Why I Write Response

George Orwell’s statement “every book is a failure” is intriguing when related to his first motive of why writers write, sheer egoism.  Acknowledging such a motive is honest, yet curious when revisited after reading the latter half of his publication.  “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy…” is another bold claim by Orwell.  It seems counterintuitive that Orwell would write about egoism and go on to list negative generalities categorizing writers.  Why does he do this? I’m not sure, if I knew I’d write about it.

After reading Joan Didion’s “Why I Write” it occurred to me that perhaps what Orwell was trying to say Didion said when describing herself as a writer, “not a good writer or a bad writer, but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper.”  In today’s competitive world there’s a need to sort everything and it’s refreshing to, at times, take things at face value – the ‘it is what it is’ approach.

In my opinion the most interesting remark in “Why I Blog” is when Sullivan compares logs to blogs and acknowledges that when reading a log the reader knows the ending before the writer ever had the chance. As he writes on I found myself paying less and less attention. I found the length of his article slightly painful. Just as he states that “no one wants to read a 9,000-word treatise online” apparently I do not want to read 5,230 words on why he blogs.

Why I Write – The “Shimmer”

Of the three readings I found Joan Didion’s article, “Why I Write” to be most compelling and relatable. While I personally do not write entirely for the sole purpose to find out what I am thinking or feeling, I do agree that a work of writing is inspired behind this idea of the “shimmer” of an image within the writer’s mind. Didion emphasizes that these “shimmering” pictures poses great influence and power as she states, “it tells you. You don’t tell it”. Every word, sentence and phrase is dictated by this image, and collectively they tell you what is going on in the picture.


I found it to be very interesting how many aspects to a piece of writing can be completely made up, yet they are all motivated from a “shimmer” of an image. For example, Didion explains how she wrote her novel “Play It as It Lays” with only two pictures of mind. The first image was white space and the second was of young women.  However, when she finished the novel, the story was fully developed with fictionalized people and places that extend far beyond the original white space and young woman.  In fact, this is how Didion begins all of her novels “with no notion of ‘character’, or ‘plot’, or even ‘incident’”. I believe this technique can definitely be beneficially and helpful to keep in mind when writing myself. A “shimmer” of an image is not supposed to be overthought or scrutinized heavily. Instead this picture should be left to explore and further develop as you write.


This theory of the “shimmer” as a motivation for writing clearly intrigues me, but it also leaves me curious if other authors and writers feel the same way or if they even use the same technique when they approach writing. Is it possible that J.K. Rowling also never had any notion of character or storyline and that the Harry Potter stories were all developed from a “shimmer” within her mind?


I cannot say that I believe this is the best way to always write.  As fun and interesting of a technique this style is, not developing or thinking too deeply about a “shimmering” image may only work best under certain circumstances like fictional stories. Other writings that can still be motivated from an image within the mind may be most effective when planned out and developed before they are written. For example, can this theory be applied to the writings of journalists and researchers? Are their works of writings inspired form a “shimmering” picture and if so do they follow Didion and “lie low and let them develop”? This is not to say that it is not possible for all writing to be motivated from a picture within, but I am definitely curious if this theory is relevant to all genres of writing.


Blogging Evolved

Blogging has never appealed to me. My writing experience and style is rooted in more traditional journalism and other research-based writing. Naively, I thought that since the tenets of blogging were antithetical to more traditional writing, there was no place for it. Yet Andrew Sullivan makes a great case that the “free-form, accident-prone, less formal and more alive” aspects of blogging are to be embraced rather than be frowned upon. Sullivan admits that blogging cannot “provide permanent perspective” like more traditional forms of writing do, but this new form still has carved out an important niche.

Sullivan hails blogging as being “rich in personality.” Sure, arms of traditional writing such as reflective pieces, personal narratives and poetry could be personal, but a blog’s presence on the web and the bond a blogger has with readers is certainly unique; this writer-reader connection is unprecedented. After reading Sullivan’s piece, I have a restored appreciation for blogging and its presence as a form of writing.

Moreover, Sullivan’s piece seems to be a fitting evolution of what George Orwell and Joan Didion wrote in their respective pieces. Orwell’s relationship with readers is rooted in his own motives to write: “sheer egoism,” “aesthetic enthusiasm,” “historical impulse,” and “political purpose.” All of these motives deal with either the writer’s self-satisfaction or making an impact on the reader. Joan Didion also wrote about the personal stake in her writing, saying that it is “the act of saying ‘I.’ What motivated Orwell and Didion to write was their own gratification and the gratification of influencing others. In Sullivan’s world of blogging, those two spheres of motivation come together in a more direct relationship.


