The End

Writing, to me, has never been a way to—secretly or candidly—display vanity. I view it as a reactionary activity that is prompted by an exogenous force, such as a professor or supervisor. Thereby, I couldn’t associate with Orwell’s assertion of narcissism coupled with writing, especially at a younger age. This recurring theme in his piece continued to unnerve me, and I rescinded its very nature internally. Me, a narcissist? Not quite.

Orwell, however, was not completely dissimilar to my motivations once I am writing. When writing an essay or research analysis, hours may pass before I can finish writing a sentence. As Orwell states, I receive “Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story.” The syntax of a sentence is more appealing to me than the semantics—weird, I know. Similarly, Orwell’s fourth motive, political purpose, also resonates with me when I do write. Writing can be a facet of civic duty: in other words, a way to actively take part in your surroundings, which feels like a meaningful task.

Lastly, Orwell offered a view on writing that I perpetually feel with every piece I write. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” I dread—no, abhor—starting a piece of writing. It’s a long-winded battle that I never seem up to the fight. Yet, I continue to pursue writing, as a masochist among writers.

Why?

Why?

It’s the “kill,” the gratification from taking the upper hand in the struggle and winning. The end lures the means to continue for another time.

Outraging True Nature

“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.

Why I Write, 9/8

I enjoyed reading both Orwell and Didion’s pieces for I thought that they delivered honesty into their pieces.  We all, as writers, know why we write: pleasure, requirement, communication. Not everyone enjoys writing academically but at some point, we all do enjoy writing something for someone else.

One was of Didion showing her honesty was through her personal opinion of writing being the way she delivers her thoughts. When she writes, she wants others to believe what she is saying and go along with what she believes.  Didion states, “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.”  I believe that many writers would not admit to such a statement for this honesty can make the audience second guess what the writer is saying. While reading a piece, you don’t want doubt to be in the back of the mind’s of anyone who is reading, but rather you want them to go along with you and understand you. Didion pointing out that she wants to change your mind opens up the audience to realizing her honesty.

Orwell proved his honesty as writer but not in the same was as Didion.  Orwell believes that, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.” What a bold statement to make. However, he is partially true. Writers can become very selfish, seeing as one of their motives to write is to get everyone to see something the way they see it. They are not always the most open-minded of scholars, for if they try to argue more than one point or position, their opinion can often get lost on the paper, computer screen, print out, etc.

Honesty is the part I like about writing the most. I feel that I can be the most honest while writing more than any other time in my life. Whether it’s writing a little thank you note to my mother, a course evaluation for a class that went wrong, or a constitution for my club at school, it’s the way that I can express myself easiest and be honest with what I want to say.

That’s the beauty of writing: you can say what you wish to say.

Why Do I Write??

After reading the two pieces and only partially identifying with either one on their reasons for writing, the question “Why do I write?” was forefront in my mind. I was turned off by a fact mentioned in both pieces, that writing was at the very core, a  selfish act.  Immediately after reading that, I put up a wall. Of course that didn’t apply to me; I want to do science writing, bring research to a lay audience. Not long after, it dawned on me that despite noble intentions, I wanted to do this because I think of myself as a decent writer, or that I can say it better than the next guy… not so noble. As I tried to appease my science-oriented mind by pinpointing specific characteristics I think make me a decent writer, I caught myself doing something also mentioned in both articles: introspection.

I have never considered myself particularly introspective. In fact, I harbor a sort of disdain for others that I see have that Freudian aspect. Both Orwell and Didion mentioned a “diary that existed only in the mind” and “writing entirely to find out what’s in my own mind,” respectively. Again, something I found myself unable to relate to and back at the core question of why do I write? Along that same vein, Orwell’s mind diary reference did strike a chord with me.

Many times a day I will catch myself doing exactly as both Orwell and Didion described, narrating scenes with intense detail. Sometimes I do it out of sheer boredom, other times I just like the sound of the words and the narrative in my head. Still other times, I place myself in the narration as a character in the hopes that my mind narration will lead to a meet-cute and my life will transform into a romantic comedy. So far, only the comedy has come to fruition.

