George Orwell and Why I Write

Why do I write? Many reasons. Read on to find out.

“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

George Orwell

I like to think that I’m not vain, selfish, and lazy. I’ll certainly cop to one of the three on most days. Equally interesting in that piece, though, is Orwell’s four main motivations for writing (condensed):

  • Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc.
  • Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement.
  • Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
  • Political purpose. Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

Beyond Orwell, I started thinking about why writers do what they do. It’s an interesting question and, to be sure, there are no “right” answers. I can only speak for myself which is exactly is what I’m about to do. Without further ado, here are my seven reasons for writing in no particular order:

1. Economic Necessity

As I’ve learned by primarily working for myself over the last ten years, consulting can be a fickle beast. The phrase “feast or famine” comes to mind. I’ve had months in which I’ve made a small fortune and others that were downright brutal. The paid writing that I do for a number of companies allows me to do the following:

  • diversify my revenue streams
  • be productive when I’m not on a consulting gig
  • potentially gain additional exposure (more on that later)

2. Enjoyment

I’ve said this many times: As a general rule, you should like what you do. Yes, everyone has a bad day now and then—and I’m no exception. For the most part, though, I really enjoy the writing process:

  • Starting with an idea and a blank screen, sometimes inspired by recent events, what I’m reading, or personal observations
  • Getting a few thoughts out there
  • Playing around with different imagery and words
  • At some point, believing that I’ve “nailed it”
  • Seeing the final product
  • Reading comments and general feedback on what I’ve created

3. Catharsis

At times, life can frustrate me and writing is cheaper than therapy. Much cheaper. Things don’t always go the way that I hope, as evinced by the vast majority of my golf scores over the last few years. If something troubles or irritates me, I find that I can make more sense out of it by writing about it. Not to get all zen-like, but this allows me to find some degree of inner peace after something has affected me.

4. Skill

While I may not be the world’s greatest scribe, I’m improving every day. I’m constantly tweaking my approach, hoping to find the right words and subjects for the right audience. I’ve had enough positive feedback from people I respect to know that I’m not completely wasting my time. (Again, this isn’t the golf course.) I also believe that my best writing is ahead of me. I’m curious to see what I’ll produce next and at least a few people in the world seem to share that sentiment.

Good writing may beget more paid writing, books, consulting, or speaking engagements.

5. Ego

I’ll agree with Orwell here. It would be apocryphal for me to claim that my ego gets no boost from seeing my name in print, on a book jacket, or on a reputable web site. Yes, I endeavor to write in a self-deprecating and accessible style. However, I do take my work very seriously. It doesn’t matter whether you’re reading my stuff on my site (gratis) or a company has commissioned me to write something.

6. “Political” Purposes

Again, I’m with Orwell on this one. At some level, I strive to improve one little piece of the world with my observations, recommendations, and analysis.

7. Business Development

I’m an independent writer, speaker, and consultant. I don’t have a massive marketing or PR budget. Creating what I hope is interesting content is a way of promoting my wares, as I wrote about on recently. Good writing may beget more paid writing, books, consulting, or speaking engagements.

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Why do you write?

philanimated

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3 Comments

  1. Steve Putman

    Hey Phil – I find that I align with your motivations to varying degrees – for me, ego is probably the least of them. I do have one to add, though, but I don’t have a really good name for it – so I’ll call it “The New.” I think it applies more to my music writing than my prose writing – the rush I get when something that I haven’t heard before is constructed., and the shaping of that idea into something truly unique. I guess this is an extension of your point #2…
    My next highest motivation is #3 – Catharsis. You nailed that one 😉

    Reply
  2. philsimon

    Steve-

    I love that edition! “The New” is another “rush” for me.

    Reply

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