Learning Why Other People Write

I have always known I was a reader. I devoured books as a child – storybooks, fairy tales, novels, comics, even thousand-page volumes about the bottom of the ocean – none were safe from my eyes. While I have always known I was a reader, I have only recently discovered that I am a writer as well. It makes complete sense; my love for reading words and studying the way they are strung together translates perfectly into writing and stringing together these words myself. Thinking of myself as a writer while reading Orwell, Didion, and Sullivan allowed me to garner a completely disparate perspective from a reader that considered herself a marine biologist, an engineer, or a lawyer.

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I’ll start with what I learned from Orwell. I thoroughly enjoyed his style and tone and the way he clearly wrote with a concrete plan in mind. I admired that he was able to criticize writers as a whole, but also did not spare himself from his own sharp disdain. He categorizes himself as the type of writer who operates out of egoism, or “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, etc.” out of aesthetic enthusiasm, or in the pleasure gained from the arrangement of one’s own words, and out of historical impulse, or the desire to articulate facts and use them for the author’s own purpose (Orwell). I, too, have found myself motivated by similar incentives. For this reason, I Orwell’s words resonated with me particularly.

Of the three readings, Didion’s was my favorite. Her unassuming, humble, and quirky style appealed to me and kept me interested throughout the piece. She states several times that she does not completely know what she was doing. She admits, “In short I tried to think. I failed” (Didion). Like Orwell, I appreciate her ability to pinpoint concretely what makes her write. Stating, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means” (Didion). I identified with her last line in particular, “Let me tell you one thing about why writers write: had I known the answer to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel” (Didion). The questions she is talking about are the ones that formed her novel. They came to her randomly and unformed, but she was able to transform them into something complete and linear. I admire her ability to do this and to build a whole story around a single name.

Finally, while reading Sullivan’s “Why I Blog,” I was slightly put off by the self-importance that I found in his work. I agree with his main points – that blogging is a new and malleable form of writing that allows authors to quickly and dynamically share their opinions – but I thought that his post was overly long and verbose, and that his concessions to the importance of traditional writing seemed forced and unauthentic. I cannot define specifically what it is about his style that I find annoying – perhaps it is the way he frequently compares himself to a disc jockey or a jazz musician, or perhaps it is the way he often states that he was one of the earliest bloggers in the blogosphere, as if it gives him a specific right to write. Perhaps the straight-faced, black-and-white picture he includes at the very top, before any content, cemented my opinion before I read anything at all. Whatever it may be, Sullivan was my least favorite of the readings and the one I least identified with.

Whether I liked the readings or not, I’ll still be sure to keep them in the back of my mind as models while I continue to traipse through my career as an aspiring writer.

3 thoughts to “Learning Why Other People Write”

  1. Hey Bailey.
    I think your opinions on Sullivan’s piece are very interesting. I read it in a completely different way. I do agree that his piece was very lengthy, but, I really enjoyed his attributions to jazz music and the informal feel of his writing.
    It is interesting to look at the type of people we are and compare it to our opinions of this piece. I have never been the biggest reader, but I have always written in my free time. I have more experience with the short, truthful logs Sullivan spoke of than relating with someone’s experience in writing like Didion and Orwell. On the other hand, you mention that you have always enjoyed reading and recently discovered you were a writer, too. This is something that seems relatable with the Didion and Orwell pieces. You said ” I thoroughly enjoyed his [Orwell’s] style and tone and the way he clearly wrote with a concrete plan in mind.” This is was something I did not enjoy, because it is just not the kind of writer I am.
    It was really interesting to read this from the thoughts of a different sort of writer. Your post seemed super organized and thought through, something my writing has never been. I think it is cool that we are completely different writers in the same class. I think we can learn a lot from each other!

  2. Hi Bailey!

    I appreciated your thoughts on all three of the readings. I too related the most with Didion and the least with Sullivan. I had difficulty figuring out exactly why Sullivan’s words didn’t really resonate with me, but I think that you hit on the head when you said that he was overly verbose and long winded. Although I didn’t notice a distracting ego from his work as much as you did, I felt that his argument went in circles and went around a few too many times. I actually felt that he did a good job of recognizing the value of both blogging and traditional writing for the most part. However, I would have appreciated a more direct approach. I probably was bothered by this because a more direct approach is something I’m working on in my own writing, so I’m on the lookout for it!

    I also loved Didion’s discussion of writing to find the answers to questions. Perhaps when we’re writing mission statements for our papers, it would be helpful for us to include a question we want to discover the answer to while writing. I think that would be an interesting way to try out Didion’s strategy.

  3. Hey Bailey!

    In your post, you mention that, until recently, you did not classify yourself as a writer. Do you think this personal fact impacted the way you viewed the writers’ styles, more than the actual topic the writers discussed impacted you?
    As a new “writer,” which is something I identify with too, maybe you enjoyed Didion more because she admitted being imperfect. While Sullivan acted as if he knew everything about writing, and Orwell claimed he always knew he was a writer. Thus, both Sullivan and Orwell are harder to identify with.
    I agree for the most part with the points you made. However, I think we both can learn a lot from Sullivan and Orwell. Although their topics discussed were controversial, I personally enjoyed reading how they wrote.

    Great points!
    Zoe

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