“From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four, I tried to abandon this idea, but 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.”
Wow. Right from the get-go, Orwell had me hooked. It’s like he wrote about my life and experiences with writing 57 years before I was even born. As a child, I would write all the time. I would write little poems, short stories, illustrated adaptations of the lastest episode of Power Rangers; I was always writing or thinking of stories to write. In school, I entered a number of different writing contests and, for the most part, took home first place honors. I loved writing, and it seemed to love me back. As I grew up, I never ceased to enjoy the activity of putting words to paper but, as the years started passing by, I drifted from it. Growing up, my creativity was never particularly stifled, but I was always encouraged to pursue more readily “useful” academic interests such as math or engineering. Isn’t it a common joke, after all, that those who pursue endeavors in the arts and humanities end up serving those who made the “right choices” their lattes and whatnot? This urging towards a more technical education caused me to distance myself from the written word. In high school and my beginning college years, I suppressed my creative urges and focused on more technical, and potentially lucrative subjects. I don’t think I could have made a worse decision, academically speaking.
I understand exactly what Orwell means when he says, “I was outraging my true nature.” It’s maddening to force yourself to do something, when every single part of you is screaming at you to stop trying to be what you aren’t. Silencing the internal voice that’s trying to so hard to push you in the right direction, to make you the person who you know you’re supposed to be, is enough a task to drive a person insane. I for one, am glad I’ve finally submitted myself to its urgings.
Later in his essay, Orwell mentions a belief in four motives aside from the need to earn a living. I had a pretty good laugh about the last part of that sentence. Fear of the inability to make a living as a writer is what prevented me from seriously pursuing writing from the very start of my undergraduate education.
Orwell’s ideas of egoism and aesthetic enthusiasm being driving forces behind the compulsion to write also stood out to me. He defines them as the “desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death,” and the, “perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their arrangement,” respectively. As an aspiring writer, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to write a great book that people will remember, and talk about, and perhaps even study for years after I die. But this sort of fame isn’t what I think pushes and inspires me to write. To be a well known, commercial and critical success is a seductive prospect that I definitely find alluring, but more than anything, I want to create a body of work that I can look back on and find myself impressed by, even as I sit on my deathbed. Aesthetic significance is my priority in my personal writing, and I don’t intend on betraying it. After all, I know what it’s like to deny yourself and what Orwell would call your “true nature.” . I’d like to avoid that again at all costs.