, which I would like to partially respond to. In doing so, it might look like I am entering the conversation (which wouldn’t be entirely wrong), but really, for now, it’s closer to me dipping a toe into an ocean and calling it swimming.

Out of the three texts we looked at in class to help us answer this question– “Why I Write” by George Orwell and another of the same title by Joan Didion, and “Why I Blog” by Andrew Sullivan– I definitely connected to Didion’s response the most but I pulled the most concrete and relevant explanations from Orwell’s.

Didion seemed to pull some concepts from my own head. Namely, the idea that she doesn’t think up a plot and run with it so much as seeing an image and being unable to leave it alone, prodding it with questions and demanding an explanation for its circumstances and appearance. Of one such instance she points out that,

“Had I known the answers to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel.”

I LOVE this idea and its phrasing. It was the image and the questions that she made up about it that compelled her to write. I completely connect with that. I have had similar experiences of seeing something– not even something strange or out of the ordinary– that my mind wouldn’t leave alone; it needed to create a new reality for it to exist in that would explain why it was and how it came to be and where it was going and the way others would interact with it. Some people get songs stuck in there head, but I get images and lines of monologue lodged in mine.

Didion also claims at one point that,

“I knew I couldn’t think.”

Obviously, this isn’t true in the way that one would immediately assume, but it made perfect sense to me and in the context that she used it in. She thinks differently. She sees the world in unique ways. She lets the world speak to her first and then she responds to what she observes with further questions and stories of her own rather than attacking her landscape and imaginings for answers.

Orwell, on the other hand, lists 4 main reasons that he writes:

“Sheer egoism… aesthetic enthusiasm… historical impulse… [and] political purpose.”

Save for the third point (which did not resonate with me nearly as much as the others), I definitely agreed with the sentiment behind each of these explanations. I won’t lie; I write for ego. Recognition. Gloating rights. To be taken seriously. I imagine myself on talk shows and NPR, an inspiration on social media, discussing how I possibly managed to come up with such brilliance.

And I won’t apologize for that ego. I’m not the first to dream of fame and I have no shame in admitting I want it to. What I would do with that, though, is more important and brings me to his last reason about politics.

One of my goals in writing is to be as supportive to those that are disadvantaged in society. I want to be an ally and part of a solution that calls for increased positive representations of those that the elite ignore. I want to write human stories about those outside of the Norm– black girls in wheelchairs and south Asian bisexual men and poor kids in rural Colorado that don’t feel they fit into any gender role and they don’t know what to do about it. I have political motivations but I’d like to think that it’s because I want to be fighting the good fight and not because I want to be different or edgy. I wish these topics and depictions weren’t even considered in this way.

Aesthetic enthusiasm just makes me smile though.

I like words. I like those words about words. I like sounds and phrases that I can chew on and roll around and say slowly. I dream of writing lines that make someone put down what they’re reading and walk away for a minute because they can’t believe someone said something about that in such a perfect way and they have to go digest it some and tweet it and plan a new tattoo around the words. I want to put things in a way that readers wish they’d put the same thought into the same words in exactly the same way because it was just that good. Oh look, we’ve circled back to ego. How fitting.

When it comes to Sullivan, I feel I have a lot less to say. I don’t blog in the colloquial sense; I am on tumblr which has a basis in blogging but, for the most part, has become quite a bit like twitter with sharing clever insights in a concise and informal way. I also don’t have too much interest in journalism on a personal level; I don’t plan to make a career in it, at least. At the same time, as a citizen of the modern digital age, I understand the need to convey thoughts with a sense of expediency. Weigh in quickly, jump into the conversation before it’s forgotten. I do this more on Facebook than anywhere else, but not often even there. I don’t like to create arguments online where it can be difficult to gauge the tone of those you’re speaking with. It’s an interesting sounding board for ideas, but it’s often also frustrating and, just, not ideal.

I… did not mean to write this much. Gosh. Kudos to anyone that stuck with me though this stream of consciousness ramble for this long. Have a gif of Anderson Cooper and some french fries as a thank you.

anderson fries


3 thoughts to “A Precursor to an Answer”

  1. Hi Sarah,
    First of all, kudos to making me laugh while I’m extremely sleep deprived. Your post was just that good. I loved the whole stream of consciousness vibe that you had going on throughout your post, which really mimicked Didion’s writing as well. I found this particularly interesting since you claim Didion’s writing was the one you connected with the most, oh the irony. And of course, the Anderson Cooper gif just really killed it at the end, so another congratulations is in order. One point in your blog post that I truly connected with was your point about egoism, which is reflected in Orwell’s writing. Like you, I love seeing my work, byline, or anything that I’ve dedicated hard work to in its published form, either in print of online. I believe that this is a shared norm between writers everywhere, and would be very skeptical if a writer in fact didn’t enjoy seeing his or her work shared and recognized. As for Sullivan’s reading, I too agree with your takeaway on expediency and overall immediacy of the technological age. Although I blog quite frequently, I think that anyone can agree that in such a digital age, people want their information and content yesterday. Overall, I truly enjoyed your post and appreciated how you made it such a great read!

  2. Sarah,

    Isn’t Didion brilliant? I’ve never read any of her writings, so this “Why I Write” piece was surely a motivation to look up some more of her work. I, too, enjoyed her practice of not coming up with a plot and running with it, but so unable to get rid of an image that she has to write about it.
    Her spiel about the shimmer got me thinking. While I might not see a shimmer, I sometimes get a perfect moment stuck in my head that I just absolutely have to share. There will be some moment or feeling that is just so perfect or ironic that it has to be written down, whether for myself or for readers. Thinking in recent times, I found myself enthralled in the moment when my roommate’s boyfriend broke up with her; the scene was so vivid. I doubt I’ll ever forget the moment that we sat on the couch, her head in my lap, with an empty bottle of wine and a half-eaten box of Pizza House cheese bread on the counter. Kleenex covered the coffee table and everyone’s faces were stained with tears and black streaks of mascara. It’s funny how something that was so painful to experience and witness will be one of my favorite moments. A shimmering moment or image as Didion would say. I could write a whole blog just about that night and everything I saw and how many stupid jokes I made in attempt to make her laugh.
    But anyways, what a tangent. Sorry!
    I really enjoyed your enthusiasm and honesty about both Didion and Orwell’s pieces. I think we can all agree, even if we don’t want to, that we love the vision of success, “name in lights” type of deal. I also really respect your kind of political reason for writing. Giving everyone a voice, letting stories be heard will always be difficult, but also always be important. Go you for reaching out to give an opportunity to advance oppressed groups. Great read and a solid ending with the Cooper gif.


  3. Hi Sarah,

    I enjoyed reading this a lot. I found a lot of your points to be very relatable, especially the part about not feeling as connected to Orwell’s historical impulse reason for writing of which I completely agree with. I also appreciated your honesty when you discussed how you do in fact write for your ego. I think that is a key component of each and every work an author constructs.

    I also thought how you mentioned what genre you like to write specifically was interesting. I liked your concept of writing outside of the “norm”. Also, your crossed out lines were interesting throughout because I found those to be great points and the line through them made them more emphasized. I thought that was a unique style technique.

    I agree with your opinions on Didion and Sullivan both. I think Didion’s point of writing without necessarily knowing where the plot will lead is relatable as an author and I liked how you specifically pointed that out. Also I agree with what you mentioned about tone related to blogging. I think arguments can be misinterpreted on the internet so it is important to be conscientious of how the tone comes off.

    Overall, I think you brought up your original ideas and concepts from the readings in a great way!


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