Why I Write

In 1946 George Orwell penned an essay titled ‘Why I Write’. Here is his last paragraph, which rather sums up his view:

‘Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. 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. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.’

I wouldn’t consider myself vain, more swinging to the opposite probably, but I do recognize a degree of narcissism and singular viewpoint of my universe. This universe that I share with all of you but which I can see only through my own eyes. Selfish, yes, to a degree, though not self-centered. Lazy, most assuredly, though I recognized some time ago that the quickest, easiest path to an end is to do the work, all of it, no shortcuts, no corners cut, otherwise you just end up back tracking, repeating and creating much more work for yourself in the end. Be methodical, precise, do your homework, ask questions of yourself, develop opinions and points of view based upon your own research and analysis, not the easy, hyped up propaganda spewed from a single source. It is easy-peasy to invent false narratives and suck people in. We must be careful not to be easily swayed by the opinion of others, even those that we know and trust, so that we can make up our own minds. Always check at least two or three sources and investigate opposing points of view. Only then can we be satisfied that the truth we accept is our own, whether it is in fact true or not. Be interested. Just the same, I try to remain conscious not to try to sway others with my own opinions, in what I speak or write, though I have a tendency to point them to places where facts can be found. I suppose, in my own way, I am also opinionated; but more than that, I am interested.

I write because I am interested. At first, when I was about eleven, I was simply impressed that I could actually create something, out of my very own imagination, and other people would consume it. Some even found it interesting, in a simple way, others did not. When I began writing in earnest, at about sixteen, I was most consumed by volume, not form, substance or content. I was ‘inebriated by my own verbosity’, a term I coined at the height of my self-indulgence with vocabulary. In those early days I found scribbling down poetry to be the most expedient way to produce ‘volume’. Mostly angry protestations and simple love dirges, existential wishy wash and painfully poor attempts at rhyme and meter. Even worse were those first short stories. Agonizingly slow and painful to write, without meaningful plot or character development and scarce connection to any recognizable theme. But still, when I look back at that early work, I can see now, that even though almost all of it was crap, that it was a necessary apprenticeship. Looking back, I can see that I was lazy, impatient, wanting instant gratification without having to invest the effort to learn the craft. Yes I consider writing to be a craft rather than an art. It requires hard work, interest, a bit of aptitude but not necessarily talent. The more I write the more skilled I become at it, but I understand that I will always be an apprentice, just as we are all apprentices in our lives, until our very last day.

I am fortunate that after years, decades, away from writing, that at the back of my brain, the spark, the seed to write, still remained. I am fortunate that my interest to rejuvenate the craft remained and I have been given the time and circumstance to pursue the passion. There are so many stories to tell and so little time.

I write because I wish to have some legacy, to investigate where I came from, where we came from, and where we might go. I write because I want to know about those thousands of people that made me and about the thousands that I will be the progenitor of. I write so I can admire my own creation, like studying one’s own shit. ‘Did THAT come out of me?’ I write so that I might have some immortality, so that somewhere, a thousand years from now, someone might wonder who I was and care to take the time to look for me. I hope that when that thousand years has come to pass that there might be a descendant of ‘me’, that there will be descendants of ‘us’.

I write for power. The power to elicit feeling, emotion of any kind from another person; to make you laugh or cry, to despise an evil character, to long for the suffering of the protagonist to end and the ecstasy of triumph to come to those deserving. Just as all who write have their own motives, my own have evolved or perhaps more accurately, morphed, over time. In early days my ideal was romantic, to be a ‘writer’, a struggling suffering artist, filled with pent up genius; then to be like others accomplished, famous, praised and admired, of a class separate, unique, above. Or perhaps shielding a humble secret, like the pizza delivery man, who is actually a physician from a foreign land, unable to be granted his certificate to practice in our great country, so he is open and willing to subserve himself to menial work, to support his family. His genius and talent is lost to all of us, lost in his martyrdom.

Now that I am old, I write for myself, and for you, if you wish to take the time to read my drivel. I write to touch people, to hear what the words mean to them, to marvel that they might have a meaning different to someone else than to me. I write because I have become a happy slave to the tap on the keyboard. I write to be able to give birth to the gurgling, gestating thoughts and ruminations that speak to me, from the captive, deep recesses of my brain, that scary, uncertain place, lurking, peeking from behind my amygdala.

Though I am no Orwell and make no claim to be the ghost of Salinger, like all of us who write, young, old, bent or round, whether my scrawling is bunkum or profound, I am a writer, and you can be one too.

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