I usually aim to write posts that if ever read, might somehow help the lovely someone that stumbled upon them. I want these words to inspire, and for that reason, and the fact that I call myself a journalist, I write about other people. However, blogging lends itself to a first person point of view, and from time to time this blog becomes a place for me to write about my own random thoughts.
A few days ago, I interviewed a source for a story I’m working on and I asked her why she was so passionate about the topic we were there to discuss. After giving me the profound answer every journalist hopes to get, she turned the question on me.
“Why do you do what you do? Why do you write?”
I had a seemingly prepared response, which was most likely borne from the repetition of answering those three faithful questions every college student expects to hear when meeting someone new. What’s your name? Where are you from? What’s your major? Somewhere along the way, we fit our passions into an elevator pitch. Being able to boil down everything you care about into a 30 second speech can be useful, but it’s important to take a few minutes to think about the extended version every once in a while.
George Orwell gave his response to this question in an essay he wrote in 1946 entitled “Why I Write.” He begins by looking back on his life to try and pinpoint when he became a writer, and I recognize many of the characteristics he describes in my own life. He wrote short stories as a child and discovered a “joy for mere words” when he was sixteen, for example. After giving this background, Orwell says there are four great reasons for writing, though they exist in every writer in differing degrees:
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… 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…
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.
As Orwell said, it’s difficult to determine what exactly drives someone to become a writer because it is a combination of so many things. Like many journalists and writers, I joke that I write because I am terrible with numbers, and while it’s true, it’s not the real reason. There are many reasons, and looking back, I see that family is one of the biggest.
Everything that you experience in life–the people you meet, the situations you encounter, the emotions you feel–make you who you are. It’s important to remind yourself of those things so that you will remember why it is that you do what you do.