A Precursor to an Answer

In preparation for answering a broad question– Why Do I Write?– we have turned to a variety of others that have answered the question before us, which I would like to partially respond to. In doing so, it might look like I am entering the conversation (which wouldn’t be entirely wrong), but really, for now, it’s closer to me dipping a toe into an ocean and calling it swimming.

Out of the three texts we looked at in class to help us answer this question– “Why I Write” by George Orwell and another of the same title by Joan Didion, and “Why I Blog” by Andrew Sullivan– I definitely connected to Didion’s response the most but I pulled the most concrete and relevant explanations from Orwell’s.

Didion seemed to pull some concepts from my own head. Namely, the idea that she doesn’t think up a plot and run with it so much as seeing an image and being unable to leave it alone, prodding it with questions and demanding an explanation for its circumstances and appearance. Of one such instance she points out that,

“Had I known the answers to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel.”

I LOVE this idea and its phrasing. It was the image and the questions that she made up about it that compelled her to write. I completely connect with that. I have had similar experiences of seeing something– not even something strange or out of the ordinary– that my mind wouldn’t leave alone; it needed to create a new reality for it to exist in that would explain why it was and how it came to be and where it was going and the way others would interact with it. Some people get songs stuck in there head, but I get images and lines of monologue lodged in mine.

Didion also claims at one point that,

“I knew I couldn’t think.”

Obviously, this isn’t true in the way that one would immediately assume, but it made perfect sense to me and in the context that she used it in. She thinks differently. She sees the world in unique ways. She lets the world speak to her first and then she responds to what she observes with further questions and stories of her own rather than attacking her landscape and imaginings for answers.

Orwell, on the other hand, lists 4 main reasons that he writes:

“Sheer egoism… aesthetic enthusiasm… historical impulse… [and] political purpose.”

Save for the third point (which did not resonate with me nearly as much as the others), I definitely agreed with the sentiment behind each of these explanations. I won’t lie; I write for ego. Recognition. Gloating rights. To be taken seriously. I imagine myself on talk shows and NPR, an inspiration on social media, discussing how I possibly managed to come up with such brilliance.

And I won’t apologize for that ego. I’m not the first to dream of fame and I have no shame in admitting I want it to. What I would do with that, though, is more important and brings me to his last reason about politics.

One of my goals in writing is to be as supportive to those that are disadvantaged in society. I want to be an ally and part of a solution that calls for increased positive representations of those that the elite ignore. I want to write human stories about those outside of the Norm– black girls in wheelchairs and south Asian bisexual men and poor kids in rural Colorado that don’t feel they fit into any gender role and they don’t know what to do about it. I have political motivations but I’d like to think that it’s because I want to be fighting the good fight and not because I want to be different or edgy. I wish these topics and depictions weren’t even considered in this way.

Aesthetic enthusiasm just makes me smile though.

I like words. I like those words about words. I like sounds and phrases that I can chew on and roll around and say slowly. I dream of writing lines that make someone put down what they’re reading and walk away for a minute because they can’t believe someone said something about that in such a perfect way and they have to go digest it some and tweet it and plan a new tattoo around the words. I want to put things in a way that readers wish they’d put the same thought into the same words in exactly the same way because it was just that good. Oh look, we’ve circled back to ego. How fitting.

When it comes to Sullivan, I feel I have a lot less to say. I don’t blog in the colloquial sense; I am on tumblr which has a basis in blogging but, for the most part, has become quite a bit like twitter with sharing clever insights in a concise and informal way. I also don’t have too much interest in journalism on a personal level; I don’t plan to make a career in it, at least. At the same time, as a citizen of the modern digital age, I understand the need to convey thoughts with a sense of expediency. Weigh in quickly, jump into the conversation before it’s forgotten. I do this more on Facebook than anywhere else, but not often even there. I don’t like to create arguments online where it can be difficult to gauge the tone of those you’re speaking with. It’s an interesting sounding board for ideas, but it’s often also frustrating and, just, not ideal.

