Back in 2008, when the Las Vegas Review-Journal launched its blogging section online, I engaged in a bit of self-indulgent navel gazing in a column trying to explain why. I leaned on George Orwell like a crutch.
I explained that I and other newspaper scriveners were joining the lowing herds browsing the ether — otherwise known as bloggers, those free-range creatures who mostly chew up the intellectual property of others and spit out their cuds online.
In an effort to find a rationale for this otherwise irrational exercise I grabbed Orwell’s “Why I Write” essay from 1946, in which he lists various reasons for writing.
First is sheer egoism.
“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.,” Orwell explains. “It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. … Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.”
I think that was both a salute and a sully to the profession of journalism.
The second rationale, according to Orwell, is aesthetic enthusiasm.
“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. …” Orwell explains. “Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.”
Third is historical impulse.
“Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.”
Finally, and probably most importantly, political purpose.
“Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”
Orwell wrote this shortly after he penned “Animal Farm,” but two years before “1984.” He said “Animal Farm” was his first conscious effort “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.”
Orwell wrote against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism.
Ayn Rand wrote for free-market capitalism.
Robert A. Heinlein wrote for libertarianism.
Others espouse various “isms” and objective journalism attempts to eschew them, not always successfully.
So, what moves one to write?
As our master Orwell said, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”
Everybody loves to unravel a good mystery, right?