On a final note, I guess what I took away the most from these pieces (Orwell’s in particular) is that you need to write for a purpose. Orwell is famous for his later work, the politically oriented writing. He wrote that he switched to this kind of writing after a significant life event when he knew where he stood ideologically. This made me think again what my motivations are for writing. I have had no significant life events that would sway me in any one direction for any profession. As Didion mentioned her deep fascination with other people: who they were, how they ended up where they were that day, why they were doing what they were doing; the same questions stampede through my mind a thousand times a day. It’s like an oncologist chooses that profession because his mom died of cancer. I don’t have any deep, personal motivation for writing and I don’ t know that I necessarily need a profound experience to make myself legitimate, but I do feel as though it would be easier to justify to myself.

 

“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.

“I am not in the least bit intellectual.”-Joan Didion

I’m right there with you, sister. Ms. Didion had it right. Not everyone sits down with the intent to “create a work of art,” as Orwell put it, or inject some sort of metaphoric code to be cracked. These notions struck a chord, because I prefer reading and writing in a way that is more direct and less wrapped up in creating an intellectual persona.

I used to write to tell stories. My first story ever was about a dog with a heart shaped face named Jenny. My “book” is still in the basement of my house if anyone is up for a compelling read. I think part of the reason I used to write was because I was good at it, and in turn, got good feedback. Who doesn’t like receiving praise?

Post-elementary school, I wrote mostly because the state of Connecticut said I had to. I wrote because there were certain requirements in order to move on to the next grade. I wrote because the College board told me I needed to if I wanted to pass the S.A.T. I wrote because the University of Michigan demanded to know my thoughts on diversity before they would consider me for admission. Granted, these  tasks weren’t all negative. The Connecticut Mastery Tests had us writing stories based on a prompt, and I secretly loved these exercises, though I would never admit to being uncool enough to actually enjoy anything school related.

I loved the position papers that were required to pass eighth and eleventh grade. Joan Didion noted that writing is a way of telling people what you think and why that thought is right. Maybe that’s why I liked writing these argumentative papers on positions that I thought (and still do think) are indisputable. Yes, pre-natal drug use is child abuse, and no, abstinence only sex education does not work. I have the statistics and conviction to prove it.

I began to enjoy writing more once I entered college and got to pick my classes, who’s topics I found much more interesting. I’ve come to enjoy writing again provided the topic is of some interest or if I can write for myself.

Throughout all of these experiences, I can say with conviction that I always wrote because writing is essential. My parents raised me to believe that writing was one of the most important skills a person could have in any field, and both happen to be excellent writers. That is why I first decided to apply for the writing minor. Writing matters. 

Though I never considered myself a writer, and still don’t, I felt a surprising connection to both Didion and Orwell’s pieces. Part of why I enjoy writing position papers is my “desire to push the world in a certain direction” (Orwell). Like Joan Didion, I often write “to find out what I’m thinking.” As a psychology major and aspiring psychologist, you’d think that I would be good at sorting out my own thoughts. I’m great at reading into other people’s, but I like to think of my mind as a filing cabinet with papers coming out of it every which way. I need to get my thoughts out on paper or even just by speaking them to actually sort through things. As I’m writing this I know I’ll need to go back and delete things because this blog post in its infancy is just me rambling.

The reason I write, aside from enjoying it, I have decided, is two fold. First, because it is a way for me to organize and figure out my thoughts, and second, because I plan on doing research and discovering things that I think will be important to share with the world. I plan on being a researcher and clinician. I want my research to change how the world looks at psychology. Is there some of the egoism Orwell mentioned? Yes. Partly in the notion that people will actually want to read my research, and also, to be honest, I like the idea that my less formal writing might entertain someone, and even provide a few laughs.

I still do not feel as if these reasons are concrete and I do not think they are absolute. I doubt I’ll ever be able to say “this is why I write, plain and simple,” but that’s okay with me. I think the act of writing is such a critical tool for self reflection, that the reason is less important than the process. Seven hundred forty five words later, I think I have a clearer picture of who I am as a writer than I have before.