What I Learned

I learned from George Orwell that the events I encounter (and will encounter) in my life dramatically influence the ways in which I express my thoughts and ideas. I found that the experiences that each of these authors had, have heavily factored into the work they produce. However, what I found most interesting were the four “great” motives for writing that Orwell says, exist in different degrees in every writer.

The four great motives are: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose.

As I read each of the three readings, George Orwell’s, “Why I Write,” Joan Didion’s, “Why I Write,” and Andrew Sullivan’s, “Why I Blog,” I compared myself to each author, and found similarities between their writing habits, and my own.

These four motives made me question my intentions, and why I truly want to become a journalist. Day-in and day-out journalists are faced with the daunting task of eradicating personal biases and remaining as impartial as possible. This is one task I struggle with on a daily basis.

One statement that stuck out to me in particular stated the effect that an individual’s life stage and experience has on his or her work. To me, Orwell believes every individual’s experiences have shaped his or her views in one way or another, which subconsciously causes him or her to impart innate personal biases.

Thus, in order to fully understand a writer’s perspective, a reader must be sure to question how and why the author derived the content he or she created. I, like Orwell, believe you cannot fully grasp a writer’s work without knowing his or her background or reasoning.

Orwell says, “I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development;” this is something I firmly agree with. In addition, I believe a writer, regardless of the platform he or she chooses to use, must ensure that the content disseminated is presented in a way that will allow a reader to fully understand the context and tone at which he or she is trying to establish.


…Words are powerful. Language changes lives. The letters of the alphabet give me identity, purpose, dreams and often happiness (or is it happyness?). I wholeheartedly pursue relationships through communication. I love with words. I hurt with words. I remember not with just crinkled images and faded pictures, but with narration to tell the story…

All these thoughts streamed through my head while reading the motives behind why some guy named Big Brother, I mean George Orwell, wrote. He says, “When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words, i.e. the sounds and associations of words.” Sure, I have lists upon lists of my favorite words: wasps, banana, radii, squash, Trigonometry. But why write? Why continually place yourself in moments of vulnerability and exposure? Well Mr. Orwell, I’m glad you brought this up.

To write is to risk yourself – a broken daughter, a failing sister – for all to see. “And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane,” Orwell says. Telling my perception of the story and entering the conversation is revealing. I feel that writing is as raw of an act that there can be. It’s abstract thought turned into artifacts you can hold in the palm of your hand.

Andrew Sullivan agrees in a different sphere, saying, “To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth.” Truth is raw.

I’m also a collector of so-called “lines” – the phrases or language combinations that are able to be both written and spoken with conviction. It’s as if I want to mental archive all of my Aha! moments with words. But for the first time, I had an Aha! moment by way of disagreement. Sullivan says, “Words, of all sorts, have never seemed so now.” Really, blogger Andrew? Words have never gone out of style. Words have never flown south for the decade. Words will never not be powerful. It’s the people that we have to get to listen to them.

So Why Do You Write?

So I want to start out by saying this is my first blog post for the Sweetland Minor in Writing program, and I’m really excited for this Writing 220 class! Yay Fall 2012 cohort!

This week’s blog post is in response to the prompt: What in either or all of the Orwell/Didion/Sullivan readings resonates with you? (i.e. What did you find funny, silly, touching, boring, inspiring, uncomfortable, dismaying, true, etc.) Why/how?

What I loved most about all three pieces was that the writers’ personal voice and style shined out of each and every one of them! However, Sullivan’s “Why I Blog” was a personal favorite.

How many of you really knew that blog was a combination of web and log? That’s so crazy! But aside from that, the first line in the piece that struck me was “As you read a log, you have the curious sense of moving backward in time as you move forward in pages—the opposite of a book.” I found that idea fascinating…and puzzling – I literally had to think of how that makes sense! Another thing that I found engaging was the comparison of a blog and diary. When we met in our little blog groups, Amy, Gabriella and I were discussing how sometimes it’s hard to just write a blog because it felt like writing a diary/keeping a journal. This piece really opened my eyes into how different they really were, because a blog is instantly public and “transforms this most personal and retrospective of forms into a painfully public and immediate one.” And not only that, but readers respond! “They were more brutal than any editor, more persnickety than any copy editor, and more emotionally unstable than any colleague.” Brutal feedback is not one of the side-effects of a diary!

