Wednesday, May 1, 2013



A few days ago, much after I had made my posting ‘Why do I Write?’, I came across George Orwell’s book ‘Why I write’ and naturally I was thrilled and curious as to what he had to say. I shall  summarise here some of the points that he has made, for it has made me introspect further on what I wrote.

Orwell says that one cannot assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. If he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. Orwell thinks that there are four great motives for writing and they exist in each writer in varying degrees. They are:

1. Sheer egoism. A desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc, etc.

2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. A perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed.

3. Historical impulse. A desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

4. Political purpose. A desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that should strive after.

He adds that all writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Orwell’s words are not gospel but he indeed writes good prose. Being himself a writer he says that writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness and that one would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

Though I may to a certain extent agree with the motives listed out by him, I cannot accept the statement that writing a book is like a long bout of some painful illness. In fact I feel that it is a cure for the demons that have been haunting you, to be let out. Writers may be vain but they are not lazy and who is not selfish. Regarding motives, I still ask my self why I write. Despite all that I have written it still is a mystery.

I remember I first started writing years ago and I did it because I wanted to express the feelings that were swelling up inside me. Certain events in life are life changers and one is not equipped when the change takes place. My only motive at that time was to place on record what I felt. There was no question of egoism or any of the other motives listed above. Maybe now if you ask me I would answer yes that my writing now is a combination of all those factors. I have two diaries filled with what I wrote years ago, that was when we all actually wrote on paper with a pen, of course when I am writing all this now I am on the computer. I wrote in different colours of inks, green, red, black and purple. My handwriting was very good and I took care to write down whatever I wanted to properly, so there you can say that the aesthetic enthusiasm was reflected, but for ego I had not developed enough of it. These diaries were very private and were never shared with anyone, but now I go back to them to understand my journey and to put those feelings in a more intelligible manner, which means that I am getting ready to share them and may be that is where my ego comes into play. It seeks a tacit approval of its existence

My first thought was that I should write an autobiography for I was under a mistaken notion that it is easiest to write one’s own story. But that’s where my problem lay for I found it very difficult put down the truth as it is. It requires a lot of courage to accept one’s own weaknesses and transgressions for you were going to share this and it is not easy to tear away the mask that one has got used to. Also what you write could have an impact on other people’s lives. So that’s where deception starts. I write every night after the others have gone to sleep and I retreat into my world. I pick up the pieces of my journey one by one and write them down. It is not a chronicle or a history of my life but it helps me to understand myself better. Since one has to have a goal, I decided that I shall name it as ‘An Autobiography of an Ordinary Man’. Whether it shall ever see the light of day or stay hidden only time can tell. May be Orwell was right when he said that one of the motives for writing, was to be talked about and to be remembered after death.

When someone tells you that they have started writing because they have felt the need to communicate with their innermost feelings, I believe them. But when they tell me they have torn away what they have written, for they do not want others to see, I do not understand. It is like taking back all that you have poured out, so where is the question of unburdening yourself. I would say keep it to yourself for it is a chronicle of the journey you have undertaken and that is the reality. How does it matter whether someone sees it? What do you have to hide? Of course it is very easily said than done for who would want to disturb their present state of existence and tear away the mask. My diaries are still with me and they are on my shelf, the pages are now yellow in colour but I open them, feel them and read what I had written. It is there and I do not know whether anyone has bothered to read them. It is most difficult to accept yourself as you are. But I have found that the more I accept myself the lesser burden I carry. It is as we grow older that we start shedding of the outer coverings. It is easy now since you have already lived a large part of your life and come to a realisation that most of the things that you have lived your life with are no more of any consequence.

Now when I write I do try to take care of the way I put down my words and also that I get my facts right. So I can say that I have catered to my aesthetic enthusiasm and my historical impulse. Where is the question of egoism here? Do we say that all the great works of literature have been products of the writer’s egotistic impulses? What about all the fantasy that is woven around books like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and science fiction novels, leave aside all those books which cater to our own fantasies? May be they have their own commercial value. But does it not show the fertile imagination that inhabits the minds of these people?

Orwell says that ‘Animal Farm’ was the first book in which he tried with full consciousness of what he was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.

Putting aside all the motives that Orwell has outlined, I would say that writing is a journey in to our inner world and every writer in the end tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle that is his own life.  


Varsha said...

This is serious stuff! i thought I wrote only because I felt like sharing some thoughts, anecdotes,a part of my life. I have no desire to be remembered after my death. I want people to read and give me the feedback now, when I can improve, continue to write or stop writing. I may not stop writing altogether, as it is something that I enjoy doing. I love the words, the language and some sort of creativity that I think I indulge in.
I dont think there is much egoism involved here, at least not for me.
Thanks for giving this serious thought and sharing what you read.

Ram said...

The converse is not true. Egoism, Enthusiasm, Historical Impulse, Political purpose - mere presence of these characteristics will not evolve a writer. First things first, a writer has to communicate with himself and then, putting thoughts to words - which is quite difficult. Then comes the part of grammar. I feel that if you can write, do write, as someone or the other will write and, by a series of coincidences, you are better equipped to write than most.

gssubbu said...

Bal Gupta mentioned you in a comment in Seasoned Bankers Forum.

Bal Gupta 7:43pm May 2
Gopalasamudram Subramanian, Apart from what you write, basic purpose of amy writing (other than school assignments) is communicate withe others - be it friends , lovers, parents or the public at large. Depending on one's literary abilities one may get readership of a few or millions. An element of being seen as erudite and a thinker/ artiste is always lurking somewhere in the back of one' mind.

gssubbu said...

Wednesday at 1:11am
Kadayam Vaikuntam It is for the same reason that you are asked to 'put up a note' when you try to explain something orally. Writing imposes discipline, coherence, focus and brevity on whatever you are saying whether it is an office note or 'Animal Farm'. And the written record stays to taunt you that you don't communicate as well as you should. The reason why somebody starts writing may be any of what you say but the reason why he continues to write is because there is a discerning reader. Writing looks like cursive characters to the illiterate, like sentences to the educated and it is writing only for the people for whom you intended it. They are why you write.
Wednesday at 1:58am · Unlike · 1

gssubbu said...

Kerala Verma said, Subbu, when you conclude that writing is a journey into our inner world and every writer in the end tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle that is his own life, I cannot agree completely because what you say is true of only a few genres of writing. For example, a professional writer's fiction will have nothing of her personality or inner world, but a cleverly crafted story on a theme she researches well.
Wednesday at 10:41am · Unlike · 1