 

 

Six-Year-Olds Can’t Comprehend Hemingway

Re-reading over both Orwell and Didion’s well-known essays “Why I Write”, I was struck by a sort of despair.  Both Orwell, who believes that the act of writing about oneself at once concerns the wider public, and Didion, who insists that writers are writers because they “do not think in abstracts”, bring up genius ways of looking at the question, and I don’t dream of challenging their opinion that writing is inherently self-centered because it is as close to fact as opinion can be.  I was struck with despair because all the while I was reading I was disappointed that such greats had chosen to answer that question.  Because when it comes down to it, “Why do you write?” is a presumptuous question.  It yearns to be answered coldly, disdainfully – “because I like to” – and left at that.

Surely, I felt, “why I write” is a question beneath the dignity of answering.  And then I stopped mid-grumble because I realized that my snappish answer of “because I like to” would not only be uncharitable but untrue.  That is when I realized I couldn’t seriously answer the question, and that is where the despair came in.  But the more I think about that question (which is, after all, still foolish), the more I think it doesn’t matter to me why I write.  At least not yet.  To me, the pertinent question is not “Why do I write?” but, “Am I writing, and if not, why not?”.

This is a more telling statement than I’d like to admit.  Simply put, it means I haven’t had the time to work out why I write.  This confession may make some people consider me lazy and ill-motivated.  But some things in life can’t be sought out, and life-experience is one of these things.  To answer now with certainty the question of why I write would produce results as laughable as a six-year-old explaining Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.  That’s just the problem with being young, and being in school.  You haven’t had time to become self-centered in an introspective, proportioned sort of way.  And in any case, by virtue of being in school any of this writerly brand of introspectiveness you may have gained in your short years is promptly labeled “beside the point” and beaten out of you.  Sure, you are taught to think critically and to solve problems, but the manner of introspectiveness that I am talking about can only come when you are somewhere remote from everything, either physically or emotionally, after a long bout of experience.

Or so I’ve been told, by a number of credible and greying people who also happen to write.  Not having had vast amounts of experience at writing – real writing, not what Orwell calls “the made-to-order stuff” – I suppose I must content myself with the more immediate needs of becoming good at writing: paper, pen, and a good stack of writing by older, experienced writers.

Response to Orwell’s “Why I Write”

After reading George Orwell’s “Why I Write” I find that I am able to relate to many of his ideas; at the same time, however, I am not able to relate to many of the motives that Orwell lists for him becoming a writer.  The first idea that I was able to relate to was writing pieces that are “made-to-order.”  As a college student, I find that the majority of my writing is done based on a given prompt or assignment—there is very little flexibility in the level of my own creativity if I want a satisfactory grade.  It is this lack of flexibility that makes my writing feel “made-to-order,” as Orwell describes.

Along with understanding Orwell’s discussion of producing colloquial and subsequently uncreative writing, Orwell’s love of words also resonates with me.  One of my favorite parts of writing is using new words.  I often structure sentences around single words or a string of words that, to me, has a certain flow or sound.  While I do not change the spelling of words or make words up as Orwell often does, I can relate to the “joy of mere words” which Orwell expresses in his essay.

While I am no way a writer in the same category as Orwell and I have never written a novel, it is hard for me to imagine that all writers are “driven on by some demon.”  While there are definitely those who may be prompted to write due to an inner demon, it seems to me that Orwell is making a generalization when he makes this claim.  Why can’t people write because it is fun?  After reading this essay and realizing that the majority of my own writing is “made-to-order,” I am left hoping that, unlike Orwell, I will continue to write not because I feel I have to, but because I want to.

How to add a new WordPress blog post

Hi All,

Here is a link to a short video taking you through the steps of signing in to your new Minor in Writing blog account and creating your first blog post.

One key point is to assign your blog post the appropriate categories and tags.  Please use the “2011 Fall Cohort” category for all of your posts to the blog, as well as any other categories and tags that will help your readers sort your posts and find them easily.

How to add a new WP blog post (video)

Please note that if the video window appears too large to view in its entirety, after clicking on the large arrow to ‘play,’ you’ll need to scroll to the lower right of the window to find the icon for viewing in full-screen.  Move your cursor over the bottom right corner to make the icon appear (it looks like a small screen or two rectangles).  Click on the icon to size the video to your computer screen.  Press ‘Esc’ to exit full screen mode and return to the blog.

Enjoy, and happy blogging!
Naomi