Response to Orwell & Didion

While reading Joan Didion’s “Why I Write,” I found myself relating an extraordinary amount to Didion’s perspective of the world, how she noticed physical facts and seemingly insignificant details. While working on any task, I always find myself thinking about completely irrelevant things. Just this morning, while I was making fried eggs, all I could think about was the sound a water droplet makes when it hits a pool of water. Why? I don’t know. Whenever I reflect on the past, my mind concentrates on specific details. For example, my memory of visiting a friend’s country house is dominated by the texture of moist, soft dirt between my toes. More interesting things definitely happened on that trip, but I always think about how it felt to walking on earth.

I especially love her belief that the picture in your mind dictates your writing, how you see before you write. Her method of writing is somewhat similar to mine. A certain image always dominates, raising questions that is answered by writing. I agree with her statement on how sentence structure can really affect its meaning. Sentence structure is also really important for aesthetic appeal, which can affect a reader’s response and understanding of a sentence. Depending on what kind of piece it is, concise clear sentences or verbose descriptive sentences may be preferred. I choose my words very clearly, reworking them constantly, and then reading and rereading every sentence I write until it provokes the image I started with.

I did not enjoy Orwell’s piece as much. His four motives for writing were interesting, but not much else really caught my attention. Perhaps it is just me, but I thought his writing style was distracting and I found myself rereading many sentences many times trying to make sense of what he was trying to relay to the reader.

It’s Inevitable

As I read through Orwell’s “Why I Write” essay, I was confused by the title. He notes his inherent need to write since childhood – in fact, he made up descriptive stories in his head throughout his youth. I thought the essay was much more focused on the subject of his writing. He states that if he had grown up in a different time, his writing would be the cause of sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, and historical impulse. However, due to the political turmoil of the time, his writing is driven by political purpose, which in effect changes the content of the writing and makes this essay an exploration of why he chooses the topics he does. If Orwell had grown up in a time without the global issues he faced, would his writing be largely recognized and read today? Would we place merit on him as a writer or would he be lost in the background? We see that according to Orwell, “It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects.” So is his writing inevitable, a product of a middle child with enough time on his hands to allow his imagination to run wild combined with a controversial time period?

“why I write” by Caroline Kowalski

In terms of the Orwell piece, I immediately related to him with the middle child syndrome. He writes of imaginary friends and lavish tales to accommodate for a sense of loneliness being stuck in the middle and rarely seeing his father, and I almost wonder if he is talking about me. I started writing when I was very young like him and even won a fairy-tale story-writing contest when I was 8. I won a rare doll that still is sitting in a box in storage somewhere.  When he talks about his inner monolouge, I am almost relieved to hear that someone else does this- other than JD from Scrubs- because I constantly imagine myself in the midst of a story. My imagination running wild with all types of scenarios of what reality might really be like. I have kept a diary my whole life and have written every strange thought that pops into my head and this has become the written version of my story. He also talks about a “demon” that drives you to write and sometimes when I write I feel this same sense as if I need to keep writing and get everything out so its not trapped inside my mind.

As for the Joan Didion piece, I did not enjoy it as much . I did not get a sense of why she was a writer in the same sense that Orwell spoke of it. Instead it almost seemed that with her prose and her detail that you got a strange sense of the innerworkings of her mind, and in that way one was able to decide if she was a writer or not. To me, her piece does not so much answer the question of ‘why I write”, but rather attempts to prove that she is in fact a writer.

Re: Orwell & Didion

Something in Orwell’s reading that resonated with me, that I first wasn’t really sure I agreed with, is his argument that we need to know an author’s background in order to understand their true motives. I want to say that I could read a similar statement about any writer’s motives for writing at face value but the more I think about it, the more of a disservice that seems. Knowing both Orwell’s experiences in Burma and Didion’s wandering at Berkeley helps us understand their views with more integrity that I think is necessary given how personal writing is.
I was initially kind of turned off by Orwell’s four motives, though  – how can we really boil the act of writing down words (at least prose) to four single ideas? – but his explanation that they’re always in flux, depending on the writer’s location, age, mood, state, whatever, took away some of my doubt and made me think harder about what “political purpose” actually means.
Something I really loved from Didion’s piece was her line “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” The process of discovery she describes is one of my favorite parts about writing – fitting words together to make them convey exactly what you need them to, even the things you didn’t know you needed to convey. It’s interesting to compare her process of such personal self-discovery to Orwell’s thoughts on truthfulness, that the writer needs to “efface his own personality” to write something readable. Part of me thinks Orwell needs to calm down a little.

“Why I Write” Response to Readings

What resonates with me most about these readings is the egocentric reason for why each of them write. I liked that they were both up front and honest about their reasons; which seemed to be shared in the sense that it is an attempt to understand themselves, the world around them, and deal with the tormented part of them that never rests, and inspires them to write in order to release it. They each said that if they knew the answer to what they were looking for, they would have no reason to write. They also both mentioned struggles in their life that they felt lead them down the path to become a writer. I have noticed the same things among most artists and have thought about why that is quite a bit.

What I disliked about the readings, was the level of self awareness or obsession that I heard in their voice. I understand writing about yourself tends to cause that, but I sensed a level of conceitedness that I disliked. I also get annoyed by their voice in the sense that it seems so formed and professional, their abstract details and distant metaphors don’t entertain me but annoy me. I have never been impressed by poems that seem to make no sense, or writing that uses rhetoric that seems more interested in sounding good rather than being genuine. Its hard for me to explain why, but if I have always thought if you have something to say, than why coat it in hard to understand jargon or rhetoric?

“Why I Write” by Hallie Parker

Similar to George Orwell, from a very young age, I knew I was destined to be a writer. In my spare time, instead of playing outside or watching children’s television, I wrote creative original short stories having to do with anything and everything. It started with a black sketchbook I received one year for Chanukah, which at the time seemed physically larger than I was. It barely fit in my desk drawer, and ended up serving no purpose other than cluttering my space. It was then that I knew writing, rather than drawing, was my true calling.

Orwell’s habits as a child strike me as touching. He felt isolated and undervalued, and as a result, stirred up imaginary conversations and created made-up stories. He wrote poems and other literary pieces to escape bad thoughts, war, etc. One might find this rather strange or even silly, which in some ways it is; however, in my opinion, it is more so understandable and respectable. Writers, just as Orwell had done, find unique and atypical ways to cope with problems in life. In my opinion, writing is an outlet for expression, for personal escape, and for the indulgence in imagination and fictional ideas. In these ways, Orwell used passion to deal with larger problems.

I found Orwell’s “four great motives for writing” to be witty and thought provoking. Orwell views writers in a very contradictory and two-sided way. He sees them as egoists, moneymakers, and those who want to seem clever in the minds of others. On the other hand, he sees them as those who seek out beauty, unveil and provide factual information to the public, and are enthusiastic about telling particular stories and livening the lives of others.

Transitioning to Didion’s piece, I found the way in which he described writing as an “aggressive and even hostile” act to be very intriguing. He claims, however, that you can hide this aggressiveness through the way you write (ie: which clauses, words, tones you use). After reading Didion’s piece, I agree with the way in which he frames writing. Writing is an act we can control, an act we have complete power over, and an act that can in turn control its intended audience in return.

Lastly, I can strongly relate to Didion’s claim that a writer is “a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent rearranging words on pieces of paper.” Most of the time, writing consumes me. I work to perfect my writing, not because I need to, but because as a writer, I want to. I believe writers share a collective and unspoken passion that is understood by all, one that allows words to influence their lives.“Why I Write” Reponse by Hallie Parker