Some of the most effective parts of Sullivan’s work, according to me, were his comparisons of what blogging is really made of.  Some examples that resonated with me follow: “Blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.” “A blogger splashes gamely into a subject and dares the sources to come to him.” “He is similar in this way to the host of a dinner party. He can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate.” And one of my favorites “ There are times, in fact, when a blogger feels less like a writer than an online disc jockey, mixing samples of tunes and generating new melodies through mashups while also making his own music. He is both artist and producer—and the beat always goes on.”

I think another part of his piece that I found touching was his subtle advice. “Blogging requires an embrace of such hazards, a willingness to fall off the trapeze rather than fail to make the leap,” exhibiting the high-risk level involved in blogging. I also really appreciated his comment on how blogging rewards brevity and immediacy, because that’s one of the main differences between blogging and other writing mediums.

“You can’t have blogger’s block. You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts.” I loved this line because it really shows why blogging is so addictive is for some people…its an immediate way to get your thoughts out to the world.

The other two pieces, both called “Why I Write” were both amusing as well. I thought Orwell’s theory on the 4 great motives of writing: (i) Egoism (ii) Aesthetic Enthusiasm (iii) Historical Impulse (iv) Political Purpose, was very interesting. I found myself remembering various pieces of writing and trying to assess what motives the writer might have been influenced by at the time. I found Didion’s piece very refreshing and the concept of how the pictures in his mind dictate the turns his pieces take greatly resonated with me.

These are a few of my thoughts on the three reading pieces assigned for this week!

Ciao for now! 🙂

Response to Why I Write readings

Wow. After reading a phrase like “pleasure in the impact of one sound on another,” how can you not fall in love with the rhythm of a good sentence sentence, the beauty of words, or even just with George Orwell himself? That one phrase not only gave me a (perhaps too literal, but nonetheless effective) mental image of alphabet sounds body-slamming one another in the margins of a page, but it also spoke to that little jolt of pleasure I always get when I read a certain sentence or phrase that just works. Like a nugget of poetry within standard prose. Orwell’s later discussion of writing as a political and public act definitely resonated with me, although I feel like in today’s age there is a lot of writing out there that focuses on the personal rather than the political. Sure, it is impossible to write in a completely isolated vacuum; a writer has a past connected to others, lives in the contemporary world, has had certain experiences. But with the modern concept of blogs as a form of instant personal expression, (maybe even personal “word vomit”?) would Orwell be disappointed in today’s intrapersonal writers for our shortage of political drive? Do we lack sufficient Animal Farm’s in the blogosphere? Or are the fiery rants on sites like certain Tea Party blogs equally potent? I wonder what Orwell would be writing about if he lived in today’s world with us…

One thing I know Orwell would recognize as a universal mainstay with writers both then and now is the idea of writing as egoism. Joan Didion’s recognition of the inherent “I” sound in the phrase “why I write” humorously speaks to the idea of writing as an act of our own egos. Of course we write selfishly…writing is a form of self-expression begging to be seen/read/heard! Whether it’s a quirky tweet, an argumentative essay, or a letter to the editor—writing seems to me first and foremost a way for us to express ourselves and our own views to someone else. So what if that seems “imposing,” “aggressive” or even “hostile” as Didion recognizes? Humans, well at least all of the humans I know, sometimes need to use words in a selfish way to communicate effectively. Yes, I know in an academic paper you are supposed to take out all of the “I”s (which sometimes leads to funky stuff like “Therefore, one could say…”), but isn’t the “I” always implied? Well, here’s to hoping for some good, selfish writing this semester!

Twitter: The Mini Blog

When I finished my first Intro to Writing class yesterday I thought to myself, “I’m in trouble.” What do I know about blogging? The answer that rang certain in my head was absolutely nothing. I tried to make a blog once… It was called “Sarah Out Loud” and I updated it maybe once. I didn’t understand it and I knew that nobody would ever look at it besides me so what the point, anyways?

So that’s it. Thats the only time I have ever blogged.

Or so I thought. (Yes, this is a piece of self-realization.)

While reading Andrew Sullivans, “Why I Blog”, I found myself in a sync with the author. He started off right off the bat by saying something that I never thought about before: The word blog is a conflation of two words: Web and log. HMM! Right then and there I knew this was going to be an interesting piece that got my gears moving.

