What Motivates You To Write?

Forget altruistic motives. Iconic author George Orwell contends that a writer is not merely driven by the desire to share his gift of words to entertain readers. In his masterfully crafted essay titled Why I Write (1946), we get a glimpse of a no-holds-barred essayist who comes clean about his reasons for writing. His arguments, polished by dexterity and eloquence, would perhaps make any writer reflect over their own motives.

Motives for Writing
Why do you write? Read Orwell’s 4 motives for writing to see if any of them resonates with yours.

The essay begins with Orwell’s literary precociousness and gloomy childhood recollections — being a school outcast and having a father he hardly knew. Nevertheless, the 1984 author considers these memories influential in his writing and proposes that bad experiences shape a writer’s motivation. He then enumerates his four motives for writing and towards the end, lays out a more profound inspiration behind his craft.

Find out if any of Orwell’s motivations resonates with yours.

George Orwell’s 4 motives for writing

Sheer egoism

Serious writers are generally narcissistic. This quality they share with scientists, politicians, and successful businessmen, to name a few. However, driven writers are not money hungry.

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. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one.

Aesthetic enthusiasm

Good writers have an ear for the natural music and rhythm of well-crafted words.

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

Writers may be part journalist, part historian in that they want to present facts and record them.

Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

Political purpose

Orwell argues that no book is genuinely free from political bias, as every writer has the:

Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.

A major turning point in Orwell’s writing journey would be the advent of his political writing that he considers to have been influenced by the Spanish Civil War and other events in his era (1936-37). Where his writing lacked political purpose, he produced lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

Part of the essay’s concluding paragraph reveals Orwell’s reflection over the enigma and the paradox of writing.

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.

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