I… did not mean to write this much. Gosh. Kudos to anyone that stuck with me though this stream of consciousness ramble for this long. Have a gif of Anderson Cooper and some french fries as a thank you.

anderson fries

 

Response to Why I Write

I related to both George Orwell and Joan Didion’s articles, but strongly rejected many ideas included in them as well. Finding myself comparing my childhood and experience with writing with George Orwell’s, I questioned if his motives to write were common in other writers because, personally, I don’t feel compelled to write politically. However, I found profound truth in his blatant statement of the egoism of writers as well as the pure enjoyment of prose style. It’s difficult to argue with the idea that writers are “driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist or understand” when I find myself writing notes in my phone walking down the street, about things I truly don’t understand how they got in my head.

In this manner, I understood Joan Didion’s description of her writing process. Sometimes writing is outside of your logic. And since I began writing for more than academic reasons, I’ve always said that I write to know what I think, similar to Didion’s apt description, “I write entirely to find out what I am thinking, what I’m looking at, what I’m thinking, what it means. What I want and what I fear.” However, rather than experiencing “shimmering” images, I simply think my thoughts are too jumbled to understand.

New Media Writing

I was describing the minor in writing to a girl I met at a group interview today. After describing the freedom the minor gives students to choose topics that interest them most, she said the minor sounds interesting but, “I am not very good at writing.” I proceeded to explain to her the unique approach the gateway course for the minor has facilitated my writing development.

The gateway course provided me with resources such as readings, video documentaries, peer evaluations and perspectives, and speaker series with professional writers. Each resource has given me a different point of view on what makes “good” writing. We read “Shitty First Drafts” by Lamont where I discovered that professional writers face the same struggles that I do in writing. We also read “Why I Write” by Orwell and “Why I Blog” by Sullivan. It was great to see what inspires them to write and it challenged me to explore the same question for myself, with a new perspective.

The class was an advocate towards feedback and group discussion. My classmates helped shape my writing into my best work. Not only peer corrections but group discussion aided in my writing development. My classmates have exposed me to new perspectives on writing.

What I enjoyed most about this class was the flexibility to engage in topics that interest me most. Through our semester long project I was able to work with an argumentative essay I had written on Cape Cod, ““Save Our Sound”. Cape Cod is my favorite place on earth and I was able to address multiple audiences on the subject of preserving its beauty. My passion for the topic allowed my final work to be some of my best.

What really hooked the girl I was describing the minor to was my explanation of writing in new media. I told her that you didn’t have to be “great” at writing. In fact, in exploring new media writing I took an essay I had written and re-mediated it into an imovie! She was fascinated by this assignment.

Sweetland’s Minor in Writing does an excellent job of accepting you as writer, wherever you are in your development, and facilitating growth and improvement.

 

What I Learned

I learned from George Orwell that the events I encounter (and will encounter) in my life dramatically influence the ways in which I express my thoughts and ideas. I found that the experiences that each of these authors had, have heavily factored into the work they produce. However, what I found most interesting were the four “great” motives for writing that Orwell says, exist in different degrees in every writer.

The four great motives are: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose.

As I read each of the three readings, George Orwell’s, “Why I Write,” Joan Didion’s, “Why I Write,” and Andrew Sullivan’s, “Why I Blog,” I compared myself to each author, and found similarities between their writing habits, and my own.

These four motives made me question my intentions, and why I truly want to become a journalist. Day-in and day-out journalists are faced with the daunting task of eradicating personal biases and remaining as impartial as possible. This is one task I struggle with on a daily basis.

One statement that stuck out to me in particular stated the effect that an individual’s life stage and experience has on his or her work. To me, Orwell believes every individual’s experiences have shaped his or her views in one way or another, which subconsciously causes him or her to impart innate personal biases.

Thus, in order to fully understand a writer’s perspective, a reader must be sure to question how and why the author derived the content he or she created. I, like Orwell, believe you cannot fully grasp a writer’s work without knowing his or her background or reasoning.

Orwell says, “I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development;” this is something I firmly agree with. In addition, I believe a writer, regardless of the platform he or she chooses to use, must ensure that the content disseminated is presented in a way that will allow a reader to fully understand the context and tone at which he or she is trying to establish.

