Four Motives for Writing

"James Joyce" by Jacques-Émile Blanche (1935)

"James Joyce" by Jacques-Émile Blanche (1935)

George Orwell wrote the essay "Why I Write" (1946) detailing his personal journey to becoming a writer.

He lists "four great motives for writing" which he believes exists in every writer.

All are present, but in different proportions that vary from time to time.

  1. Sheer egoism: "desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc." this is a motive the writer shares with scientists, artists, lawyers - "the whole top crust of humanity"
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm: the desire to make one's writing look and sound good, having "pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story."
  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: "no book is genuinely free from political bias", in every person there is a "desire to push the world in a certain direction", even "the opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude."

I would consider myself having more historical impulse and aesthetic enthusiasm. I'm leaving artifacts of what I was feeling at different points in my life, preserving my past selves by turning my thoughts into words. It's also therapeutic to make sense of my emotions by writing them out. I'm also capturing specific ideas from blogs and books so I can revisit them in the future and remind myself to apply them in my life. It also helps me to compartmentalize the sheer amount of blogs I have yet to read that are collecting digital dusts in my bookmark folders.

I also strive to make my writing aesthetic; I've been reading more books to emulate the styles of writers that can infuse words with color and sound, reaching into the depths of my soul. By writing about personal and introspective experiences I find valuable, I can close the taste-skill gap.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

– Ira Glass