“Writing is the act of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.” – Joan Didion

Ever since I took English 225 (Academic Argumentation), I constantly feel a need to write aggressively.   From the beginning of a paper, I aggressively attempt to convince my audience why I have authority and why I deserve to be listened to.  Simultaneously, I gear my paper towards an intended audience, which often is the well rounded and open-minded college student or instructor.  This concept of envisioning an “intended” audience is a major difference between the writing I do in college and the writing I did as a young girl.  Like George Orwell and Joan Didion, I loved creating my own stories.  Often these stories involved magical people and talking animals inspired by the everyday characters and experiences of my own life.  I remember writing and illustrating these stories when I was little, never once thinking about the audience who would read them.  The stories were purely personal and childishly innocent.  My motives for writing then were simply to express myself.  I wrote because I loved it and I wrote for myself, not for anyone else.

Now when I write, I write to convince my audience and change their minds.  I write persuasively and aggressively to prove my credibility and validate my opinions.  Just like when I was a young girl, I write passionately, but with a completely different passion.  As a college student, I write enthusiastically about topics that matter to me because of my life experiences and knowledge I have gained through taking a wide range of classes on various subjects.  I agree with Orwell that it is impossible to “assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development.”  All writers are shaped and biased by their experiences, communities, and the world at large.  All writers and people in general transition from a childhood of unintentionally disregarding the perspectives of others to the realization that there is indeed an audience.   In that sense, writing is like human development and reflects one’s transitions through life.

Everyone knows that one guy…

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.