Thick Skin Necessary

After a few weeks of regular blogging, I am not sure if my style has really changed all that much. I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing, as my understanding of this form of writing is still essentially the same as it was at the commencement of this class. While Andrew Sullivan’s provided me with the challenges of blogging, mainly the high octane nature of the art, it really didn’t cause me to reevaluate the reasons as to why I blog. Although, the more that I invest into blogging, the more I respect those who are able to do this for a living. Obviously I respect the tremendous amount of work that goes into constantly finding the latest story, but the level of scrutiny that bloggers are constantly under is borderline ridiculous. Read More

Writing: “It’s Serious Business”

When I think of writing, an image of a lonely figure, sitting under a dim light, scribbling his or her thoughts deep into the night comes to mind. A writer is a literary artist. A writer perfects his or her art through constant practice and honing of their skill. A writer writes because they are good at it.

After reading Orwell’s and Didion’s essays “Why I Write”, I began to have different ideas of how a writer is portrayed to myself as well as to others. Didion began her essay with introducing the fact that writing is an “aggressive, even hostile act.” She points out that no matter how a writer may sugar-coat their words, writing is the act of putting opinions to paper, with the hopes of changing the opinions of others. “The pen is mightier than the sword” has never rang more true to me. When people think of writing, they think of it as a passive thing, almost as normal as breathing or eating. It’s simply something you do to record your ideas or thoughts. Yet, the implications that come with displaying your writing to others can create strong responses, whether they’re positive or negative. Writing is a conscious decision to act, and the writer is the medium through which it’s expressed.

The example of writing that I will bring to class is the book “The Giver”. It is a children’s novel, easily read by any fifth grader. Yet, the implications that come with the story are immense, questioning the line between socialism/totalitarianism and the right of the government to protect its citizens. Lois Lowry dedicated the book “To all the children, to whom we entrust the future”. She wrote with a specific message in mind and forcefully introduced her point of view. Although the book has elicited good and bad responses, the novel has received many literary awards for it’s style and daring topic.

Orwell mentioned that “When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’.” In his essay, he mentions how all of his essays, articles and books were failures. And all future literary pieces will be as well. Yet, Orwell knew that he’s a writer, whether good or bad. He didn’t question the reasons he wrote, he wrote because he knew there was a reason. What resonated most with me was that  the motives for writing are different for each individual, but they all write because they are driven by a force: They want to be heard.

The image of a writer changed slightly for me after reading these articles. A writer is a writer, not matter how or why they write. A writer is only as good or bad as they think they are.

Anyone can write.

Why Do They Write? Why Do I Write?

George Orwell

George Orwell’s in-depth recollection of his childhood was interesting to me. It made me wonder if my childhood is to praise for the writer I am today. I suppose it’s true to some extent; I’ve always had a desire to express myself whether it be in a locked away diary, private blog post, or article for the world to see. Here’s how Orwell’s motives for writing apply to me…

  • Sheer egoism: Yes, I do enjoy seeing my name in print. It makes me feel accomplished. But then again, who doesn’t like to feel this way–writer or not?
  • Aesthetic enthusiasm: I love it when I produce a perfectly crafted sentence. Reading my wisely written prose is almost as fun as seeing a brand new fall runway show, and trust me, fashion is another form of beauty in the external world.
  • Historical impulse: Straight-forward and to the point.
  • Political purpose: Politics are not my cup of tea. I write what I like; I don’t try pushing any secret agenda on readers. Orwell did say the first three motives outweigh this one. But then he goes on to say how everything he writes that lacks a political purpose is lifeless. When it comes to my own writing, I disagree.

Joan Didion

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking…What I want and what I fear.”  So do I. I live for the moment when I can open up a blank word document and type everything and anything that comes to my mind. Some of it makes sense and some of it doesn’t.  A bundle of ideas and reflections that feel much better on paper than in my head. Didion knows what she’s talking about. The idea of turning pictures into prose is something that I can relate to. All writers view the world differently and it’s in our power to write how and why we please.