On the resonance of Orwell and Sullivan

Maybe I myself am generalizing out of my own sense of ego — that same ego that drives George Orwell and so many self-reflective writers — but it seems to me that all writers must confront the question: why do I write? More often, I ask myself how the hell am I going to turn writing, I mean writing in its purest, pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keys sense, into a sustainable career? I’m sure we all do.

What Orwell tells us is, like Nike, we’ll just do it. He argues that writing is not motivated by money or a job or even for public service. It is inherently selfish in nature, so selfish that this burning desire can often overwhelm the person itself — the need to write is so much so that it may, after all, hinder more economically fruitful job opportunities that have nothing to do with prose. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness,” he says, warning us that this is not going to be fun. His honesty resonates as both daunting and comforting at the same time. I know now that I am not alone, up at night tossing and turning over my writing.

This is my first blog post ever.

So when Sullivan says, “unlike any single piece of print journalism, its borders are extremely porous and its truth inherently transitory,” I am immediately drawn to the form. As a sports writer for the Michigan Daily, I have been subjected first and foremost to AP style guides — the Oxford comma, the long dash and the use of “just” to indicate a few and “only” for one. Furthermore each and every article I have written, from a game story to a profile or column, has been put through the meat grinder that is three (four at times) rounds of edits that exceed simple comma and spelling changes. For the ego-driven writer, this process was most painful with my first few articles but still stings each time. Why would I subject myself to that, too? Ask Orwell.

Like Sullivan says, journalism is extremely porous. In sports journalism, specifically I’ve seen a column written as a letter to Denard Robinson, a game preview written as a Christmas song and features that have made me cry. The wiggle room within journalism for creativity is truly what you make it, which is something I am fond of. However, blogs, like Sullivan argues, give the author the power to simply think and say without the rounds of edits that are associated with journalistic writing. He says that blogs still hold their writers to the same responsibility as journalists, by virtue of the internet and the freedom possessed by those commenting. What’s more, blogging allows action and reaction — for a writer to see or hear something and to respond without having to back up a claim with anything more than thoughts and feelings.

I think his most outstanding line is: “No columnist or reporter or novelist will have his minute shifts or constant small contradictions exposed as mercilessly as a blogger’s are.” Well, I guess now I’ll just go cry myself to sleep. He’s right. Journalists are also fact checking and using the politically correct terms to describe scenes without emotion or bias. When I sit atop Yost Ice Arena, I don’t get to write about my clenching fists as the Michigan hockey team skates towards its opponent in overtime.

I hope that blogging will help me to unleash the inner mystery that lies within my writing, for me to be able to write about the penalty shot or the big fight through my eyes and words, and not those of the AP style guide.