What Orwell wrote about why I write


With what I assume is a lassitude of realisation, in 1946, that once the war was won, the reality of lost empire, depleted wealth, and towering national debt, George Orwell wrote a short essay, ‘Why I Write’. It appears quite plain and almost too simple to be an Orwell exposition of anything, but in his own unassuming way he revealed quite a bit about himself, and, uncannily, about my own motivations.

To drown in his almost inconsolable meditations about his own loneliness as a child and into his thirties, you will have to read the essay yourself; I’m sure it is reproduced online somewhere and freely accessible.

I am interested in the four categories of motivation he proposes for writers: ego, aesthetics, impulse, and politics. It is admirable in itself to pick these apart. I perceive a lot of overlap between the qualities he mentions for each of these categories.


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. 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. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all – and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

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