Why do we write? What’s the underlying incentive that’s pushing us to write? Whether it’s here on Medium or anywhere else, there’s always a reason behind our writing.
George Orwell believed there were four.
Who’s George Orwell?
If you didn’t know already, Orwell was an unconventional, stimulating novelist and essayist who famously wrote the dystopian fictional story “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and the allegory “Animal Farm” back in the 1940s.
Orwell was famous for criticising and opposing totalitarianism. But his writing was a little more than just critique. Alongside the fact that he wrote continuously, his writing was lucid and thought-provoking.
Orwell’s “Why I Write”
In his 1946 essay “Why I Write”, Orwell explained how early events in a writer’s life, such as the micro-traumas he endured as a child, are fundamental to a writer’s drive to write.
He also alluded to the age in which the writer lives, which is a strong influencer on the writer’s subject matter, placing them in an emotional attitude “which he will never escape.”
So, the writer is responsible for disciplining their temperament, finding the balance between not getting stuck with his early influences and not avoiding them altogether.
That said, Orwell identified four motives for writing that exist at any rate of ordinary writing and in varying capacities within different writers.
Orwell’s 4 Motives for Writing are:
- Sheer egoism: This is mainly about seeking recognition. Writers want their work to be read. They want to be talked about. It’s all about fulfilling one’s ego in terms of being well-known or remembered by a legacy after they’re gone. There’s nothing wrong with this motive as long as it is not the only goal for creating content. In fact, writing is not the only line of work where egoism is a motive. Art, business, politics, religion, and science…all have a place for egoism.
- Aesthetic enthusiasm: The beauty seen in a nicely written text is a particularly precious motive. Whether it’s the depiction of a story or the arrangement of words and characters, the elegance of a written text can push the writer to write more and may even become addictive.
- Historical impulse: This aligns with documentation. Writing down facts and historical events to store them for later use — even by generations to come — is not only a worthy motive but also a critical one to maintain and develop civilisation.
- Political impulse: This is all about impact. We wish to influence people’s way of thinking and drive society (or at least our readership) in a particular direction. As Orwell said, he was “using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense.” Think of self-help books, for instance. Or even the majority of Medium articles. They all have the incentive to influence a reader’s way of thinking.
Now you might think that you probably have more than one of these motives, and that’s correct. Each of us has those motives in varying degrees; they change as we grow and change our environment.
But as I was reading this, one idea kept knocking on the inside walls of my head, saying: “This can’t be all. There’s more.”
The Missing Motive
While Orwell’s four motives are quite universal and valid, there is one more motive that I think he missed. It is rather simple, but it is vital to one’s writing.
The missing motive in Orwell’s four motives for writing is the thinking impulse.
A lot of writers write to think.
As trivial as it may sound, writing to think is at the core of many writers’ rationale for writing, including mine.
My mind is more often than not filled with ideas that I sometimes cannot manage to think clearly. Writing allows those thoughts to come out, leaving enough mental space for clearer thinking and creativity.
Now, while not everybody would publish such writings, some writers create a sense of accountability for their thoughts by broadcasting them in front of an audience.
This makes their thinking even more refined.
It also combines quite well with some of Orwell’s four motives — primarily the sheer egoism and the political impact.
Do you agree with this?
Do you write to think?
Let me know your thoughts on this.