George Orwell on writing

George Orwell authored two books which by all accounts have hopefully been read by most people who have a highschool education. My highschool education, while ensuring that I did pick up these two books, did not embed in me the desire to seek out his other works. Neither must I say, did my college liberal arts education in which, I am not sure if Orwell was ever mentioned. It is more through friends and perhaps by watching interviews with Christopher Hitchens (what an encouragement to early writers) that brought about a wish to be educated and challenged by Orwell’s other writing.

So I was pleased Anna gave me a copy of Why I Write, which is a collection of essays by Orwell, published by Penguin in the Great Ideas series. The essays are on writing, political language, the English and it rather powerfully (for that time) propagates socialism. The essay Why I Write I recommend to anybody who is now writing or who wants to write. It is short, honest and beautiful.

I will not ruin the essay for you in whole, but to give you one taste in what I meant by honesty do continue reading.  Orwell describes four points explaining why somebody writes. The first one is Sheer Egoism. “…It is humbug (sic) to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one.”

A few lines after that quote he negatively defines people who write as being driven by selfishness and couples this selfishness with ambition. Those that abandon ambition are “simply smothered under drudgery” while those that do not, a “minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end” continue and write. The other three points he makes are almost in paradox to this first point, though I recommend you read the essay to find out how they each complement the others.

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4 Responses to George Orwell on writing

  1. Kim Kaufmann says:

    Ben and I both just read Orwell’s novel _Burmese Days_, based on Orwell’s own experience as a British officer in Burma. Good stuff.

  2. John Lumgair says:

    I’ve aspired to Orwells how to write:
    http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit
    I think he is bang on!

    It’s interesting to think about the why – thanks for sharing.

    • Lauri says:

      Yeah, I like most of it. I think the article you link to has a very good description of the English. On this subject he is almost prophetically accurate even now, though there are things to add. However, on his description of socialism and our need for it I am not so convinced, at least not for the reasons he writes about.

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