On the Why Behind the Words


My philosophy professor always said “my splintered finger is more important to me than your broken arm.” She wanted to prove a point that though there is illness, suffering, and death out there, your pain, your tribulations are important simply because they are yours. There will always be people who are worse off and better off, but this unavoidable selfishness that comes with living is the very thing that keeps you alive.

And I think the unquenchable desire of wanting to be heard is what keeps writers writing. 

After reading George Orwell and Didion’s “Why I Write” essays and Andrew Sullivan’s “Why I Blog” article, it’s apparent that writing, like life, is unavoidably selfish. Orwell attributes egoism as a key motivation in writing. Didion beautifully states that “writing is the act of saying I.” And Sullivan brings up a valid point that you end up writing about yourself anyways because you are the single common denominator in your work. I agree with them. If we didn’t want to be heard, our words would only touch the private texture of a diary’s pages. Blogs, newspapers, magazines, social media, and books all exist for the very reason that we want to be heard.

In less than a semester, the minor program forced me to think about who I am and what I want to say through constant self-reflection. It made me realize that my ultimate hope in this program would be to develop a strong voice and sense of  this inescapable “I. The biggest reason being that words matter. Writing platforms’ monumental presence digitally, physically, in careers, on protest posters, etc. shows that not only do we want to be heard, we need to be heard. If words didn’t matter, when Eric Garner said “I Can’t Breathe,” for example, nobody would’ve thought to hashtag it, put it on shirts and signs, and repeat it with their raging voices. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle wouldn’t have prompted the creation of the FDA, and “I Have a Dream” would have meant sleep and starry eyes.

If words can be impactful, affective, influential, inspiring, and all other I words, maybe they can take this cloudy place–where there is suffering and illness and poverty and tragedy and death–and distract it for a little while with light. 

There is a uniform belief in the power and necessity of words. The last motive Orwell gives for writing is political purpose, “the desire to push the world in a certain direction.”  What’s interesting is that the world also pushes back; it pushes writers in a certain direction. Because life is fluid and constantly evolving, the external environment influences the topics being written about all the time. Orwell mentions his literature might have been more descriptive and aesthetically pleasing during a peaceful time. But Orwell lived when Marxism was prominent and so instead came Animal Farm. Didion too lets the places she’s been and people she sees materialize in her mind to guide her inner wordsmith. Blogs, even more so than essays and novels, capture this idea of the world’s influence on the written word. Though essays and novels may feel susceptible to stay current, blogging demands it. Otherwise, your words might stop mattering on a blog. Or like Sullivan put its, “if it stops paddling, it sinks.” 

I am quite possibly the biggest hopeless dreamer or just someone with an inflated appreciation for words, but whatever the platform, writing matters. 

What if you write something that sticks with someone and they’re better for it?






One thought to “On the Why Behind the Words”

  1. Lorena,

    First of all, your philosophy professor sounds like a boss. She’s absolutely right that most of us (me me me) tend to worry more about our own small problems than the life-changing ones of other people.

    I also think that it’s really interesting that you took away from these three pieces the idea that writing should ultimately give us the opportunity to make a difference, because I feel like that connects really well with your re-purposing and re-mediation projects. In those pieces, you had a voice. You had a chance to address the wrongs of the past and generate the spark necessary to address and make right those things. I have a feeling this might be the way you’re going with regards to your Why I Write project–something along the lines of writing in order to have your voice on important issues heard. Also, let me know if I’m totally off and you’re doing something different!

    But if you’re not, I think there’s such cohesiveness between all of your projects from this semester. Ultimately, I think your ePortfolio will do a really nice job of bringing those things together.


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