On Orwell: 4 Reasons 2 Write

Writing is easy at first but only gets worse the longer you go. As George Orwell says in his essay Why I Write, penning a book is no mean feat and feels like a disease. It has a lot of magical moments but it's not fun per se, not a super pleasant way to spend time, sweating out a story. And you can't do it just for glory because there is not a whole lot of that going around. So why do we do it?

Per Orwell, writers have four motivations in varying combinations. Egoism (read: desire for attention and revenge), aesthetic enthusiasm or appreciation of beauty in the word, historical impulse -- wish to see things as they are and store them -- and political purpose, the wish to alter people's ideas about the society we might strive for.

Let us examine these four:

1. Egoism. You will show all those fux who don't recognize your greatness what they have missed. No writer is immune to this feeling and I find that with time the list of fux only gets longer while the feeling that revenge is unlikely gets stronger. Still, kudos to George for admitting egoism is a necessary -- and perhaps even primary -- motivation for boomboom.    

2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. This is the style q. What do you think makes the world jazzy, where do you see sweetness and truth and try to emulate it in your own expressions? Something about your perception of what is, is appreciative, and as a result you seek to speak on that which you see. And when you produce, you have ideas about how things should look. So you write books that express this to the extent that you can within your artistic and intellectual limitations.

3. Historical impulse. This is the William S.Burroughs' investigative reporter aspect of writing, the insane part of you that thinks there is truth and that you are in a position to articulate it in a meaningful way for the use of others (pretty egotistical). You see what is happening and you record it because reporting (particularly when combined with element 2, aesthetic appreciation, or an artful approach) provides a record that is accessible to all of humanity, and that is how we learn to recognize truth over the ages. 

4. Political purpose. Using the word political in the widest sense, Orwell presents the fourth motivation as simply the desire to alter others' worldview, to show them either what there is to fear or to aspire to, another facet of this notion that your truth is to be articulated. For Orwell, this fourth aspect developed slowly and seems to have come as a surprise. He cites working as a policeman in Burma and his own youthful failures as defining his anti-authoritarian stance, but it takes a long time to bloom into political boomboom, and were it not for the chaotic times he found himself in, he would have written long descriptive naturalistic novels full of arresting smiles.

That's a hoot coming from the author of 1984 and Animal Farm! But instructive. Orwell's essay is short and does not elaborate on how the four elements work together, but he seems to suggest that his style, his aesthetic enthusiasm, was dictated by his politics, which were shaped by the events of his life, his times. And so the world is spared another expansive describer of mundane moments, a mere filler of pages. Instead a chronicler of alternate futures that describe reality is born, determined to speak for reasons one and three, egoism and historical impulse.   

So it may be a little gross, this notion of self expression, but take note and be heartened. Even Orwell was just a guy disproving childhood slights.

For more on Orwell, writing, and life, listen to today's Red Lodge Podcast.