Did you miss my blog post last week? With holidays fast approaching, probably not, which was the excuse I gave myself for skipping a week after nearly four years. Like most writers, I wake up every day with a desire to write something but sometimes the “thing” doesn’t become clear enough to commit to paper or post. It’s rare for me but it happens. It did last week.
Because I live to write, rather than write to live, I had the benefit of taking off a week. It gave me time to consider what motivates other writers. Perhaps because we’re in tumultuous political times, I was drawn to George Orwell’s 1946 essay, Why I Write.
Orwell, (born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903), the author of cult classics Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, was largely a political writer whose books are as topical today as when they were written seven decades ago. “Orwellian” became an adjective connoting an attitude and policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth and manipulation of the past. Several words and phrases from Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949) that have entered modern parlance include:
Newspeak — Ambiguous euphemistic language used chiefly in political propaganda.
Doublethink — The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them, especially as a result of political indoctrination.
Thought Police — (Thinkpol in Newspeak) are those who suppress all dissenting opinion.
Prolefeed – “The rubbishy entertainment and spurious news handed out by the Party to the masses.” This word is part of the language Newspeak
Big Brother — Used to refer to any ruler or government that invades the privacy of its citizens.
Drawing on his own life experiences in Why I Write, Orwell lays out four main motives of writing, which he believes are always present but in different proportions that vary from time to time.
The four motives, according to Orwell, are:
(1) 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. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
(2) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.
(3) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
(4) 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.
Orwell got it right, at least for me. If you’re a writer, too, I suspect you see yourself in this mirror.