Why They Write…and Blog

At the beginning of her piece entitled “Why I Write,” Joan Didion explains her decision to name the piece after a George Orwell essay. She writes “I like the sound of the words…I, I, I. In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it in my mind, change your mind.” This may be an aggressive answer to the question of why one writes, but it does directly provide an answer: we write to express ourselves, explain why we believe that way, and possibly get others to agree with you. Sometimes a piece does one of the three and other times it does all of the above.

I like to think that a lot of writing allows a writer to share with the audience what he or she is thinking. However, Ms. Didion interestingly explains  that she writes to “find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” This is quite profound. Not only do we write to express our thoughts, but we also write to figure out what we’re thinking, find answers, and make sense of it all.

In the original “Why I Write” piece, George Orwell defines the 4 reasons for writing: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose. Before reading this essay, I had a good grasp on reasons number 2, 3, and 4, and I found it interesting to see the “sheer egoism” argument. This motive for writing may bring about writers simply producing outlandish content to garner attention, yet it may also give an author rationale and reward to take risks. Also in the essay, Mr. Orwell tells the reader he writes to reveal injustice and expose a lie. This is a fascinating starting point that does not always come to my mind when I write, yet rings true for many writers today. Many websites today exist entirely to debunk myths and show people’s lies–Mr. Orwell was ahead of the game.

Much of what Andrew Sullivan writes in his piece “Why I Blog” resonated with me. Mr. Sullivan effectively breaks down the goals of blogging and keys to successful online publishing. He asserts that the best blogs reveal an “unfinished tone.” This may run contrary to conventional wisdom, but some of the best blogs put out posts that may otherwise seem in the draft phase. In blogging, however, it is these types of pieces that authors don’t think too hard about that generate the best content. Mr. Sullivan sees this style as a reflection of the “imperfection of human thought” and something worth embracing. Above all, Mr. Sullivan argues that bloggers must show “a willingness to fall off the trapeze rather than fail to make the leap.” The online community rewards risks and authors who take chances. In one of his many great analogies, Mr. Sullivan compares blogging to extreme sports in the high potential for failure yet the more alive results it can produce. Writers should let go of their writing. They may find it to be a freeing experience.

This tactic comes with consequences, both positive and negative. It means that the readers can hold the authors accountable to their writing and arguments. The danger remains that the desire to be more informal may lead to unfinished, inaccurate pieces. Traditional forms of publication took a while to produce. Now, blogs are instant. Editors no longer set deadlines for the end of the week: the deadline is now. The internet rewards brevity and immediacy. Matt Drudge looks at blogging as a broadcast rather than a publication–it needs to constantly keep moving. With the shortened time frame and the new technological advancements, readers can also engage more with authors. It no longer takes days or weeks for writer to respond to a reader’s feedback. It can be done within hours or even minutes of the suggestion, critique, or challenge. This new discussion format allows for the writer and his or her readers to develop a relationship–Mr. Sullivan even went so far as to call it a friendship. He lived through 9/11, the Iraq war, and other major events of the past decade with his readers and engaged with them online–something not possible before the age of the internet.

I brought in two essays that likely fall under Mr. Orwell’s final category: political purpose. If Ms. Didion were to read them, she would likely say that I’m trying too hard to put myself at the center of the argument. This will be something worth noting during the revision cycle. I chose these pieces because they show aspects of my writing that I believe are my strengths: an authoritative tone willing to engage in discussion and acknowledging the other side. I think these essays also show my thought process. They show that I didn’t feel this way always, but rather came to these conclusions after thinking long and hard about the topic and finding answers through writing. When I’m writing essays, I at times suffer from writer’s block. I think I should better take Mr. Sullivan’s suggestion to let go of my writing–not worry so much about the aesthetics and focus on the substance. I love engaging in discussion with my classmates. I would like to see some of these pieces transform into blog posts that allow for a better forum for dialogue and interaction with the reader.

Overall, each of these three pieces opened my eyes to the many reasons people write. I hope to apply the suggestions of the authors to my own writing for future assignments.

4 thoughts to “Why They Write…and Blog”

  1. I completely agree with the fact that we often write to express ourselves to others. Even though each author we read had a different motive for expression, they all shared that same basic desire to let others know exactly what they’re thinking.

    I also found that I only really understood one of Orwell’s four reasons for writing. “Aesthetic enthousiasm” had just never occurred to me as a reason for writing. I usually write to influence others, make an impact, or write just for myself. I’ve never written just because I like the way words look on paper or how they sound together. Just like you want to be more open in your writing, I’d like to try to see more of the beauty in writing.

  2. Misread the syllabus. Oops. I hope to emulate this piece by Ariel Levy in The New Yorker entitled Either/Or (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/11/30/091130fa_fact_levy?currentPage=1?currentPage=all). She excels in sharing the emotional, powerful, and controversial story of Caster Semenya while also delivering a strong argument in support of pushing others to reexamine their views on gender roles. I hope my writing can incorporate some of Levy’s deep storytelling and her ability to effectively engage in a spirited discussion with her reader.

    Additionally, I thought Malcolm Gladwell’s essay “Big and Bad” (http://www.gladwell.com/pdf/suv.pdf) about the dangers of S.U.V. was particularly intriguing. He hit at the conventional wisdom of S.U.V., debunked the false knowledge, and proposed alternatives to these large vehicles. I was impressed with Gladwell’s piece mostly because of its strong research in support of the argument and his amazing narrative abilities. Whenever I write an essay, I now keep in mind this piece and attempt to question what may be considered “common knowledge,”

    I think Didion, Orwell, and Sullivan would all be impressed with these essays in how they take the reader through their thought process and take big risks with their arguments.

  3. I would dare to argue that all the pieces your introduced pushed the boundaries of writing genre’s. I liked the topics that they addressed, and upon quick skimming, the writing style also appeals to me (especially in the essay “Big and Bad”). I’m caught in between the idea that a writer should be able to convince the vast majority of people that read his or her paper and the concept that a writer must stand for their opinions, not matter how controversial they are.

    It’s hard for me to imagine a relationship between people who a blog and the blogger. But I think that it’s a very new and foreign thing to me, so I have trouble envisioning it. However, if people really do write in order to persuade, it’s definitely feasible.

    -Diana

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