Broken-down Poetry: "Why I Write" by George Orwell


Related Posts with Thumbnails

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Why I Write" by George Orwell

Two observations:
1. I like George Orwell's thoughts on writing more than I like his writing.
2. I may own every book on writing ever printed.


I've noticed that I have a really hard time blogging when there's nothing to blog about. I've spent my last few weeks in the States reading, hanging out at Starbucks, watching movies and editing magazine articles -- nothing's really "blog material." But I have to keep writing. Must ... trudge ... through. Ugh.


"[The writer's] subject-matter will be determined by the age he lives in ... but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape. It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, or in some perverse mood: but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write." p. 4

I find this so, so true. Dr. Allison warns us that if we establish our voice too early in our writing career, we risk "writing ourselves in a corner." If I only write snarky-meets-prophetic blogs, will I be able to write anything else? But if I deny myself this pleasure - hey, it is my favorite kind of writing - will I want to write at all?

Ah, what a dilemma!

"I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. ... 1. Sheer egotism." p. 4

No kidding. This reminds me of Don Miller who said (paraphrase) that if he were honest with himself, he writes so that people will like him. I do the same. It's definitely not my top reason for writing, but it's always in the back of my head. Who doesn't want to be a famous writer, though, really?

"2. Aesthetic enthusiasm." p. 5

I do like words. A lot. So much so that I've been playing "Words with Friends" on my iPod for the last five hours. And let me tell you, I've been kicking butt. I'm so much better at this than I was at Scrabble for Sentence Strategies.

"3. Historical Impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity." p. 5

Meh. Whatever.

"4. Political purpose-- using the word 'political' in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people's idea of the kind of society they should strive after." p. 5

Ding, ding, ding! That's it, Mr. Orwell! That's why I write! Yeah, there are a couple parts of #1 and #2, but a big chuck of it's #4. I write because I want to change the world. Is that lame? Too IWU-World-Changers for you?

It's true though.

"It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such [political]  subjects." p. 8

Ol' Orwell wrote this in the mid-forties, but I think his words are even more relevant today. Shall I list: genocide, AIDS, poverty, hunger, child soldiers, forced prostitution, sex trafficking, congenital heart disease in little Iraqi babies. 

How could we avoid writing of such subjects?

"What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art." p. 8

Thanks for putting to words exactly what I believe, Mr. Orwell. This is, essentially, why I'm a writer. Not just to write politically (to "push the world in a certain direction"), but to create art that challenges people.

Throughout the rest of the essay Orwell despises journalism which takes the art out of prose - which is true, which is why I added a double major. (I think we've learned in Practicum that journalism doesn't have to be boring - you can be creative with it - but in journalism, facts trump the creative license.)

"If poetry is not truth, and does not despise what is called license, so far it is not poetry. Poetry is the highest form of the utterance of man's thoughts. ... Prose is but broken down poetry." George MacDonald

I'm starting to think that Orwell's "Why I Write" is the same as my "Why I Write," only written more eloquently.

Thanks, Mr. O.

No comments: