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.
This, of course is to be taken with a grain of salt—the granularity of individual disposition, outlook, and existential choice, that is. I myself subscribe to the Ray Bradbury model: Writing is not a serious business. It's a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say 'Oh, my God, what word?
Oh, Jesus Christ Now, to hell with that. It's not work. If it's work, stop and do something else. This post also appears on Brain Pickings , an Atlantic partner site. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters theatlantic. Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings.
The immediate feedback-system on Goodreads coupled with its exceedingly generous community makes this motive a potentially overpowering one. Aesthetic enthusiasm "The desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. Hope you got John McNee 's books in your libraries! I think I stressed that enough by now. In the case of reviewing it can also be the opposite of aesthetic enthusiasm, for cases where you would like to dissuade people from ever getting near a certain book.
Having seen some negative reviews, those can be pretty enthusiastic as well. Historical impulse "The desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for use of posterity. In essence to see for yourself what all the fuss is about and reach your own conclusions. Moreover the discussions on books and society that often ensue on this website are often very enriching to me and teach me in much the same way a history teacher would, so what the hell: Check!
Political purpose "The desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter people's idea of the kind of society they should strive after. So there we have it. A "why" that has been answered, if not fully, at least partially. A reason for writing that Orwell shortly touched upon as well is "for a living". But I think only very few here get compensation in financial terms, not counting gifted books in return for reviews. Unless you guys know something that I don't.
In any case, in the end the most important reason lies in the amalgam of all those reasons enumerated above, an amalgam that I can only describe as: I love being here. Just kidding, that's not a reason, that's circular reasoning.
But I almost made you tear up, didn't I? It's true though. First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma , and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation.
Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc. By the end of I had still failed to reach a firm decision. I remember a little poem that I wrote at that date, expressing my dilemma: A happy vicar I might have been Two hundred years ago To preach upon eternal doom And watch my walnuts grow; But born, alas, in an evil time, I missed that pleasant haven, For the hair has grown on my upper lip And the clergy are all clean-shaven.
And later still the times were good, We were so easy to please, We rocked our troubled thoughts to sleep On the bosoms of the trees. All ignorant we dared to own The joys we now dissemble; The greenfinch on the apple bough Could make my enemies tremble. But girl's bellies and apricots, Roach in a shaded stream, Horses, ducks in flight at dawn, All these are a dream. It is forbidden to dream again; We maim our joys or hide them: Horses are made of chromium steel And little fat men shall ride them.
I am the worm who never turned, The eunuch without a harem; Between the priest and the commissar I walk like Eugene Aram; And the commissar is telling my fortune While the radio plays, But the priest has promised an Austin Seven, For Duggie always pays.
I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls, And woke to find it true; I wasn't born for an age like this; Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you? The Spanish war and other events in turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.
It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one's political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one's aesthetic and intellectual integrity.
What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience.
Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant.
I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.
It is not easy. It raises problems of construction and of language, and it raises in a new way the problem of truthfulness. Let me give just one example of the cruder kind of difficulty that arises. My book about the Spanish civil war, Homage to Catalonia, is of course a frankly political book, but in the main it is written with a certain detachment and regard for form.
I did try very hard in it to tell the whole truth without violating my literary instincts. But among other things it contains a long chapter, full of newspaper quotations and the like, defending the Trotskyists who were accused of plotting with Franco.
.I just went with that "big bang" moment that seemed to come out of nowhere and I took it from there. After a further discussion of how these motives permeated his own work at different times and in different ways, Orwell offers a final and rather dystopian disclaimer: 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. Forget about slow. We want to hear what you think about this article. As a child or teenager these activities strangely enough barely entailed reading or writing, aside from comic books and what was required for school.
They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And with the advent of video games I truly had everything my solitary heart desired. Its pages were creamy, its typeface clear in a formal, old-fashioned way. Apart from school work, I wrote vers d'occasion, semi-comic poems which I could turn out at what now seems to me astonishing speed — at fourteen I wrote a whole rhyming play, in imitation of Aristophanes, in about a week — and helped to edit a school magazines, both printed and in manuscript.
So that's the narrative. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed.
My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice.
A critic whom I respect read me a lecture about it. But I think only very few here get compensation in financial terms, not counting gifted books in return for reviews. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in—at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own—but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape. The lines from Paradise Lost — So hee with difficulty and labour hard Moved on: with difficulty and labour hee.
Related Essays. Hence the idea to write reviews. They are: i Sheer egoism. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. Many of you already know that I was a happy, skinny, bespectacled and introverted child with no brothers or sisters and with a wonderful dog.
First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma , and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. Now, to hell with that.
Its pages were creamy, its typeface clear in a formal, old-fashioned way. Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose.