why i write. orwell.


In 1946 George Orwell outlined his four great motives for writing in the essay “Why I Write”. He believed these motives exist, in different degrees, in every writer. I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t right. For me, it’s mostly about Aesthetic Enthusiasm. It’s also about a kind of peace that comes over me when I’m under no pressure to get it right. Or when I’ve finally pushed that boulder up the hill. I’d like to think I’m not as egocentric as Orwell but every writer has to have a little bit of ego going for her. Why else would she think her words important enough to preserve?

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Buffy Holt2

Historical Impulse

In Orwell’s own words. Why he writes:

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. 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.

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.

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3 Comments

  • Jennifer
    May 26, 2008 at 20:28

    I’d be hard pressed to argue against him, too, although I believe his list is woefully incomplete.

  • bob
    May 27, 2008 at 0:12

    i don’t think he ever answered why she writes.

    thanks for stopping by!

  • JP
    May 28, 2008 at 19:54

    One might be missing. I got drunk with a prof who, at different times, had been a student of both James Dickey and John Garnder. He told me, while drunk, of course, that both of them had told him most great art has been produced to bed the opposite (or the same) sex. How’s that for he said he said he said?

    Personally, I think I have had felt all of these four, especially the sheer egoism one. Now, though, I think more about my kids, how great it will be to bequeath them so much of the actual me, the adult me that they can only know once they become adults. I don’t read Orwell much anymore, though, for much the same reason I don’t read Kafka or the Russians, or Philip Roth or Samuel Beckett. I know life is grim and that it ends and most people are unhappy. I’d prefer to feel good about life, so bring on the hopeful…I say more Enchanted April for us all.

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