One of the major ideas of the piece was that blogging allows for the most truthful instant reaction/thought/feeling in response to a situation. According to Sullivan, “It is the spontaneous expression of instant thought–impermanent beyond even the ephemera of daily journalism” and “the deadline is always now”. And then you know what he said? “It is, in many ways, writing out loud”.

I was hooked. Remember my blog that I tried to write one time? Sarah Out Loud. “Maybe I should give this blogging thing another try,” I thought to myself.

THEN IT HIT ME. I do blog! Probably 8-10 times a day. On Twitter! It’s just like blogging isn’t it? Just shortened. When something makes me mad, happy, excited, sad, silly, hopeful, or intrigued I tweet about it. The more I read the more I confirmed that tweeting is a form of blogging.

Tweeting requires a person to say something personal in a public manner. In the heat of the moment, say when you are mad at a friend, boyfriend, coworker, teacher or other companion, it is so easy to tweet right on your phone about why you’re so pissed! Hey, it’s probably good for you to let it out a little bit. But then a few minutes later when you’ve calmed down… There tends to be that “oh crap” feeling when you kinda wanna go delete that tweet before many people see it. But you know what? I never do. I think a true tweeter doesnt go through and filter their tweets after its all said and done. The point of twitter is instant thoughts, feelings, opinions and reactions, so by going through and filtering your tweets afterwords just ruins the whole idea of it. And as I read this article, I started to understand that many bloggers also feel the same way.

“To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth.”

Needless to say, I was a large fan of this piece. Like a huge fan.

Both of the other articles were interesting and unique in their own ways, but it was Andrew Sullivans piece that really struck a cord for me.

Guys, I think I just became a blogger.

Or have I always been?

Why They Write

When reading both George Orwell’s “Why I Write” and Joan Didion’s echoed work of the same name, I found something peculiar and a tad bit, well, fun. Before those rolling their eyes over this impossible statement blow a head gasket in disbelief, let me explain. The act of reading their articles was still a chore, but their works still prompted a few responses that I found enjoyable.

When scanning their accounts of what and how writing deeply affected and fueled their lives, each time I recognized a reason for writing the author and I shared, I realized I was grinning. I can say with total conviction that academic reading rarely, if ever, prompts me to grin while reading it. Instead, I mostly picture myself as Gandalf in the film The Fellowship of the Rings, stern and concentrated features upon my face as I sift through dusty tomes.

This was not the case. As I read lines such as…

“From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer…I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books” (George Orwell).

…I found myself thinking, Hey now, that’s pretty much what I’ve been realizing the past four years of my life. And then Orwell delves into his early work pumping out poetry like a machine, and any trace of a grin was wiped from my face.

I don’t have any issue with Orwell talking about how poetry affected him and grew him as a writer, it’s just that I can’t relate to it. I guess that first paragraph had started me hoping that every reason  I had for writing he would share. This was not the case, nor was it very likely. His account on the self-narration of his life came fairly close, and although I didn’t find myself doing the same, I could relate and appreciate this habit. The way in which he broke down the motivations of writers seemed clever, if not complete, and the “sheer egoism” trait seemed to be spot on for most writers today.

Although I found much of Orwell’s account interesting and yet alienating (again poetry and his reverence for wordplay), it was Joan Didion’s focus on the “pictures in a writer’s mind” that resonated the deepest. I loved the way she walked the reader through the initial inspirations of her writings, and how often she didn’t even know much more than a character’s name and their location before she began a story. Somewhere I once read a quote by J.K. Rowling where she said something along the lines that the story of Harry Potter jumped into her mind fully formed. When working on my own prose, or dreaming up what I hope will be my first complete novel, I often become discouraged when I have gaping holes in the plot, or when I have only a series of scenes in my mind, with nothing tying them together. Joan Didion’s words made me realize that perhaps not all writers were as lucky as Rowling to have a story jump into their heads complete and with a bow on top.

I was surprised to read Didion’s point that the structure of sentences is informed and governed by the picture or scene in a writer’s head. The way she likened sentence structure to artistic camera angles was a “wow” moment for me. I had never thought about sentences like that, and it made me realize that perhaps I should.

Much of what I read in Orwell and Didion’s articles wonderfully put into words much of what I have always thought. As no two writers are alike, there were influences and reasons for writing that I couldn’t relate to, but I could at least try and appreciate. Either way, it’s nice to read about two people that acted on their deep-seeded impulses to become full-time writers, and they only strengthened my desire to write seriously and diligently in the near future.